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June 26, 2013   Email to Friend 

Cattle Drive: Adapting To The Desert
Debra Davis

The adaptability of beef cattle and contrasting climates captivated 50 Alabama Farmers Federation members on the organization’s annual Beef Tour June 3-7 in Nevada.

“That these cattle can live in this kind of environment is shocking,” said Wade Hill of Lawrence County. “The heat, the terrain and the vegetation are just mind-blowing to me. A cow is a whole lot tougher than I thought.”

Hill, chairman of the Federation’s State Hay and Forage Committee, said it was his first Federation Beef Tour. It made him re-examine his own farm, he said.

“Maybe our grass at home is not as good as I thought,” he said. “I think maybe our grass has too much water in it, and it goes through (cows) too easily. I saw cattle in Nevada that looked like they had nothing to eat, and they were fat and raising a good calf. I see cows here in Alabama that look like they have plenty to eat, and they might look terrible.”

There’s a scientific reason behind the differences, said Federation Beef Division Director Nate Jaeger, who coordinated the tour.

“With our forage in Alabama, we’re producing tons to the acre; but in Nevada, they think about acres to the ton,” he said. “We have a large quantity of forage in Alabama, and they have a lot of quality forage in Nevada.”

Most Alabama forage has 8-12 percent protein, while the typical Nevada forage is upward of 15 percent protein, he said. While the pasture stocking rate per acre in Alabama is one or two cows per acre (including a calf), touring farmers said they were amazed to learn some Nevada farms need as much as 150 acres to support a cow-calf pair.

In addition to visiting several top farms and ranches near Reno, the tour included stops just over the California state line where lush valleys are nestled among barren mountains. Farmers in both areas rely heavily on irrigation to sustain crops, including hay.

Nevada Farm Bureau President Doug Busselman, who met with the Alabama farmers, said 87 percent of land in his state is government-owned, and the annual rainfall is about 4 inches.

“So, what’s important to us?” he asked. “Land and water are what we spend most of our time talking about.”

Jimmie Fidler of Baldwin County, who raises cattle, peanuts and pecans, said he enjoyed his first beef tour.

“I learned if you have water in Nevada, you can grow just about any crop,” Fidler said. “Their grass is powerful; it packs a punch. I wonder if you could grow peanuts here?”

For photos of the Beef Tour, visit the Federation’s Facebook page.


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