Linda F. Benedict, Schultz, Bruce
Back in the day, maybe even just a few years ago, it was common for most farms to have at least a few head of cattle.
Paul Coreil, retired LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, recalled that on farms similar to the one where he grew up in Evangeline Parish, rice farmers routinely kept cattle to rotate pasture with rice fields.
“Cattle production was big on the prairies,” he said. “The cattle industry in the southwest Louisiana prairies goes back into the 1800s.”
Most of the cattle in the early days had a strong Brahman influence because of the breed’s ability to withstand heat and insect pressure. Coreil said Texas Longhorn also could be found in many herds.
Big changes have taken place since those days.
“We have more part-time cattle owners than ever,” said Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish.
In the past, full-time farmers with rice would have cattle to supplement their other crops, but now many rural residents have hobby farms with 50 head of cattle or less.
At the same time, cattle owners have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable.
“They are much more aware of what’s out there, and they are asking more questions. Our producers have more access to information on the internet and in magazines,” Fontenot said.
Often, he said, questions are asked to verify what they have read or heard.
Cattle owners now time their calving to occur within a specific time frame, Fontenot said. “You have cattle producers with a breeding season instead of a bull on cows year round.”
That enables calves to be marketed in a group within the ideal weight of 500-600 pounds.
Instead of taking their chances at the sale barn, cattle producers are contracting with buyers and some are even using video auctions.
Fontenot said cattle owners are more aware of improving forage with fertilizer and weed control, and they are more likely to use soil testing.
Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, agreed that cattle owners have become more sophisticated with breeding seasons and a marketing strategy.
He said some of his work of communicating with his clientele can be done by social media and email.
“But you’ve still got to do the work eyeball-to-eyeball.”
Granger said many of the parish’s rural residents still raise cattle but no longer raise rice or other row crops. He said he has seen an increase in the number of cattle in the parish.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the dependence on the Brahman breed. “Probably 98 percent of our cows have some Brahma,” he said.
The LSU AgCenter’s educational assistance for cattle producers is in the process of being strengthened, according to Phil Elzer, associate vice chancellor for animal science. Five regional specialists coordinate extension and research programs.
Elzer said the regional concept allows for customization to accommodate the differences in production practices across the state. To carry out the expansion, two cattle researchers, Ryon Walker at the Hill Farm Research Station in Homer (Northwest) and Guillermo Scaglia at the Iberia Research Station in Jeanerette (Southwest) are working with three extension agents, Vince Deshotel in St. Landry Parish (Central), Jason Holmes in Union Parish (Northeast) and Kenny Sharpe in Livingston Parish (Southwest).
Bruce Schultz is an assistant communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Watch the 1-min video on how Extension saved the cattle industry in the 1920s, Agents of Change: Protecting Livestock from Ticks.