Remember when several weeks ago i commented on how fortunate it was that i could begin the grazing program as taught by Jaime Elizondo which he terms #total grazing or #nonselective grazing. Well, the easy street is well over. I went on a couple week getaway and came back to 8-10 inches of snow and single digit daytime highs and below zero night time lows with wind chills well be low zero. Although other producers who are much more dedicated than i am are doing a stunning job of total grazing right through the snow and cold as evidenced by the beautiful photos they post on Instagram.
But i cannot do cold – never could – so if i can get my cows on a 10 acre to 20 acre paddock with tall grass and running water in the ditch and provide them with protein tubs, kelp, and salt – i say ‘sayonara’ see ya in a week. Maybe it’ll be up to 10F by then.
The best for animal husbandry and land stewardship is often a balanced decision. These past two years in north-central/northwest Missouri and a bit of southwest Iowa makes grazing management decisions tough to call. Two years of unusually dry and hot summers each followed by severe cold and long winters has left our pastures and pasture management in tatters. The following article printed in Midwest Marketer magazine is from Iowa State UniversityExtension beef specialists Erika Lundy and Denise Schwab offers some ideas for consideration. We live in toxic endophyte fescue country, so it is not a best practice to encourage its growth with the addition of any type of applied nitrogen. Legumes planted can mitigate the effects by replacing the poisonous grass, but must be managed with proper grazing.
About a week ago, despite our poor pasture growing situation due to dry and hot weather, i tried what others have done and that is UHDG or ultra high stock density grazing. There are some who have successfully managed shifting cows 5,7,9 times a day and obtaining up to 1 million pounds of livestock per acre! That can result in a phenomenal improvement in soil quality due to deep rooted plants and evenly distributed manure.
My experience was far different and after a couple of hours quickly realised my misgivings as to mob grazing’s effectiveness in our area.
Cool season grasses often don’t have deep roots, by and large, unless allowed to grow quite tall (and mature) which results in unpalatable grazing.
Mature grasses are unpalatable and very low ‘octane’ (nutrition)
Laying down cool season, fine stem grasses by trampling is virtually impossible.
Hot, humid weather causes some animals to suffer and they need shade – not all small paddocks can have shade.
I quickly realized that i was exhausting myself setting up polybraid and posts to shift the cattle. To the point that, instead of accomplishing other tasks whilst at the farm, i felt like napping instead!!
A problem perhaps unique to my situation is the distance from the stock. My farm is 35 minutes’ drive (via JD Gator) from our home. Though my solution was to shift cattle often on the days i could go up there, then give them a large break to last up to 3 days, but i found point 6 overwhelmed even that idea.
Putting dollars to that extra growth: In normal and decent growing conditions (not over 90F and normal rainfall), cool season grasses and legumes could potential produce 8-12 inches of growth in 36 days. An average pasture with little to no bare ground (spaces between plants) might yield 300 lbs to the inch per acre. So, if the entire farm received that additional 36 day rest, then 400 acres x 300 lbs per inch x 8 inches growth = 960,000 additional lbs produced. Reduce that by 20% to get a hay equivalency and price it at 5 cents per pound, then 768,000 lbs x .05 = $38,400 worth of hay that is not needed to purchase and maintain or grow the herd. OR, consider that as my wages for setting up and taking down posts and polybraid during the summer. Of course, nothing is perfect or normal, so even these conservative figures may fall way short in the face of a drought or hot temperatures. Nevertheless, there is gain to be considered IF the labor does not become cumbersome and cost more than the value of forage.
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Well, this was all written on Monday the 21st of May – a week later – still no rain and temps continue well into the 90s with heat indices above 100 for several hours each day and little to no wind. It’s muggy and hot; cool season pastures are no longer growing, so the planned grazing is relaxed already since the cows need shade and i’ve set up a paddock with a big timber patch. Guess where most of the manure (nutrients) will end up? Yeah, not where planned. As usual, theories, plans, scenarios all go out the window in the face of nature. Like any other year, we just do the best we can with the conditions we are given.
Research results published November 30, 2017 by Sarah Kenyon, PhD, University of Missouri once again illustrate how grazing the non-native, invasive toxic-endophyte (E+) fescue plant causes health problems in cattle and other livestock, including horses. Other studies show the effects on the soil microbial populations and wildlife. E+ Fescue is pervasive, persistent, and poisonous.
Short grazing of E+ fescue in the last fall/early winter before a killing frost has been used by us and others to manage the spring growth of the plant by shortening the root system which slows spring growth, allowing more desirable grasses and legumes to get a foot hold. This is effective, but a relentless endeavor since it must be done every fall/winter to control the fescue and quite simply, there is no way to manage ALL the fescue at once everywhere on the farm.
I’m thankful for professors and agricultural leaders bucking the status quo and revealing this long-known information to a modern generation and offering solutions to not only mitigate the health issues associated with the toxin, but also ideas on eradicating it. Time will tell if changes will work – it’s expensive to renovate and manage pastures and fields – – and farming and ranching does not lend itself to wide margins of profits to plough back into improvements.