Category Archives: Grass & Forages

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.

Pawls are good Pals!

Pawls usually need replacing after several years of hard use.  Buy them from Kencove Fence Supplies.

IMG-4119
All that is needed to replace the broken pawl with a new one are a Phillips screwdriver and a 10 mm wrench.
IMG-4120
This little piece of plastic will save a lot of frustration and time by effectively holding the metal catch up when unrolling polybraid.  
IMG-4148
With the new pawl installed, the metal catch is securely out of the way to keep it from stopping the reel from unrolling.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Another Hot Morning!

Today’s (June 19) chores were frustrating and exhausting – hopefully, i won’t vent too much, but instead methodically record what happened and what decisions to make based on the mishaps.  However, the first of the morning was spent walking in 3 Angus heifers to attach Estrotect patches in preparation for AI (artificial insemination) over the next weeks followed by spraying off 30 gallons of Surmount chemical mix on woody brush at my farm.  Started about 5:30 am.

This late spring I started letting my cows graze the new seeding implemented last fall.  It’s been super, super dry (until today!  already 8/10s of an inch and still gently raining), so using a back fence was not important since the grass wasn’t trying to grow back after grazing because of the heat and dry.

Nevertheless, I’ve been stripping off sections of about 2 days grazing each – no where near what could be considered mob grazing, but i’ve already decided that is a practice which simply won’t work for me.  I had already set up 2 temporary fences of polybraid of about 1/4 mile each.  Anyone who has done this realizes that that 1/4 mile of walking turns into at least a mile by the time the poly is unrolled, then walk back to get posts, then set up posts along the poly and hook the handle into a hot (electrified) lead.

When i arrived this morning, the cows had blasted through both of them!!  I was not a happy camper to say the least.  Thankfully, i had brought along another 1/4 mile roll of poly braid and I pushed the cows sort of back where they belong and i unrolled this tape.  The grass and weeds were tall, so it just sort of laid on top and looked like a fence the cows didn’t want to bother.  Testing the lead, i found that there was no electricity.  Ah ha!  all the polybraids were ‘dead’  and with baby calves running around, it didn’t take long for them to run through with mommas right behind.

But why was the fence dead?

IMG-4135
I know this tree doesn’t look very big in this photo, but it was about 18 inches in diameter where you see here.  But my spinning jenny was not hit and, although, the post was pushed over a bit, it was still strongly in place.

I had spent some time at that very spot repairing some wire and gate just 24 hours before.  Why did the tree not fall while i was there?  Only by the grace of God.  Not only that, but my spinning jenny  was unharmed and the end post was still in place!  Only one gate handle and the top hi-tensile wire was busted.  Easily repaired that.  Plus, the tree fell in such fashion that i didn’t even have to move it or cut it up.  (thank goodness because i didn’t have my chainsaw on this trip).  I simply repaired around it.  It will have to be removed when i have time.

IMG-4136
The daisy wheel wire tightener was the go-to some 20 years ago and still is for many.  There might be 2 or 3 of these left on my farm, along with a couple Hayes tighteners.  When i redesigned and built my new paddock system, i used only Gripples.  They are so easy to use, remove, splice, etc.  Nevertheless, because of the extra wire stored on this tightener, i had enough to splice the broken line with a Gripple.  I don’t carry the proper tool for Daisy wheel in my Gator, so had to pull this pin and unwind by hand, which was  a bit of challenge, but not insurmountable.

But this also is a prime illustration as to why forests, timbers, draws, need managing!  Treehuggers take me to task for removing mature and junk trees.  But without management, trees can become diseased, can’t compete for sunlight and nutrients so they can die and are a major hazard.

Anyway, back to my morning winding up.  Once all was said and done, i’d walked at least 5 miles in tall forage, scratched through dense brush, and crawled in and out of deep ditches to retrieve all my temporary fencing and posts, finishing the morning installing a new rain gauge, checking my replacement heifers, and resetting an end post.

Dragging back to the seed plant, refueling the JD Gator and using forced air spraying out the seed heads from the grill (this must be done to keep the Gator from overheating), unloading the reels of polybraid and a bunch of posts.  I forgot to take water with me and by noon (got home), i had lost 4.2 lbs.  Goodness, that is 1/2 gallon of water sweated out!

This was another reminder of why mob grazing with multiple shifts per day will not fit with my schedule and quality of lifestyle.  It’s just too stinking much work – i sold off the sheep to get away from so much exhausting work.  With tall grass (not complaining), deep ditches, long stretches of temporary fencing, dense brush, and baby calves not trained to electric braid, there are simply too many bugaboos to make this a happy time.  The mob currently has about 20 acres to relax and graze.  It is what it is – i do the best i can.

IMG-4140 (1)
Can’t believe i took this blurry photo and, worse, actually posting it here!  But that is a medium sized Gripple which is used on hi-tensile electric fence.  Easy on, easy off.

 

 

My Viewshed Today

Weather was nearly perfect this morning – a welcome relief from the 90 plus temps and high humidity.  May have been the most beautiful day since last November!

This is my viewshed whilst shifting cows to a new paddock.  Okay, actually they shift themselves – i really don’t do much with the cows most of the year.

Cheers!

tauna

Pasture Recovery

Basics of management-intensive grazing (MiG) as coined by Jim Gerrish.

Although, Mr Pratt’s focus is often on finance and economics, here he explains simply one aspect of how to manage pastures for regenerative and profitable ranching.