Farm and Dairy/Ohio Cattlemen’s award: This cattle family not afraid of change

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BUFFALO, Ohio – Riding through the hills of Guernsey and Noble counties in the back seat of his father’s muddy extended cab pickup truck, 10-year-old Ethan Shriver grills his father.

Ethan wants to know more about the why’s and how’s of the family’s cattle herd. With each passing mile, he is quick to point out which pastures belong to his family, which ones they rent, and which ones belong to someone else.

The older Shriver, Wayne, wields a lip full of chewing tobacco and drives. His wife, Krista, sits next to Ethan, scanning the roadside pastures for cows.

The knowledgeable but curious fifth-grader is the fifth generation of Shrivers to live on the family farm. The Shrivers operate a 400-head cow-calf commercial herd, winner of the first-ever Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Commercial Producer of the Year award, sponsored by Farm and Dairy.

Ethan and the rest of the family, including 8-year-old brother Heath, each show the work ethic and ability to question that have propelled the operation to be one of the top in the state.

Asking questions. In the past seven years, questioning the way things are done has enabled the Shrivers to change their operation and improve results in the bottom line.

“We’re always looking for ways to change. We’re not opposed to changing what we’re doing today to something completely different tomorrow,” said Wayne Shriver.

Since the mid 1990s, the operation has phased out bull-only pasture breeding programs in favor of improving the stock as quickly as possible through estrus synchronization and artificial insemination.

“With AI, we could get top quality bulls that were better than what we could afford” to keep on the farm, Shriver said.

Krista does all the herd’s artificial insemination and record keeping.

Though the operation isn’t limiting its genetics with artificial breeding, all females are inseminated at least once before clean-up bulls are turned out.

“Our clean-up bulls are more than sale barn kind of quality animal. We try to pick out top-notch bulls according to carcass traits and EPDs,” Shriver said.

“I feel that it’s most important to put our money into bulls and semen before any other part of the operation,” he said.

“And if you don’t start out with the right genetic makeup, you’ll never end up where you want to be.”

Performance. The genetics are holding their own as far as performance goes.

Through membership in the Great Lakes Family Farm Cooperative – they’re the membership’s only cow-calf producer – they are provided performance data on feedlot animals.

“We always look at our calves that hit the ground. They look excellent but what can we do different to make them even better?” Krista said.

“That data helps us see where we need to improve.”

By the time the feedlot receives the feeders, the Shrivers have already bred for the next calf crop, “so we’ve got to be on top of things,” Krista said.

Never satisfied. The family members try not to become satisfied, a move that keeps them as progressive as beef producers come.

“When you think you’re in pretty good condition, that’s when you’re going to lose the ball game. There’s always something that’s going to change,” Shriver said.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes the farm has made has been the acquisition of strip-mined property for pastures.

Today, the family owns more than 1,000 acres and leases more than 3,000 additional acres of reclaimed property for pasture for the crossbred herd, all within a 25-mile radius of the homestead.

“The way the land in this area is split up, and with hills and valleys, kind of makes it hard to come up with nice little paddocks,” Wayne said, so each parcel of land is managed separately.

Cows on pasture get free-choice mineral but no grain, since “feeding grain is against my religion,” Wayne said.

In addition, hay is only fed when the snow gets too deep for cows to get to the grass or, like this year, when grass farmers were plagued by drought.

“I still have 280 cows on pasture only and just started feeding hay not too long ago. That’s pretty good,” Shriver said.

“If I get more fence built, I won’t have to buy any hay this year,” he said.

Profitability. Cows are rotated through the pastures, accompanied by a flock of 400 sheep used to rid the pastures of multiflora rose and cut down on brushhogging.

To help with predators – both for the cattle and sheep – a llama also guards the herd on more remote pastures.

The addition of the sheep and llama have helped the operation remain profitable and efficient, two of the Shrivers’ main goals.

“We try to manage our way out of problems before they arrive and that’s the biggest key. Once the problem gets here, it’s too late and they just get worse,” Shriver said.

Part of that management is the farm’s certification “in anything they offer,” Shriver said, including the Five State Beef Initiative, Beef Quality Assurance and the Livestock Environmental Assurance Program, or LEAP.

“Down the road I think it’s all going to become very important that we become certified in all these things, environmental issues and food safety issues,” Shriver said.

End product. More than anything else, the family is most concerned with the end product they produce, a priority they say needs reinforced throughout the industry.

A rigorous herd health and vaccination program helps them not treat any calf for weaning sickness and encourages performance down the road.

“When you look at research, a lot of the research indicates that chronic illness at younger age prohibits excellent gain and performance,” said Shriver.

And he should know. His full-time, off-farm job focuses on management of the Eastern Ohio Research and Development Center, including the Ohio Bull Test Station at Caldwell, a research branch of the Ohio State University.

“Another thing we need to look at when we run larger numbers is continuing to reduce cost without influencing or sacrificing quality.

“What may work in the consumer’s eye may be impossible or unfeasible for us to produce, so we’ve got to look at what they want and try to figure out how we can justify or change what we’re doing to accommodate that,” he said.

Like the Bucks. An Ohio state alumnus and avid Buckeye football fan, Wayne Shriver compares his operation to the Ohio State football team.

“It’s a little bit like [OSU coach] Jim Tressel. He wouldn’t have won [the national championship] if he didn’t have a bunch of good football players. He looks like an excellent coach, but without good players he’s not a good coach.”

The Shrivers’ team consists of OSU Extension, the Great Lakes group, and certification and training sessions.

“Everybody is a player in the same game, and we’ve got to realize that as an industry, we’re all working in the same direction.

“That’s what’s made us successful. It’s the communication and cooperation that’s key to success.”

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)


Related story:

Shriver: No time is not an excuse

BUFFALO, Ohio – Overseeing the Eastern Ohio Research and Development Center station’s 2,100 acres and 400 cows full time doesn’t give Wayne Shriver a lot of time with his own herd, but the Guernsey County cattleman is making it work.

Because he doesn’t have many days off, he’s been forced to set up things at the home farm so it nearly runs itself, he said.

Some of his tactics can be implemented by cattlemen everywhere to make their operations more time- and labor-efficient.

Just the basics. A must for the Shriver farm was adequate permanent and portable handling facilities, which allow them to handle the 400-cow herd as easily and quickly as possible.

Their alleyway setup allows them to vaccinate 240 cows in about three hours without ever catching a cow in the headchute. The facilities also come in handy for artificial insemination and sorting.

“You’ve got to have good handling facilities of some sort. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly, but you need to have some efficient way to handle livestock.

“There’s too many chances to injure the animals and too many changes to injure yourself without it,” he said.

Calving. The operation plans all calving for the end of March and early April and weaning in late September and early October so cows will come back and get body condition more quickly.

Better body condition is key on a pasture situation, Shriver said.

“The cows have to be in excellent condition going into winter so we don’t have to fight that battle [all season].

“It’s easy to end up with rebreeding problems with cows that are too thin in the spring. You end up with poor milk production and calves that are weak, so we eliminate those things in [the fall] instead of waiting until March.”

Manage land. Shriver tries to allocate fields with running water for pasture in winter, so he doesn’t have to worry about breaking ice or cattle not getting water.

“Little things like that are most the unique. Other guys might say its not that big of a deal to break ice, but it is a big deal when you’re doing it for 400 cows on so many acres.”

Shriver also rotates the herd between pastures and sets out hay in vacant fields up to a week before the cows will be turned in. That step, he says, gives him time to spend with his family.

Willing to change. “The other thing I think producers have got to be willing to do is change their genetic makeup of the herd. Maybe change breeds, maybe just open their eyes and follow through to see how their cattle are performing in the feedlot.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a beef producer who didn’t think his cattle were very good. But when reality sets in, we’re not perfect or performing where we could be.

“And it’s not because we don’t have the tools or techniques out there to do it, it’s just because we don’t want to change.”

– Andrea Myers

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