Tag Archives: cattle

Can Oat Growing Make A Comeback!

Mostly  i’m posting this article because it is particular interest to me as a grower – although we are also consumers of oats, not only to eat for ourselves, but also because it is hands down the best grain, along with barley, for livestock and poultry.   Growing small grains can be an important soil amendment as long as livestock integration is part of the rotation.

Thanks to Successful Farming magazine for this great article.

Oats Find A Fit

 

OATS FIND A FIT

Back in 2018,Wayne Koehler’s golden-hue oats just north of his house were rapidly nearing harvest.

“It was along the highway, so they were very visible,” says the Charles City, Iowa, farmer. “I had some people stop and ask if I wanted to sell my oats to them. I’ve never had anyone stop and ask about buying corn and soybeans. It was clear that there was a demand that was not being met.”

OAT BENEFITS 

At one time, oat fields were as common as the corn and soybean fields that now dominate the Midwestern landscape. In 1950, Iowa farmers grew 6.619 million acres of oats. In 2019, though, Iowa-intended oat plantings limped along at a paltry 135,000 acres.

Still, oats have a number of benefits in complementing a rotation of corn and soybeans.

 Disrupting weed cycles. “It can enable farmers to get ahead of problem weeds that can develop herbicide resistance,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa strategic initiatives manager.

 Scavenging nitrates. The fibrous root system of oats can soak up unused nitrates from nitrogen (N) applications. “This keeps nitrates from flowing into tile lines and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico,” says Bower.

 Spreading labor. Since farmers plant and harvest small grains earlier than corn and soybeans, they can better spread their labor over the growing season, says Bower.

 Complementing yields of other rotational crops. A long-term USDA-ARS trial at the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota, showed a 24% yield spike for corn when no-tilled in a four-year diverse rotation vs. a corn-soybean rotation.

Koehler grew up with oats on his family’s farm. In the 1980s, though, oats exited many crop rotations. One reason was the 1980s farm crisis, Koehler believes. Some farmers also phased out livestock, and those who stayed built confinement housing that did not use as much oat straw for bedding, he says.

Still, oats surfaced on Koehler’s farm in the early 2000s, when he used oats as a nurse crop for hay. Nurse crops help suppress weeds and protect the soil as the forage crop establishes itself.

Several years later in 2009, Koehler aimed to tile 50 acres of his farm. “Getting a tile contractor in the fall is a challenge, because everyone wants them then,” he says. Planting oats on that field enabled him to access a tiling contractor after August harvest, when tiling contractors are less busy.

He also sells straw to dairy farmers out of the field at harvest. He stores the balance of his oat crop and sells in the fall and winter to various buyers.

MANAGEMENT 

“If you look at the cost of inputs for oats, it is completely different from corn,” says Koehler. Iowa State University crop budgets for 2019 peg variable costs for corn yielding 218 bushels per acre following soybeans at $379.44 per acre. Variable costs for oats are much less at $150.75 per acre if seeded with alfalfa.

Still, it’s not a plant-it-and-forget-it crop, Koehler says. Wet and humid conditions help trigger crown rust. This fungal disease can be dodged somewhat by selecting tolerant varieties, says Koehler. Timely applications of fungicides can help farmers manage crown rust.

Koehler considers a field’s weed seed bank when selecting oat fields. “Giant ragweed and Canada thistle are usually the most troublesome weeds,” he says. If necessary, he spot-sprays 2,4-D amine or MCPA herbicide early postemergence. Adequate seeding rates also help deter weeds. “Don’t cheat on the seeding rate if you are growing oats for grain,” he says.

Lodging concerns also exist. “If you apply too much nitrogen, the stalks will not support the oats,” he says. “So, I’m pretty conservative on N, adding about 50 pounds per acre.”

MACHINERY

“The equipment issue is certainly a challenge, but one that can be solved without too much effort,” says Bower. A booming cover crop seed market has created more availability of drills that farmers can rent if they just want to test oats on a few acres, she adds.

Swathers are another story. Oats go through a sweating period following harvest when they shed moisture. Swathing enables this process to occur in the field, rather than risking spoilage if it occurs in a bin.

“Swathers in good working order are few and far between,” she says.

Storing oats in a grain bin with an aeration floor and adequate fan and vents can also remove moisture when straight-combining oats, Koehler says.

Oats aren’t for everyone, Koehler says. Still, they may fit certain farms.

“Oats can work on farms that have the equipment and the markets,” he says.

OAT MARKETS

Finding markets can be a challenge for oats, but several outlets exist, says Alisha Bower, strategic initiatives manager for Practical Farmers of Iowa.

  • Food-grade oats. These markets aim at human consumption products like oatmeal. Bower says processing plants like Grain Millers at St. Ansgar, Iowa, exist to buy food-grade oats from Minnesota and Iowa farmers.

Buyers pay a premium for food-grade oats. There’s a hitch, though, since farmers have to meet test weight and protein levels.

“In Iowa, there’s no problem with hitting protein specifications  due to its rich soils,” says Bower. “But meeting test weight standards of 38 pounds per bushel is a challenge.”

Hot weather during head fill can crimp test weight. That’s why oat farmers plant early in order to dodge summer heat. Last year, Wayne Koehler, a Charles City, Iowa, farmer drilled no-till oats on April 9.

“Even if the soil is a little on the sticky side, you want to push the envelope by planting early,” he says.

  • Livestock feed markets. Oats that don’t meet human consumption standards can make livestock feed. Although prices paid are less, protein and test weight standards are lower. Outlets include smaller livestock producers and ones as large as Smithfield, which is buying oats and wheat at its Allerton and Davis City locations in southern Iowa in 2020, says Bower.
  • Cover crop seed markets. This market can be more lucrative than livestock feed, though there are many regulations to meet, Bower says. High germination is key, she adds.
  • Commodity grain markets. Granted, unit trains for elevators to fill with oats don’t exist as they do for corn or soybeans. Still, some elevators will accept oats, even if they don’t advertise it or put out bids, says Bower. They use it for markets like creep feed for cattle, she adds.

VARIETAL INVESTMENT 

Seed and chemical companies have poured billions of dollars into corn hybrids and soybean varieties. Oats? Not so much.

“Oats and other small grains could really benefit from additional investment in research and development,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) strategic initiatives manager.

PFI, supported by General Mills, Grain Millers, Inc., and Albert Lea Seed, is conducting oat varietal performance trials. Meanwhile, public breeding programs still exist across the Upper Midwest.

PFI is working with public breeding programs to create a varietal selection tool for farmers. “Farmers could put in their ZIP code, and the program would predict what variety would perform best in their area,” Bower says.

This tool will be beta tested in 2020. If you’d like to get involved, contact info@practicalfarmers.org.

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On the Verge of Ragweed Allergy Season

Paddock 18a is located near my corral and therefore is overused.  It seldom has opportunity to get any rest and mercy it sure shows.  This year, i was determined to give it a rest and let something grow.  Typically the succession plant to damaged soil are tough weeds and my experience is no different.  Before the ragweed is pollinating, i thought i’d go have a look.  There is very little palatable undergrowth – these tall weeds – mostly ragweed and cockleburr can out compete nearly anything.

So my plan is to mob graze this 4.5 acres paddock with all my cows (about 150 adult animals and 60 calves) keeping an eye to the volume of tasty forage they need to leave behind, then come in and brush hog the remaining tall stuff before it goes to seed.

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the cows will eat the tops now – not really strip it like they will giant ragweed (which i call horse weed), but the stalk is pretty stiff so it doesn’t knock down very well. hoping to set back enough to let sunlight down into the canopy and let more desirable species get a chance. Next spring, i’ll plan to broadcast oats and try to compete with the ragweed and continue to rest the paddock as appropriate. this paddock has been abused the past 2-3 years and i let it rest for a long time this year – the result of abuse is clearly evident as natural sequence of healing occurs.
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I drove into this paddock to see what is growing. From a distance this didn’t look so tall. I’m think of letting the cows in to mob it as much as they will on a 4.5 acre paddock. I cannot even walk through this. The photo is taken from the relative safety of my a/c Gator. on 14 August 20.

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Check out this short video my friend Greg Judy puts together to help graziers manage their stock and soil.  Greg is an excellent teacher – you might enjoy subscribing to his YouTube channel.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Mineral Tub

Many people can really problem solve – oftentimes, problem solving happens using tools at hand and at the moment.  May not be perfect, but the creativity involved in taking mental inventory of what tools you have with you and laying them in such an order no where close to what they are designed for illustrates the amazing thought processes of the human mind.  Truly, that is not an accident but a purposeful design of our Creator.

Well, with that lead in, you’d think i would share something just truly amazing and complex, yet it’s not.  Simply using junk we have around the barn fashioned in such manner to solve a problem i personally have.  Our 3 compartment mineral pans are somewhat heavy and certainly cumbersome, so i choose to never pick it up to move it.  Obviously, if there is kelp, salt, and phosphorus inside totally negates that proposition.  I had made a previous drag design, but it would only last about 16 months.  Hoping this new design will last much longer.

For years, we’ve been using a 3 compartment mineral tub.  In mine, i use YPS free salt, Thorvin Kelp, and Agri-Dynamic‘s Grazier’s Essential in the 1:2 ratio (Ca-Ph).*  All free choice.

Although the mineral tubs empty are not super heavy, they are bulky and awkward to lift and load and if there is any product still inside, it’s virtually impossible for me to load it.  So, years ago, i came up with a way to move it without lifting it instead by dragging.  After about 3 years, i’ve given up with the first method i invented because it kept failing about once a year and i’d need to rebuild it, so, i came up with a new plan.  Simpler and easier to replace or repair should the need arise.

  • i purchase the salt from ……, the kelp from Welter Seed & Honey, and the Calcium-Phosphorus mix from Agri-Dynamics north Missouri representative Shan Christopher
  • MISSOURI DEALERS/DISTRIBUTORS

    Rafter C. Ranch, Distributor

    Shan Christopher1441 SE Hwy 116

    Polo, MO 64671

    816-519-8512

    sjdchris@greenhills.net

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I cut a flat piece of old plastic  from a trashed calf feeding trough.  the flat piece is slightly larger in diameter than the mineral tub so that i can bolt it through the sidewall of the tub onto the plastic.  i cut old baling belts for the straps and use carriage head bolts so it will pull smoothly.
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I still use a short chain with a large ring at one end and a heavy duty carabiner clip on the other for quick hookup.
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Bolt old pieces of baler belts from the mineral tub to the plastic drag.

Mineral tub kelp

Mineral tub with salt

Mineral tub with Phosphorus

Corriente Cows

As you know from reading my blog, i really like Corriente cows.  I’m nearly out of the purebred ones, but most of my replacements have a percentage of Corriente in them and that adds to the cross.  It’s a slim profit raising Corrientes unless you can find a niche market.  Also, they will not ‘finish’ like a beef cow, so are far too lean with next to no fat cover to make it profitable to butcher them.  (However, the meat is absolutely outstanding and that is pretty much all we butcher for ourselves.) So they remain relegated to entertainment (rodeo).

Anyway, a short article came out in the most recent edition of Working Ranch and I’d like to share it with you.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

 

 

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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.

Moving a Protein Tub

These supplemental protein/energy tubs for cattle are 200 lbs!  Obviously, i can’t pick it up to move as i shift cattle to new paddocks.  Here’s my solution using stuff found around the farm.

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Even half eaten, it will weigh over 100 lbs.  Although i can tip it on the side and roll it onto the sled, I found that i can just leave the sled under the tub; the cattle don’t tear it up.  I just hook on and move.  The black plastic is old plastic from a destroyed bunk feeder, the white pipe is actually the G2 plastic post from Powerflex Fence which i cut to length.  
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Full, these weigh 200 lbs.  Leaving the sled under the tub means just hooking on and going.  No more tipping, lifting, rolling, and handling in general.  The older i get, the more important this is.  In fact, i design my work around my bad back, hips, shoulder.
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When done,  very lightweight for easy pick up and storage.