You might think that after 120 years of ranching in one place, your family has it down — figured it all out, knows everything about it. If so, you’re not a Kempfer.
“No matter how good your cattle may be or how good a job you’re doing, there’s going to be a way to improve,” Henry Kempfer says.
That could be the mantra for the fourth, fifth and sixth generations now running Kempfer Cattle Company, a commercial cow-calf and seedstock operation near St. Cloud, Florida.
Henry, his brothers George and William (“Bear”), and cousin Jimmy are the fifth generation. His father, Billy, and uncle, Reed, are the fourth. Henry’s son, Hyatt, is the sixth.
Their improvement attitude applies to everything, from genetics through cattle health and handling to the most basic element in a ranching operation — grass.
In 2013, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recognized Kempfer Cattle Company for its commitment to the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. BQA promotes husbandry that contributes to the safety, quality and value of cattle and the end product, beef.
“Everyone here is BQA-certified,” Henry Kempfer says. “The workforce is pretty much family.”
Improvement isn’t limited to cattle. Billy Kempfer was an early proponent for improved pasture management.
If we can’t grow grass, we won’t be raising cattle,” he says. “No matter how good your supplemental feed program is, if you don’t have the forage base, you can’t afford it.”
So forages get attention.
Bahiagrass is the backbone of the forage program. Not only is it resilient, it offers the Kempfers diverse ways to use it. It responds to fertilization to increase production. With a warm winter, they can graze it nearly year-round. They interseed ryegrass into it for winter forage, and, at times, harvest bahia seed and sod from it.
The soil disturbance from interseeding and sod pulling, however, also offers more opportunity for broadleaf weeds to get a foothold. Dogfennel, especially, used to be a problem on the ranch.
“It’s not a problem for us now that we’ve learned how to control it,” Henry Kempfer says.
A good weed control program keeps their fertilizer making more grass and not bigger, better weeds. More forage to allow increased beef production is the goal.
In recent years, the Kempfers’ weed control program has been to spray pastures early with a tank mix of GrazonNext® HL herbicide and PastureGard® HL herbicide.
Early means before the spring drought that’s typical of Florida. They start four weeks after greenup in the spring, usually late February through March. If they don’t finish, they wait to spray until after the drought breaks and growing conditions are favorable again. They’re typically treating weeds up to 12 to 16 inches tall.
GrazonNext HL in the mix at 1.5 pints per acre provides soil residual activity to control new weeds that emerge for weeks after spraying. PastureGard HL added to the mix at 8 to 12 ounces per acre improves control of dogfennel.
WATER MAKES A DIFFERENCE
They’ve also learned to use plenty of water, which improves coverage. Control improved significantly with 30 gallons of water per acre instead of the 20 they once used.
“What we love about GrazonNext is the residual,” Henry Kempfer says. “We get the big ones, little ones and the ones that come up later.
“Some pastures we’ve hit two years in a row, and they’re as clean as they can be. I’m confident we’ll get two clean years after spraying a pasture two years.”
The Kempfers also use hemarthria (limpograss). Hemarthria is a warm-season grass like bahia, but more productive and more sensitive to herbicides. The Kempfers like it for winter forage.
[Editor’s note: GrazonNext HL is not recommended for weed control in hemarthria when nighttime temperatures are above 65 F, but there are other options. Contact your Range & Pasture Specialist from Corteva Agriscience™ for details.]
The Kempfers fertilize hemarthria in the fall, with 60 units each of nitrogen and potassium, and defer grazing for six weeks to stockpile the forage.
“Then Dec. 1, we’ll start grazing it and use it through March at nearly a cow per acre,” Henry Kempfer says. “We used to fertilize in fall and spring, but we’re finding that with 60 units of N and K, those [hemarthria] plants are really strong in the springtime.”
Except during the calving season, the Kempfers will rotate each herd between two pastures to allow grasses to recover before grazing again. Moving dates aren’t on a calendar, but it works out to moving about every 14 days.
“Rotation really pays off in a drought,” Henry Kempfer says. “Last spring, we’d pull off and it would green back up. If we had left the cows there, we would never have seen that. We didn’t grow a lot of grass, but we kept it from going dormant.”
The Kempfers rotate based on stubble height where the cows are and what’s ahead of them.
“We’re trying to increase stocking rate and graze the bahia shorter. I’d like to get it down to 3 or 4 inches,” Henry Kemp says. “We have a lot of fixed costs, and we can spread those out with more animal units.”
Label precautions apply to forage treated with GrazonNext HL and to manure from animals that have consumed treated forage within the last three days. Consult the label for full details.
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