Danny Biglieni is good at juggling. The Republic, MO, farmer backgrounds up to 1,000 steers at a time – rotationally grazing 60- to 90-head herds on primarily rented pastures. He also watches the cattle market, hedge-selling via video within a week of buying, while managing mixed-grass pastures to produce well-fed, shiny-coated cattle for a tidy profit.
“I could walk down the road and there are 40 acres I rent from one person and 40 I rent from another,” says Biglieni, who lives near Spring-field and has a total of 10 landlords. “The smallest place I rent is a 10-acre piece, and the biggest place is 175 acres.”
About half of his rented land abuts his 270 acres or another rented pasture that joins his land; some livestock are hauled a short distance to graze other rented land. He rotates small herds onto three- or four-pasture sections until they’re ready for feedlots.
“I don’t really like to run more than 80 head to a pasture. I think 80 head is as far as I can count,” he jokingly says. “Ideally I would run 30-40 head per pasture; I think the performance and health would be better. But if I did that, then I would have 20-some pastures to check.”
When his herd’s at 800-1,000 head, Biglieni checks up to 14 pastures per day.
“They get something fresh every few days,” he says. The cattle are also fed grain and hay as their weight gain and the market dictate. In some areas he has a “headquarters” pasture, where one set of feed bunks services three to four pastures.
“The downside of that is all the manure you’re gathering. I haul a lot of manure, but I’d rather unroll hay. What they don’t eat is organic matter for that next crop.” It also serves as bedding in winter, he says.
Most of his rented pastures naturally offer shade and water. Pastures are made up of tall fescue with Caucasian bluestem, bermudagrass, orchardgrass and/or white clover.
“Fescue gets criticized a lot, and it does have its downfalls. But the best grass we have is the grass we have the most of, and that’s fescue. It’s easy to keep a stand and get seed off, you can graze it in December and it will still be green, and you can stockpile it. And it gives cattle something warm to lay on in the wintertime.”
Biglieni lets “Mother Nature” do the seeding. “I’ve got clover all over this farm and never sowed a bit of it. My father-in-law – he had all kinds of white clover – so I asked how he got all that. He said, ‘Put triple 17 on.’
“That’s what I started doing and within a matter of years I had clover. People argue with that comment, but I think the main thing is you don’t put too much nitrogen on.” The clover also feeds nitrogen to fescue, he adds.
His marketing plan is often in place before Biglieni buys his animals at 400-600 lbs each.
“There’s so much volatility in the cattle and grain markets. I buy what I think will work in my operation and based on my cost of gain. If you buy cattle at a certain price, based on speculative assumptions, then you probably need to sell them at that time, too. If you wait four months until those cattle are ready, the world might have turned upside down, those steers may not bring near as much, and you’ve lost money.
“So I hedge them; I lock in the profit and know where I am.”
A week or so after buying his cattle, Biglieni videos them as they unsuspectingly follow a feed truck. The next day or so they’re put up for auction and sold three to six months before they’re delivered at 850-900 lbs.
Ninety percent of the time, his cattle return more profit by selling as he buys than by selling at the end of ownership, Biglieni says.
But there’s risk in hedging for a fall market, he warns. “I usually don’t like videoing them and getting them hedged until I have my hay bought. Because what’s going to happen if I have them all hedged and have to hold onto them until October and it turns out to be a drought, I don’t get a hay crop in and I end up having to feed them hay in August?
“The wintertime is a little different. When you buy cattle in October or November, you’ve already got your hay, and when it’s spring, 90% of the time it’s going to grow a spring grass. I carry 200-300 round bales over in case we do have a dry spring.”
You’d think having to juggle the needs of 10 landlords would be the big drawback to Biglieni’s operation. But his simple philosophy keeps them happy, he says.
“I try to treat their land like I treat my own: keep it thistle-free and keep good fences. I don’t let the cattle eat the grass to the ground. People get wind of it; they want you to rent from them.”