If you have been following Eden Shale Farm since KBN took it over in April of 2013 you probably have noticed our continued improvement at the farm. It has been our goal to make cost effective, real world decisions that hopefully keep us representative of the average commercial cattle operation in Kentucky. With that being said, I fully acknowledge that we have a long way to go, and just as the Lowes advertisement states, “Never stop improving”.
I want to report on the first three years of operation at Eden Shale Farm and some of the data that has been recorded and the trends that have progressed. Our goal (with insight from the five KBN Managers) is to have roughly 100 head of mama cows calve on the farm each year. Due to the fact that the initial cow herd was purchased out of the stockyards, we have had an average cull rate of 37%. That is an extremely high number by any standards. We continue to retain our own heifers and add young, quality females to the herd. This will continue to allow our cull rates to come down to more normal levels. Our average herd size has been around 80 head, so there is still some room for growth to reach the 100 head goal.
Some production numbers that we have been tracking are overall conception rates and weaning weights. Our number of calves sold vs number of cows exposed to breeding has risen from 71% to 94%. Our weaning weights have also increased nearly 100 lbs from 385 lbs to 478 lbs. The biggest factor in the increased weaning weights were the AI sired calves this year, which averaged 34 days older and 37 lbs heavier than the natural service calves. With the help of syncing the cows with AI breeding, we have also shortened our calving window from 105 days to 67 days.
The forages at the farm are also better now than they were in 2013. With the help of our industry partners we have been able to renovate several hay fields and pastures. This can be most accurately shown by calculating the number of bales that have been harvested each year on the same number of acres. Hay production has increased 25% from 266 bales in 2013 to 357 bales in 2016 due to the renovations and proper fertilization of the hay fields. The hay field below was renovated to BarOptima Novel Endophyte Fescue.
Lastly I want to share a statistic that most farms do not tract, the number of visitors annually. Since 2013 we have had a steady flow of producers and industry professionals visit Eden Shale Farm. We have had a variety of field days, schools, industry trainings, government meetings, and general farm tours. Each year we have experienced a 28% increase in the number of visitors to the farm. In 2016 alone, we hosted 29 groups at Eden Shale Farm for various farm tours/field days and/or trainings. In total we have had over 1,000 people visit from 104 Kentucky counties and 24 states!
I will be the first to admit that we still have a lot of room for improvement. But I am proud that in the first three years of production we have trended in the right direction. And as long as you’re moving in a positive direction and learning from your mistakes, you are hopefully going to improve the operation in the long run.