Tag Archives: forage

Let Them Eat Weeds!

Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds.  There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway.  Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.

I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years.  The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn.  It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.

Alan Newport recently wrote on an article (Who’s Afraid of Weeds and Brush?) on this very thing.  Greg Judy espouses the benefits of weed grazing in his books and videos.

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Another example of mature forage laid down by decent grazing and trampling pressure.
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This photo is just terrible, but it shows on the left the cows have eaten even Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed.  The right side of the fence has yet to be grazed.
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Well rested tall grass nicely laid down by trampling and eating.
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If my cows are getting this much grazing out of ragweed, i don’t see much point in mowing it except to lay down those stalks for better microbe use.  But can i afford to own and run a tractor to mow it?  What is left here, the cows will snarf it down once it’s dried down this winter.
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This is a thorny locust tree sprout practically stripped by my cows and calves.  I’ve owned sheep and they do a good job as well, but not any better than my cows.

Who’s afraid of weeds and brush?

In the right system, cattle grazing under ultra-high stock density will eat most “problem” plants and thrive doing it.

Alan Newport | Jun 05, 2019

 

Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.

A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.

I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.

Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.

These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.

I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.

However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)

Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.

Debi NewportCalf eating tree leaves

Even calves like fresh tree leaves that haven’t been exposed to grazing, therefore haven’t built up high tannins.

A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.

So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.

The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.

And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.

The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.

TAGS: BEEF WEEDS PASTURE

 

Managing Stock and Pasture

With an exciting title like that, one can hardly wait to read what’s within!  HA!

Nevertheless, managing our resources (in my case it’s primarily land and cattle) is a must and, yes, even biblically (Genesis 2:15) mandated, to not only preserve unadulterated landscape (not to be confused with managing by removing human and wildlife impact or just letting nature take its course – ‘mother nature’ is not wise), but also we can use intense management to restore and improve ravaged soils and water.  There is a cost, time, and planning involved – and, to most, that is just not exciting.  It’s more fun to blame someone else for whatever climate change, global warming, environmental downfall you believe in on someone else and, those in power play on emotion to create ways to transfer wealth out of yours and mine pocket and put it in theirs.  But the fact is that each of us can make incremental changes in our own lawns, houses, driving habits, purchasing choices which will make us feel better and it will, rather that cost us, put money in our own pockets.

We have waste on our farm and farming practices, to be sure, just as any company or household has – oftentimes there is a cost to manage the waste, so it’s more profitable to waste.  No harm in that – usually.   For example, after having my timber and draws profitably logged which also improved the land, air, water, wildlife, soil, the resulting branches and small logs are more effectively burned where they lay vs  chipping or chopping for firewood.  It is a huge cost to do either of latter.  However, before burning, i’ll allow them to rot down, putting nutrients and carbon back on the soil and provide some shelter for wildlife before i burn the piles.  So not a total waste.

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Here I’m installing a single strand poly braid electric fence with step in posts to keep the cows on the tall (older forage) grasses to the right.  I did this because the south half of this paddock was grazed Jun 23-25.  Although there is little regrowth even after 45 days (we are still dry despite the green forage), it will be more tasty to the cows and they will grub it down to the soil thereby setting it back for regrowth and allowing the drought to get a deeper grip.  Bare soil and short roots make for a disaster.  Soil erosion, high soil temperatures, slow regrowth, microbes, essential to soil health, will start dying off.
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Photo showing the shorter regrowth up front, the poly braid, and the taller, older forage in the background. The taller forage has not been grazed since last December and, though we are short on moisture, the rains have been much more timely than the past two years, so there is a nice variety of forages available and many of them have already gone to seed – adding to the reserve or seed bank in the soil for the future.
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Variety in the sward and decent ground cover for my worn out soil.  It has taken years to build a better pasture and this is actually some of the best.  It is located near the ditch so it has the topsoil from the ground above it plus more moisture.  However, even the worst soil is starting to support a thicker stand.  I’ll get a photo – i’m very excited about the improvement at long last!
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Not much regrowth despite being rested for 45 days.  Thankfully, through managed grazing, i can let this rest at least another 45 days.  You can see my boot in this photo – estimated height of sward is 6-8 inches.
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Perfect time to allow a long rest to allow this birdsfoot trefoil to go to seed!

The Art of Balance

The best for animal husbandry and land stewardship is often a balanced decision.  These past two years in north-central/northwest Missouri and a bit of southwest Iowa makes grazing management decisions tough to call.  Two years of unusually dry and hot summers each followed by severe cold and long winters has left our pastures and pasture management in tatters.  The following article printed in Midwest Marketer magazine is from Iowa State University Extension beef specialists Erika Lundy and Denise Schwab offers some ideas for consideration.  We live in toxic endophyte fescue country, so it is not a best practice to encourage its growth with the addition of any type of applied nitrogen.  Legumes planted can mitigate the effects by replacing the poisonous grass, but must be managed with proper grazing.

Make Forage Growth A Priority After Hard Winter

 

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Forest and Timber Management

Another super helpful article with great ideas from On Pasture.  My ongoing logging activity has yielded far greater returns than expected since my logger has found buyers for specialty logs which resulted in more money for both of us!  Plus helped the specialty buyers keep their mills going.  Although my logger can remove and use some of the trees for firewood, there is still a massive amount of firewood type logs which will be burned up if i can’t find someone who needs firewood to come in and cut it up and haul it off.  Seems like a waste, but there is not much use for firewood quality logs anymore. (and these are already safely on the ground!)

On Pasture

Translating research and experience into practices you can use NOW!

Put Idle Land to Work With Intensively-Managed Livestock and Silvopastures

By   /  June 11, 2018  /  1 Comment

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One of the things that really impressed me (Kathy) on my April visit to Greg Judy’s place in Missouri is the thoughtful way he turns forested areas into silvopastures. In addition to creating great pasture, he turns trees into money by selling it as timber, and uses left over limbs to grow another enterprise – shitake mushrooms. I think other On Pasture readers could do the same. So with this week’s Classic by NatGLC, here is Brett Chedzoy with suggestions for getting started at your place.

Throughout most humid regions of the US, the landscape is dotted with old farm fields and pastures that today grow trees and shrubs.  In some cases, there are obvious reasons why land was left to revert back to its natural state – too wet, stony or steep. But many of these old field sites also grew back because the farmer no longer had the means or needs to keep the land open. Regardless of the underlying reasons, many of these what now appear to be woodlots (or brushlots, if that’s the image that comes to mind) present ripe opportunity for productive and profitable grazing system expansion – especially when adjacent to existing pasture land, or available in large enough blocks to support a viable grazing operation.

There are many variables to consider when evaluating the potential of bringing idle land back into production for grazing.  For starters, the land must be accessible and “fenceable”, have a developable source of water, and be potentially productive enough to offset the necessary investments. If you can’t check “yes” to these questions and there isn’t a reasonable fix, then look elsewhere for the time being.  The next step is to come up with a (simple) plan for what will be done, who will do it, and when.  Making sure there’s a good “why” is also a recommended part of this planning.  In other words, will it pencil out and contribute to your objectives?

The following are some of the important considerations for reclaiming former farmland:

Are there trees and shrubs worth leaving?

If so, then developing into a silvopasture (openly-wooded) pasture may be the best option because quality trees can cultivated as a future cash crop while at the same time provide shade, browse, watershed protection and many other benefits.  And if grazing is the objective, why spend money clearing trees today that will yield profits tomorrow?

How many trees should be left?

Silvopastures, like many things in life, are all about balance.  From a forestry perspective, favor trees of good value, vigor and quality that will continue to significantly appreciate in value. Trees that are of firewood quality today – and will only probably become larger firewood trees in the future would be good candidates for culling, unless there is some other justification for leaving them. Some examples would be unusual species, or trees with special wildlife value like a nesting cavity or den.  Silvopastures vs. woodlots can be thought of as a choice between growing the best trees on a given location together with either forage (in the case of silvopastures) or firewood (in the case of woodlots). For silvopastures, the firewood-quality trees are removed to reapportion sunlight to the ground level to grow quality forage plants. Getting enough sunlight on the ground is a critical step in silvopasture development, so avoid leaving too many “good trees”.  Consulting foresters can provide invaluable expertise when contemplating an extensive woodlot thinning.

What about all that other green stuff?

Trees intercept some of the precious sunlight needed to grow forages in the silvopasture understory – but so do all of the other plants and shrubs already growing there.  Some of these plants and shrubs may be quality food sources or enhance the silvopasture in other ways.  Others, however, may detract from the silvopasture because they are unpalatable, potentially harmful, or too aggressive in their growth habit such as the so-called “forest invasive plants” like multiflora rose (although there are also many native plants that can be problematic like some species of ferns).  The “low shade” from the shrub & herbaceous layer is often more of an impediment to growing quality forages than the “high shade” of the main canopy trees.  And unlike the culled trees that can often be utilized for things like firewood or sawtimber, these smaller plants are usually costly to control.  Mechanical, chemical and organic methods such as burning, shading (solarization) and livestock impacts (trampling, girdling, defoliating and rooting) are all options to consider for removing the lower interfering vegetation.  Usually, a combination of these methods will give the best results.

Heavy livestock can be baited into persistent patches of undesirable brush to damage and weaken the targeted plants over time, as well as to stimulate the growth of forage plants in the decomposed waste hay.  In the examples below, a round bale was fed in a clump of multiflora rose, leaving the canes heavily damaged afterwards.  Mineral feeders and supplement tubs can also work to lure animals into brushy and weedy areas.

So, I got enough sunlight on the ground – now what?

Daylighting the ground is the starting, not the ending point towards establishing quality silvopastures.  The next two steps are to create favorable conditions for desirable plants to germinate, and then manage in a way that promotes their growth – while discouraging the growth of the undesirables.  Germination requires a seed source and good seed-soil contact.  Wooded areas surrounded by fields and pastures – or where there is still a remnant of forage plants – usually have a sufficient seed bank to spare the expense of supplemental seeding.  Once a variety of herbaceous and woody plants start to grow in the increased sunlight levels, skilled management will be necessary to shift the composition to primarily desirable species.  When open pastures become too weedy, they can be mowed, sprayed or even reseeded.  Silvopastures, on the other hand, have lots of obstacles in the way that limit these options – so intensively-managed livestock impact is about the only practical tool to manage vegetation.  Desirable impact with livestock can be achieved in different ways.  Some examples are: rooting by pigs; bark girdling and defoliation with small ruminants, or trampling and crushing with heavy livestock that are grazed at very high densities or which are baited into brushy areas during winter feeding.  Each of these has its pros and cons, but managed correctly could be an effective way to increasingly improve understory vegetation composition – without unduly compromising animal performance, welfare, tree health and other resources.

 

There’s a learning curve involved with developing idle land into successful silvopasture systems, so start small and experiment when possible.  Resources and advice from fellow practitioners is available at Cornell’s silvopasture forum: www.silvopasture.ning.com

Brett Chedzoy is a regional extension forester for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County, and in his spare time manages his family’s 450-acre grazing operation, Angus Glen Farms, LLC in Watkins Glen, NY.

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

The 7th National Grazing Lands Conference is coming up in December and it’s one of On Pasture’s favorites. One of the things that makes it so great is that folks just like you are the speakers, sharing their great experiences. Learn more about the event here. On Pasture will be there. Come see us!

Don’t Let ’em Out!!!

It’s SO tempting to start grazing those tender grass plants since we are exhausted from feeding hay and, by golly, those cows would really be your friends if you’d let them have at it, but long term, they’ll come up short of forage as the season progresses due to sward quality reduction.  Instant gratification doesn’t work in grazing.

Spring Flush

Woody Lane, author of this article in Progressive Forage, is a certified forage and grassland professional with AFGC and teaches forage/grazing and nutrition courses in Oregon, with an affiliate appointment with the crop and soil science department at Oregon State.  His book, From the the Feed Trough:  Essays and Insights on Livestock Nutrition in a Complex World, is available through www.woodylane.com.

Grazing Management Primer – Part 3

Pond fenced with poly wire electric fence
Alan Newport
You can save a lot of money on water development by taking cattle to existing water sources with temporary electric fence.

Here’s a primer for managed grazing, Part III

A few more thoughts on grass regrowth, animal production and timing.

Alan Newport | Dec 08, 2017

In the first two stories of this series we covered some terms used in managed grazing, provided their definitions, and explained why the terminology and the ideas they represent matter.

In this third and final article of our managed grazing primer, we’ll cover some important concepts that aren’t based in terminology.

Plants: Taller and deeper is better

Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.

Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”

Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.

This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.

Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.

Balance animal needs with grass management

One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.

If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.

Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves

Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.

Erratic grazing breeds success

Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.

If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.

If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.

Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.

Cattle legs are for walking

Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.

Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.

This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.

Read Part I or Part II.