Agri Leader

It’s all in the numbers

–Numbers don’t lie, and they can make the difference between success or struggle in the cattle industry.

Chris Prevatt, who works at the Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona, is one of only about 30 or 40 livestock and forage economists in the nation.

“I try to put some numbers to products and practices as well as different forages that we grow here in south Florida,” said the 27-year-old who holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in agricultural economics.

Prevatt said 99 percent of ranchers don’t have the number-based facts when making decisions for their business. He has just recently completed a report that outlines the costs of feeding cattle in the cool months when using hay versus cool weather forages.

“Agriculture, number one, is a business,” Prevatt said. “There are lots of reasons people farm, not always because of business. But people have to focus on the economic factor if they want to continue their business,” he went on.

Doing “little things” can make a big difference, he said. For example, letting the cattle graze more often in winter time versus feeding them hay bring costs down because grazing is the cheapest form of feed. But since many south Florida grasses don’t grow in winter, researchers are looking at hardier rye forages that ranchers can grow.

You also have to “stockpile” grass. That means keeping the cattle off of it for several months. Setting aside a portion of the land with good, muck soil where you can stockpile forage is a good idea, he recommended.

Planning ahead is key, and Prevatt creates what he calls a grazing plan six months in advance on the 130-acre ranch his family owns in north Florida. His parents run a second family ranch in Alabama, where the family moved when Prevatt was 3 years old.

His dad, Walt Prevatt, is also a livestock and forage economist, and Prevatt said it was watching how his dad’s expertise helped their family farm thrive that made him realize the importance of numbers.

Not to mention that as a kid, he just loved grass. “I just thought it was beautiful,” Prevatt said with a little smile. He developed a love for cattle because “we needed something to graze those forages.”

Prevatt, who started working at the research station in February, is currently working on about 15 different project with researchers, including taking a hard look at the economics of artificial insemination versus natural service. He enjoys the hands-on, research-based approach to his work.

His position is actually a full-time University of Florida IFAS extension position, and the work he does in Ona he replicates for the North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna. But there is a big difference in forages between ranches north of and south of Ocala, Prevatt said.

While some ranchers are asking for this type of information, others don’t ask, but recognize the value when they see it, Prevatt remarked. “You’re reducing the number of mistakes you make dramatically,” he went on. You can rely on exact figures rather than simply doing what everyone else is doing or making a guess.

What does this numbers guy do for fun?

“This,” he grinned, admitting he had been number crunching for the family ranches all weekend and missed out on a fishing trip with a buddy: “Two farms keeps me pretty busy.”