Falkenburg named WBCIA Commercial Producer of the YearWritten by Jennifer Womack
“Getting educated” — Garret’s quest for knowledge — is one aspect of what earned him recognition as the Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s Commercial Producer of the Year. Willing to consider new ideas and opportunities, he’s a participant in the Wyoming Business Council’s source and age verified program, he retained ownership on his heifers through harvest this past year and has gathered valuable data to help improve his herd.
Returning to the family ranch after high school, Garret says he and his father operated the ranch as a spring calving operation, selling calves in the fall. In 1983 they changed part of their spring-calving herd of Black Angus to a fall calving program to address scours. In 1986, with the help of his parents, Garret and Shelly bought an adjoining ranch, which is very suited for summer calving. Garret has since moved all of his cows over to summer calving.
“In the beginning we used to calve from July into August, but have since moved to June and July with weaning as early as December,” says. “In the early years we used to haul the calves, leaving the cows at another place. After weaning, the calves were fed whole second cutting on the ground and grain in a bunk, and ran on a meadow. Not liking the results, I built a feedrack to feed ground hay and hold calves a little more in confinement. I was trying to put on ‘average daily gain’ instead of ‘day of age.’ In one year, selling weights were 100 pounds heavier,” says Garret. Fenceline weaning, says Garret, has also improved the health of his calves.
“They’re weaned in half the time,” he says. “It contains the shrink,” he explains of the system where the calves are fed in bunks adjacent to a pasture that holds the cows. Coupling that with nutritional advice from Jack Settlemire with Ranchway Feeds, he says the calves are not on feed, they are on a balanced ration.
After sorting heifer calves to determine which ones will re-enter the herd, this past year Garret retained ownership on the remaining heifers and fed them out with Decatur County Feedyards in Kansas. Healthy animals, aided by the benefits of fenceline weaning, are a tremendous value according to Garret. “Sickness in the feedyard costs you three ways. It costs $18 per trip each time one of my animals had to be doctored. It also reduces returns in lower feed conversion. If they’re doctored once they may not drop a grade, but run them through more than once and you are guaranteed to go from choice to select,” he says.
Garret says he learned a lot from the data from his heifers. For one, he says he needs to address the size of the ribeyes in his cattle. Hanging, he says, the expectation is 1.1 square inches per 100 pounds of hot carcass weight.
“When the cattle don’t meet industry standards, you take a deduction. You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. If that isn’t incentive enough to change your cattle, I don’t don’t what is, He who took a hit was the one who needed to,” he laughs. “We learned so much. Producers live in this cocoon and do not understand feed or the kill side of the business.” Garret says he’s learned a great deal after feeding out this first pen and sees new opportunity for improving his cattle from a new, more end-product-oriented viewpoint.
Garret hopes the market dynamics will allow him to retain ownership again this year. He uses a program on the Risk Management Agency’s website that predicts returns on feeder cattle. If it isn’t showing a profit on retained ownership, he says he’ll sell them as feeders.
Regardless of this year’s outcome, he’s still planning to add an “under the hide” component to selecting this year’s replacement stock. Dr. Steve Paisley, Extension Beef Specialist with the University of Wyoming and a certified ultrasound technician, will be ultrasounding Garret’s heifers. The size of their ribeyes, says Garret, will be a factor in which ones he keeps.
The ultrasound information will build on the foundational program through which he’s kept an eye on structural soundness, a good udder and muscling. “Now we’re going to have a look under the hide,” he says. “Up until now it’s been cosmetic. This is one more tool to make a better end product.”
“I used to look at weaning weight, yearling weight and milk EPDs on bulls for the cows, plus birthweight on bulls for the heifers,” says Garret. “Now I’m thinking I don’t care if he’s an ugly bull if his calves hang well.” Garret says he’s seeking out seedstock producers who offer additional carcass information as he plans to make his future bull purchases.
Another change Garret plans to make is keeping his heifers longer before sending them to the feedyard. It’s a move he hopes will bring his cost of gain down. It may also help increase ribeye size as the cattle will have more time to develop a muscle base before being put on a gain ration. Last year Garret says his heifers gained an average 3.65 pounds per day at Decatur County Feedyards.
Plus he says, “Days on feed equal days at risk” in terms of animal health. He doesn’t, however, want to push the timeline too far and not have the cattle harvest ready prior to the 20 months old threshold set by the Japanese market.
By participating in the Wyoming Business Council’s source and age verified program with John Henn, Garret says he saw a $25 per head premium on the first bunch of his fat heifers that went to harvest and $40 on the last half. Decatur County Feedyard uses a unique program through which fat cattle are sorted into pens of “days to finish” instead of by ownership.
“There’s a rainbow at the end if you can get there,” says Garret of the opportunities he sees in retained ownership. Premium opportunities, he says, exist through programs like Certified Angus Beef and on the choice to select spread. It’s also brought a new challenge and opportunity to ranching.
Garret and Shelly’s son Mitch – a student at Eastern Wyoming Community College – has also brought a touch of retained ownership to the ranch. Selling fat beef to area customers, he’s established a healthy clientele. Garret says it has proven to be a value added outlet for open heifers and another place to gather data off of his cattle. Mitch will receive a welding degree and a beef certificate from EWC this spring and plans to further pursue his education studying meat science at the University of Wyoming.
Garret serves on the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Board of Directors as well as the Converse County Weed & Pest board. Shelly, who teaches fourth grade in Douglas, is a member of the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom Board and serves on the local Conservation District Board.