"We have sustainability in mind by buying local feed stuff from fellow farmers within a very tight radius. One of the by-products of the wine making process is grape pomice which is the smashed grapes. We have local winery within 30 miles and we’ve used the pomice to sweeten our ration. The cattle like it and it gives the winery an outlet for what would otherwise be waste."
- Michael Para
Rethink The Ranch: Feeding Cattle in Adams County
What do you do today to make Para Livestock sustainable?
Michael Para (MP): So we have sustainability in mind by buying local feed stuffs from farmers within a very tight radius. Including the feed by-products from local feed processors. We can make the most of other agricultural industries' by-products or waste because cattle have an amazing digestive system that can actually upcycle any crop into protein. Cattle can eat all manner of crops and forages. For example, we have a local winery, within 30 miles. One of the by-products of the wine making process is grape pomace. It is the smashed grapes. We’ve used that to sweeten our start ration. Our cattle like it, go to it. It gives the winery an outlet for that product that they otherwise would have to dispose of.
How do you know what to feed your cattle?
Liz Para (LP): We typically feed a ration that focuses on feed stuffs grown here in Washington and Adams County. We feed corn, wheat, alfalfa hay, potato processing by-product (mostly crushed potatoes and potato peels), French fries and other crops. We feed some grape pomace mostly in our starter ration for cattle new to the feedyard because it is very sweet and the cattle come to the feed faster. It's because they like the sugar, kind of like the kids like sugar on their cereal. But we don't just mix together whatever is available. We have an animal nutritionist out of Kansas who specializes in balancing the nutrient profile of each product we use with other products so we are formulating the rations to deliver optimal nutrition while making use of those local feed stuffs and agricultural crop by-products that are plentiful here in Adams County. We also feed a vitamin and mineral supplement that is controlled through a micro-ingredient machine, so we are sure we get the exact amount of needed vitamins and minerals in the ratio for every load of feed. It's a lot like us taking a multi-vitamin to supplement our daily diet.
How do you know how much feed to feed cows to make them healthy?
MP: We check the feed bunks every morning to monitor each group's feed intake. Feed is tracked daily with computer programs in the feed trucks and kept on record back at the office. The key is consistency, and to make gradual moves, whether in amounts or the make up of the ration. We are tracking those things daily with the computer programs so we're sure we're making gradual moves when we do change rations and do gradually increase the energy as the cattle get bigger.
What about all the waste or manure that results from feeding so many cattle?
MP: We clean out the pens that our cattle live in on a regular basis. The weather, number of cattle and other factors effect how much and how often cleaning is needed. It's our job to keep these cattle comfortable and happy. Part of that is done by keeping their space clean. We take the manure from here at the feedyard and we roll it, compost it, dry it and screen it. We then work with the farmers that we buy our corn from here locally and return the composted manure to the soil at their crop farms. So it is kind of a complete circle when the corn comes to us and the manure goes back to the farm.
Why do you do what you do?
MP: I think owning a family business and raising and feeding cattle it is a great way to raise your kids. Whether they come back here to run the business when they're adults, or not. Just being raised around this environment, this good outdoor lifestyle. It's a lifestyle that requires you to put the care of animals above yourself. That teaches compassion and humility. It is a lot of work, but its been a good life and I’ve been glad to expose our children to that life as they grew up. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
LP: We love animals and that is why we are in this business. We have horses, we have dogs and we have cattle. It is just a way of life for us all.