Here we will give an overview of our program at the West Hills Ranch and chronicle how fertility, calving-ease and longevity select for balanced seedstock that perform on grass.
The cows kick off the annual cycle on the ranch by calving in late April and May. When the breeding season rolls around the middle of July, the cows are sorted into two groups. One group includes primarily one and two-year old heifers as well as proven cows that will mate best with our top herd bulls. By turning the heifers and young cows out to pasture breed, sustainable fertility is naturally selected. We artificially inseminate the second group of cows. This group consists of already fertile, running age cows that we have a specific genetic direction in mind for. Artificial insemination also expands the opportunity to test fresh genetics.
As the cattle graze the valley pastures, an electric poly wire is used to create paddocks in which the cattle rotate through an intensive grazing plan. In this grazing plan, pasture plants are allowed to complete their own life cycle before being harvested. As the cattle move across the land in a mob, impacts on the soil similar to roaming wildlife are simulated. Carbon mass and manure are spread on the soil surface to help build organic matter and soil health. As the cattle migrate into the mountains during the summer, individual pastures are divided as small as the terrain will allow and grazed once a year.
At weaning, the calves are sorted into three groups. The bull calves competing for entry in our two-year-old bull sale program are fed the same as the heifer calves. These bulls and heifers get free choice access to the highest energy to protein ratio hay available and mineral. This hay usually consists of purchased grass/alfalfa or alfalfa/grain hay. The bull calves that are entered in the yearling bull sale program are fed a diet of free choice grass/alfalfa hay, a bull development pellet for added energy and feed efficiency and free choice mineral.
As the cows come out of the mountains with the deepening snow, the process of feeding purchased hay begins. As long as snow accumulation allows, hay is fed in a bale-grazing fashion. Enough bales of hay and straw get set out for three or four days at a time. Feeding twice a week allows us to compensate for fluctuations in weather and wind chill. Placing the hay strategically around the ranch leaves behind carbon mass once again in areas that need organic matter most. With this approach, we are also able to decrease the number of days the tractor gets started per week and free up the rest of the week to focus on office work, other interests, family, etc.
The pork and beef enterprise is an ongoing endeavor to capitalize on species and revenue diversity. The pig breeding stock consists of heritage Tamworth and Berkshire breeds. During the summer months, the feeder pigs grow up being rotated behind the cows in complementary pasture utilization.
Another summer activity is no-till planting a diversity of cover crops into a portion of the valley land. By grazing cover crops, we are increasing pasture production by building soil health.
Balanced seedstock that perform on grass in synch with nature and species diversity help us achieve goals of profitability and a healthy lifestyle here at the West Hills Ranch. It is our hope that our products offered for sale may help you reach your goals.
Ryan and Jessica Jarratt
Randy and Pam Hruska