Category Archives: Grass & Forages

Everything Cover Crops

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 coped 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.

Old, Stupid, and Lazy?!

I know I promote Dave Pratt and his Ranching for Profit video blogs a lot and, even though i don’t agree with him on many points, there are a lot of good points he eloquently describes which are applicable to any business – not only ranching.

I’ve ’bout got my hobby farm to the ‘old, stupid, and lazy’ stage, but gracious, how could i attract anyone to cover for me if they thought i was needing someone old, stupid, and lazy ?  😀

Here’s another great one!

Cheapest Ranch to Buy Part 2

The second part of Jim Gerrish‘s excellent article and how to not only make your farm or ranch more profitable, but also improve soil, grazing, water, and wildlife.Building electric fence in rough countryJim Gerrish

In most locations, single-wire electric fence and water facilities are the main costs for improved grazing management.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part II

For a fraction of the cost of purchase, most ranches can make improvements that sometimes double their carrying capacity.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 12, 2019

In Part 1 of this series, I made two fundamental assertions: The first was that time management of grazing period and recovery time is the primary determinant of pasture productivity. The second is that we should be assessing ranch output and profitability on a per-acre basis not on the per-animal basis commonly used in the ranching industry.

I ended that article with the observation that increasing pasture or range production by 40% would be more profitable than trying to increase individual animal productivity by 40%.

My 40% is not a magic number. It is simply the example I am using. I do that partly because of the commonly held idea that producing a 700-pound calf must be more profitable than raising a 500-pound calf. The other reason I am using 40% is because that is also a common level of increase in pasture productivity we see when ranchers implement management-intensive grazing (MiG).

MiG is the term I use to describe an approach to grazing management that is more intensive than the set-stocking or slow rotations common in the ranching industry. Our objective is to shorten the period of time any piece of pasture or rangeland is exposed to grazing animals. If we do this, the potential recovery period is always significantly extended. This is the key component of time management I have been referring to.

When we build subdivision fencing across the landscape of the ranch, we are not only subdividing space, we are also subdividing time.  Each time we make a smaller pasture increment, we reduce the amount of time the stock will be on that increment. That has a tremendous, and for some ranchers, an almost unbelievable change in the vigor and productivity of the pasture. With shortened grazing periods, we can more tightly control every aspect of the soil-plant-animal relationship. That is the component missing from almost all of the grazing management research of the last 100 years.

What is this management of time worth down on the ranch?

As mentioned above, the average increase in carrying capacity we see among our ranching clients adopting MiG and making investments in stock water development and subdivision fencing is about 40%. We have numerous clients who have doubled their carrying capacity. We have a few who have gotten less than 40%. All of this is the product of more effectively managing the period of time cattle are allowed to be in a particular area. On rangeland we usually work toward having that time period no more than 7-10 days. On productive pasture, we keep the length of the grazing period to no more than 3-4 days.

What does it cost to install all that fence, pipelines and tanks?

Every ranch is different, so of course the answer is that it depends! For example, is there already a good well on the property or do we need to drill a well? Is there already a pipeline network on the property that we can spur off of? Are there existing fences that are in reasonable locations that can be used in the new management scheme? These are the components that can make a difference. Here are examples from a couple of recent projects we have designed and which the ranchers implemented.

Jim GerrishA dozer pulling in water line.

Livestock water typically is the most limiting resource for managed grazing, but it is far cheaper than land.

Twice the ranch

On an 8,000-acre ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, we started a ranch that had 15-20 existing pastures with low-output windmills that allowed them to only carry 20-60 cows in each pasture. With a 7.5-mile pipeline project, 20 new stock tanks, and more than 20 miles of two-wire electrified high-tensile fencing, the ranch was split into about 60 permanent pastures with a stock-water supply system that allows 600-800 cows to be run in a single herd. The project cost was about $400,000 when we include the rancher’s labor contribution to the construction project. That is a big chunk of money, but on a per-acre basis it is only $50 per acre. In three years’ time, this ranch doubled its carrying capacity and the infrastructure investment was paid off in the third year.

That means they essentially bought another ranch for $50 per acre, while the cost to go out and actually purchase another ranch would have been $1,000 per acre, plus closing costs and added taxes.

Might double

Another recent project on a 30,000-acre ranch racked up an infrastructure development cost of about $1.1 million. That is a per-acre cost of about $36. Projecting a 40% increase in carrying capacity has the project paid off in year four. With a 40% increase in carrying capacity, the equivalent per acre purchase price is $90 per acre. I am confident this ranch will also experience a doubling of carrying capacity in 3-5 years, so the payoff rate should be accelerated. Why do I expect this ranch to double carrying capacity? Because the ranch is presently very under-supplied with stock water and much of the ranch is rarely even being grazed.

Remember the title on the article: “What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy?”

It is the one you acquire by more effectively managing grazing and recovery time on the ranch you already own.

Read part one of this story here. Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

 

Cheapest Ranch You Can Buy Part 1

Written by my friend, Jim Gerrish, for Beef Producer magazine:  This is Part 1

What is the Cheapest Ranch You Will Ever Buy?

Cows grazing Nebraska SandhillsAlan Newport
Changing the way we graze can dramatically alter the value and production of a ranch.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part 1

The value of grazing management cannot be overstated, author says.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 09, 2019

Whenever a group of ranchers get together, sooner or later the conversation will turn to whose place just got sold and what did it bring. There will be some head shaking and bemoaning how you just can’t afford to buy another ranch or help your kid get started on a new place.

In much of the country, the price of ranch land is driven by non-ranching factors. People are paying way more for the recreational value or the view from the ranch than what livestock production can afford to pay.

There generally is a common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow in any neighborhood. Most people seem to believe this is a predetermined stocking rate that is determined almost entirely by the amount of rainfall received in any given year. The truth is, environment determines only the upper limit of the carrying capacity potential of a ranch. It is the ranchers grazing management that determines how much of that potential is actually realized.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is most ranches in the US are managed in a way that generally captures less than half of the biological carrying capacity of the ranch. The two primary ingredients for producing beef are sunshine and water. Most ranches are ineffective at harvesting these two “free” inputs. While sunshine and rain water are free ingredients, the landscape we use as our solar panel and water catchment is not free.

If we decide we need to increase the beef output on our ranch by 40% to generate the revenue flow we need to make a living, how might we go about doing that?

One obvious way is to buy another ranch that is 40% the size of our current holdings. If our current ranch is worth $1,000/acre and we have 1,000 acres, we would need to buy 400 more acres at $1,000 to get 40% more grazing capacity. That would be $400,000 outlay, plus there would be closing costs, an increase in taxes, and so forth.

The failed approach the ranching industry has taken has been the quest to increase output per individual cow by 40%. Rather than having cows that wean 500 pounds, let’s have cows that wean 700 pounds. The number of articles published in the last five years showing the folly of this approach is astounding. Go to the winter cattle production meetings and every one of them seems to feature a university researcher now showing big cows decrease ranch profitability, not the other way around.

A less obvious way to increase stocking rate is to get 40% more production out of every acre we currently own or control. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream ranchers can only think of adding irrigation or more fertilizer or tear up the native range to plant some foreign wonder-grass. Is that really all we can do?

What if we found a way to capture more solar energy and water on every acre? How could we do that and what might it cost?

Let’s step back and ask why are most ranches operating at less than 50% of their biological carrying capacity? The simplest answer is there is too much bare ground. Bare ground doesn’t capture solar energy and make cow feed. Bare ground allows water to run off or set on the surface and evaporate. Why do most ranches have too much bare ground? Because cattle stay too long in the same place and pasture and rangeland are not allowed adequate recovery time to maintain plant vigor.

In 40 years of commercial ranching and grazing research I have learned the primary determinants of range and pasture productivity are:

  1. The amount of time stock are allowed to be on a particular piece of ground
  2. The time allowed for recovery

That local common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow is fundamentally flawed because it is based on management that completely ignores the role of time management on the nature of our soil health and plant community.

For the last 50 years the ranching industry and community focused on the animal and animal genetics, which misses the point that it is the land base controlled and the productivity of that land that drives ranch profitability, not individual animal productivity.

On a commercial ranch, most of our production costs are land-based costs, not animal-based costs. This is the reason why increasing the productivity of an acre of grazing land by 40% will always have much more impact of bottom line profitability than will increasing individual cow productivity by 40%.

Next week: Learn how to get that ranch production increase of 40% or more.

Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

 

Sunn Hemp in the Garden

There was just a couple pounds left over of the Sunn Hemp and although it was a couple years old, i just threw it on my garden spot and expected it to do nothing.  HA!  Not only did the seed sprout (it was not even inoculated) it thrived, then took over!  Needless to say my garden production suffered, but i’m just gonna let it grow and see what it will do.  It is not supposed to mature and make seed in our environment.  Otherwise, it could become an invasive species and though it is not native to the US, it is being promoted as a deep rooted plant which will bring up minerals as well as provide some grazing when it is much younger.  The stalks now are up to an inch in diameter and quite sturdy.  I plan to chop them down and let them lay as a cover to the soil.  The chickens will have opportunity to winter in the garden plot and they will scratch it around and maybe eat a few leaves all the while adding manure out the back end.

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Those middle cattle panels are 8 feet tall.
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The flowers on Sunn Hemp are really lovely.  It is a native of India and is extremely heat tolerant.

IMG-7101

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!

tauna

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.
IMG-6115
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