Until the Cows Come Home

Lisa Humphreys

Lisa Humphreys

United Soybean Board

Ohlde Seed Farms, Palmer, Kansas

A sharp crack cuts through the cold, quiet winter air. Then another. The sound is Ron Ohlde breaking up ice in his creek so his cattle will have water to drink. It has been a fairly mild and dry season, but there are still those bitter mornings that require a little extra work.

“So far this year, winter care has been mostly minimal. But when the weather gets harsh and snow and ice storms start to roll in, we bed our cattle down,” says Ohlde. “There are elevated mounds of earth in the lots that promote drainage away from the cattle when it’s especially wet, providing them with a comfortable place to rest above the water. The height of the mounds keeps the cattle dry, and we scatter straw to keep them warm.”

In 1973, Ohlde officially joined the farm his father began nearly 70 years ago. Today, Ohlde Seed Farms raises about 125 cows for replacement, and backgrounds and feeds up to 800 cattle. “We calve beginning in late September and October, which means our calves are weaned and matured through the winter. They are still pretty young when they’re placed in the stock field.”

winter picture_cattle_largeGiven that they’re only a few months old, Ohlde explains that there is lot of maintenance required to ensure each calf is well taken care of and protected from the elements.

“Our calves are surrounded by good, heavy timber to shield them from the cold,” he says. “We check in on them regularly, making sure their protein tubs are full and that water is running in the creek bottoms.”

He also gives them hay and lays down extra straw whenever there’s a snowfall. They will stay in the stocks through the winter, growing alongside their mothers until they’re ready to be brought home where they are put in lots and fed before being sent to market.

winter picture_largeBut of course winter care isn’t limited to livestock. Along with finishing cattle, Ohlde and his wife, Anita, grow a number of grain crops on their farm in northern Kansas including soybeans, corn and wheat. This leaves them with quite a few projects to manage after harvest comes to a close.

“We’re going through our pastures and field edges, clipping trees and clearing out limbs and debris,” says Ohlde. “We don’t want anything to get in the way of our machinery come harvest time.”

And while planting season may seem far away to some, Ohlde stays busy making preparations through the short days and frigid temperatures. “We’ve already got our planter through the shop, and our soybean seed selections have been made.”

When it comes to selecting seed varieties, Ron explains it’s important to look back over performance data from the last couple of years.

“We watch each variety in the field closely, monitoring what the environment has thrown at them and how they’ve responded,” he explains. “But harvest is when the truth comes out. That’s the ultimate proof of how they’ve performed.”

Those results, combined with customer demand, drive his decisions.

“We have to start taking a good, hard look at what our customers really want. Right now they’re asking for better protein content and oil content in our soybeans,” Ohlde says, knowing that the majority of these customers are international. “I believe many farmers out there don’t realize that nearly 60 percent of our soybeans are exported. We need to recognize and appreciate the value of our exports.”

ohlde family picture

While sitting high atop his combine at harvest, Ohlde looks over his crops, considering those numbers. He finds them astounding.

“I try to envision that one out of every four rows of soybeans we harvest goes to China. That’s a hard statistic to fathom.”

Of the crops that aren’t exported, some go right back to his livestock. His cattle especially enjoy soybean hulls, and he likes that they give the cattle a nice, shiny coat. Between that and his thoughtful winter-care routine, Ohlde says confidently, “The calves get along just fine.”