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.
Love or hate Facebook – depends on your perspective – maybe both. But there is real opportunity for farmers to share and learn from one another about cropping and ranching methods they’ve tried – what has been successful and what was a colossal failure.
I copied a young farmer’s (from central Iowa) method here, so i can come back to it as a reference for what i may try in the future. This is copied and pasted from a Facebook page by the same name, so it reads clunky out of context of responses, but i wanted his words.
Drilled a 4 way mix of oats, annual rye grass, rape seed and soybeans about a month ago (late August/early September) following rye harvest. Very pleased with the amount of forage and soil structure that we have gained. Planning to let cows out later this week if the weather cooperates. Located in north central Iowa.
30 lbs (annual) ryegrass (10# is enough, but farmer was using up what he had on hand)
20 lbs oats
8 lbs rape seed
Roughly 20 lbs of soybeans ( some seed was 2 years old)
we hauled cattle manure then chisel plowed and field cultivated to work it in before we drilled it. I agree that tillage will break down some of the soil structure but I sleep better at night when I can work the manure in. I also don’t have access to a no till drill.
I chose annual rye grass over cereal rye so it would winter kill and everything else I planted will winter kill and I am planning to plant corn in that field next spring. If I was going to plant soybeans I would have used winter rye.
the winter rye that was growing previously we combined for seed. The four way mix that is growing now will be grazed and the corn that we plant next year will be combined.
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:
animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
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. (it’s now October 2019 and covered with weeds again). Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Symptoms of ergovaline poisoning in livestock are:
decreased milk production (as much as 45% reduction!)
poor body condition
general poor health
decreased weight gain (stocker gains can be halved!)
delayed hair coat shedding
low conception rate
low birth weight
circulatory problems (ie: ear tips freezing, sloughing off of tail switch, even so far as to slough off hooves)
loss of appetite
poor circulation also leads to inability to dissipate body heat (especially troublesome in the heat and humidity of summer) (this is the main problem which leads to the above symptoms)
The cause is that the fungus is a vaso constricting substance called ergovaline. A good explanation comes from Endophyte Service Laboratory, College of Agriculture Sciences
Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 USA.
“The toxin ergovaline is a vaso-constrictor, it constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood circulation to the outer parts of the animal’s body. Animals that have consumed a toxic dose of ergovaline will have difficulty regulating body temperature. The constriction of blood flow also can cause “fescue foot”. Fescue foot is characterized by gangrene or tissue death in the legs, ears and tails.”
Seems mind boggling that we farmers and ranchers continue to allow this non-native plant to be grazed by our stock, doesn’t it!? Tannachton Farm is on a mission to remove it. It will be a fight since the grass is allelopathic and persistent!
One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project. Alas, that isn’t true in my case. Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan. Old fence posts and wired had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.
Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!
Not even going to bore you with a long history of a specific grass – I don’t even want to read about it. Given the little dab of history i’ve uncovered that was already known about toxic endophyte infested tall fescue, E+ tall fescue being sold as a wonder grass in the early 1940’s must surely have been one of the most duplicitous marketing schemes ever played on the American farmer. And we fell hook, line, and sinker for it. Now planted and still being planted on at least 35-40 million acres across the midwest and southwest United States.
Tall fescue has good attributes – it surely does. You can overgraze it, trample it, burn it, freeze it, mow it, dilute it (with other forages), plough it and it will come back year after year even stronger yet. But, as i have shared earlier, that persistence is purchased with losses in the health of livestock and decimated wildlife forage and habitat.
As evidenced by the following documents, I suspect we could keep digging backwards in time and discover that at least one cultivar of Tall Fescue has been wreaking havoc for many, many years.