DENMARK - The yearling cattle raise their heads from grazing as soon as they hear the tractor pulling the feed wagon turn in on the field road. The herd is already heading for the concrete feed troughs before the tractor clears the gate of the feed lot. As the feed mixer wagon augers out their ration, the yearlings surround the trough and dig in.
Snake Branch Land & Cattle Company LLC, located northwest of Denmark in Bamberg County, is operated by Phil Sandifer, his sons Scotty and Chris and several of their sons. When they started up three years ago, they were raising heifers to sell to feed lots and for replacement heifers. This is the first year they are feeding out the three-quarter Angus hybrid yearlings to a butchering size.
The Sandifers started out with 300 brood cows and 20 bulls. Within a year, they had 301 baby cows, with some of them being sets of twins, Scotty Sandifer said. Weaned at 600 pounds, they grazed and were fed on oats haylage (oat stalk and mature heads which have been baled and fermented to lock in nutrients). The Sandifers chose haylage as an alternative to cutting corn silage and putting it up. Part of next year's plan to make their operation more economical is to purchase a vertical mixer machine at around $30,000, which can be used to incorporate the haylage into their feed mix.
The specially-formulated ration that the cattle will be given for the next 90 days will provide them with the higher level of protein they'll need to muscle up.
"We work with a Clemson University nutritionist to decide exactly what they need at this time," Scotty Sandifer said.
The Sandifers have all their feed and forage analysis done by Clemson University so that they can provide their cows exactly what they need at each growth stage. The ration the cattle are receiving at the finishing stage consists of a basis of corn silage which has 27.2 percent crude fiber and 63.4 percent total digestives nutrients. Ground corn and cotton seed meal are added to create a 13.7 percent total protein ration.
"We grow our own corn silage and ground corn so we only have to buy the cotton seed meal," Sandifer said. "That goes a long way toward keeping our costs down."
By eliminating the middleman, the Sandifers believe they can improve their profit. Keeping accurate records of costs and the cows' weight gain has been an important part of their cattle business enterprise. During Phase I, while cows were in the 800-pound to 1,100-pound range, they calculated a cost-to-gain ratio of .80 cents. Weight gain averaged 4.4 pounds per day. Now in Phase II, they will keep close records and see what the cost-to-grain ratio is at this stage.
"It's a learning process, and we don't always go by the book but instead see what works for us in our particular situation," Sandifer said.
At the end of the 90 days, the cattle will be shipped to a meat processor in Pennsylvania. Most of the sizable slaughter houses that handle large herds are now located up north, Sandifer said. When calculating their end profit, the Sandifers will take into account the cost of freight and the weight loss due to shrink (live weight loss) as a result of the long transport. He noted there is a need for a meat-packing facility in the Southeast but the hot, humid climate makes it difficult to operate one year-round.
Prices are looking good for beef cattle compared to last year, Phil Sandifer said. Right now, they are bringing about $1.20 per pound for a 1,250- to 1,300-pound. slaughter cow, he said. This time last year the price was only about $1.05, but the cost of feed has gone up, he noted.
The Sandifers keep their operating expenses down by raising almost all of their own feed, although some feed additives and nutritional supplements have to be purchased. The land on which they graze their cattle is periodically rotated out for growing row crops
"It makes it a lot more profitable," Phil Sandifer said.
The Sandifers' cattle operation is separate from their produce operation for which they are well known. During the 2011 season, Sandifer and Sons Farms LLC grew 80 acres of mini seedless watermelon, 600 acres of cantaloupes, 400 acres of fresh market cucumbers and 150 acres of squash. While the majority of their produce is shipped out, they also operate a South Carolina Certified Roadside Market during May, June and July on U.S. 78 west of Denmark.
Although they take their newer cattle enterprise seriously, the Sandifers' produce operation continues to be their main focus and money-maker. They are finding that raising cattle is a good complement and is less stressful than the fast pace of growing and marketing produce.
Contact the writer: 138 Nature's Trail, Bamberg, SC 29003.