Category Archives: Grass & Forages

The Art of Balance

The best for animal husbandry and land stewardship is often a balanced decision.  These past two years in north-central/northwest Missouri and a bit of southwest Iowa makes grazing management decisions tough to call.  Two years of unusually dry and hot summers each followed by severe cold and long winters has left our pastures and pasture management in tatters.  The following article printed in Midwest Marketer magazine is from Iowa State University Extension beef specialists Erika Lundy and Denise Schwab offers some ideas for consideration.  We live in toxic endophyte fescue country, so it is not a best practice to encourage its growth with the addition of any type of applied nitrogen.  Legumes planted can mitigate the effects by replacing the poisonous grass, but must be managed with proper grazing.

Make Forage Growth A Priority After Hard Winter

 

Forage Growth A Priority - Iowa State University - 2019.jpg

What a landowner looks for in a lessee

What A Landowner Looks For in A Lessee

Helpful article in the April 2019 Issue (4) of Progressive Cattleman.

Online article.

 

What a landowner looks for in a lessee

Jenny Pluhar for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 March 2019
Frank Price (left) and Grant Teplicek

“Is this Jenny?”

“Yes. …”

“This is John Q. Public. I heard you have a ranch available for lease, and I run some cattle. …”

That opening line pretty much guaranteed I was not going to consider that offer to lease. Most likely John Q. had a job in town. He may have been the pharmacist, owned the hardware store or been a schoolteacher. But in my neck of the woods (Texas), “running cattle” is the ultimate sexy, cool, cowboy thing to do.

The mere fact so many think it is easy offends me. That fellow on the other end of the phone hoping to lease from me needs to be managing a complex ecosystem and ensuring sustainability into the future. He is running a business where profitability is closely linked to stewardship of the land. He is not just “running cattle.”

This was not my first rodeo. I have changed lessees for these owners twice before over 24 years. We tend to choose carefully and hope to have long-term relationships. I have been threatened: “I will pay more than John Doe; aren’t you supposed to make the most money possible for the owners?” “You’ll never find someone to go along with all your stipulations.” “If I lease your place, I will decide how to operate it.” “Give me the owner’s number; I will tell him I will pay more.”

Nope, yep and nope. By all means, call the owner. He will hang up on you, guaranteed. My goal was to find the right lessee, someone who wanted to manage that complex ecosystem, strive for sustainability, make a profit. The happy ending is: Although I received the above-mentioned phone call probably a hundred times, I had four outstanding candidates to lease the ranch, and another four queued up if the first four opted out.

Serious about stewardship

What to look for in a lessee? How to find the guy or gal who can manage a complex ecosystem and steward the rangeland resource while still making a profitable living for their family? Face it, if we don’t take profitability into account, the goal of stewardship becomes just another buzzword.

Of the calls I received, only one was actually a credible possibility – and only because I had lost touch with the young man. I knew and respected him but was out-of-date on his progression in the ranching industry. The viable candidates were people I contacted, folks I knew from field days, ranch tours, word-of-mouth. I knew them to be serious about stewardship, profitable, eager to learn and progressive-type operators. I had observed them in action, often at Texas Grazing Land Coalition activities, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers School for Successful Cattlemen, local workshops.

My initial concern was that none of them would want to consider this property. It is remote and, frankly, was beat up – continuously grazed, overstocked, infrastructure needing attention, definitely a ranch in rehab. Lucky for me, I had four respectable land stewards who were interested.

After a bad experience with past lessees, the owners and I were determined to make a good selection. We were in no hurry, which was key to a successful process.

I spent a day on the ranch with each potential lessee. We climbed on the side-by-side and attempted to see as much as possible. Thirty-thousand acres is a lot of ground to cover, but I wanted them to see the good, the bad and the ugly. And I wanted to gauge their goals. The owners and I have some specific goals, focusing primarily on improving rangeland conditions.

It is a mighty challenge, and I needed to know if the candidates were up to the task and aware of the degradation of the resources. Those hours on the ATV allowed me to quickly assess their mettle. Did they know the plants? Did they know how much water a cow-calf pair or a stocker needed daily? Were they savvy on stocking rates, animal unit equivalents, grazable acres and harvest efficiency?

Then I turned the tables. I asked to see country each candidate leased – in my book, that’s the “résumé” of a rancher. What does the place you operate look like? So I spent a corresponding day with each of them, riding around, looking closely at how they conducted business.

Following the days on the ranch, I asked each to tell me what they saw. I developed a few questions. What did they see as the shortcomings of the ranch? And how would they overcome those obstacles? What about the advantages? How would we collaborate, communicate? How would they handle the necessary labor?

Why would we care about the labor? The ranch is remote. School is nearly a 50-mile bus ride away with the potential for the ability to transfer to the school district only 20 miles away. Sadly, substance abuse is a real problem among ranch cowboys in the Texas Panhandle. This location is not for everybody. Leasing this ranch and putting someone out there with a young family or a fast crowd of friends is not going to get the job done. “Cowboys” who have limited skill sets and want to drive around or spend aimless time horseback are a dime a dozen. We recognize the need for the labor to be able to manage the resource, not just cake the cattle in the winter and ride a horse all summer.

Up for a challenge

By now you are thinking, “Man, she put these potential lessees through a bunch of hoops just to ‘run some cattle’.” It was exciting to find four candidates who found the opportunity to improve the conditions, something that excited and challenged them. They provided potential solutions to our challenges, grazing and monitoring plans, communication plans and really showed off their eagerness and enthusiasm. Anyone who says there are not young, enthusiastic ranchers wanting a chance to get started or expand in the business hasn’t looked around very hard.

Finally, the owners and I interviewed them together. That face-to-face meeting is important. It also allowed the potential lessees to gauge if they wanted to enter into a challenging ranch rehab and do business with the owners. These things go both ways. Our extensive process allowed for plenty of time for both sides to assess the situation and evaluate the potential.

The best advice for folks looking to lease land is really pretty simple. Think of it as a job interview. What do you bring to the table? How will you work with the landowner? Plan to forge a relationship, stewarding the land for the good of the owner and your own profitability. If you are just looking to “run some cattle,” put that phone down and go look for something else to do.

Ranching is the management of a complex ecosystem, grazing animals all with the goal of economic and environmental sustainability. It’s not rocket science. Literally. It’s way more complicated.  end mark

PHOTO: Frank Price (left) of Sterling City, Texas, explains the improving forage conditions on a lease property to Grant Teplicek of USDA-NRCS. Photo provided by Jenny Pluhar. 

Jenny Pluhar

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 5

Part 5 of Jim Gerrish article on Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land.  American Grazinglands Services. 

Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

By   /  March 25, 2019  /  2 Comments

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In case you missed them, here are links for previous articles in this series: Part 1, Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

We have so far only considered the role of buying and feeding hay as a Nitrogen source for your pastures. Hay is also a great source for slow-release Phosphorus to benefit your pastures.

Manufactured P fertilizers have recently been shown to be detrimental to the presence and function of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Using fed hay as a P source rather than concentrated soluble fertilizers feeds the fungi rather than diminishing them.

Factors Limiting Plant Growth

Nitrogen is generally considered to be the first most limiting nutrient for plant growth in terrestrial environments. Phosphorus is very often the 2nd most limiting nutrient. Unlike the N fixation process carried out by legumes in association with Rhizobia bacteria, we cannot create P out of thin air.

P is critical to both plants and animals as all energy transfers within plant and animal are mediated by P containing compounds. Abundant P is necessary to have healthy pastures and livestock.

Almost all P excreted by animals is in the dung. Because most cattle defecations occur when the animal is at rest, dung tends to accumulate where animals congregate – on the feeding line for example, or where cattle bed in hay not consumed. It does not get spread out over the entire pasture area if feeding is limited to small areas of the pasture.

This why spreading the hay out in the feeding process helps the P cycle.

Excess Nutrients Cause Problems

While P is a critical component of life, it also has pollution potential if we are allowing manure to concentrate in areas prone to surface runoff and soil erosion.

Mismanaged hay feeding can lead to excessive runoff of fecal material into surface water leading to aquatic weed growth and algal blooms. The ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay are due to P runoff as well as N runoff.

How Much P Does Hay Feeding Provide?

Using our previous example of bale grazing with over 20 tons of hay/acre fed, the P load would be about 80 lbs/acre. That is not an excessive amount of P, although the N load was quite high.

Since that P is almost all contained in dung pats, it is slowly released back to the soil through microbial decomposition processes. The greater the biological and insect activity in the soil, the quicker the release process.

We only have a possibility of P contamination of surface waters when there is actual water runoff and/or soil erosion taking fecal particles and soil to the riparian areas.

The key to minimizing risk of P pollution from hay feeding is keeping the feeding areas well away from surface water.

Let’s keep them high & dry!

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 3

Jim Gerrish further explaining benefits and detriments to feeding hay.   American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

By   /  March 11, 2019  /  2 Comments

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If you missed them, catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Having a systematic approach to hay feeding is a critical part of maximizing the nutrient benefits you get when feeding hay is a big piece of your pasture fertility program.

We have already seen in the previous post the amount of urinary N that is returned to the soil with each ton of hay fed. We know the amount applied depends on the protein content of the hay. Now let’s look at how you manage the feeding rate.

Let’s Do the Math on Hay Feeding for a Targeted N Application Rate

Remember urinary N is readily available for plant use and is also the form of N that is most likely to be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia or leaching after conversion to nitrate in the soil.

In this example we have 250 cows in the herd and are feeding them about 30 lbs of hay per head per day for a total feed requirement of 7500 lbs/day. We know there will be some feeding waste, so let’s round it up to 4 tons of hay fed per day.

Referring to the table in Part 2 of this series, we know hay at 8% CP will return about 11 lbs of urinary N and 11 lbs of fecal N for each ton of hay fed.

If our target rate of N application is 120 lbs/acre, we could feed on one acre of three days.

What if we have a hay that has protein well above the requirement of the animal?

Dry, pregnant beef cow only needs 7-8% CP. Now we are feeding a 14% CP hay so all the excess N is going to come out in the urine.

Now our urinary N rate per ton of feed is about 31 lbs, so we can only feed one day per acre to apply our target rate of 120 lbs/acre.

Now, Spread the Manure and Urine Across Your Pasture

While we would like to think that if we feed hay on our pastures, the cowsill s run all over and poop all across the field, they do not.

When we have measured manure distribution when feeding hay on snow covered ground, we find typically 80% of the manure falls within 15-20 feet of the feed line. Most of the rest is dropped between today’s feeding strip and the stock water. Very little is returned to the pasture at large unless there is residual grass the cattle are picking at.

Based on the premise that most manure falls within 15-20 ft of the feeding line, we can plan our hay distribution accordingly.


Using the 14% CP hay example and needing to cover one acre every day, we plan our daily feeding to cover a strip one half mile long. In this example, we would feed for 80 days on an 80 acre field to fully fertilize that pasture at 120 lbs N/acre.

It will take a few tries to figure out how fast to drive your pickup to unroll hay or how thick to make your flakes off the big square bales or the windrow width coming out of the bale processor.

The point is you can get a lot more fertility value out of the hay you are feeding if you approach that daily chore with a firm objective in mind.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 4

More great information from Jim Gerrish, owner of American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

Review Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

By   /  March 18, 2019  /  5 Comments

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Did you miss the start of this series? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Bale grazing has been increasing in popularity for several years now. This method of feeding minimizes or eliminates the need for running any feeding equipment in the winter months, but is it really all sunshine and roses?

Let’s take a look at potential for excess nitrogen loading soils under bale grazing.

Spaced Bale Feeding

As part of our early efforts in the 1980s to reduce the cost of feeding hay, we developed what we called ‘Spaced-bale feeding’. This was an early version of bale grazing.

Bales were placed in a feeding block as shown on the right side of the picture. We only handled bales once as they were picked up from the field and put in a feeding block, usually in the same field. Spacing was generally 25-30 ft on centers. The bales were protected with an electric fence and then when it was time to feed, a line of bales was exposed and ring feeders placed on those bales. We manually flipped the feeders each time we fed hay.

We quickly noticed that while we were enriching the pasture fertility in the feeding area, we were having no effect on increasing P levels away from the feeding block. In fact, they were going down.

Yes, the spaced-bale feeding system allowed us to reduce cost of feeding in the winter but it was mining nutrients from the pasture as a whole and concentrating them around the feeding block. We did relocate the block every year, but they were always placed close to the permanent fence and not scattered all across the pastures.

Bale Grazing

Bale grazing was being done more commonly in Canada by the early 2000s. Ring feeders were done away with because of the difficulty using them in deep snow situations.

An electric fence is moved and a set number of bales were exposed to the cattle. Very often the bales were just left where the baler had dropped them in the summer, so equipment cost was reduced even further.

As more producers bought their needed hay rather than baling it themselves, bale grazing started to trend back towards feeding blocks rather than widely scattered bales across the field where they had been harvested.

Now we can look at the N being returned to the field in those feeding areas using the information shown earlier in this series of posts.

That is a lot of N!

You might ask, “But who would feed 20 tons/acre?”

Here is an aerial photo showing where bale grazing took place on a farm the previous winter. We easily see the increased growth where the bales had been fed. The area outlined is one acre.

With 36 bales weighing 1300 lbs fed on that one acre, the urinary N returned is over 400 lbs/acre!

Even if the cows did wander off and urinate in different parts of the pasture, there is likely still at least 300 lbs/acre raining down on the feeding block.

This is where we can end up when we don’t have a feeding plan that balances the feeding rate with the capacity of the soil to absorb and hold N.

In some parts of the US such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes watersheds, N overload is a serious issue and regulations are in place to regulate manure application and animal concentration.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we on the land understand the consequences of our decisions. We all need to have nutrient management plans for our farms and ranches – not because the government is going to eventually make all of us do it, but because it makes economic and environmental sense to do so.

Nitrogen is only part of the fertility story. Next week, we’ll look at Phosphorous. If you have questions for Jim, please share them in the comment section below.

 

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land-Part 2

This is part 2.  Click here to return to Part 1

Click here American GrazingLands Services LLC to contact Jim about setting up a personal management-intensive grazing program on your farm or ranch.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 2

By Jim Gerrish  /  March 4, 2019  /  1 Comment

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This is Part 2 in Jim’s series. If you missed Part 1, here you go!

When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially Nitrogen (N). Have you thought about how much N you may actually be applying when you feed hay?

It may be more than you think.

Let’s Look at How N Moves From Fed Hay Back to the Soil

The amount of nitrogen in hay is directly tied to the protein content of the hay. Protein on average contains 16% N. Grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than required.

If the hay is just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about half of the N will be excreted in the feces and half in the urine.

Livestock will generally excrete 85 to 95% of the N consumed.

Fecal N content changes very little as dietary protein level increases.

N is slowly released from manure piles as they decompose. feces breaks down relatively quickly in warm, wet environments and very slowly in cool, dry environments.

Almost all excess N ingested by the animal when protein content of the feed exceeds the animal’s requirement is returned to the soil via urine.

Urinary N is a highly soluble & readily available N fertilizer. When managing hay feeding for targeted N application rate, urinary N is where we focus our attention.

This table shows how much urinary N is returned to the soil depending on the protein content of the hay.

When you decide how many bales of hay you will be feeding on an acre of pasture, this table can help you decide.

If you set a target amount of N to apply, you can determine how many bales per acre it will take to accomplish that application rate. You can see the number of bales to feed per acre will vary greatly depending on the quality of the hay being fed.

Do you have a nutrient management plan or are you missing a great opportunity and wasting resources?

Coming next week – Jim provides some background to help you figure out a plan to manage the nutrients from your hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments below!

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land-Part 1

As you may already know, Jim and Dawn Gerrish are two of the most notable and knowledgeable people when it comes to land and livestock management, including management-intensive grazing (MiG).  Jim has his own consulting business which can save you lots of money right from the start of your adventure in managed grazing.  Contact him through American GrazingLands Services, LLC.  Find him on Youtube videos and pick up one of his well written books, Management Intensive Grazing – The Grassroots of Grass Farming and Kick the Hay Habit – a Practical Guide to Year Round Grazing.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 1

By   /  February 25, 2019  /  3 Comments

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We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.

What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today

Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.

 

All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.

Hay = Inexpensive Fertility

While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.

This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.

Feeding Uniformly is the Key

The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.

Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.

Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.

Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.

We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!

Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!