Tag Archives: animals

A Perfect Match by Jim Gerrish

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

May, Idaho

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.

 

 

 

 

Grazing Patterns

Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion.  Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle.  In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.

Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).

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The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019.  They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information),  but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure.  Observation is key.
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This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species.  However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.
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This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year.  Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly.  Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen.  This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.
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Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.
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Red clover in the foreground.  The smaller purple flower is alfalfa.  I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.
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See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground?  that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!

 

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This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing.  Not all the severely eroded spots have mended.  May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing.  My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.
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Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land.  Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them.  They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will  now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.
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This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze.  More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.

 

 

Purdin Paddocks 23 and 24
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks.  This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling.  The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first.  They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown).  They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade.  If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance.  Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line.  No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left.  For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile.  The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres.  Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 3

Greg (a world renown speaker) and his wife, Jan, are very good friends and he makes some incredibly good points here.  This year, i too, spent a lot of money tilling up my fescue pastures and planting tame, sweet grasses.  Now, i also did the tillage because the old pasture was really really rough and tillage also served to even out the washouts and other wallowed out patches.  Head on over to “On Pasture”  for lots of great articles.
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Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 3 – Fescue Tolerant Animals and Grazing

By   /  February 19, 2018  /  No Comments

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This is Part 3 in Greg’s four part series about the trouble with Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue, and how he’s learned to love it. (Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.) Here he describes the management techniques that have made him question moves to try to eradicate it from his pastures.

My Pasture Renovation

First I want to share with you my complete pasture renovation project that I undertook years ago at the advice of forage professionals. I did a complete reseeding on our pastures and put in a 100-acre diverse stand of brome, orchard grass, timothy, redtop and various legumes. I got lucky that fall after everything was planted and got a nice rain. The seeding came up and looked great the next spring. We held a farm walk that summer showing what we had done with this precious 100-acre piece of infected fescue. Everybody at the pasture walk was in awe of how beautiful the pasture looked. I was so happy that I could hardly stand it until someone at the pasture walk made a comment to me privately.

One seasoned grazier crept up to me and whispered, “Greg that is pretty nice piece of grass you have there, but in five years you will have Kentucky 31 tall fescue and clover, that’s about it.”

You could have knocked me over with a match stick! I was shocked that he would dare say such a thing to me. I responded right away, “Oh you’re mistaken! We rotationally graze and will manage these improved grasses so that they thrive on this farm forever. Fescue is history on this farm, it has no use here.”

Well guess what? He was dead right, in five years our primary grass was Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue with red clover. I had a good dose of “humble pie.” My pocket book was still hurting from the money that I spent putting in all these wonderful new grasses. In those days, we still had a loan on everything on the farm including the money that we spent on the seed. That was a sick hollow feeling making those loan payments that included the purchased seed knowing that my money ended up in someone else’s pocket and my farm was right back to where it was at five years earlier.

Grazing Management and Culling Make the Difference

Once we switched to mob grazing many years later, we were able to grow many additional species of grasses that were in the soil bank. This rank fescue needs a good beating every now and then with a mob of animal hooves to encourage additional forages to grow in the canopy. This animal impact sets back the fescue enough to allow legumes and other cool season grasses to propagate. But the main grass remains Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected fescue. In the Midwest during the summer months, fescue pretty much goes dormant, but with all the other forage species mixed in with it, our animals still perform well. Fescue is what we have and it wants to grow here, so we figured we better learn to make some money with it. Life is too short to wake up every day trying to kill something.

Back to our cow herd. What we decided was that we were going to graze whatever grew on the farm. We owned no tractor or equipment, so whatever nature dealt us, we were going to manage with that. Whatever animal could not perform on what grows on our farm naturally, would be culled. Absolutely no excuses are made for any animal that fails this test. It was a little harsh starting out. We culled several more animals than we would have liked to in the early years. But we stuck to our original management practice and it has paid huge dividends.

One of the easily observed results from endophyte infected fescue is that some cows will lose their tail switches. The tail switch falls off right at the very tip of the tail due to restriction of blood flow to the extremities of the animal. My good ranching friend Wally Olsen was here this winter walking through our mob of South Poll cattle. In Wally’s prior visit ten years earlier a lot of the older cows were missing their tail switch. On this visit, he immediately commented that almost every cow now had their tail switch intact and all the animals were in super body condition for the winter period that we were in. By staying committed to culling the animals that struggled on the endophyte infected fescue, the remaining animals and their offspring are much more tolerant to the fescue on our farms today. Certainly, having a diversity of other plants in the forage sward helps the livestock perform on fescue as well.

We now have a very fescue tolerant herd, our animals look at their fescue/legume sward and get fat. We occasionally still get an animal that develops a limp (fescue foot), and that animal is sold immediately. I have no tolerance for an animal that will not perform on our forage when they are moved constantly to a fresh pasture of grass/legume sward. We just get rid of them – problem solved. When an animal that is adapted to your farm’s forage has the opportunity to select the best parts of a plant multiple times per day, those animals will make you a very nice living.

Now, think of the money we have saved by not renovating our pastures every five years and gambling it away on a promise of having a better pasture in the future. I may step on some input folks’ toes here, but I am more concerned about the grazier making a living on their land.

Who’s making all the money with farmers killing their pastures with herbicides and seeding these new fescue varieties into their pastures? Hint, it’s not the farmer! We are losing farmers every year at an alarming rate because there is nothing left at the end of the year for the guy on the land that is doing all the work. We take all the risk, they take all the money. Most of the money is going to town, and we need to keep it on the farm where it belongs. To make a profit every year on our farms, we must eliminate inputs which we do have control over.

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

Hay & Stockpile Lab Results -2015

Lab Results 2015 – Purdin Paddock 8 Old stockpile from May-June growth

Lab Results 2015 – various

Lab Results — 2015 – Oldfield purchased  hay 2015

Depending on weather conditions, it’s quite likely our cows may need some energy.  What we are concerned about is the lack of green in any of our stockpile which, from what we read, can result in a serious lack of Vitamin A.  We are looking into supplementing that since the lack of this important vitamin results in expensive compromises to animal health.

Cheers

tauna