Category Archives: Grass & Forages

Operational Considerations

Change is not always good – certainly i’ve made more than my share of changes that have turned out badly and/or expensively. But i’ve learnt, tried, and found what i do NOT want to do.

When my children were little and had their own bits to do, i planned and built with their little bodies in mind. In other words, all the equipment and chores had to be designed so that a child can do it and be successful without overcoming them with too much work. I find that the older i get the more i need to lean back into that mindset for myself!! The adage of work smarter, not harder is becoming more important – in reality, it’s always the right thing. As David Pratt reminds me “you can be efficiently doing the wrong thing.” The key is to be effective. Is what i’m doing important to my goals – what are my goals? Am i aiming for the right target?

I’ve learnt from many grazing teachers (or as they are often referred to ‘gurus’), my experience and knowledge has greatly increased as i implemented their suggestions and techniques. But, when “Total Grazing” caught my attention, I was intrigued enough to explore this new thought process. My farming/ranching operation is now poised to become more fun and more profitable and I’m excited again about my career/lifestyle choice ingrained in my DNA and encouraged by my Grandpa Falconer on whose land (now mine) my cattle graze.

Some general thoughts, considerations, ideas, suggestions, and changes:

  1. Forage testing not needed – observe your cows and their manure. Of course, i had just tested 3 spots of forage and spent $150 in testing and shipping (not counting labor -because farmers don’t do that but should). When i sent the results to Jaime Elizondo, who has developed the pillars of Real Wealth Ranching, he advised me to observe the manure as to whether or not the cows need supplemental protein on mature forages. I was surely wanting him to tell me which of the protein results numbers generated is the one i choose to determine the need for protein (all the numbers were at the 8% threshold). Funnily, he would NOT answer that question. He patiently, yet persistently, circled back to “observe the manure”. So, that is what i will do – and i will no longer waste money on forage sampling.
  2. Consider weaning all spring born calves before December then selling or feeding them through winter. I’m not keen on feeding calves through winter or anytime for that matter, however, i will consider weaning then selling the steers and any heifers i won’t keep for replacements. I would then have far fewer animals to feed. I’m not set up to feed calves, so that will take some planning. Pulling the calves off earlier than March (my traditional weaning time) will give the cows a much longer time to recover as well as not have the stress of nursing the big calves as well as preparing to calve in April.
  3. It would be nice to get away from purchasing high protein tubs – handling them is doable by myself despite them weighing 200 lbs each. I simply slide them out of the bed of my pickup into the bed of my John Deere Gator, then in the pasture, i pull the tub out onto the ground. I can haul 2 tubs at once this way. I’ve also hauled 6 to the pasture in the back of my pickup, but this is tricky in winter because of bad roads and muddy fields.
  4. A better protein supplement is good quality alfalfa or other high protein legume or grass hay. I’m not sure how i can implement this with the equipment i have. However, it could be that weaning the calves before December will eliminate any protein supplementation.
  5. Given the distance from my house to the farm, i know i cannot implement the everyday 4x a day moves. However, i can do this more often if i don’t have the expense of other labor intensive chores. Wintertime, however, has a different challenge in that sometimes road conditions won’t allow me to get there for up to a week or rarely even more!
  6. This year (2021), i am very low on cows numbers because i sold so many last year to avoid feeding any hay – thankfully, i did so because i will have to start feeding hay had i not done so – still going to be close. So, what to do to increase numbers for the upcoming grazing season? This is a question i am researching and deciding – what do i like to do? Stockers? Heifers? Steers? Cow/calf pairs? There are tools to help with the financial decisions but the quality of life decision is mine.
  7. To reclaim the 120 acre Bowyer farm, i’ve been advised by two friends, Greg Judy, regenerative rancher (and wife, Jan, on Green Pastures Farm) in Clark, Missouri, USA and José Manuel Gortázar, Savory holistic instructor teaching in Coyhaique, Chile on the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate – Fundo Panguilemu not to worry with planting anything on the soil which has been organically soybeaned for 4 years. It is likely there is plenty of seed still in the soil which will come back with proper grazing management. I do know from observation, that the one year the farmer didn’t not plant soybeans it grew massive (like 6 feet tall!) foxtail and cocklebur. Not good choices, but very high quality forage actually if grazed at the right time. I’ve considered dragging a no-till drill up there and putting in oats as a suppressive, but weighing the cost and time to do so is not fun. I don’t like to drive a tractor and machinery plus our 15 foot drill does not shift to an inline pull, so it’s kind of dangerous to get it up to my farm on the long narrow and hilly roads. I think we are selling our no-till drill this year anyway. Running machinery is not a high priority for us and there are only so many hours in the day.

Every year, I make changes to my annual ‘itinerary’ and this one is no different. Time to type up a new plan.

Cheers!

Forage Samples

Before i took off on my driving trip to warmer weather in Continued Wanderings, and before super cold weather set in, i collected forages from standing forage (winter stockpile) for grazing to see what it’s value for animal nutrition would be. Since i raise beef cows, it is not so critical to have high quality all the time like a dairy cow needs, but since starting this new (to me) #total grazing scheme, i wanted to train my eye, so to speak, as to what the numbers look like in comparison to what the actual forage looks like.

There were three applications i wanted to measure;

1) Stockpiled forage which had been allowed to grow to full maturity since last being grazed very short in late May. This test will give me a good indication of what forage quality will be going forward with the total grazing plan i’ve implemented since fall, in which, forage is allowed to grow to full maturity before being grazed in winter.

2) new growth stockpile or that which had been grazed in August and had a little time to regrow (likely highest quality but lowest quantity). Once again, north Missouri was very short on late summer rains so very little forage could be stockpiled under the traditional MiG grazing plan, so many producers bought hay in preparation for a long winter of feeding – as you read in a previous posting here, i decided to sell stock to avoid hay feeding.

3) This sample will be a compilation of waterways, buffer zones, and other areas not worked up to raise organic soybeans. This one is from the Bowyer Farm and is 4 1/2 year old ungrazed or mowed old growth primarily toxic endophyte fescue.

As expected, all forages samples are marginal at best as far as feed value and crude protein which necessitates the feeding of some sort of protein supplement to help the cows’ guts break down the highly lignified grasses to grind out the nutrition in the forages. Even though i knew this going in, i felt it was worth the time and expense for my own education to have these images in my mind and numbers on paper to match up.

Education, sampling, researching, learning, observation are critical in any endeavor worth doing – ranching/farming is no different.

Scissors and a yellow plastic bucket are the complicated tools necessary to collect forage samples. These samples contained a lot of dry matter, so to collect a pound of forage, made for a lot of volume! This is the paddock # 8 sampling – the one not grazed since May 25, 2020 and collected on December 27, 2020
Once I brought home the sample, i cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to handle and dry more quickly. Using a protein tub to hold the sample kept messiness to a minimum.
Once cut into pieces, i could stuff it all into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag – it was really full – and weighed it up to be certain i had at least the required 1 lb sample for testing. Then i stuck all samples in the deep freeze because i wanted to wait to send it after the holidays – it still took 14 days from north Missouri to Ithaca, NY while paying for 3 day priority. Not happy.

Click on the link above to open the forage samples information from Dairy One Forage Testing Lab.

Paddock 8 – last grazed 12 May 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Paddock 24 – last grazed 11 Sep 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Bowyer Farm – last managed Nov 2016, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Prairie State Park

Before i lay into the management of the park, let me be clear that i haven’t a clue as to the constraints and regulations a state park must adhere to. Also, don’t hesitate to visit the park – winter is certainly not its most beautiful season. I did see about a dozen bison.

Covid stuff has made doing stuff a bit awkward – i didn’t see a soul at this park – rangers or visitors. The Prairie State Park visitor’s center was closed, so i back tracked to the camping area and with a bit of driving around, discovered an outdoor privy. It was gross, but didn’t gag me – maybe because i was desperate.

Anyway, that relieved, I drove back towards the visitor’s center – there was one long trail near the privy, but it was too late in the day for me to conquer it. I found one much shorter which was only a path through a burnt out field of native prairie – or what is accepted as native prairie.

Let me admit my bias up front; for regular pasture/field/timber management, i think fire is stupid. It destroys the micro organisms, small critters, and sends amazing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – not to mention it is dangerous and takes careful management so that the fire doesn’t get away. Typically, it does the exact opposite of what it is touted to accomplish.

There, having said that, fire can be a necessary tool for emergency renovation if we haven’t managed a parcel and now need to jump start healing – a one time deal – if other practices have been exhausted.

As i drove around the park, it appeared to have perhaps half of the property burnt to the ground. I almost didn’t take the time to make this hike, but so glad i did. This was the first time, i’ve explored, examined, encountered the devastating effects of fire on pasture/range/prairie.

Path of the Scorched Earth – would have made a better title.
The grasses are completely burnt, leaving not only no cover, but scorched soil. Any nutrients and saliva provided by bison are burnt up as well. Hopefully, the plants were allowed to grow enough to develop deep root systems to facilitate fast growth in the next growing season.
Oodles and myriads of small rodents and other critters skeletons and bones completely stripped of any hide or sinew. Either these animals were eaten or died a very long time ago or they were caught in the fire.
Pieces of a turtle shell. No one can know for sure the demise of the turtle. We have so few box turtles in north Missouri, i hate to see their destruction. We do have a lot of snapping turtles though, which we could do without – terribly hard on ducklings and goslings.
Woody sprouts thick and getting out of control without proper grazing by bison. These are a result of very low density grazing which allows selective grazing. Once these tree sprouts, thorny vines, etc get started, it’s very difficult to restore the prairie without mowing or chemicals. Fire does not hurt them.
People of the Sky trail – more charred earth – it was getting cold and i’ve learnt a lot by walking on charred pastures.

Snow Still on

The snow is still on along with some ice and this prickly thistle must have some vital nutrients since i observed a few of the cows purposefully selecting bits off this frozen plant. Typically, they’ll only eat the flowers off in the late spring, but this cow is showing her calf how to strip off the branches and leaves and eat them here in winter – leaving the stalk. Otherwise, there is a lot of fescue and other grasses they will thrive on with a bit of effort in this paddock. Not doing the more intense total grazing right now since there is more snow forecasted and i sure don’t want more polybraid strung out again. Uggggh. Additionally, these paddocks they are grazing now are really just gleaning in preparation for better total grazing next winter.

A couple days after this photo, we finally received enough sun to melt the completely iced up polybraid so it could be reeled up. It took some effort (my farm is not flat and there is still crunchy snow cover) and i surely slept well that evening, but i did reel up all 4 polybraids (a bit over 3000 feet) and pull posts, hauled them all home and put them in the fertilizer shed where they belong before arriving home well after dark. So glad to have that project done.

Cows eating prickly thistle.

Iced Up!

Thankfully, it’s not heavy ice, but it is slick and i’m cramponed up to keep from falling and even though i use polybraid and not poly tape, the ice was heavy enough to bring the fence down to the ground.

After taking a couple hard falls on ice last year and knowing the amazing work crampons do whilst hiking glaciers in Iceland last year (2019), i invested in a couple sets of inexpensive crampons for the very occasional Missouri icy winter days.
Iceland – September 2019 (perhaps a bit of tricky photography here)

With below freezing weather for the next 5 days, i left it up as best as i could and still have it peeled back so the cows wouldn’t get trapped behind it. Sounds odd, but stock can always get across a fence one way, but are stymied by a return.

So they are set now with access to the water tank though it is unlikely, with all the snow, they’ll make the trek, but they also have a clear path to their protein tubs. The poly and reels are frozen stiff, so the cows/calves have the whole paddock for their enjoyment. There isn’t a lot of forage on the remainder of the paddock so i’m not concerned with them wasting any. Just glad i don’t need to go back and check on them in this cold and icy weather (with winter storm moving in tonight and another 5 inches of snow forecasted)- did i mention a few times i don’t do cold?

This is where that flexibility in grazing happens.

All the fence is iced up and laying nearly on the ground like this. The cows simply stepped over without much thought to whether or not they were out.
Cows in wrong temporary paddock. No need to try and fix it up. Wait until the thaw before getting back to total grazing.
Not much ice on the tank, but some since cows aren’t using it for water source.

Cows graze right through this little bit of snow and ice – teaching their calves how to graze. Still a lot of green beneath the snow.

It may be cold, but cows and calves with good grazing and healthy are satisfied and don’t even notice.

Paddock Lessons so far

  1. plan paddock design with straight lines and 660 feet or less to strip graze. In a perfect world this could happen, in reality, there are draws, copses, deep ditches, travel situations which the livestock will simply never figure out, washouts, timbers, etc, etc, ad nauseum. But shoot for that layout as much as possible. Whether you aspire to total grazing, MiG (management-intensive grazing), adaptive grazing, mob grazing, the rectangular paddock with water source less than 800 feet (Paul Peterson was a lead in this study funded through SARE back in 1994) is about as an ideal for a scheme that requires much flexibility in fencing, grazing, and producer mindset.
  2. But remember to balance cost and time with grazing efficiency. In other words, if the paddock is most effective with a good water source 1000 feet, then that may be the best strategy.
  3. With paddocks designed utilizing 1.22 inch fiberglass posts about 50 feet apart (more closely spaced posts of course depending on terrain – north Missouri with undulating land, deep ditches, and timbers will frequently require closer placement than that). Using 1.22 inch posts provides a firm post for hooking onto for strip grazing at both ends.

As i prepare for the future in following guidelines for total grazing, i’m grazing this area intensively with temporary fencing for now. However, i do not plan to have to do this in the future. Far too much work and i’m allergic to work.

Here’s my on-the-fly fix for a temporary end post. Most of the time, these 1.22 inch fiberglass posts can be pulled up by hand. Note my makeshift hook (adulterated cotter pin) for the reel.
After the fiberglass is pulled up by hand, then it needs redriving in the next location along with the leap frogged polybraid and reel. Yes, i paint my driver orange so we can find them and not leave them planted all over the farm. Thankfully, the driver slid right over my makeshift hook so i didn’t have to remove and replace it. Snow was starting to come down and i was getting cold.
Better manure distribution with total grazing or some other managed program.
Cattle are restless today with snow and ice coming in. Thankfully not going to get super cold, but the wind is sharp. They have a nice timber to get in out of the wind if needed. If that break for grazing looks like a lot of area, you are right, there really isn’t much volume but yet it still needs cleaning up. Also, we are now getting ice on top of snow (3 hours after this photo was taken) so i’m giving them enough to get by in case i can’t get to my farm due to slick roads tomorrow.
Where are the now? they are on the north side of the orangish line. the orange line from extending from the timber to perimeter fence is a polybraid temporary set up only for this grazing set up . The cows are being moved to the south in a fencing leap frog scenario.

Permanent Ley Update

So very odd that i’ve completely forgotten to finish this summary of my expensive permanent ley scheme which was completed the fall of 2017! So quick answer is that three years hence, there is a beautiful and diverse stand of valuable desirable mix of grass and legume species. Much of the original plants seeded are returning each year. I’ve been careful to allow them to mature and go to seed each year since to add to the seed bank. However, i still have not gained in cow days per acre in comparison to what i had before though the species are higher quality and likely allow better gains and performance in the cattle. Overall, i won’t do it again. I don’t like tillage and now that i’ve started total grazing, i’m hopeful i can improve forage while making money instead of spending money.

Update on that permanent ley seeding initiated last summer (2017).  We are still quite dry and with an unusual fall and lengthy, cold, harsh winter followed by a record setting cold April followed by a record warm May, grasses here in north Missouri are really confused and not producing.  The deal is that cool season grasses which show their greatest growth in spring had no chance this year.  April kept the soil temperatures far too cold for growth, then May spiked the heat, so grasses stopped growing!  Many grasses normally 2-3 feet tall were heading out and setting seed at only 6-8 inches!!  Another challenging year in agriculture.

The result of the shortage is that a lot of cattle have gone to market.  We have already sold ALL of our yearling calf crop born last year because of the shortage.  Plus, as part of a managed drought plan, we’ve also sold a good number of cows that we wouldn’t normally have done.  North Missouri was already short on livestock (due to the spike in crop prices a few years back, many pastures were plowed up and farmed), and now it is significantly more depleted.

 

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This beautiful burnett plant is such a valuable plant and three years later, it still comes on strong each spring.  Always excited to see it!

Three years after renovating this paddock, there is still a lovely mixture of red clover, lespedeza, birdsfoot trefoil, timothy, meadow fescue, chicory, and others!

Delar Burnet is an awesome grass – excited to see it staying established.