With Total Grazing best case scenario being a 4 x move per day (about every 2 hours), what in the world can i do to keep busy in between those scheduled moves? Like being at home, a farm always has something that needs doing. During this unusually kind weather we are enjoying this December, I’ve been primarily cutting trees that are in the wrong place and when i get tired of running the chainsaw, i haul all the bits and pieces of brush to a pile to burn, and when i get too tired to do that, i start walking around the grazed portions and snip little sprouts.
Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds. There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway. Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.
I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years. The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn. It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.
Alan Newport recently wrote on an article (Who’s Afraid of Weeds and Brush?) on this very thing. Greg Judy espouses the benefits of weed grazing in his books and videos.
Who’s afraid of weeds and brush?
Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.
A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.
I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.
Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.
These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.
I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.
However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)
Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.
A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.
So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.
The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.
And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.
The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.
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?
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.
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.
One of the main projects i had planned for this year was to spray brush. Truly had hoped to cover the entire farm, but there is just so much that between regular work and windy or rainy days – well, i did get quite a lot done actually and i’m pleased. My focus did switch to completely covering (spot spraying) the west 160 and that was accomplished by July 1. It is important to keep track of that date because three years from then, the farm can be used to grow certified organic crops. Weed and brush management from now on will have to be by brush hogging and intensive grazing. One of the ironies of ‘certified’ organic is that i can’t chemically treat individual plants even once for three years, but i could burn all the fossil fuel i want mowing them down. But rules are rules.
So to finish the project also means to clean up and put away the tools used. My 30 gallon spray tank and pump were purchased new at Orscheln’s this year and i hope to get several more years’ use out of it. Their brand name is Country Tuff and it has worked flawlessly all season. I did switch out the coiled hose for a straight one we already had – i just didn’t like the coiled one.
For the chemical, the easiest and most effective in my opinion is Crossbow. i buy it by the case (4 gallons) at a cost of $200.46 at Butterfield & Associates Grain in Meadville, MO. Mix half gallon to 30 gallons of water and you are ready to go. This spring and summer, I sprayed about 1200 gallons of mixed spray. That’s about 45 hours worth of spot spraying.
- drain and rinse out the tank with clean water
So much to do to ready the house, yard, farm for spring growth. In north Missouri, there is always a very narrow window for such activity when it’s not too hot, not too cold, not too muddy, not too dry, not too windy, not too green. Yeah, spring work needs to happen before spring brush and grass starts growing.
Today is about 70F, cloudy and very windy, so no outdoor burning, but otherwise great for outdoor stuff.
Dallas and i cleaned out a small ditch near the house which contained ancient metal trash – he ran the tractor, i ran the log chain and we made short work of it – had a few interruptions – but finally all pulled out, loaded, and hauled off.
Also, taking time to prune trees, rose bushes, and ornamental grasses.
Just two days before my sons and I left for Scotland on 12 September, our area received over 10 inches of rain in about 12 hours! What a nightmare! ALL of our watergaps were washed out and in some low lying areas, fences were laying almost flat to the ground. My husband and Christian got to stay home and do all the cleanup.
With that in mind, it is time I try to keep some of the big dead logs and rotted stuff from being washed down into a massive water gap that is on the eastern edge of my farm. This ditch catches all the water from my place plus a good deal of the runoff from the row crop farmers to the north as well as runoff from Cotton Road. My southern neighbour’s property also has a good deal of runoff in this ditch, so it doesn’t take much of a rain to really get things rolling, but 10 inches in 12 hours is a mess!
Dallas and I have been working at clearing this week and since there are very few days in north Missouri that the wind lays enough to start brush fires, we coveyed up and set three today. Although it was a bit nippy and no sun, working in the shelter of the timber with no wind the temperature was about perfect.