Beef & Dairy News
By JANE W. GRAHAM
FLOYD, Va. — Terry Slusher is a commercial beef producer who has found a way to make a profit in the cattle business by not doing something. He said his profit lies in the number of days he does not have to feed hay to his cattle.
Slusher figures it costs him a dollar a day per animal to feed hay rather than letting them eat grass on his pasture based farm. His management style includes stockpiling grass for both the winter months and the hot dry months of summer. He said this is a kind of insurance.
He runs about 160 to 175 cows most of the time on the 600 to 700 acres he owns and rents south of Floyd, Va., between Route 221 and the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He reported that he had to feed more hay this past winter due to the strange weather the area experienced both last summer and during the winter months into the spring.
Slusher said he usually saves between $17,000 and $20,000 by grazing as many days as possible rather than feeding hay. He considers his savings “off-farm income,” meaning he does not have to have an off-farm job to stay in farming.
Buying most of the hay he needs rather than making it himself is a management technique that increases the days he does not feed hay. By not making hay, he was able to put another 100 acres in pasture. He is able to let this grow in the early spring and summer for grazing when drought hits.
“I have to plan for drought,” he said. “It gets hot and dry every summer.”
He said he lets the cows act as a bush hog on the land that has tall mature grass during the summer months.
This decision to use the 100 acres for grazing provides another advantage, Slusher said. By grazing the same number of cattle on a larger pasture, he is able to cut out-of-pocket costs. He does not have to have as many inputs as he would in a more concentrated grazing system.
Slusher does use rotation grazing on his farm, but his paddocks are larger than in some operations.
“Artificial breeding really pays off,” he stated. He breeds his 140 commercial cows to calf from late August through September and into October. He also uses AI for the 25 purebred Herefords he cares for that belong to his brother.
The brother lives in Lancaster, Pa. and is planning to retire here in this county.
The commercial calves are Angus-Hereford-Simmental crosses, Slusher reported. He weans them and retains ownership while sending them to feedlots.
Slusher's cattle are Beef Quality Assurance certified, he said. He keeps up with their vaccinations and only uses antibiotics to treat infections such as pink-eye and sore foot.
He is a firm believer in keeping good records of medications that show when an animal is treated and when the withdrawal periods are over. He is also a stickler for keeping production records.
He contends that most farmers follow the standards developed for BQA even if they are not part of the certification program.
Back in January, Slusher shared many of his ideas and detailed figures on the operation of his cattle farm during the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Winter Forage Conference in Wytheville.