Tag Archives: cattle

Shoulda Listened the first time

Ten years ago, my good friend, Jim Gerrish, (American Grazinglands, LLC) stopped by on his way from his daughter’s house back to his home in Idaho and we walked my farm, which he was already familiar with from his days at FSRC as lead grazing specialist, (and as our neighbour) and he worked up a paddock design and grazing plan. I did not follow it to the letter, but just recently, I have taken MiG (management-intensive grazing) to the next logical step in Total Grazing concept as taught by Jaime Elizondo, I am moving fences and retooling. Early this morning, i woke to the possibility that i was moving towards Jim’s original design and recommendation. I pulled out the professional consultation booklet and, sure enough, it is nearly precisely what i’m now moving towards. Now, the changes are not huge, but they are critical and a good workout.

Now, in my defense, there is a reason that i didn’t go entirely with his plan and that is because the EQIP program i signed up for which paid for all this fencing required solar water/temporary water tanks. Since i am not comfortable depending on solar/battery water pump when checking the cows only every 3 days, i could not, in my quality of life choice, rely on solar pump supply. My pump doesn’t have a check on it, indeed it will pump for 45 minutes per battery then completely drain that battery and the solar panel cannot recharge it once it is flat. That is a problem. Now i have significantly improved that situation because now two batteries are linked together. In other words, if the cattle drink a lot at night or when the skies are super dark for an extended period, the batteries will allow about 1 1/2 hours of continuous pumping and will be flat if there is no voltaic recharge during that time. However, having two batteries there has not been a charging failure.

Since I’ve discovered the new (to me) Total Grazing program in which the best balance is 4x moves per day nonselective grazing (for cattle satiation and soil/forage improvement), i will be at my farm nearly everyday or as often as possible so i can keep an eye on water supply from the solar pump. There are a lot of other things i can do whilst there, plus being away from home, maybe i can lose a few pounds by avoiding easy access to food. In fact, today i am actually looking at quality tents so i can spend more time camping and fishing in the two big ponds i stocked with good fish a few years back. (Any recommendations on waterproof tents?!)

Okay, back to the story – Jim figures with my soil types (but not having tested how poor and depleted they are), that 400-500 animals units could be sustained year round on my 520 acres. However, despite 3 day grazing periods and 40 day day rest periods, i found that the carrying capacity has appreciably declined each year even though a LOT of hay was being fed. Something had to change leading to selling off some 76 head of cows/calves last fall. There are but 75 animal units now and i still am feeding some hay even now, in large part, to protect the tiny green plants trying to grow – May 1 is our traditional ‘start of grazing season’ date in north Missouri. The decline in numbers is also due in large part of leasing out 120 acres to organic soybean cropping these past 4 years.

Jim also uses an 80% seasonal utilization on cool season pastures and 60% for warm season, but MiG as i was implementing it, couldn’t come close to that! Therein lies the change in movement, allocation, and observation of gut fill, manure consistency, and plant growth. BUT, and this is a big but, it will require me to be at the farm full time. Given the distance to drive there is the challenge to try and fit into a quality of life long term decision. But my life has far fewer demands on my time now that the children are educated, grown, and gone (except for Dallas – thank goodness he has stayed to help!)

Cheers!

tauna

Total Grazing/Genetic Adaptation

Hoof impact, at high densities, allows for breaking any crust in the soil surface, improving gas interchange to where our best forage species thrive.  Saliva, applied close to the crown of our forages, enhances regrowth by up to 80%.

Dung and urine contain microorganisms that enhance soil life.  But if we apply chemicals to soil or livestock, we may end up killing soil and insect life.

This goes against maximum production with the low-cost biological methods required to increase humus content in our soils.

We must remember a ranch or farm is a living organism and should be treated as one.”

Jaime Elizondo

Real Wealth Ranching

Operational Considerations

Change is not always good – certainly i’ve made more than my share of changes that have turned out badly and/or expensively. But i’ve learnt, tried, and found what i do NOT want to do.

When my children were little and had their own bits to do, i planned and built with their little bodies in mind. In other words, all the equipment and chores had to be designed so that a child can do it and be successful without overcoming them with too much work. I find that the older i get the more i need to lean back into that mindset for myself!! The adage of work smarter, not harder is becoming more important – in reality, it’s always the right thing. As David Pratt reminds me “you can be efficiently doing the wrong thing.” The key is to be effective. Is what i’m doing important to my goals – what are my goals? Am i aiming for the right target?

I’ve learnt from many grazing teachers (or as they are often referred to ‘gurus’), my experience and knowledge has greatly increased as i implemented their suggestions and techniques. But, when “Total Grazing” caught my attention, I was intrigued enough to explore this new thought process. My farming/ranching operation is now poised to become more fun and more profitable and I’m excited again about my career/lifestyle choice ingrained in my DNA and encouraged by my Grandpa Falconer on whose land (now mine) my cattle graze.

Some general thoughts, considerations, ideas, suggestions, and changes:

  1. Forage testing not needed – observe your cows and their manure. Of course, i had just tested 3 spots of forage and spent $150 in testing and shipping (not counting labor -because farmers don’t do that but should). When i sent the results to Jaime Elizondo, who has developed the pillars of Real Wealth Ranching, he advised me to observe the manure as to whether or not the cows need supplemental protein on mature forages. I was surely wanting him to tell me which of the protein results numbers generated is the one i choose to determine the need for protein (all the numbers were at the 8% threshold). Funnily, he would NOT answer that question. He patiently, yet persistently, circled back to “observe the manure”. So, that is what i will do – and i will no longer waste money on forage sampling.
  2. Consider weaning all spring born calves before December then selling or feeding them through winter. I’m not keen on feeding calves through winter or anytime for that matter, however, i will consider weaning then selling the steers and any heifers i won’t keep for replacements. I would then have far fewer animals to feed. I’m not set up to feed calves, so that will take some planning. Pulling the calves off earlier than March (my traditional weaning time) will give the cows a much longer time to recover as well as not have the stress of nursing the big calves in addition to preparing to calve in April.
  3. It would be nice to get away from purchasing high protein tubs – handling them is doable by myself despite them weighing 200 lbs each. I simply slide them out of the bed of my pickup into the bed of my John Deere Gator, then in the pasture, i pull the tub out onto the ground. I can haul 2 tubs at once this way. I’ve also hauled 6 to the pasture in the back of my pickup, but this is tricky in winter because of bad roads and muddy or snowy/icy fields.
  4. A better protein supplement is good quality alfalfa or other high protein legume or grass hay. I’m not sure how i can implement this with the equipment i have. However, it could be that weaning the calves before December will eliminate any protein supplementation for the cows.
  5. Given the distance from my house to the farm, i know i cannot implement the everyday 4x a day moves. However, i can do this more often if i don’t have the expense of other labor intensive chores. Wintertime, however, has a different challenge in that sometimes road conditions won’t allow me to get there for up to a week or rarely even longer!
  6. This year (2021), i am very low on cows numbers because i sold so many last year to avoid feeding any hay – thankfully, i did so because i will have to start feeding hay had i not done so – still going to be close. So, what to do to increase numbers for the upcoming grazing season? This is a question i am researching and deciding – what do i like to do? Stockers? Heifers? Steers? Cow/calf pairs? There are tools to help with the financial decisions but the quality of life decision is mine.
  7. To reclaim the 120 acre Bowyer farm, i’ve been advised by two friends, Greg Judy, regenerative rancher (and wife, Jan, on Green Pastures Farm) in Clark, Missouri, USA and José Manuel Gortázar, Savory holistic instructor teaching in Coyhaique, Chile on the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate – Fundo Panguilemu not to worry with planting anything on the soil which has been organically soybeaned for 4 years. It is likely there is plenty of seed still in the soil which will come back with proper grazing management. I do know from observation, that the one year the farmer didn’t not plant soybeans it grew massive (like 6 feet tall!) foxtail and cocklebur. Not good choices, but very high quality forage actually if grazed at the right time. I’ve considered dragging a no-till drill up there and putting in oats as a suppressive, but weighing the cost and time to do so is not fun. I don’t like to drive a tractor and machinery plus our 15 foot drill does not shift to an inline pull, so it’s kind of dangerous to get it up to my farm on the long narrow and hilly roads. I think we are selling our no-till drill this year anyway. Running machinery is not a high priority for us and there are only so many hours in the day.

Every year, I make changes to my annual ‘itinerary’ and this one is no different. Time to type up a new plan.

Cheers!

My Amazing Friends!

I am so blessed and thankful to have the most amazing and amazingly talented friends. Thankfully, they accept me as well having opened their doors to my extended stays these recent weeks- but oh my goodness, did we talk so fast to catch up with each others’ lives these past several years of being scattered around the Midwest and the process of becoming empty nesters and seeing our children well ensconced into lives as productive citizens, scripturally sound, biblically moral young people.

So, over the course of the next several weeks, i plan to unabashedly promote their websites, start up businesses, well established businesses, and almost there after 5 years businesses. All are meeting needs which benefit the lives of others.

The upcoming spotlights will include;

1) Barb Buchmayer – she and her husband, Kerry, recently retired from decades of owning and operating an organic grass-based dairy (we bought our raw milk from them for years) located here in north Missouri. She has now written a two volume, 300 page each, set of books designed to help you train your dog using positive encouragement. Positive Herding 101 & 102 To get a glimpse of her training methods as we are awaiting the arrival of her books, check out and subscribe to Barb’s Youtube Channel – Positive Herding Dog

2) Nadean Eudaly is a dear friend with whom our friendship is growing leaps and bounds actually since our children graduated from our respective home schooling endeavors. Although, we lived only about 45 minutes apart, our ‘circles’ didn’t overlap much during those years. However, now residing in Texas, Nadean, in addition to continuing to work alongside her husband at his established business White River Productions, has now embarked on providing quality Longhorn cattle to area landholders who want regal, easy care cattle gracing their vistas and offering a cabin for rental on their property. Well on her way to busting out with full service, check our her new businesses at Bell & Brook Ranch. She is located near Palestine, Texas.

Book this well appointed eco cabin which overlooks a gorgeous oxbow lake. Well, obviously, when i took the photo, i was focusing on the horses and pasture. Head on over to Nadean’s website for contact and booking information.

3) Kevin Eudaly, editor and owner of multiple train, railroad, diesel engine magazines and books has been living the dream of his 12 year old self when his love was of photographing trains. Although a stint as an environmental chemist was his career out of college (actually, he and Nadean met at work with them both being chemists! God works with amazing precision). All things train are well represented at White River Productions. I had the privilege of previewing the hard copy/finished Timber Titans book at their home during my visit and although i’m not familiar with trains and the massive amount of historical documentation this book records, i can recognise an enjoyable, yet important record of train and rail history well put together. The super old black and white photographs contained within are sharply improved as if they were taken using today’s camera capabilities. This book is more than a coffee table centerpiece – it’s an historical piece.

This book is a recent stunner published by White River Productions. Timber Titans: Baldwin’s Articulated Logging Locomotives

4) Eric & Hope Bright who now live outside Forsyth, Missouri also is a homeschooling family in our circle here in north Missouri and also a dairy family. Their children, too, are off changing the world for the better and now Eric and Hope have time to devote to their love of sharing rural living with as many as they can. Check out their hospitality at 12 Stones Farm. A real, hands on farm stay the Bright’s offer the opportunities of bottle feeding calves, feeding chickens, ducks, and geese, collecting eggs, gardening, and milking cows. Kayaking, roasting marshmallows over an outdoor fire, and, for those of you not used to a dark sky, be amazed at the night time stars displayed in all their glory. If you don’t want to do the farm stay – that’s okay, too. Enjoy beautiful, private accommodations with a private hot tub, then head to nearby Branson for evening entertainment. This is a small working farm with fresh eggs, fresh milk, and grassfinished beef available most of the time. Find them on AirBnB, Flipkey, and VRBO. Also, they have a new cabin available listed on AirBnb. But, honestly, don’t hesitate to contact them directly. Awesome hosts.

Contact Hope to book this well appointed studio sized cabin for your own use or as use for an overflow of family and friends renting the much larger cabin nearby.

Okay, that was a little teaser – hope you have time to follow along later as i explore each of their new endeavors more fully in upcoming blog entries!

Intentional Beef Producer

Robert Wells, Livestock Consultant with the Noble Research Institute offers his idea of 8 characteristics successful, intentional producers share.

For the full article go to: Do You Possess the 8 Characteristics of an Intentional Beef Producer? as published in the January 2020 issue of Noble News and Views.

To keep me focused, i like to reduce the lengthy description of characteristics to 8 bullet points.

  1. Understand the importance of recordkeeping. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation.
  2. Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation. The feeding program can account for 40% to 60% of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. Match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements – early lactation or around 2 months of calf age – to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest-quality and quantity forage of the year.
  3. Know when and how to market calves. Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle similar to yours.
  4. Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program. Identify which individuals which will help reach your goals.
  5. Have a comprehensive herd health program. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.
  6. Optimize stocking rate and pasture management. Forages in various paddocks need appropriate rest periods. A cost effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season.
  7. Develop a ranch management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates), weaning and marketing dates, when to work calves for vaccinations, when to conduct breeding soundness evaluations (for bulls, cows, and heifers). Evaluate and plan the grazing program, knowing that changes will be necessary as the year progresses.
  8. Remain flexible. Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. Having a plan, working the plan, but pivoting as needed.

Decision Making

With ragweed pollen turning everything yellow and making my life physically miserable, i was not looking forward to driving to my farm and setting up 600 feet of polybraid electric fence and start to move my cows to another paddock.

Today it dawned on me that i could just use the receiver hitch on my pickup to pull the polybraid across the field with my special attachment. Boy, i was sure feeling better – faster to drive up there and i could just sit in my air conditioning – my John Deere Gator has excellent a/c, but not as good as my pickup – when needed to recover. Open the gate, then leave. BUT, the more i thought about this decision, the more i thought that really i don’t need to put up any fence; just open the gate and let the cows into an entire paddock. Sure, this decision will result in losing some utilization of grass – more might be wasted, some will be overgrazed and set back from regrowth, but balanced against my quality of life and that later this fall i could just sell a couple extra cows or feed a couple extra hay bales, the more wasteful option is the better option.

And that is the beauty of management-intensive grazing. Flexibility can include intense mob grazing or open it up to take a holiday or break for illness (allergies in my case). Then when the issue passes, go back to a more managed approach to optimize the balance of grazing, soil, water, health.

POSTSCRIPT – Guess i forgot to post this one earlier in the fall. Ragweed season started later this year, but also hung on well into September. Couldn’t leave the country this year because of chinese virus, so coped best i could. Thankfully, the pollen didn’t affect me as badly this year – or i’m learning to manage better. Whichever the case, it is in the past now until August 2021!

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.