Tag Archives: cattle

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

 

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

    Print       Email

This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.

Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.

Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.

1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.

This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.

2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.

It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.

3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.

You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.

4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.

5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.

In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.

IMG_9954You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.

Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.

The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

We hope you’ll join the On Pasture crew at this year’s conference in Reno. We love it because there are so many producers sharing their experience from all across the country. We always learn a lot! Remember – registration goes up to $475 on October 16!

 

 

Thanks to the On Pasture readers providing financial support.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a $15,000 match from readers to make our grant happen this year. If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. Being able to show that kind of support is especially helpful when we’re approaching outside funders.

    Print       Email

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

Enonkishu Conservancy

Enonkishu Conservancy,  (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs.  Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement.  The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.

Their stated mission:

“REGENERATIVE GRAZING

Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”

The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.

‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’  I think it’s a good change.  Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded?  Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives.  From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.

However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs.  Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices.  To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered.  Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre.  With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains.  Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking.  One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives.  Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.

Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri.  Wow!

Dallas and I recently (July 23, 2018) returned from a 9 day stay on Naretoi Estate at the House in the Wild accommodation.  We traveled with Trey Shelton, who owns Denizen Global as our TD and along with four other like minded travelers (now good friends) and offered through Savory Institute Journeys.

We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life.  More on all that in future entries.

Journey on!!!

tauna

37107659_10211986129470972_1944737822711742464_n
Our ‘estate’ at House in the Wild

 

37173065_10211986128830956_318042697635987456_n
My bedroom with full ensuite behind the bed.

Across our expansive lawn, Dallas relaxes on one of the swinging beds overlooking the Mara River, which was often visited by trumpeting hippos!

37085240_10211990269934481_2833784267593482240_n
Mara Training Centre

 

5c9bc26f-b0e1-48f0-8874-1bf258bf134f
Currently, the Enonkishu Conservancy consists of about 6000 acres and 11 cooperator cattle herds.  Nearly three years into the managed grazing component, they shift cattle through 13 blocks.  Unlike Missouri and other places, the cattle are maintained in mobs by trained herdsmen rather than electric hi-tensile wire fencing.  Of course, the elephants, hippos, zebras, and giraffes would be pretty hard on fences!  Labor is very inexpensive, although the Conservancy makes a point of paying excellent wages.  
IMG-4277
Plans are underway to soon double the number of blocks, or paddocks as i call them.  My experience in north Missouri is that 24-28 paddocks is a sweet spot to balance labor and pasture improvement as well as cattle health and growth.

Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild.  I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!

Beautiful cooperator cattle on Enonkishu Conservancy.

 

IMG-4227
Another value added enterprise is the Mara Beef.  Born, grown, and butchered right on the farm at a state of the art abattoir, Mara Beef will be offered at House In the Wild and the many lodges located  in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve.  Chef Purity at House in the Wild prepared Mara Beef for us one supper – superior flavor and tenderness. 

 

IMG-4229
Another enterprise or ‘holon’ of the Conservancy is the Mara Training Centre at which young people and adults from around the world come to learn about managed grazing.  Camping and dorms are available for long term stays.

Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done.  My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses.  This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition.  I don’t know what the conception rates are.  I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle.  This is no mystery as to why they do this!  The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest.  This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management.  He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important.  The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on.  However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions.  For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days.  However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days.  This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.

Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process.  However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.

The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya.  Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do.  Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.

IMG-4292
Here is a boma (corral) which can hold 200 cows in each large round pen, while the smaller center pen will hold all their baby calves.  Each evening calves are sorted and separated from their mommas for safety.  If the cows are spooked, they can easily crush babies if they are penned together.  See in the forefront where the soil has been disturbed in a circular fashion.  This indicates the area where the boma was the night before.  Dallas and i helped pack a couple panels to the next location to set up for the upcoming night.  The panels are about 7 or 8 feet long, but not really too heavy, yet there is extra wire on them to make them lion proof.   The herdsman’s hut was nearby, but i forgot to take a photo of it.  It is not lion proof, the the night herdsman is also guard.
IMG-4242
This photo clearly shows the great improvement in soil production where the bomas were located.  These areas are indicated by the circular areas of thick green grass cover.

The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing.  Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice.  We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.

Wishing them all the best!

tauna

 

 

Another Hot Morning!

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?

IMG-4135
I know this tree doesn’t look very big in this photo, but it was about 18 inches in diameter where you see here.  But my spinning jenny was not hit and, although, the post was pushed over a bit, it was still strongly in place.

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.

IMG-4136
The daisy wheel wire tightener was the go-to some 20 years ago and still is for many.  There might be 2 or 3 of these left on my farm, along with a couple Hayes tighteners.  When i redesigned and built my new paddock system, i used only Gripples.  They are so easy to use, remove, splice, etc.  Nevertheless, because of the extra wire stored on this tightener, i had enough to splice the broken line with a Gripple.  I don’t carry the proper tool for Daisy wheel in my Gator, so had to pull this pin and unwind by hand, which was  a bit of challenge, but not insurmountable.

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.

IMG-4140 (1)
Can’t believe i took this blurry photo and, worse, actually posting it here!  But that is a medium sized Gripple which is used on hi-tensile electric fence.  Easy on, easy off.

 

 

My Viewshed Today

Weather was nearly perfect this morning – a welcome relief from the 90 plus temps and high humidity.  May have been the most beautiful day since last November!

This is my viewshed whilst shifting cows to a new paddock.  Okay, actually they shift themselves – i really don’t do much with the cows most of the year.

Cheers!

tauna

Fertilize with Hay

Going along with my previous post, this article appeared in the 24 March issue of Midwest Marketer and tickled my ears.  

Check out this Bale Grazing Calculator!

This primer on bale grazing is excellent, though dated.  Since its publication, i think producers have found that plastic twine and netwrapping materials need to be removed before the livestock have access to the bales.

 

Fertilize fields with hay

Winter-feeding beef cattle on hay and pasture fields can minimize labor of hauling manure while still distributing crop nutrients.

Fertilize fields with hay

Many Beef cow-calf producers feed hay rations to cows in confinement settings during the winter months. Feeding hay on fields away from the barn is gaining popularity. Labor and machinery requirements of hauling manure can be minimized by winter-feeding beef cattle on fields. Care should be taken with feeding practices to ensure that crop nutrients are evenly distributed.

Feeding on fields is typically accomplished by strategically spacing hay bales around the field either with or without hay rings frequently referred to as bale grazing. Another feeding method on fields includes unrolling bales on the ground. Unrolling bales on the ground typically allows for better crop nutrient distribution. Spacing bales across a field creates a situation of concentrated nutrients from manure and waste hay in the areas where bales are fed. Over time, nutrient distribution can equalize with good grazing and management practices to promote soil health. Nutrients can be distributed by livestock and soil microbes over time, however, uniform nutrient spreading is more ideal for crop production yields.

Utilizing the various feeding methods can result in a wide range of hay waste. Producers need to weigh cost savings associated with winter feeding on fields and feed loss with any given feeding method.  Feeding on fields allows nearly 100 percent nutrient cycling into the soil for both phosphorous and potassium while nitrogen capture will be variable. Consequently, hay waste is not a 100 percent loss. Much of the crop nutrients from hay waste is available to the next growing crop. If hay is harvested on the farm, nutrients are simply redistributed to the feeding area. If hay is purchased, those nutrients are added into the farm nutrient pool.

Purchasing hay and bringing nutrients onto the farm can be a cost effective addition of fertilizer to the farm. The vast majority of fertilizer costs for crop production are for application of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Producers should use a feed analysis of purchased feed to determine its fertilizer value. Producers can use dry matter, crude protein, phosphorous and potassium content to determine fertilizer value. Table 1. demonstrates the calculations of converting an example feed analysis to the quantities of fertilizer nutrients in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Using an example of dry hay containing 85 percent dry matter, 10.6 percent crude protein, 0.18 percent phosphorous and 1.6 percent potassium content, the following value can be calculated:

Dry feeds will usually contain 10-15 percent moisture or 85-90 percent dry matter. A 1000 lb. bale of dry hay with 15 percent moisture will contain 850 lb. of dry matter. Ensiled feeds will contain considerably more moisture.

Protein contains 16 percent nitrogen. Crude protein is calculated by multiplying the percent nitrogen by a conversion multiplier of 6.25. From the example hay analysis, 10.6 percent crude protein can be multiplied by 0.16 or divided by 6.25 to equal a rounded off 1.7 percent nitrogen. The nitrogen content multiplied by the dry hay bale weight of 850 lb. equals 14.45 lb. of nitrogen in the bale of hay. The percent phosphorous (0.18 percent) and potassium (1.6 percent) are also multiplied by the 850 lb. of dry matter hay to equal 1.53 lb. of phosphorous and 13.6 lb. of potassium.

Producers must be aware of the differences between feed analysis and fertilizer analysis. Feed analysis are recorded as percent crude protein, elemental phosphorous, and elemental potassium. Fertilizer analysis is recorded as percent elemental nitrogen, phosphate (P2O5), and potash (K2O). Using Upper Peninsula of Michigan fertilizer prices, nitrogen is valued at $0.47/lb. N, phosphate at $0.35/lb. of P2O5, and potash at $0.325/lb. K2O.

Table 2. demonstrates the fertilizer value contained in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Fifty percent of the nitrogen and 85 percent of the phosphate and potash are recycled through cattle back into the soil and is used for future plant growth. Some of the nutrients are lost to volatilization into the atmosphere and are retained in the animal. Referring back to the example, 50 percent of the 14.45 lb. of nitrogen contained in the hay gives 7.2 lb. of nitrogen into the soil for plant uptake. The 7.2 lb. is multiplied by $0.47/lb. to value the nitrogen at $3.38. Elemental phosphorous and potassium need to be converted to percent phosphate and potash. Elemental phosphorous 1.53 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 2.29 to equal 3.5 lb. of phosphate. Elemental potassium 13.6 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 1.2 to equal 16.3 lb. of potash. Eighty-five percent of both the phosphate and potash will be recycled into the soil for future plant uptake then multiplied by their respective unit price gives a value of $1.04 of phosphate and $2.65 of potash.

The calculated fertilizer value of the 1000 lb. bale of hay is worth $7.07/bale or $14.14/ton. Current value of this quality of hay is roughly $80-100 per ton. In this example, about 15 percent of the value of average beef quality hay can be attributed to its fertilizer value. Farms that are marginal on soil nutrient levels may consider purchasing at least a portion of their feed to increase crop nutrients on the farm and replace some portion of purchased commercial fertilizer.

Feeding hay on fields during the winter months has several advantages that beef producers can use to offset some of the production costs associated with beef production. For more information regarding the impact of feeding hay on pasture and hay fields, contact MSU Extension Educators Frank Wardynski, 906-884-4386 or wardynsk@anr.msu.edu or Jim Isleib, 906-387-2530 or isleibj@anr.msu.edu.

To Hay or not to Hay?

If, by purchasing hay, i can increase the number of employees (cows) which do not need health insurance, workman’s compensation, employee benefits, bonuses, etc and they seldom complain about the work (grazing and raising babies) they enjoy, and in so doing, also increase the soil quality by feeding microbes (making those employees happy as well), and would decrease my actual labor costs and time, wouldn’t this be a good thing?

I’m not sure!

There are many qualified experts who discourage the hay habit – and i completely agree if i had to own and operate the very expensive equipment and time needed to bale hay, which would be on my own property, thereby simply moving nutrients from one point to another and not increasing – so, am i missing a very big point?

Winter is basically 180 days in north Missouri, so if hay is the sole feed source, the amount would figure as 180 days times 30# per cow/calf pair= 5400#,  allowing some ‘waste,’ and unusually harsh weather, it would be reasonable and wise to round up to 6000#.  If it cost me 5 cents per pound delivered and unloaded at my farm, this is $300 per cow/calf unit for winter feed (180 days), the rest of the year would be 2 acres per cow/calf at the rate $55 per acre rent or $110 per annum.  Total grass/hay feed costs total $410 per cow/calf unit.  It would actually add about 12 hours of my labor to position the bales for bale grazing.  So adding another $20 per cow/calf for $430

Given that info, my farm, depending on weather, could accommodate 200 pairs, figuring 2% death loss of calves to various reasons would result in 196 calves to sell.  If i continue with what i can do and graze only through the winter (relying on fall rain to grow stockpile), then there are 98 calves to sell.  So, to compare:

Calves to sell:  196 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $141,120 – $86,000 = $55,120

Calves to sell: 98 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $70,560 – $22,000 = $48,560

BUT, soil quality is not increased (unless mob grazing is implemented), and certainly not as fast,  Compared to renting more acres, fence and water maintenance does not increase.

What is the right answer!!!!????  

There is time for more reading, listening, studying, and sharpening the pencil.  In the meantime, first week of April , calves will be weaned, then second vaccinations on weaned calves, by 25 April cows will begin calving for 45 days, soil sampling select paddocks, then i plan to implement UHGD (aka mob grazing).

Cheers

tauna

snowy 048

Winter grazing in north Missouri.