Category Archives: Grass & Forages

Pasture Renovation

Farming and ranching are both career choices which require continued study, education, and practice modification to remain profitable and regenerative.  As you know from previous blog entries, i’ve tried tillage and replanting with perennials, hired an organic farmer who is using minimal tillage and planting food grade soybeans and has tried planting cover crops to hold soil when crops are harvested (this has not been successful – weather), and both of these approaches to eliminate toxic endophyte fescue have been very expensive and no enhancement of soil health.

My next practice is planned to start with frost seeding as soon as weather allows – which is looking to be challenging since we are in the midst of a polar vortex right now and near record lows.  But turnaround this weekend to near historic highs.  Missouri is always a challenge in the weather department.  Broadcast frost seeding is typically accomplished by early March.

High stock density grazing or mob grazing is labor intensive and thereby expensive to implement, but i hope to use this practice to prepare the soil for receiving the grass/forage seeds.  All these expenses i will record, track, and monetize to make an apples to apples comparison with the other two practices i’ve tried.  (Organic soybean farming and Permanent Ley Pasture)

To keep costs down, i plant to use annuals, grazing, and long rest to allow these plants to produce a lot of growth but before the plants become unpalatable, mob graze again allowing lots of manure and urine deposition across the paddock as well as trampling plants to keep soil covered and cool.  That’s the plan anyway.  My top photo was taken last year, but illustrates what the grazing/trampling effect i hope to achieve with hoof action and no mechanical tillage.

Planned seeds for broadcast:

  • Alsike clover – .25 lb
  • Barley – 8 lbs
  • Lespedeza  – 3 lbs (if a supply can be sourced)
  • Oats – 8 lbs
  • Sunflower – 3 lbs

I’ve ordered a broadcast seeder for my John Deere Gator, so that should make broadcasting much easier so that i’m more likely to get it done in a timely fashion.  Sometimes having the right machinery makes money rather than costing.  It depends on one’s goals and how much you value your time.  Also, if the practice is effective.  If, for example, the practice does not add value to my operation, then the more i do it, the more expensive it becomes.  One of the holistic management testing decisions.

  1. Energy/money source & use
    • Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source in terms of your holistic goal?
    • Will the way in which energy or money is to be used lead toward your holistic goal.

So, this is what i do when i have a really bad head and it’s below freezing outside. Study and plan.

Cheers!

tauna

 

A Big Snow for Us!

Okay, i know, in many parts of the world, including the United States, a foot of snow is hardly an event.  But we haven’t had accumulation like this for at least a decade!   I’m not a fan of snow, but soft, loose snow like this is useful for subsoil moisture and filling ponds.

Thankfully, with managed grazing protocols in place, one can largely avoid having to get out into the weather and on the bad roads.  Today’s event is continuing, but the temps hovering around 30 degrees.  The snow ploughs have been doing the best they can to keep highways open.

Mostly livestock have no problems grazing through this snow, though heavy cover of ice on top of a foot of snow is actually a really bad situation, which we haven’t had for many, many years.

Below are some photos from years past since i’m not driving up to my farm today on slick roads just to take a photo of my cows.  In a few days, i’ll mosey on up in my JD Gator and check on them.  If they need more grazing, i’ll roll up the polywire and let them have access to the next paddock already set up.  In the next paddock are 5 big hay bales they will have access to as well as mostly grazing.  However, i don’t expect them to need a new break.

9  grazing under the snow - Copy

3 Polywire and step in posts - stood thru wind and snow! - Copy
Cattle grazing through snow – strip grazing stockpiles forage
Cattle - Dec 2013 (7) - Copy
Sheep bale grazing near a small patch of timber.
photos 010
Queen of the Log!  Sheep and horses handle the snow very well, since they will just paw through to the goodies.
Tannachton Farm - winter grazing 2013-small copywrited
This photo is not taken today, but illustrates how cows and calves alike have no problem grazing through deep snow.  They are not expecting to be fed.  

The only livestock we have that refuses the snow are our small flock of laying hens!

img-4976img-4980

img-4981
Happy hens when i fed them inside their eggmobile.  

Be safe out there!!!

tauna

 

 

 

Richly Flavoured Oxtail

Were settling in for a long string of cold days, so time to catch up on those indoor jobs.  So today, i’m turning a couple packages of home raised grass finished frozen oxtail into delicious and versatile food.  After unwrapping and placing the thawed beef oxtail pieces in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 3-4 hours.  When tender, let cool then pull off the meat pieces.  The bones and extra fat i feed to our laying hens.  Chickens are omnivores, so it’s not a bad thing, but i never feed chicken back to chicken.  Chicken bones are fed to the dog.

Ideas for the meat: baleadas, quesadillas, roast beef salad, roast beef sandwich (using broth to make gravy), barbecued pulled beef, beef topping for fresh salad, or make vegetable beef soup with the broth or just plain broth if you or a loved one is under the weather.

Cheers!

tauna

img-5053

Check out that yellow fat!  Only from fully grass-finished animals.  Check out Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products

Setting Goals – Making Plans

Many of us have been caught up in discussions on social media which sometimes turn into nasty mud flinging and other nonsense.  Religious issues with many gurus often offers answers which are confusing and double-minded at best.  Livestock grazing, soil regeneration (regenerative is the goal; sustainable is out, and rightly so, since many of us have denigrated soil resources; sustaining that is ridiculous), wildlife enhancement, water quality, breed of cattle (or other livestock) are promoted with such fervor and worship to qualify as religions.

Yet, the reality of our fallen world and its natural processes, is so complex, that one size fits all does not work.  In the words of my friend Jim Gerrish, “it depends.”  And indeed it does.  Sure, there are some principles, ideas, and theories which are basic and we can learn from these.  However, the key must be to identify our own goals, resources, restrictions, and, as Allan Nation coined, ‘unfair advantages.’

You can search and find a myriad of experts ready to guide you on goal setting.  Read through them, many will help fertilize your own thoughts.   Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

  • Goals will involve family and friends- you don’t live in a bubble – be mindful and consider if your goals will push loved ones away.
  • Goals should consider the future – remember, you won’t always be 25 years old.  Work hard now,  but move into more investments.
  • Goals should include those things you want to do.  You may become successful not doing this, but there may be limited satisfaction.
  • Goals should be written down and in a place you can reference them.
  • Goals should be flexible – we cannot control the world – sometimes shifting a goal is necessary to be relevant.

Grazing livestock management schemes are confusing and challenging – like a lot of fields (excuse the pun).  When you throw in that one guru says do this and another says do the opposite, how is a newcomer to make decisions?  It is tough, for sure, but read a lot, go to a few conferences by tried and true teachers, for example  guys and gals who are or have been graziers themselves.  Networking with other producers will really help, but avoid meaningless quarrels.

Just like knowing the difference between economic (is the endeavor worth doing?) and financial (can i afford to do it?) decisions, knowing the difference between goal setting and planning is essential.  You may have great goals, but can actual plans be made to reach the goals?  And beyond that, you must ask yourself, am i motivated enough to see it through?  Don’t start a task if you don’t count the cost in advance.  These costs are beyond money – they include relationships which may be lost, declining health, spiritual or mental stress.

Change is inevitable, goals change, plans change, plans change because the goals change, goals change because of many, many factors, including age, time, priorities.  Don’t get bogged down with thinking you cannot change goals or plans, but keeping meaningful, timely, and accurate records is a must!

Happy Planning!

tauna

 

 

Regenerative Farming

One of the best educational conferences, Missouri Livestock Symposium, in the state of Missouri, with an outstanding lineup of speakers every year is free to attend and a free lunch sweetens the pot.  But all that aside, it is an excellent opportunity for farmers/ranchers/beekeepers/horse owners/stock dog enthusiasts to learn, not only from ‘experts’ but mostly from each other.  Like most industry, farmers learning and networking with other farmers often results in more improvement.

Of the many takeaways from the symposium was a brochure that hubby, Allen, picked up from the ATTRA-NCAT booth on “Building Healthy Pasture Soils.”  While the bullet points they make have been known for millennia, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them to see if a return to the old ways will be profitable and regenerative for today’s farming.   The answer is already a resounding ‘yes’ for the hand’s on land owner, but is debatable (short term anyway) for the renter or absentee land owner.  As my son’s fiance pointed out, it takes at least 4 years of regenerative farming practices to turn that soil health around.  Renters will not want to invest in a long term fertility strategy; absentee landowners are typically only interested in immediate returns in the form of annual cash rent.

Excerpt from article:

Strategies for Building Healthy Soils
Let’s consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right?

Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices:

  1. Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.
  2. Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.
  3. Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an “armor” to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.
  4. Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm- season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.
  5. Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.
  6. Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.

For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices.

Managing means planning AND implementing.  All the planning in the world will not enact change or improvement; action and motivation drives profitability and regeneration.  If you are not motivated, not able to get things done in a timely manner, then get someone to come alongside you and map out a plan – yet YOU are the one to ‘git ‘er done.  Too many times, i see people with excellent plans stymied by their inability to get out of the chair and off the paper – i call that analysis paralysis.  Don’t be a victim!

Cheers and happy farming!

tauna

 

About the Farm this Fall

IMGP4418 (2)
Late afternoon break from work to enjoy my workplace view shed.  Missouri is having splendid fall color this year!
IMGP4421
One of my pretty Corriente cows.
IMGP4408
Bald Eagles seemed skittish this year, thus difficult for casual snapshots.
IMG_4882
Another corral improvement for this year, is that i set up these old panels across the upper part of my round gathering pen.  This way, the calves could be sorted into it as they come by, whilst the cows go on by to another pen.  Worked slick as a whistle.  Someday, though, i’m going to have to get some help, these panels weigh at least 75 lbs a piece and moving them into position to hook together is getting more difficult for me.  However, since it worked, these will stay put now.
IMG_4879
Showing how difficult it is to shift cows from one paddock to another.  HA HA!  Open the gate and get out of the way!

 

IMG_4863 (1)
Buckbrush, as we call it in north Missouri, grew prolifically this year, i guess due to excessive heat and dry weather.  Bonus for the deer and many other wildlife this winter.  
IMG_4848
Improvements to my corral.  Here i’m hanging gates and cutting a hole in my corral to make it easier to sort off animals which need to go back in a pen rather than let loose.

 

IMG_4847
This gate is used to make the runway (race) more narrow for young calves.  Once installed, it reduces the passageway from 28 inches wide (for cows) to 16 inches wide (young calves).  Everything i do, i try to repurpose stuff we have.  Profit margin in cattle is too narrow to spend money unless absolutely necessary.  Here, i’ve added this black plastic taken from a busted feed bunk and drilled it onto my gate.  This way the calves don’t stick their heads between the bars.  It worked!

Have a great weekend and Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

 

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

    Print       Email

This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.

Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.

Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.

1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.

This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.

2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.

It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.

3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.

You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.

4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.

5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.

In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.

IMG_9954You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.

Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.

The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

We hope you’ll join the On Pasture crew at this year’s conference in Reno. We love it because there are so many producers sharing their experience from all across the country. We always learn a lot! Remember – registration goes up to $475 on October 16!

 

 

Thanks to the On Pasture readers providing financial support.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a $15,000 match from readers to make our grant happen this year. If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. Being able to show that kind of support is especially helpful when we’re approaching outside funders.

    Print       Email

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.