Tag Archives: E+

First Stab at Mob Grazing (UHDG)

About a week ago, despite our poor pasture growing situation due to dry and hot weather, i tried what others have done and that is UHDG or ultra high stock density grazing.  There are some who have successfully managed shifting cows 5,7,9 times a day and obtaining up to 1 million pounds of livestock per acre!  That can result in a phenomenal improvement in soil quality due to deep rooted plants and evenly distributed manure.

My experience was far different and after a couple of hours quickly realised my misgivings as to mob grazing’s effectiveness in our area.

  1. Cool season grasses often don’t have deep roots, by and large, unless allowed to grow quite tall (and mature) which results in unpalatable grazing.
  2. Mature grasses are unpalatable and very low ‘octane’ (nutrition)
  3. Laying down cool season, fine stem grasses by trampling is virtually impossible.
  4. Toxic endophyte fescue is poisonous at all stages; recent research shows the bottom 2 inches is as toxic as the seed heads.  Forcing cattle to consume it is detrimental to their health.
  5. Hot, humid weather causes some animals to suffer and they need shade – not all small paddocks can have shade.
  6. I quickly realized that i was exhausting myself setting up polybraid and posts to shift the cattle.  To the point that, instead of accomplishing other tasks whilst at the farm, i felt like napping instead!!
  7. A problem perhaps unique to my situation is the distance from the stock.   My farm is 35 minutes’ drive (via JD Gator) from our home.  Though  my solution was to shift cattle often on the days i could go up there, then give them a large break to last up to 3 days, but i found point 6 overwhelmed even that idea.

 

IMG-4041
This photo shows my mob at an estimated 50,000 lbs per acre.  Not even close to what is needed to see positive effects of mob grazing.  Nevertheless, i have discovered an optimal balance of dividing my 20 acre paddocks (paddock sizes vary) in half results in acceptable utilization plus gives an extra day and a half of grazing over giving access to the entire paddock.  This is very important; instead of 3 days grazing, there are 4.5 days, which over the course of 24 paddocks results in an additional 36 days rest period!

Putting dollars to that extra growth:  In normal and decent growing conditions (not over 90F and normal rainfall), cool season grasses and legumes could potential produce 8-12 inches of growth in 36 days.  An average pasture with little to no bare ground (spaces between plants) might yield 300 lbs to the inch per acre.  So, if the entire farm received that additional 36 day rest, then 400 acres x 300 lbs per inch x 8 inches growth  = 960,000 additional lbs produced.  Reduce that by 20% to get a hay equivalency and price it at 5 cents per pound, then 768,000 lbs x .05 = $38,400 worth of hay that is not needed to purchase and maintain or grow the herd.  OR, consider that as my wages for setting up and taking down posts and polybraid during the summer.  Of course, nothing is perfect or normal, so even these conservative figures may fall way short in the face of a drought or hot temperatures.  Nevertheless, there is gain to be considered IF the labor does not become cumbersome and cost more than the value of forage.

Well, this was all written on Monday the 21st of May – a week later – still no rain and temps continue well into the 90s with heat indices above 100 for several hours each day and little to no wind.  It’s muggy and hot; cool season pastures are no longer growing, so the planned grazing is relaxed already since the cows need shade and i’ve set up a paddock with a big timber patch.  Guess where most of the manure (nutrients) will end up?  Yeah, not where planned.  As usual, theories, plans, scenarios all go out the window in the face of nature.  Like any other year, we just do the best we can with the conditions we are given.

Cheers!

tauna

Dangers of Grazing E+ Fescue Short

Study Shows Dangers of Short Grazing Toxic-Fescue Pastures by Cattle Herds

Research results published November 30, 2017 by Sarah Kenyon, PhD, University of Missouri once again illustrate how grazing the non-native, invasive toxic-endophyte (E+) fescue plant causes health problems in cattle and other livestock, including horses.  Other studies show the effects on the soil microbial populations and wildlife.  E+ Fescue is pervasive, persistent, and poisonous.

Short grazing of E+ fescue in the last fall/early winter before a killing frost has been used by us and others to manage the spring growth of the plant by shortening the root system which slows spring growth, allowing more desirable grasses and legumes to get a foot hold.  This is effective, but a relentless endeavor since it must be done every fall/winter to control the fescue and quite simply, there is no way to manage ALL the fescue at once everywhere on the farm.

I’m thankful for professors and agricultural leaders bucking the status quo and revealing this long-known information to a modern generation and offering solutions to not only mitigate the health issues associated with the toxin, but also ideas on eradicating it.  Time will tell if changes will work – it’s expensive to renovate and manage pastures and fields – – and farming and ranching does not lend itself to wide margins of profits to plough back into improvements.

Cheers!

tauna

E+ Fescue History

Not even going to bore you with a long history of a specific grass – I don’t even want to read about it.  Given the little dab of history i’ve uncovered that was already known about toxic endophyte infested tall fescue, E+ tall fescue being sold as a wonder grass in the early 1940’s must surely have been one of the most duplicitous marketing schemes ever played on the American farmer.  And we fell hook, line, and sinker for it.  Now planted and still being planted on at least 35-40 million acres across the midwest and southwest United States.

Tall fescue has good attributes – it surely does.  You can overgraze it, trample it, burn it, freeze it, mow it, dilute it (with other forages), plough it and it will come back year after year even stronger yet.  But, as i have shared earlier, that persistence is purchased with losses in the health of livestock and decimated wildlife forage and habitat.

As evidenced by the following documents, I suspect we could keep digging backwards in time and discover that at least one cultivar of Tall Fescue has been wreaking havoc for many, many years.

forages-fescue-toxicity-page-300

forages-fescue-toxicity-page-301
These two pages are scanned from “Forages,” a 1973 college level curriculum.   Note that the New Zealand worker reported his observations in 1913. (on page 300)
clifton-park-system-on-fescue
A page scanned from “The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass” by Robert Elliot.  Quoted here as seeing in a book already written as to the New Zealand species of tall fescue containing ergot.  (we now know that it is ergovaline produced by the fungus endophyte which is hosted by the fescue plant)