Category Archives: Fescue control with Annuals and Grazing

Pasture Recovery

Basics of management-intensive grazing (MiG) as coined by Jim Gerrish.

Although, Mr Pratt’s focus is often on finance and economics, here he explains simply one aspect of how to manage pastures for regenerative and profitable ranching.

 

First Stab at Mob Grazing (UHDG)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Mature grasses are unpalatable and very low ‘octane’ (nutrition)
  3. Laying down cool season, fine stem grasses by trampling is virtually impossible.
  4. Toxic endophyte fescue is poisonous at all stages; recent research shows the bottom 2 inches is as toxic as the seed heads.  Forcing cattle to consume it is detrimental to their health.
  5. Hot, humid weather causes some animals to suffer and they need shade – not all small paddocks can have shade.
  6. 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!!
  7. 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.

 

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This photo shows my mob at an estimated 50,000 lbs per acre.  Not even close to what is needed to see positive effects of mob grazing.  Nevertheless, i have discovered an optimal balance of dividing my 20 acre paddocks (paddock sizes vary) in half results in acceptable utilization plus gives an extra day and a half of grazing over giving access to the entire paddock.  This is very important; instead of 3 days grazing, there are 4.5 days, which over the course of 24 paddocks results in an additional 36 days rest period!

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.

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.

Cheers!

tauna

Dangers of Grazing E+ Fescue Short

Study Shows Dangers of Short Grazing Toxic-Fescue Pastures by Cattle Herds

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.

Cheers!

tauna

Annuals Scheme – Final Analysis

Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.

Grazing comparison data is as follows:

2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs  Total:  5089 lbs

2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs  Total:  5574 lbs

2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs  Total:  3294 lbs

2016-2017 – lost all my records

2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs    Total: 2242 lbs

As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience.  When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days!  In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit.  However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest.  One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition.  At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too.  So…..

So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing.  The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing.  Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department.  However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter.  It does look like that has happened at least in short term.  It is very hard to measure long term benefits.   However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland).  Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work.  I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week.  This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done.  There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.

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I drive through the annuals with my Gator to make it easier to set up a polybraid fence through it.
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Grazed part next to ungrazed annuals.  That tall stuff still standing in common ragweed.
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My ground is very poor in most areas and this is all it will grow in a 65 day period of the annuals.

 

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This is along the fence line (see fence on the left).  What a difference in where i tilled and planted vs undisturbed.  The ubiquitous Kansas ragweed (lanceleaf) is still thriving where it is undisturbed.

 

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Those cows didn’t waste any.  They really, really enjoyed eating the succulent annuals and snarfed down the volunteer yellow foxtail.  The stalks are trampled nicely.
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This is a close up of the left behind common ragweed.  That step in post is 36 inches tall.
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A closer look at the Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed in undisturbed soil.  Same step in post.
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Larger area shown here of what is left of the annuals after grazing.

Additional thoughts and observations:

Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls

Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.

There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages.  However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections.  Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres.  Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.

If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.

Post grazing observations:

  1. where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
  2. Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
  3. The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application.  Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered.  Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.

Cows on the Annuals

It's been a rather busy and momentous month, so i'm way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project.  Here are photos of growth at 60 days.  Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017.  Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon.  It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i'm ready to put paid to this project.

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30 Day Checkup

Time for an update on the annuals.  It’s now been 33 days since planting on the 26th of May and it’s been terribly dry until just now.

The soil had some moisture in it when i tilled the 18 acres the first go on 18-19 May, but then we received a rain (4/10s) which delayed the second tillage until 25 May, at which time my husband seeded the hills right behind the second tillage so we could wrap up this project for the first stage.

Then weather set in hot, dry, sunny, and windy.  Some of the seeds germinated and some even sprouted and grew.  If we didn’t get a rain soon, those brave spindly plants would soon wither and die.

At last, over the course of 14-15-16 June, we received 1.5 inches of rain and temps cooled just a little bit – a breather for plants, soil, animals, and man.

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What a difference a 1.5 rain made – this was taken four days after the rain, but the soil is good here.
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This photo is taken immediately to the east of the previous photo and at the same moment.  Growth exhibited on 20 June, four days after that 1.5 inch rain.  What a difference soil quality makes!

Rainfall has been scarce until 28-29-June, when a gully washer of 7 inches fell in a bit over 24 hours.  Thankfully, not much soil moved because i was careful to leave grass strips and there was still some dead plant material.  Ideally, there would have been new root growth to help, but the previous dry weather compounded by my poor soil restricted growth tremendously.

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Taken day after the two days of 7 inches of rain.

 

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Thilled to see so many lespedeza seedlings.
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Mystery – why is one sunflower so green and healthy and this one right next to it yellow and sickly?  Why did i photograph my shoe?!
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A very little soil movement can be seen in this photo although it is on a slight slope.  Can you believe that this is 33 days growth?  My clay hills are pretty dead which is the reason for trying to bring them alive by building organic matter and eliminating toxic endophyte fescue.
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This shows some definite soil movement after a 7 inch rain, but it didn’t move very far.  Encouraging!

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So, bring on the next 30 day!  With that 7 inch rain and little of it running off, there should be a massive increase in forage growth.  Excited!

Cheers and Shabbat Shalom!

tauna