I had planned to talk about the challenges of feeding hay in the winter in north Missouri last year, but never got around to it. As it turns out, there are a different set of challenges this year, so i’ll roll them in to one blog.
Winter of 2017-2018 was really long, cold, bitter, but it was too long ago and though i know it was a challenge, i can’t remember. So, starting with winter 2018-2019, which was the second consecutive long winter following a drought made for a very tough feeding season despite selling about 30% of my cows/calves.
My plan was to set out hay for bale grazing in July while it was dry, leaving the Netwrap on for protection of the hay, then using electric polybraid to ration it out to the cows in the hopes of minimizing waste. Sounds like a plan, but you what happens to best laid plans. I did set it all out – about 70 bales spaced appropriately on about 5 acres, then set up the tape. then came the bitter winter early on along with deep, deep snow. Of course, then with no way of removing the Netwrap because of snow and ice and snow and wind took down and buried the polybraid. Cows and calves had their way with the hay.
Unfortunately, the amount of mud and trampling destroyed the 1/4 mile roll of polybraid and the Netwrap from 70 bales is buried. I needed to remove it before grass grows but it was impossible even with Dallas using the harrow to try and pull it up a bit. Sadly, most of it is still out in the pasture even now February, 2020. But the resultant organic matter definitely improved forage production!
This year (2019-2020) blessedly has been mild by comparison of the past two winter. Though we had an early cold snap, it didn’t really dig in cold until Jan 11 when a blizzard rolled in (the day i arrived from Fundo Panguilemu) with 1/4 inch of ice by the time i got to my pickup in the economy parking at airport.
I had started feeding hay way back in August to allow as much forage to grow for winter grazing as possible. Thankfully, we had an excellent growing season though a late start in 2019. However, the two previous years of drought has set back our typical production. But haying while it’s dry only works if your growing paddocks are out of reach for the cows – otherwise, they will practically refuse to eat hay if they see green growing grass.
The freezing spell which lasted until the 31st of January allowed us to unroll hay on frozen ground, but couldn’t take off the netwrap very often because it was frozen to the bale. We cut it across the bale so we could at least unroll it, but that leaves the netwrap under the hay.
Today (2 Feb 20), it was warm enough for me to survive outside for a while (actually spent 3 hours outside because it was 55F!), yet though thawed enough that i could pull up some of the netwrap from underneath the hay that the cows had left behind.
While i was gone to Chile (first of January), it was dry enough that Dallas was able to unroll about 22 bales on another location that needed more organic matter, so that is set for later to be eaten. And in December, Brett had set out about 30 bales with netwrap removed on a section that needs soil building with organic matter before breaking through the barely frozen mud. So once the cows run out of grazing (hopefully there is enough to last ’til first of March), then they’ll back track to these areas where hay is already set out.
I set up the polybraid around the remaining bales hoping they won’t need to be fed this winter. Time will tell. But unless it freezes hard again, it may not dry out until July or August.
Welcome to north Missouri – always 2 weeks from a drought in the summer and cow killing mud under sometimes deep snow and ice in the winter. It’s been said there are 3 good days a year in north Missouri.
Congratulations to my friend, Amy Baggott, on successfully navigating the hoops to obtain organic certification for their family farm, Tyner Pond Farm, near Greenfield, Indiana! Great interview with local tv station at this link. Layers, Broilers, pigs, and cattle.
Inside Indiana Business – Tyner Pond Farms land officially organic.
Thank you to all of you who take the time to ‘like’ or read or view my blog postings. Goodness knows, some of them are pretty specific to ranching and farming, but since we all eat then, perhaps in a small way, nearly all of them relate to all of us – so, just maybe not really interesting. These videos are great illustrations of why growing grass, then properly managing it for optimum animal, soil, forage, water, and ultimately human health is so important. If you are into the carbon credit, carbon sink, carbon sequestration thing, this is the heart of the matter. So, here we go…..! Thanks to On Pasture for finding and sharing great information.
You know how we always tell you that leaving more leaves of grass results in quicker recovery, and quicker recovery means more forage for your livestock? If you’d like to see that in action, here some videos you’ll like.
This first video is a comparison of the difference in response between Orchard grass continuously grazed to about 1″ height and rotationally grazed Orchard grass left at 3.5 inches tall. It’s taken over a 5 day period.
Here’s the last picture in the series to give you a closer look:
This second video does the same comparison with tall fescue. The grass on the left was grazed continuously to 1″. The grass on the right was rotationally grazed to 3.5 inches.
Again, here’s the final picture in the time-lapse:
It’s also interesting to compare the responses of different grasses. This last video compares Orchard grass on the left to fescue on the right. Both were “grazed” to 3.5 inches once a month. The video takes place over 7 days.
Here’s the last picture from this time-lapse series:
What kind of ideas do these videos give you?
Of course, time of year that grazing occurs and the amount of rest between grazings all factor in to the complex task a grazier has of managing stock. For more, check out this two-part series from Dave Pratt about grazing heights, rest and recovery times, and seasonality.
- Published: 11 hours ago on January 20, 2020
- By: Kathy Voth
- Last Modified: January 15, 2020 @ 11:13 am
- Filed Under: Forage, Pasture Health
Thank you to Tim Schafer who lives near Maryville, Missouri for this fabulous photo from a farm he leases illustrating his sheep winter grazing on soybean stubble. Awesome! He also has cattle grazing soybean stubble.
This is an issue i had yet to hear ever addressed! Thankful that On Pasture provided much needed information. If possible, to get cover crops growing after soybeans are harvested and before winter grazing, that would be a win-win for grazing and establishing living roots for soil stabilization.
After soybeans are harvested, cows sometimes are put out on the residues to graze. Some bean residues are even baled. But how good is this feed?
We’re all familiar with the usefulness of grazing corn stalks, but I see more and more residue from soybean fields grazed every year. Cows seem to like licking up what’s left behind after combining. But frankly, I’m a little concerned that some folks may think their cows are getting more from those soybean residues than what truly is there.
The problem is a matter of perception. When most of us think of soybeans, we think high protein so we expect soybean residues will be a high protein feed, too. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; soybean residue is very low in protein.
Soybean stems and pods contain only about 4 to 6 percent crude protein, well below the 7 to 8 percent needed for minimum support of a dry beef cow. Even though leaves can be up to 12 percent protein, it’s only around one-third digestible, so that’s not much help. In fact, protein digestibility is low in all bean residues.
Energy is even worse. TDN averages between 35 and 45 percent for leaves, stems, and pods. This is even lower than wheat straw. As a result, cows fed only bean residue can lose weight and condition very quickly. Heavy supplementation is needed to maintain cow health.
This doesn’t mean soybean residues are worthless for grazing or even baled. They can be a good extender of much higher quality hay or silage. However, cattle must be fed quite a bit of higher energy and protein feeds to make up for the deficiencies in soybean residues.
Don’t be misled into thinking bean residues are as good or better than corn stalks. Otherwise, you and your cows will suffer the consequences.
Yesterday (the 16th) is cold with a sharp wind, but sunny – not cold like in states closer to the 49th N parallel, but i don’t live there – my north Missouri Tannachton Farm at 39.95 is even too far north, but this is where my husband lives, so guess i’ll hang around.
Anyway, today the ice is coating all surfaces and the forecast is snow, single digits, sleet, ice, pellets, wind so to prepare for a nasty week ahead, I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s weather to set up a polywire electric fence with step in posts to strip off 1/4 of me cows’ next paddock. If ground is somewhat dry and there is no ice, i have to weigh in my mind whether or not it is better to give them a 20 acre paddock vs a portion. They won’t waste a lot in those conditions, so does my labor in setting up the fence offset less waste? This is how i think.
However, knowing there is going to be ice coming, i know that once quality and quantity winter stockpile is coated in ice, each hoof step can break the stems and leaves and do considerable damage to the grazing experience. Then my labor becomes much more valuable.
- evaluate quantity and quality of stockpiled forage.
- evaluate ground/weather conditions as to amount which may be destroyed just by livestock walking on the forage. (mud, ice, rain)
- Dry cows in good condition need the least quality of forage – if you have finishing cattle, young cattle, thin, or nursing cows, higher quality forage is necessary.
These factors give value to your labor. How much you determine your time to be worth will decide whether or not you can justify driving to your cattle and stripping off small allotments of grazing.
This article is printed in the most recent issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer and written by our good friend, Jim Gerrish. For more great articles like this, subscribe to The Stockman Grassfarmer. If you are interested in an upcoming speaking engagement or prefer private consultation, contact Jim.
What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer? By Jim Gerrish
Allan Nation used the term “grass farmer” to describe a new type of agricultural producer who was something beyond the conventional mold of a farmer or a rancher.
The true grass farmer is someone who understands the foundation of our business is harvesting solar energy and converting it into a salable product.
A grass farmer strives to create a healthy landscape where water infiltrates and does not escape the boundaries of the farm as runoff; someone who understands that life in the soil is as critical to farm production as the life above the soil.
A grass farmer understands the fewer steps you put between your livestock and the direct harvest of solar energy, the more likely it is that you will be profitable.
The true grass farmer is someone who becomes one with their landscape and the life within it. Grass farming has been described as farming in harmony with nature. This is contrary to many of the basic tenets of conventional or industrial farming where nature is viewed more as an enemy to be vanquished. Droughts and floods. Weeds and bugs, Scorching summer and bitter winter. All of these are aspects of nature conventional farmers and ranchers do daily battle to overcome.
It is very hard for most conventional farmers to understand grass farmers. For this lack of understanding grass farmers are often ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes, sadly, beaten into submission to the gods of iron and oil. Sometimes that conflict is fought in the local coffee shop, sometimes across the neighbor’s fence line, and sometimes across the kitchen table.
That brings me to the consideration of what is the grass farmer’s greatest challenge.
Four years ago, I received an anonymous letter from a frustrated grass farmer. It was five pages long and it outlines a 30-year long struggle to convert the family farming operation to an entirely pasture-based grass farming business. The letter writer asked me to somehow tell this story and try to help other farm families struggling with the same issues find some resolution.
I thought about that letter quite a bit at the time and tried to find something to pull out of it for a monthly column. I came up empty.
Earlier this year, I spent a day with a farm family and when I left, one of the family members put an envelope in my hand and suggested I read the contents some time later,. I did and, lo and behold, it was the same letter I had received anonymously four years earlier.
Now I had a face and a person to attach the story to. The victim-less crime now had a victim. How many times do we experience that in life? Some issue that never mattered an iota to us becomes a cause when it becomes personal.
I think the greatest challenge to becoming a true grass farmer are those family members who cannot see the farm with the same vision.
If your brother is a crop farmer who sees only gross income, how is he going to switch from growing corn bringing in $1000/acre to a cow-calf operation with a revenue of only $300/acre? That is a very hard sell. But, why does he have a job in town? He says he can’t make it just farming. When the breakeven cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3.85/bushel and the price is $3.46/bushel, a gross income of $1000 doesn’t pay the bills.
If you have a gross margin of $240/calf and it takes you three acres to run a pair year around, the gross margin per acre is $80. Which enterprise is actually better for the farm?
As long as your brother looks at gross income rather than gross margin per acre, he will never understand grass farming as a viable business.
When you have been taught all your life to till ground, kill weeds, spray bugs, and take whatever price the elevator offers you, it is hard to understand there is another way to use the farm.
If your culture says land must be divided with a 5-strand barbwire fence on the quarter section line, how can you accept weird shaped pastures created with single polywire? The whole cultural construct must first change.
As long as the mentality is that is it OK to spend $100,000 for a new tractor but you must buy the cheapest electric fence energizer at the farm and home store, grass farming will not move ahead. As long as the thought process i that the land rental rate is too high to run cattle on that field so we better plow it up, grass farming will never advance.
When farmers can wrap their heads around the idea that Mother Nature is our friend, then grass farming will move forward. When we truly believe our mission as stewards of the land is to create a living landscape on every acre of ground we manage, then we will become true grass farmers.
Sadly, that is why we still say we advance only one funeral at a time.
Hate to start the New Year with such a downer thought. Let’s see what February brings.
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant provide service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com. His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 26. He will present a Stockman Grass Farmer Grassroots of Grazing Schooland a Stockman Grass Farmer Management-Intensive Grazing School in February.