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.
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.
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.
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.
That cold weather hit on monday – knew it was coming, so i did have a plan and that was turn them loose on the remainder of the paddock which is predominantly timber with not a lot of forage anyway. I plan to return in about 3 days when it warms up. The cows are perfectly capable of thriving without me looking at them everyday. Total Grazing on holiday as well.
Here’s a screenshot of the portion i’ve started with my new Real Wealth Ranching Total Grazing plan. Hopefully, i can explain it here so it makes some kind of sense. The paddock outlined in the thin red line is ground zero – particularly to the right of the purple line running through the middle along the pond. It was at that point i started with stripping off enough to move the cows 2-3 times per day. During these past 12 days, i’ve managed in this manner until the thin red line shown along the timber. At that point, after one time of trying to strip off through the timber, wrestling multiflora rose bushes, and crossing 2 deep ditches, i was not having fun and it was to turn very cold the next three days. Monday evening, i reeled up all the polybraid i had out, picked up the step in posts, and gave the girls the remaining grassy patches and the entire timber (south to the yellow line). I don’t do cold weather, so the plan had to give way. Friday, when it is somewhat warmer, my plan is to start stripping off to the south (towards the bottom of the picture). I will set up a polybraid from the gate to my south permanent fence, then start leap frogging 2 polybraid fences from that temporary fence to the highway (to the right). This will take 3 reels, polybraids, and multiple step in posts.
What will they do for water? the paddock has a water tank below the big pond all the way to the left of the screen shot. Even when grazing to the south of the timber, they could go back to it for water. However, that is unlikely because there is plenty of water in the timber ditches. Putting in a back fence is not necessary for winter grazing since the forage is not growing.
Here is a podcast Jim did with Charlie Arnott when he and Dawn were in Australia earlier in the year. Charlie is a biodynamic farmer/grazier located in New South Wales who also produces podcasts related to regenerative ag, human health, and an array of other current topics.
This serious yet lighthearted conversation covers a lot of ground. We hope you choose to listen & enjoy it.
Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands, pens a thorough and relevant article. This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue. Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.
A Perfect Match
Some things just seem to fit together really well. Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.
How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG? That is another combination that is hard to beat.
Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life. No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life. The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate. To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches. The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch. High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.
The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world. While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land. We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag. Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century? Why don’t we try fixing it instead?
Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts. ray asks, “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that? If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”
Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond. I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.
In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land. Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health. We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.
We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation. Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion. Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water. Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells. No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.
Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis. I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context. With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.
For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated. There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation. Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost. It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields. The infrastructure investment is fairly low. However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.
Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation. As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments. That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.
We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak. Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups. Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else. That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.
Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system. This is where MiG comes into the picture. We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture. Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water. Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.
When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency. Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios. Regardless of the particular pasture in question. MiG always increases the return potential.
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com. His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 20.
Hay is more Carbon (C) by dry weight than anything else. When we feed hay we are also adding carbon to the soil in addition to the Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorous (P) discussed in the earlier posts in this series. Adding carbon increases the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil through increase in soil organic matter.
How much carbon do we add to the soil with hay feeding?
Let’s do the math.
Hay is typically between 40-50% Carbon depending on plant maturity at harvest time. Some of this C is in cells as soluble sugar or other easily digested materials. The bulk of the C is in plant fiber that varies in degree of digestibility.
What’s left behind after feeding is a combination of unconsumed plant material and dung and urine. Both are important contributors to soil health.
Unconsumed hay is intact plant material that helps provide the ‘armor’ on the soil. During the growing season we refer to litter cover on the soil surface. Hay residue provides the same benefits to the water cycle as plant litter.
The consumed part of hay that is not digested comes out as manure. We have already discussed the N & P values of manure and urine following hay feeding. Whereas we can add too much N or P to the soil through excessive hay feeding, it is almost impossible to add too much C.
The digestible part of the hay is utilized by ruminant livestock as their primary energy source. Maintenance quality cow hay may be as low as 50% digestibility while high quality ‘calf hay’ may be close to 70% digestible. The C from digested material is incorporated into body tissue or expelled as CO2.
It is the non-digested plant material that contributes to building soil organic matter through dung returned to the soil. Manure on the ground does not contribute a lot to ‘soil armor’, but it contributes to feeding soil life.
The rate of manure breakdown is largely driven by digestibility of the residual fiber. If rumen microbes could not quickly digest it, soil microbes aren’t much faster. Manure breaks down much more quickly in warm-wet environments compared to cold-dry environments.
Hay residue left on the ground will ultimately contribute to soil organic matter. Many people have the bad habit of wanting to burn residue piles in the Spring. Please, do not!
These piles become enriched soil organic matter sites and can be above average production areas for years to come. Burning piles sends most of the valuable C into the atmosphere.
While in the first year following feeding there may be some weeds grow up on these piles, most of those weeds are making a contribution to soil development or get grazed by the livestock during the growing season.
The bottom line is, each ton of hay fed will contribute about 400 to 600 lbs of C to the soil as either hay residue or manure.
That is a valuable addition to your land. Make the most of it!
Support the Publication That Supports You!
If you find value in what we’re doing, if you’ve used what you read here to be more successful and profitable, then please send support during our Spring Fund Drive.
Sponsors Are Critical to On Pasture’s Health!
If you’re an organization that supports good grazing, you can sponsor On Pasture as well. Sponsors help make sure that great information is always available to help farmers and ranchers be the best they can be.
Reprinted from On Pasture.
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!