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On any given day during the grazing season, Byron Gossett intensively grazes around 1,800 stocker calves on about 600 acres, mostly under five center pivots, near Follett, Texas. For a little over a decade, he’s fed an all-natural program, buying weaned, 600-pound calves.
“I liken our approach to a supply chain,” Gossett explains. “We need consistent gains through the grazing season to stay on schedule through the feedlot and then to packers to fulfill the program and earn substantial premiums.”
Because all-natural programs prohibit growth-promoting implants, daily gains aren’t as robust as they are with conventional cattle. For Gossett, success comes with intensively managing pastures through irrigation and fertilizer and, more recently, working with a consulting nutritionist.
“We base our math on head days grazed per month,” he says. “The goal is to increase daily gains on as many head as possible. We stock about 1,800 pounds of beef per acre. As they grow and we hit 2,100 pounds per acre, we sort calves and move them to the feedlot.”
A fresh group of calves follows quickly and restarts the cycle.
“We’re managing an inventory,” Gossett says. “I could run 1,400 head for the entire summer and make a good profit. But 3,600 head will make a better profit.”
It wasn’t always grass and cattle for Gossett, who grew up near Dumas, Texas, earned his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University and a master’s degree from Texas A&M University in 1974. He returned to the northeastern Panhandle and bought some rangeland that was mostly sagebrush “and not much else,” Gossett recalls. He began developing the land for irrigation, drilling wells, bringing in electric power and putting up center pivots.
“Our somewhat false assumption was that if you’ve got enough water and can buy enough fertilizer, you can grow things,” he says. “Even with all the water in the world, these marginal, variable, sandy soils made success with row crops difficult.
As my youngest son, Jordan, says, ‘Trying to grow crops on this land is like trying to water-ski behind a canoe.’” Gossett’s next pivot was to annual forages.
“We were cattle people anyway, so we liked cattle better than row-crop farming,” he says. They planted annual forages, including sorghum sudangrass and winter wheat, and started grazing. Then, about 20 years ago, Gossett decided it made little sense to plant a crop, graze it off and then plant the same crop the next year.
In 1988, they had put some of that marginal ground into the Conservation Reserve Program. “When the CRP contract was up, we decided we could graze those acres,” Gossett says.
Eventually, they sprigged some Tifton bermudagrass under three pivots and then seeded a commercial StockMaster grass under 1 ½ pivots (the other half being a large hole in the ground not navigable by irrigation equipment, thus earning the moniker Pac-Man pasture).
Although primarily a cool-season variety, the StockMaster mix is summer-hardy and adds 30 to 40 grazing days at the start of the season, plus 30 more grazing days at the end.
“If we irrigate and fertilize ahead of grazing, we get a lot of 2-plus pounds-a-day gains from March through May,” Gossett says.
“The StockMaster pastures get an additional fertilizer application, but we get that back in pounds of gain.”
In summer 2022 — about the time the rest of the world had emerged from supply chain disruptions — broadleaf weeds threatened to throw Gossett’s tightly managed production schedule out of whack.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” he says. “We had this unbelievable flush of buffalobur and some silverleaf nightshade. Those pivot circles looked yellow with all the buffalobur flowers.” Gossett couldn’t find an applicator willing to tackle those rough, rugged pastures with ground equipment, and a neighboring cotton field left him searching for a solution.
His first call was to his county Extension agent, who suggested he contact Jodie Stockett, the Corteva Agriscience Range & Pasture Specialist for the area.
“Around here, the nightshade family tends to rear its ugly head a little more when conditions are drier, and we were just coming out of drought,” Stockett explains. Because it was later in the 2022 grazing season when the weeds caught Gossett’s attention, Stockett recommended waiting to spray.
“We scouted the pastures a couple of times last spring to check the weed pressure and ensure we had our timing right,” Stockett says. “Anywhere the soil was poor and the grass was a little thin or where there were some native grasses in the pivot perimeters, it was solid nightshade and buffalobur, plus a couple different biennial thistle species.”
In May, Gossett hired an aerial applicator to apply 20 fluid ounces of DuraCor® herbicide per acre. Timing and conditions aligned.
“We caught it just perfect,” Gossett says. “We had a lot of rainfall, and those weeds were flourishing.” An untreated buffer along the neighboring cropland solidified Gossett’s decision to spray.
“It was so dramatic,” he says. “That buffer is about the only place where there are any weeds. But there’s likely quite a seedbank, so we’ll definitely budget for more DuraCor until we get that cleaned up.”
“Had we not controlled those weeds, it would have been a disaster,” Gossett explains. “Our business plan dictates we acquire inventory, graze about 60 days and move cattle to the feedlot. With all that lost forage production, we would have had inventory inbound and no place to put ’em.”
Without treatment, Gossett, who also provides consulting services, working with ranches across the country to improve their management and culture, estimates the weeds potentially would have reduced forage production by at least 20%.
“Because of the buffalobur spines, cattle won’t stick their noses in there to get the grass growing among the weeds, so we lose forage utilization too,” he says. That double-whammy during the 2023 grazing season likely would have led to overgrazing, reduced gains and major scheduling issues.
Despite his success, Gossett cautions his program won’t work everywhere. Soil type matters. In his case, marginal soils suit cattle perfectly.
“Sandy soil is non-negotiable in this type of program. If you stocked 1,800 pounds of beef per acre on different soils, you’d be out of business the first time it rained.”
Staying in business, Gossett says, requires flexibility — like buying 184 cow-calf pairs in spring 2023 when the price of all-natural calves didn’t pencil out — and adapting to conditions.
“It takes a lot of money to grow this grass, between fertilizer and weed control and irrigation and labor,” he notes. “The way we offset that is through pounds of beef and, with the all-naturals, the incentive of a premium at the end.”
Under normal field conditions, DuraCor® is nonvolatile. DuraCor has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with DuraCor and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. DuraCor is not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Consult the label for full details. Always read and follow label directions.