Story and photos by Derek Albert
COW ISLAND – This may seem like an obvious place to start when looking for a story about raising beef cattle in south Louisiana. In the sleepy community tucked away in Vermilion Parish, south of Kaplan, west of Abbeville, you can find the obvious—cows. But there’s also bulls, heifers, a few fall calves and Ronald Dubois.
Dubois, a lifelong resident of Vermilion Parish says the area where he raises a 220-head herd of F1 Braford and Brangus cattle has long been considered a prime spot for beef cattle production.
“This land has always been good for rice and cattle, especially because you can put them in a rotation,” Dubois said. “‘Those two things always did well out here.”
He would know. Dubois watched his father grow rice and raise cattle here until he started his own herd at 16-years-old. He continued farming rice in the area until about 15 years ago when he began focusing solely on beef cattle production. He says the biggest challenges for he and other cattle producers are beef cattle market fluctuation, pasture land availability and rising input costs.
“The market has kinda been going up and down, but this year, it’s been good, considering the last few years,” Dubois said optimistically. “The expenses is kinda what’s eating us up. Everything has doubled in price.”
Rising input costs were on the minds of LSU AgCenter extension agents and researchers when they were planning for the 2022 Acadiana Area Fall Cattle Field Day held in nearby Abbeville on Oct. 27. For extension agents Andrew Granger and Stan Dutile, who have organized the annual event for the last 26 years, the information presented was important not only for Dubois and the 60 other cattle producers in attendance, but as cattlemen themselves, they had a vested interest.
Much of the evening’s programming focused on beef production in a time when farmers are seeing constantly rising input costs. The program included discussions on forage propagation, weed control, herd management and beef market updates.
LSU AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell explained there are many ways for farmers to adapt an effective ryegrass rotation into their operations, regardless of the size of the herd or grazing acreage. He outlined AgCenter recommendations on planting dates, seeding rates and nitrogen fertilizer applications that are based on trial data compiled from numerous grazing sites throughout the state.
“We are definitely in a high-input (cost) environment, but we are also in a drought situation, as well. So it makes it even doubly tough right now,” Twidwell said.
Twidwell said nitrogen fertilizer for ryegrass production can represent a costly line item on a cattle producer’s budget. In order to optimize ryegrass production, Twidwell said soil testing is imperative.
“You have to establish a baseline of where you’re at with your soil pH, phosphorus, potash, sulfur, etc.,” Twidwell told the producers. “I always tell people, ‘If you only have so much money to devote to your operation, make sure you get your pH adjusted properly.’”
On a field tour around Abbeville, Granger demonstrated weed control trials. Carpet grass has become a growing concern for cattle ranchers. It is commonly found throughout the Gulf Coast region but has garnered the nickname Louisiana grass because it thrives is the humid climate and damp soils found in the Pelican State. Granger said getting a stand of carpet grass under control can prove troublesome.
“There’s no selective chemical control for carpet grass,” Granger told producers. “There’s not a chemical you can put out that controls carpet grass and leaves either bahia grass or Bermuda grass alone. Glyphosate is going to kill all of it.”
AgCenter Forage Specialist Ron Strahan said carpet grass control cannot be achieved with nitrogen fertilizer or lime treatments. He said finding the “sweet spot” between 24 and 32 ounces of glyphosate is the only truly effective weapon against carpet grass at this time. But he added a trial in St. Martin Parish this year included Velpar (hexazinone) to control carpet grass with promising results.
“Velpar annihilated the carpet grass,” Strahan said. “We had gotten a lot of rainfall that really got the Verlpar into the soil. It did a really good job.”
In another field tour stop, Granger outlined some herbicide treatment that offer some help in keeping fence lines clear of woody broadleaf weed species such as groundsel bushes, commonly known by the local French-speaking population as manglier (mahwn-GLEE-ay). The plant, traditionally sough after for its medicinal properties can quickly overtake a pasture’s fence line Granger said. Treatments include Grazon, Grazon P+D and Remedy. Strahan added that while Grazon P+D will eliminate groundsel and Chinese tallow trees, it will not affect some other common fencerow weeds.
“It’s not good on briars, like blackberry and dewberry,” Strahan warned. “You’ll have to add Remedy to it.”
Dubois said the recommendations and research data that the AgCenter presents at field days and production meetings is vital to his operation.
“With everything they are doing at the AgCenter, they try to lead you in the right direction,” Dubois said.
Granger and Dubois seem to have a strong relationship as fellow beef cattle producers in Vermilion Parish. In fact, Dubois said he often sees his Vermilion Parish extension agent at cattle sales in Kansas where they both travel to restock their herds.
“Mr. Andrew is probably one of the best agents we’ve ever had. If you had a question that he didn’t know, he was going to find out for you.”
Despite the current challenges of being a cattle rancher, Dubois said he will keep on managing his Vermilion Parish herd as long as he remains healthy and vibrant.
“I’m hoping I can keep on going until I can’t work no more,” Dubois said. “There’s no better way to make a living-- whether its farming or raising cattle.”