Tag Archives: endophyte

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.

 

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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

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 1

This is part 1 of Greg’s experience, opinion, and discussion of toxic endophyte infected fescue published to “On Pasture.”

Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 1

By   /  February 5, 2018  /  1 Comment

Some folks say we should do all we can to get rid of Kentucky 31 fescue in our pastures. But Greg Judy has other ideas. In this four part series he covers his experiences, good and bad, with this grass, and why he’s keeping his. He starts with the basic benefits of winter stockpile.

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When folks start investigating methods of shortening the winter hay feeding periods on their farms and ranches, the term “winter stockpiling” is usually found somewhere in the discussion. The term “winter stockpiling” means that you are allowing your grass to grow on your farm in the fall growing season without being eaten off by your livestock. This fall grown grass (stockpile) is reserved for winter grazing by animals in the dormant non-growing season. The only equipment required to harvest this fall grown forage in the coming winter is the four-legged kind along with some electric fence. The animals harvest it right off the stem where it was grown. Grazing winter-stockpiled fescue ranks as one of the highest money savers there is on our livestock farms.

Once you have succeeded in growing all this fall growth of grass this is your standing hay for the coming winter. Our winter stocking rate is based on how much stockpiled fescue we have available across the various farms. Cows really enjoy grazing every day they possibly can. They would much rather be peacefully grazing across the pasture in the winter, rather than standing in deep mud around a bale ring fighting off other cows.

Here’s why grazing stockpiled fescue (or any stockpile) is better than bale feeding:

Cows Don’t Enjoy Bale Rings

Have you ever watched cows around a bale ring? It is a very competitive stressful scene. There are always dominant cows whipping up on the less dominant cows, driving them off their feed that they desperately need to maintain daily performance. The stress of getting whipped every time they try to get a mouthful of hay out of the bale ring really effects the less dominant cows. Your animal performance on the less dominant cows plummets with each day of cold weather they are exposed to. (If you knew that every time you opened the refrigerator door that you were going to get whipped, you might think twice about going to the refrigerator to grab a bite to eat as well.)

Fertility and Forage Suffers

All the fertilizer benefits from the bale-ring-fed hay are being deposited around the bale ring where the ground has been trampled into a mud slurry. Once the sod around the bale ring is pugged with deep holes through the sod, this area is guaranteed to grow a good healthy crop of weeds for years to come and it years to heal before it will ever grow grass again. Not only is it an eyesore on your pasture, it is no longer a productive area on the farm. If you have to feed hay to your animals, unroll it across the pasture to spread out the fertility.

Cows Can Feed Themselves

One conventional mindset that is tough to get changed is that when winter arrives, animals cannot feed themselves on our pastures anymore. People think, “You must feed hay or your animals will not survive.” My question to that line of thinking is, “What did animals eat for centuries before we started making and feeding them hay?” It’s pretty obvious that they survived without hay and they reproduced too.

I’ve learned that when winter arrives animals are more than happy to graze if they are moved to fresh grass every day or so. The more often I move them, the better they perform and the more content they are. Our mob of cows depends on us moving them daily, they are unhappy campers if they don’t get their daily fresh paddock of stockpiled grass.

By focusing on growing grass on our farm with full recovery periods between grazing, we can let the animals harvest the grass where it is grown. The manure pats and urine patches that are deposited while grazing are dropped where they belong – on our pastures where they will grow more future grass.

We have learned to trust our grass that is standing in our pastures to feed our animals. It does not need to be rolled up in a bale to be good feed. Many times rolling up hay into bales makes it worse feed. Unless you get perfect drying conditions to cure the forage, you end up with moldy hay that is great to fill a ditch with. Animals would much rather harvest fresh grass on the stem.

Here’s a 55 second video from Greg showing his cattle grazing stockpile. He’s passionate about this and covers it in his grazing school every May.

Here’s Part 2 in the series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 3

Greg (a world renown speaker) and his wife, Jan, are very good friends and he makes some incredibly good points here.  This year, i too, spent a lot of money tilling up my fescue pastures and planting tame, sweet grasses.  Now, i also did the tillage because the old pasture was really really rough and tillage also served to even out the washouts and other wallowed out patches.  Head on over to “On Pasture”  for lots of great articles.
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Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 3 – Fescue Tolerant Animals and Grazing

By   /  February 19, 2018  /  No Comments

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This is Part 3 in Greg’s four part series about the trouble with Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue, and how he’s learned to love it. (Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.) Here he describes the management techniques that have made him question moves to try to eradicate it from his pastures.

My Pasture Renovation

First I want to share with you my complete pasture renovation project that I undertook years ago at the advice of forage professionals. I did a complete reseeding on our pastures and put in a 100-acre diverse stand of brome, orchard grass, timothy, redtop and various legumes. I got lucky that fall after everything was planted and got a nice rain. The seeding came up and looked great the next spring. We held a farm walk that summer showing what we had done with this precious 100-acre piece of infected fescue. Everybody at the pasture walk was in awe of how beautiful the pasture looked. I was so happy that I could hardly stand it until someone at the pasture walk made a comment to me privately.

One seasoned grazier crept up to me and whispered, “Greg that is pretty nice piece of grass you have there, but in five years you will have Kentucky 31 tall fescue and clover, that’s about it.”

You could have knocked me over with a match stick! I was shocked that he would dare say such a thing to me. I responded right away, “Oh you’re mistaken! We rotationally graze and will manage these improved grasses so that they thrive on this farm forever. Fescue is history on this farm, it has no use here.”

Well guess what? He was dead right, in five years our primary grass was Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue with red clover. I had a good dose of “humble pie.” My pocket book was still hurting from the money that I spent putting in all these wonderful new grasses. In those days, we still had a loan on everything on the farm including the money that we spent on the seed. That was a sick hollow feeling making those loan payments that included the purchased seed knowing that my money ended up in someone else’s pocket and my farm was right back to where it was at five years earlier.

Grazing Management and Culling Make the Difference

Once we switched to mob grazing many years later, we were able to grow many additional species of grasses that were in the soil bank. This rank fescue needs a good beating every now and then with a mob of animal hooves to encourage additional forages to grow in the canopy. This animal impact sets back the fescue enough to allow legumes and other cool season grasses to propagate. But the main grass remains Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected fescue. In the Midwest during the summer months, fescue pretty much goes dormant, but with all the other forage species mixed in with it, our animals still perform well. Fescue is what we have and it wants to grow here, so we figured we better learn to make some money with it. Life is too short to wake up every day trying to kill something.

Back to our cow herd. What we decided was that we were going to graze whatever grew on the farm. We owned no tractor or equipment, so whatever nature dealt us, we were going to manage with that. Whatever animal could not perform on what grows on our farm naturally, would be culled. Absolutely no excuses are made for any animal that fails this test. It was a little harsh starting out. We culled several more animals than we would have liked to in the early years. But we stuck to our original management practice and it has paid huge dividends.

One of the easily observed results from endophyte infected fescue is that some cows will lose their tail switches. The tail switch falls off right at the very tip of the tail due to restriction of blood flow to the extremities of the animal. My good ranching friend Wally Olsen was here this winter walking through our mob of South Poll cattle. In Wally’s prior visit ten years earlier a lot of the older cows were missing their tail switch. On this visit, he immediately commented that almost every cow now had their tail switch intact and all the animals were in super body condition for the winter period that we were in. By staying committed to culling the animals that struggled on the endophyte infected fescue, the remaining animals and their offspring are much more tolerant to the fescue on our farms today. Certainly, having a diversity of other plants in the forage sward helps the livestock perform on fescue as well.

We now have a very fescue tolerant herd, our animals look at their fescue/legume sward and get fat. We occasionally still get an animal that develops a limp (fescue foot), and that animal is sold immediately. I have no tolerance for an animal that will not perform on our forage when they are moved constantly to a fresh pasture of grass/legume sward. We just get rid of them – problem solved. When an animal that is adapted to your farm’s forage has the opportunity to select the best parts of a plant multiple times per day, those animals will make you a very nice living.

Now, think of the money we have saved by not renovating our pastures every five years and gambling it away on a promise of having a better pasture in the future. I may step on some input folks’ toes here, but I am more concerned about the grazier making a living on their land.

Who’s making all the money with farmers killing their pastures with herbicides and seeding these new fescue varieties into their pastures? Hint, it’s not the farmer! We are losing farmers every year at an alarming rate because there is nothing left at the end of the year for the guy on the land that is doing all the work. We take all the risk, they take all the money. Most of the money is going to town, and we need to keep it on the farm where it belongs. To make a profit every year on our farms, we must eliminate inputs which we do have control over.

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

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

Permanent Ley Scheme

Horribly dry here and no chance of rain in the forecast!  However, it’s perfect for disk ploughing and rotatilling sod pastures so that they have ample opportunity for the grass that is turned up to die.  On the four paddocks i’ve selected this is mostly toxic endophyte infected fescue and other weeds.  Except for the 18 acres that i had tilled this spring and were involved in the annuals scheme, the remaining 32 acres is established pasture – pastured that has been grazed for at least 55 years.  Tilling it up created quite a clatter on my rotatiller.  Rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  There basically is no topsoil on my pastures except in the low spots along ditches.  Sad – very sad.

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Rainfall on 21 August 2017 – very nice and quickly absorbed by thirsty soil, but hot, dry, and often windy even until now 17 September 2017.

 

 

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Settings we used for a mixed sized seed batch on our John Deere 1590
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John Deere 7220 and John Deere 1590 planting permanent pasture mix.  I hope to never have to work the ground this much.  I’m no farmer!
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Seed ordered and mixed by Welter Seed & Honey.
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Note the difference sized seeds which makes how to set the no-till drill tricky.  At least for us; we are just learning.
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Dallas loading the no-till drill while Allen and Andy discuss what settings to use.

 

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Using the 7220 John Deere tractor which has front wheel assist to pull the JD 1590 no till drill.
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Here is the mix i ordered from Welter Seed & Honey, Onslow, IA.  Really appreciate their personal and quick discussion and advice.  Mixed and shipped very quickly.

 

So how in the world did i come up with this mix?  After reading Robert Elliot’s book The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass, i’ve been interested in his trials and observations.  I used a permanent mix found from Cotswold Seeds and interestingly it is even labeled Clifton Park mix!  How weird is that?!  The link here describes it in depth;

‘LAMINS’ Drought Resistant Four Year Grazing Ley Dry, Light Land

Pulled into the first sod bound pasture land (Paddock 15) with the John Deere 4250 and the Howard Rotavator on 29 August 2017.  Granted, i know most recommendations are to have this seeding done and in no later than the 20th of August, but this year just wasn’t going to allow it.  And thankfully, i didn’t get in earlier; had i put these seeds in slightly moist soil, they may have germinated, sprouted, then dried up in this heat and dry weather.  As it is, the seeds are just resting in that super dry soil waiting for just the right conditions to grow and thrive.  The concern at planting late is that there won’t be good growth before freezing weather and a long winter.

 

(On the 1st of September, i mustered my bulls and hauled them (Allen and Dallas helped a lot), i spent too much time outside and became overcome with ragweed allergies.  This kept me sleeping and recovering in the house for two days.  Andy was able to take over for me so we kept on schedule.)

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16 September – RAIN!  Slow and gentle, but with damaging winds.  Total amount received two inches – perfect!  Yah is gracious.

 

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So to wrap it up with costs:

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Figures from 2016 Custom Rates for Farm Services in Missouri

That’s a lot of money!  and doesn’t even include the $60/acre spent earlier this year in lime spread.  Hope it all pays off – i don’t want to ever have to do it again and with managed grazing, it should last many lifetimes.

Shalom!

tauna

 

The Big Till

As a first step of my endophyte infected fescue eradication and pasture renovation project, today was the big day of tillage.  My husband had purchased a Howard Rotavator 600, which is 10 foot wide sod-cutting and chewing machine and the soil (actually just dirt, it’s in pathetic condition) it’s been through gave it a real workout.  Even the tractor couldn’t keep up and i had to sidle over and only take 2′-5′ bite of new sod at times, especially going up hill.  This first pass took place on May 17-18, 2017.

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Here my husband has been running the equipment to make sure everything was working.  I’m getting ready for my dual.  Operating new equipment is always an uneasy step for me!
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The ‘soil’ more like dirt because it’s so dead is very compacted and lots of clay making for a lot of overlapping.  I even killed the tractor a couple times because there was simply not enough power to pull the machine.  I quickly learnt how much ‘bite’ the machinery could take so the John Deere 4250 would not be overwhelmed.
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The Howard Rotavator 600.  Here’s a link to a video of the rotavator in operation.
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My soil hasn’t been tilled since at least the early 1960’s.  It’s compacted with little to no life in it.  Just dirt.  The  hope is to allow water and other nutrient infiltration to encourage forage growth.  This is an example of first pass.

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One pass tillage next to existing stand of grass.  Serious clay content.  Methinks some of this worked up harder than if i took down the gravel road!

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Plenty of big rocks (these are some of the smaller ones) to make the machine go ‘klunk’!
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My office for a total of 8 hours.  Allen ran it for about 4 hours. 

All in all, i mapped out about 18 acres actually tilled.  There are about 25 acres total in the area being renovated, however, because of the steep slopes, several acres are left alone to serve as grassy waterways.  I wonder, however, as hard as the ground is, if the tilled portions won’t actually hold and stop more water than the hard pan waterways.  Hmmm.

So far, 12 hours spent (1.5 acres per hour) tilling, but not counting time servicing tractor and machine or time spent getting to/from the farm.  Tractor uses about 7.7 gallons diesel fuel per hour, so 92.5 gallons there.  Second pass should take a bit less time, but we’ll see!

We received a big storm last night with about an inch of rain, so the second pass won’t happen for a few days – depending on weather.  Allen will be right behind the second rotatiller pass with the Einbach harrow/seeder and my selected annual grass mix.

Per acre healing forages:

  1.  6 lbs buckwheat
  2.  6 lbs lespedeza
  3.  3 lbs pearl millet
  4. 12 lbs oats
  5.  6 lbs cowpeas
  6.  5 lbs sunflower
  7.  2 lbs red clover

These were chosen for their prolification, adaptability to poor soils, nitrogen fixing, and low cost as well as providing excellent grazing in 60-75 days.

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Grass waterways left to slow water during rains until the rest has forage established.
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Not a clear photograph, but a better idea of leaving waterways.
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On the far slope, the rows would have been so short that a lot of time would have been spent just turning around, so i chose to strip till through and across low and high spots.  Time will tell if that was the right decision.
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View from my office. 😉

Effects of E+ Fescue

Symptoms of ergovaline poisoning in livestock are:

  1.  decreased milk production (as much as 45% reduction!)
  2. poor body condition
  3. general poor health
  4. decreased weight gain (stocker gains can be halved!)
  5. delayed hair coat shedding
  6. low conception rate
  7. low birth weight
  8. circulatory problems (ie: ear tips freezing, sloughing off of tail switch, even so far as to slough off hooves)
  9. lameness
  10. loss of appetite
  11. abortions
  12. poor circulation also leads to inability to dissipate body heat (especially troublesome in the heat and humidity of summer) (this is the main problem which leads to the above symptoms)

The cause is that the fungus is a vaso constricting substance called ergovaline.  A good explanation comes from Endophyte Service Laboratory, College of Agriculture Sciences
Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 USA.

The toxin ergovaline is a vaso-constrictor, it constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood circulation to the outer parts of the animal’s body. Animals that have consumed a toxic dose of ergovaline will have difficulty regulating body temperature. The constriction of blood flow also can cause “fescue foot”. Fescue foot is characterized by gangrene or tissue death in the legs, ears and tails.

Recent research done by Matt Booher, Crop and Soil Agent at Virginia Coopoerative Extension and John Benner indicates that despite our best efforts, endophyte infected fescue at all stages of growth causes some level of poisoning to livestock.

Seems mind boggling that we farmers and ranchers continue to allow this non-native plant to be grazed by our stock, doesn’t it!?  Tannachton Farm is on a mission to remove it.  It will be a fight since the grass is allelopathic and persistent!

 

Cheers!

tauna