Category Archives: FARM

Got Him In

Quick update – i moved my cows et al to a temporary paddock i set up with electric netting (although it wasn’t electrified for this event, the cows are trained and respect it) and the bull had stayed nearby during the night and with some patience and quiet handling using Bud Williams Stockmanship techniques, i was able to not only ease the blind bull from the 20 acre paddock through a 16 foot gate, but with a bit more time walked him all the way to the corral and in.  However, i had to do this mostly from my Gator with a/c on; the ragweed allergy (yellow pollen) was horrible and i was suffering.

I called Dallas and he came up with the trailer and, together, we loaded him easily.  In the morning, i will doctor him for his bad eyes and spray him with natural fly repellent to give him some relief.

Thankfully, i discovered he could see a bit – very close up only, but at least that keeps him from running into fences and gates.  Today was a lot of handling and being by himself the whole time and sorted away from cows, yet he remained calm and well behaved.

Except for going shopping in town, i pretty much had to stay inside the rest of the day due to allergies.  However, this evening, i set up new poultry netting and moved the eggmobile once the chooks went to bed inside.

See what tomorrow brings!

Cheers!

 

Bulls Almost All Pulled

Today was not the most productive and had some frustrations, but Yah is good all the time and no one is hurt or killed.  That’s a good day when mustering in all one’s cows and sorting off 8 bulls.  Granted, only 4 of them are mature 1500-1800 lb bulls, even yearling age bulls can get cranky and hurt you in a heartbeat.

The frustration was only in that it was hot and the cows moved slow like pushing water uphill and that one bull was missing.  Completely, i looked and drove and walked a few ditches, but i knew it was a waste of time because of the heat – no doubt he was hidden down under some brush somewhere.

I did have another small group (24 head) located about a mile from the corral, but i had already set up tapes, so once they finally decided to go to the right corner of their paddock, they moved easily albeit slowly to the corral.  Sorted off that bull and let the cows back out.  The bugger was that i found one of those expensive cows i’d purchased from Ohio in the middle of the field – fat, slick, and dead.  I hate that!  Haven’t a clue what happened.  Wasn’t located to make sense that she was struck by lightning.  Maybe had a heart attack or something, it has been incredibly hot and humid and although she was a young cow, some just can’t hack it.

Called Dallas and he hooked onto the trailer and came up.  Kudos to him for backing the tricky curves to the load out.  Too muddy today to pull in and around, so he had to back all the way from the sealed road and make two sharp turns whilst backing.  Nailed it both times!  He helped me load the first bulls going back to pasture to use next year and i rode with him to make sure all went well.  We went back up for the two bulls that will sell in a bit once they gain a few pounds and maybe the price comes up a bit.

Sorry no photos, but when i’m sorting bulls from cows and calves, then sorting the bulls for each load, then loading, i do not want to be distracted by taking photos.

The good news is that by this time it was starting to cool off and i went to look for the lost bull again and there it was up and headed in the right direction.  Sadly, completely blind, so i eased it in through the gateway towards the cows and shut the gate (single strand bungee electric).  It was getting dark, so i decided to leave the cows in the corral paddock so he could continue towards them by listening and smelling.  Hopefully, in the morning he will be near enough that i can help him find a 16 foot opening.  This is not a handy thing, but i have a plan on how to accomplish moving the cows out of the way to give me plenty of time  to coerce the bull without any opportunity of him getting in with the cows.

But if tomorrow’s plan goes as well as my plans for today, it could be a long day.

Long, slow, hot day, but by and large it went okay – well, except for the expensive dead cow. 😦

Cheers!

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Genetics and Selection

There are very few reasons for mobs of livestock to have access to ponds beyond and emergency drinking water access. My reason here is that these heifers needed to be separated from the main cow herd for the 45 day breeding season and the only paddock I have does not have shade or even a high point to catch a breeze such as the pond dam where the heifers in the second photo are standing.

Ideally, allotting short term adequate shaded space is the optimal.  Video below shows comfortable cows and calves.

In many cases, cattle not selected for heat tolerance will immerse themselves in a pond for relief. The flip side is that oftentimes these cattle will tolerate severe cold better than the others. We can spend decades selecting for the genetics which thrive in each of our unique environments and management. Hopefully also providing a quality eating experience for the consumer.

This is a jarring photo and i hesitate to post it, but reality is, we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we make do until improvements can be made.  These purebred Angus heifers can’t tolerate much heat and humidity and stand in the pond. Not healthy for the pond or the cattle.
These heifers have up to 50% genetically selected heat tolerant breeds of either Longhorn or Corriente crossed with black or red Angus. Clearly more comfortable in Missouri heat and humidity.

 

Let Them Eat Weeds!

Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds.  There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway.  Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.

I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years.  The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn.  It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.

Alan Newport recently wrote on an article (Who’s Afraid of Weeds and Brush?) on this very thing.  Greg Judy espouses the benefits of weed grazing in his books and videos.

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Another example of mature forage laid down by decent grazing and trampling pressure.
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This photo is just terrible, but it shows on the left the cows have eaten even Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed.  The right side of the fence has yet to be grazed.
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Well rested tall grass nicely laid down by trampling and eating.
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If my cows are getting this much grazing out of ragweed, i don’t see much point in mowing it except to lay down those stalks for better microbe use.  But can i afford to own and run a tractor to mow it?  What is left here, the cows will snarf it down once it’s dried down this winter.
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This is a thorny locust tree sprout practically stripped by my cows and calves.  I’ve owned sheep and they do a good job as well, but not any better than my cows.

Who’s afraid of weeds and brush?

In the right system, cattle grazing under ultra-high stock density will eat most “problem” plants and thrive doing it.

Alan Newport | Jun 05, 2019

 

Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.

A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.

I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.

Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.

These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.

I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.

However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)

Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.

Debi NewportCalf eating tree leaves

Even calves like fresh tree leaves that haven’t been exposed to grazing, therefore haven’t built up high tannins.

A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.

So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.

The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.

And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.

The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.

TAGS: BEEF WEEDS PASTURE

 

New Version Eggmobile

Oh my goodness, i’ve lost track of the number of eggmobiles i’ve built these past two decades.  The first one was large and on an ancient wagon running gear.  It was part of daughter Jessica’s Missouri Department of Agriculture sustainable ag grant she wrote for and received being the youngest ever at age 9!

Anyway, done bragging now and on to the newest plan.  My favourite ‘look’ is that of a Conestoga Wagon and this one is no exception although much smaller than the traditional real Conestoga.

The one i replaced was just worn out and had some issues which of course i corrected with the new version.

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This one was several years old and just dilapidated.  Wood was deteriorated and wasn’t a well balanced design making it awkward to pull around.  Also, as you can see the old wagon pull broke, the pop door was too short and manual, not enough nesting boxes or roosts, and overall it was simply too heavy.
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Moved it home and the old hens gave it a complete check out, then had no hesitation going back in.   Note this new version has an automatic pop door.  Should have done that on the very first one.  A very good investment even for my small flock.
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Had to come up with a new way of holding the ‘hoops.’  My previous eggmobile, i used 1 inch schedule 40 pipe and it has too much spring to it and i had it attached very securely.  This time, i raided the water pipe supply and chose 3/4 inch black HDPE pipe and it is much easier to handle.  Here i’m cutting short pieces of 1/2 inch PVC pipe.
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After drilling a hole to receive a longer 1/4 lag screw, i installed the screw with the plastic tube topped with a 1/4 inch flat washer.  Powered it in and it makes a sort home made sort of shoulder bolt.
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This view shows the nearly finished eggmobile.  I built it in separate pieces so that it can be disassembled if needed.  There is the floor which i reused (newer lumber).  Don’t use anything less than 1 x 2 inch welded wire.  It’s a little big for small chicks, but is perfect for grown hens because their poop will go right on through.  The second section is framed then sided with old corrugated plastic.  Except for new hardware, everything is reused on this.
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i installed a door on one side just in case i need access.

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See how the black pipe forms a nice hoop to hold the standard sized white tarp using the makeshift shoulder bolts.  Roosts are cut from old electric posts.
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The translucent panel is cut from an old solar panel cover.  Not sure if you could find those used.  My father-in-law had a couple left over from a business he tried starting about 40 years ago.
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Lift the lid and inside is the top level of the nesting boxes.  I may or may not end up dividing these.  If i do, it’ll probably just be little curtains.
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Lift the floor of the first level to collect eggs on the lower level.
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Ador1 battery powered automatic pop door.   Note the ladder like roosts – i have to change the supports to wider stance because if a hen edges to the outside, it will tip.  I also had to take off the green corrugated bit above the door and attach boards to secure the canopy.  i used more of the solar panel stuff to make it match the front.  At the front here, you can see that i built double decker nesting boxes – there are 6 now vs the 3 before.

This is the coolest ever.  It comes preset to automatically open at dawn and close at night.

Thoughts on Lease Cropping vs Grazing Your Own Stock

There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out.  Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan.  But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating.  Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid.  Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.

Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres for organic farming for 4 years.  My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops.  I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.

Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal).  I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.

Here are some bullet points i have:

  1. animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
  2. in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered.  This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting.   Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
  3. I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property.  I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor.  Bottom line, from a purely income/expense perspective, I make more money with grazing vs leasing the property for row cropping.
  4. Lessees do not care for your property as you would.  Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land.  I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage.  In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow.  It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property.  A lot gets big and away.  More work at the end of the organic regime.
  5. This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again.  I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways.  My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules).  At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time.
  6. The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced.  Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’  This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had.  Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
  7. If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed.  We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market.  The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
  8. At the end of the day,  we do the best we can and then we die.  The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom.  A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on.

At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to bringing the 120 acres back under my management even though i will only graze it once i get it seeded back down.  With managed grazing and some brush/tree removal, the pasture will be back hopefully making money for me soon.

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You can see the worked field which has now been bare soil since harvest of soybeans last November.  That means 10 months and counting of open, unprotected soil.  

Managing Stock and Pasture

With an exciting title like that, one can hardly wait to read what’s within!  HA!

Nevertheless, managing our resources (in my case it’s primarily land and cattle) is a must and, yes, even biblically (Genesis 2:15) mandated, to not only preserve unadulterated landscape (not to be confused with managing by removing human and wildlife impact or just letting nature take its course – ‘mother nature’ is not wise), but also we can use intense management to restore and improve ravaged soils and water.  There is a cost, time, and planning involved – and, to most, that is just not exciting.  It’s more fun to blame someone else for whatever climate change, global warming, environmental downfall you believe in on someone else and, those in power play on emotion to create ways to transfer wealth out of yours and mine pocket and put it in theirs.  But the fact is that each of us can make incremental changes in our own lawns, houses, driving habits, purchasing choices which will make us feel better and it will, rather that cost us, put money in our own pockets.

We have waste on our farm and farming practices, to be sure, just as any company or household has – oftentimes there is a cost to manage the waste, so it’s more profitable to waste.  No harm in that – usually.   For example, after having my timber and draws profitably logged which also improved the land, air, water, wildlife, soil, the resulting branches and small logs are more effectively burned where they lay vs  chipping or chopping for firewood.  It is a huge cost to do either of latter.  However, before burning, i’ll allow them to rot down, putting nutrients and carbon back on the soil and provide some shelter for wildlife before i burn the piles.  So not a total waste.

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Here I’m installing a single strand poly braid electric fence with step in posts to keep the cows on the tall (older forage) grasses to the right.  I did this because the south half of this paddock was grazed Jun 23-25.  Although there is little regrowth even after 45 days (we are still dry despite the green forage), it will be more tasty to the cows and they will grub it down to the soil thereby setting it back for regrowth and allowing the drought to get a deeper grip.  Bare soil and short roots make for a disaster.  Soil erosion, high soil temperatures, slow regrowth, microbes, essential to soil health, will start dying off.
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Photo showing the shorter regrowth up front, the poly braid, and the taller, older forage in the background. The taller forage has not been grazed since last December and, though we are short on moisture, the rains have been much more timely than the past two years, so there is a nice variety of forages available and many of them have already gone to seed – adding to the reserve or seed bank in the soil for the future.
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Variety in the sward and decent ground cover for my worn out soil.  It has taken years to build a better pasture and this is actually some of the best.  It is located near the ditch so it has the topsoil from the ground above it plus more moisture.  However, even the worst soil is starting to support a thicker stand.  I’ll get a photo – i’m very excited about the improvement at long last!
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Not much regrowth despite being rested for 45 days.  Thankfully, through managed grazing, i can let this rest at least another 45 days.  You can see my boot in this photo – estimated height of sward is 6-8 inches.
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Perfect time to allow a long rest to allow this birdsfoot trefoil to go to seed!