What is in this article?:
- On Megehee farm: Attention to detail pays in producing quality cows
- 'Bigger is not always better'
- Prairie soils 'really grow grass'
- Input costs outpacing beef prices
“The cattle business isn’t one that young people can readily get into, because it doesn’t provide cash flow unless you’ve got land and equipment," says Jacob "Jake" Megehee, Macon, Miss., producer. "But once you get everything paid for, cows will cash flow, and if you’re careful you can have a pretty good income.”
“COWS JUST LOVE IT — it’s like ice cream to them,” says Jake Megehee of the dried distillers grains that he uses as a feed supplement for his cow herd.
Prairie soils 'really grow grass'
“We have 329 acres here and lease another 124 acres for steers,” he says. “These prairie soils will really grow grass. I have one field that’s been in Marshall ryegrass since 1986 and has continuously reseeded itself each year. There’s a lot of dallisgrass,, common bermudagrass, and five varieties of coastal bermudagrass on pastures. In south Mississippi, I depend on bahia and common bermudagrass, plus crabgrass behind ryegrass.
“I plant ryegrass on a prepared seedbed, and like to start the breeding heifers on it in January when I bring them up from south Mississippi. If there’s enough ryegrass for them to graze just one hour a day, it’s like a magic potion because they start their estrus cycle immediately.
“I’ve tried five varieties of coastal bermudagrass, but it’s costly to keep up because it requires expensive chemicals and excessive fertilizer. I’ve also tried some of the new fescues, but they just fade away when summer heat sets in. I’ve pretty much got to the point that I soil test, lime and fertilize the pastures, and am happy with whatever comes up.”
Megehee serves on the advisory board for the Mississippi State University Northeast Mississippi Producer Steering Committee and is chairman of the Beef Committee.
“Among our recommendations to the university is that we need development of a good cool season perennial forage grass that can survive our summers,” he says.
“We also desperately need a summer perennial legume that needs no nitrogen. Durana clover is a good forage, but it quits growing in the summer heat. Lespedeza also warrants some consideration.”
The dried distillers grain with solubles that he uses as supplemental feed is a corn byproduct from ethanol production. “It’s 10 percent fat and 28 percent protein, and the cows love it,” he says. “The price varies with the price of corn — the last load was $276 per ton delivered from Hopkinsville, Ky.
“I put up a lot of hay, about 500 round bales that weigh 1,400 pounds each. Our mama cows eat hay starting about Thanksgiving and continue until mid-March. I nutrient-test my hay and supplement it with protein and/or energy as required.
“I have about 300 rolls of hay in reserve in the barn that I’ve had since 1986. It’s still high quality, 8.5 percent protein and 53 percent total digestible nutrient, and has good color. If we have a horrible hay year, as we did in 1986, I can fall back on this reserve.”
Megehee has used hen litter on pastures for the last 10 years, applying 2 tons to 4 tons per acre. “It provides about 1 percent nitrogen, 3.6 percent phosphorus, 2.2 percent potassium, and 3.9 percent calcium,” he says.
“But with that fertility, I can also count on a lot of weeds. Horse nettle is a big problem, and we get foxtail and barnyardgrass. I’ve worked hard to get clover in the pastures, but I have to wait until it becomes dormant before I can spray the horse nettle.”
All breeding age females are pregnancy checked each fall, and heifers receive a pelvic area evaluation. “Experts say if a cow doesn’t breed, it should be sold,” he says, “but I believe in giving them a second chance. I’ve got a number of good calves from ‘second chance’ cows, and often the cows will then get back on a regular breeding schedule..”
All of Megehee’s bulls get a breeding soundness evaluation each year and bulls are culled if necessary. He never names his cows — “It makes it too personal ”— but he knows each one, it’s pedigree, and how it’s performing. He uses ear tags with numbers and an elaborate ear notching system to track when calves are born.