Tag Archives: forage

Iced Up!

Thankfully, it’s not heavy ice, but it is slick and i’m cramponed up to keep from falling and even though i use polybraid and not poly tape, the ice was heavy enough to bring the fence down to the ground.

After taking a couple hard falls on ice last year and knowing the amazing work crampons do whilst hiking glaciers in Iceland last year (2019), i invested in a couple sets of inexpensive crampons for the very occasional Missouri icy winter days.
Iceland – September 2019 (perhaps a bit of tricky photography here)

With below freezing weather for the next 5 days, i left it up as best as i could and still have it peeled back so the cows wouldn’t get trapped behind it. Sounds odd, but stock can always get across a fence one way, but are stymied by a return.

So they are set now with access to the water tank though it is unlikely, with all the snow, they’ll make the trek, but they also have a clear path to their protein tubs. The poly and reels are frozen stiff, so the cows/calves have the whole paddock for their enjoyment. There isn’t a lot of forage on the remainder of the paddock so i’m not concerned with them wasting any. Just glad i don’t need to go back and check on them in this cold and icy weather (with winter storm moving in tonight and another 5 inches of snow forecasted)- did i mention a few times i don’t do cold?

This is where that flexibility in grazing happens.

All the fence is iced up and laying nearly on the ground like this. The cows simply stepped over without much thought to whether or not they were out.
Cows in wrong temporary paddock. No need to try and fix it up. Wait until the thaw before getting back to total grazing.
Not much ice on the tank, but some since cows aren’t using it for water source.

Cows graze right through this little bit of snow and ice – teaching their calves how to graze. Still a lot of green beneath the snow.

It may be cold, but cows and calves with good grazing and healthy are satisfied and don’t even notice.

Total Grazing Along

Thursday, although only in mid-30s (F), the sun came out brightly and there was no wind, so i braved the temps and went to my farm. I was concerned about the deep cycle 12V battery running my solar energiser getting low on charge. With temps below freezing each night, a battery outside, if flat, can easily be ruint. (my solar panel is currently under renovation)

My last entry described my plan to strip graze south of the timber, so here is an outline. There is a great deal of difference in the amount of forage just south of the timber vs heading on down the hill to the south, so my paddock sizes need to be adjusted to allow for 1 1/2 hours of grazing. Cows really won’t graze longer than that before relaxing and chewing their cud.

In this case, they still have plenty of grazing in the timber, so they were not hungry at all. I will be leaving them for several days here so they will clean up.

How do i make any determination as to how much area to give my cows? Basically, it’s a math problem. The art is training your eye. When i pulled out the polybraid (white lines), i took large steps to estimate the distance, then multiplied that number times 3 feet. In this case, it was right at 300 feet. I step off the bit on ‘y’ axis (purple line), using the second strip for an example because it is straight across to make for simpler explanation. Anyway, it is about 70 feet. So 70 feet times 300 feet equals 21000 square feet. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre, so the area in question is 48%. Obviously, for ease of figuring in my head, i’ll use 1/2 acre. Now, the art part. I estimate in this paddock there to be only 1000 lbs of forage per acre available to total graze, so total is 500 lbs. Using a 70 animal unit figure and knowing they will eat about 30 lbs per day per head. My herd will consume about 2100 lbs total forage per day. If i was on target for giving them 1 1/2 worth of grazing (4 moves per day) or 1/4 of their time grazing, they would need 525 lbs of forage to graze for that time period. Amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly since i’ve been estimating forage per acres for decades now – you can see that estimates come out extremely close. That’s just pretty cool.

My explanation is probably clear as mud, but it’s not difficult in real practice.

Paddocks will be smaller as i move down the hill since the forage is much heavier – some will be up around 3000 lbs per acre and i will adjust the grazing strip size as needed to accomplish my goals of total grazing.

My cows have learnt to come to the reel end so they will walk behind me as i reel up the polybraid to gain access to their new forage break. This reel, polybraid, and posts will be used to leapfrog ahead to form the next paddock.

Here is the illustration for that next paddock break with cows respecting the electrified polybraid. The polybraid from the former photo is now set up as you can see to the right of the photo.

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.

 

 

 

 

Hay Challenges

I had planned to talk about the challenges of feeding hay in the winter in north Missouri last year, but never got around to it.  As it turns out, there are a different set of challenges this year, so i’ll roll them in to one blog.

Winter of 2017-2018 was really long, cold, bitter, but it was too long ago and though i know it was a challenge, i can’t remember.  So, starting with winter 2018-2019, which was the second consecutive long winter following a drought made for a very tough feeding season despite selling about 30% of my cows/calves.

My plan was to set out hay for bale grazing in July while it was dry, leaving the Netwrap on for protection of the hay, then using electric polybraid to ration it out to the cows in the hopes of minimizing waste.  Sounds like a plan, but you what happens to best laid plans.  I did set it all out – about 70 bales spaced appropriately on about 5 acres, then set up the tape.  then came the bitter winter early on along with deep, deep snow.  Of course, then with no way of removing the Netwrap because of snow and ice and snow and wind took down and buried the polybraid.  Cows and calves had their way with the hay.

img_5653

img_5594

Unfortunately, the amount of mud and trampling destroyed the 1/4 mile roll of polybraid and the Netwrap from 70 bales is buried.  I needed to remove it before grass grows but it was impossible even with Dallas using the harrow to try and pull it up a bit.  Sadly, most of it is still out in the pasture even now February, 2020.  But the resultant organic matter definitely improved forage production!

This year (2019-2020) blessedly has been mild by comparison of the past two winter.  Though we had an early cold snap, it didn’t really dig in cold until Jan 11 when a blizzard rolled in (the day i arrived from Fundo Panguilemu) with 1/4 inch of ice by the time i got to my pickup in the economy parking at airport.

I had started feeding hay way back in August to allow as much forage to grow for winter grazing as possible.  Thankfully, we had an excellent growing season though a late start in 2019.  However, the two previous years of drought has set back our typical production.  But haying while it’s dry only works if your growing paddocks are out of reach for the cows – otherwise, they will practically refuse to eat hay if they see green growing grass.

The freezing spell which lasted until the 31st of January allowed us to unroll hay on frozen ground, but couldn’t take off the netwrap very often because it was frozen to the bale.  We cut it across the bale so we could at least unroll it, but that leaves the netwrap under the hay.

img_7779img_7781

Today (2 Feb 20), it was warm enough for me to survive outside for a while (actually spent 3 hours outside because it was 55F!), yet though thawed enough that i could pull up some of the netwrap from underneath the hay that the cows had left behind.

While i was gone to Chile (first of January), it was dry enough that Dallas was able to unroll about 22 bales on another location that needed more organic matter, so that is set for later to be eaten.  And in December, Brett had set out about 30 bales with netwrap removed on a section that needs soil building with organic matter before breaking through the barely frozen mud.  So once the cows run out of grazing (hopefully there is enough to last ’til first of March), then they’ll back track to these areas where hay is already set out.

img_7783

I set up the polybraid around the remaining bales hoping they won’t need to be fed this winter.  Time will tell.  But unless it freezes hard again, it may not dry out until July or August.

Welcome to north Missouri – always 2 weeks from a drought in the summer and  cow killing mud under sometimes deep snow and ice in the winter.  It’s been said there are 3 good days a year in north Missouri.

img_7782
It’s muddy!  Back to grazing.

 

 

Watching Grass Grow

Thank you to all of you who take the time to ‘like’ or read or view my blog postings.  Goodness knows, some of them are pretty specific to ranching and farming, but since we all eat then, perhaps in a small way, nearly all of them relate to all of us – so, just maybe not really interesting.  These videos are great illustrations of why growing grass, then properly managing it for optimum animal, soil, forage, water, and ultimately human health is so important.  If you are into the carbon credit, carbon sink, carbon sequestration thing, this is the heart of the matter.  So, here we go…..!  Thanks to On Pasture for finding and sharing great information.

Let’s Watch Grass Grow!

By   /  January 20, 2020  /  1 Comment

    Print       Email

You know how we always tell you that leaving more leaves of grass results in quicker recovery, and quicker recovery means more forage for your livestock?  If you’d like to see that in action, here some videos you’ll like.

This first video is a comparison of the difference in response between Orchard grass continuously grazed to about 1″ height and rotationally grazed Orchard grass left at 3.5 inches tall. It’s taken over a 5 day period.

Here’s the last picture in the series to give you a closer look:

This second video does the same comparison with tall fescue. The grass on the left was grazed continuously to 1″. The grass on the right was rotationally grazed to 3.5 inches.

Again, here’s the final picture in the time-lapse:

It’s also interesting to compare the responses of different grasses. This last video compares Orchard grass on the left to fescue on the right. Both were “grazed” to 3.5 inches once a month. The video takes place over 7 days.

Here’s the last picture from this time-lapse series:

What kind of ideas do these videos give you?

Of course, time of year that grazing occurs and the amount of rest between grazings all factor in to the complex task a grazier has of managing stock. For more, check out this two-part series from Dave Pratt about grazing heights, rest and recovery times, and seasonality.

This picture links to an article by Dave Pratt talking about why it is one of the most important words in a grazier’s vocabulary if you want to build capacity on your farm or ranch.

This week he applies his principle of “leaving more leaves” to show how this works as forages change through the growing season.

    Print       Email

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she’s not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 COMMENT

  1. CURT GESCH says:

    The photo time lapse sequence is great: clear and convincing (if we needed any convincing). It’s also something we could do at home in pots, but maybe better than that in a field with a rest for a stationery camera. I would like to see 1″ versus 6″ on Orchard grass. Maybe I’ll try to set it up?

 

img_7568
Mob stocked paddocks with heavy utilization followed by a long rest.  Proven practice that builds soil, forage diversity, healthy livestock diet, deep roots providing protection against soil erosion of all types.  View of Fundo Panguilemu.

img_7559
Proper land management results in this sward!  My camera does not do justice to the beautiful example coaxed by Jose and Elizabeth, (owners of Fundo Panguilemu), with the use of their cattle and sheep.  Contact Jose in Chile to help develop your plan or in the States, Jim Gerrish, American Grazinglands Services, LLC

80095777_2736820309878769_4123042271991955456_o
This kind of grazing management (short duration mobbing, long rest period) is what creates magnificent sward of healthy soil and forage.  Thanks to Elizabeth Barkla de Gortazar for this illustrative photo.

img_7561
No bare soil here!

img_7673
A luscious sward for beauty and health.

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer?

This article is printed in the most recent issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer and written by our good friend, Jim Gerrish.  For more great articles like this, subscribe to The Stockman Grassfarmer.  If you are interested in an upcoming speaking engagement or prefer private consultation, contact Jim.

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer? By Jim Gerrish

MAY, Idaho,

Allan Nation used the term “grass farmer” to describe a new type of agricultural producer who was something beyond the conventional mold of a farmer or a rancher.

The true grass farmer is someone who understands the foundation of our business is harvesting solar energy and converting it into a salable product.

A grass farmer strives to create a healthy landscape where water infiltrates and does not escape the boundaries of the farm as runoff; someone who understands that life in the soil is as critical to farm production as the life above the soil.

A grass farmer understands the fewer steps you put between your livestock and the direct harvest of solar energy, the more likely it is that you will be profitable.

The true grass farmer is someone who becomes one with their landscape and the life within it.  Grass farming has been described as farming in harmony with nature.  This is contrary to many of the basic tenets of conventional or industrial farming where nature is viewed more as an enemy to be vanquished.  Droughts and floods.  Weeds and bugs, Scorching summer and bitter winter.  All of these are aspects of nature conventional farmers and ranchers do daily battle to overcome.

It is very hard for most conventional farmers to understand grass farmers.  For this lack of understanding grass farmers are often ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes, sadly, beaten into submission to the gods of iron and oil.  Sometimes that conflict is fought in the local coffee shop, sometimes across the neighbor’s fence line, and sometimes across the kitchen table.

That brings me to the consideration of what is the grass farmer’s greatest challenge.

Four years ago, I received an anonymous letter from a frustrated grass farmer.  It was five pages long and it outlines a 30-year long struggle to convert the family farming operation to an entirely pasture-based grass farming business.  The letter writer asked me to somehow tell this story and try to help other farm families struggling with the same issues find some resolution.

I thought about that letter quite a bit at the time and tried to find something to pull out of it for a monthly column.  I came up empty.

Earlier this year, I spent a day with a farm family and when I left, one of the family members put an envelope in my hand and suggested I read the contents some time later,. I did and, lo and behold, it was the same letter I had received anonymously four years earlier.

Now I had a face and a person to attach the story to.  The victim-less crime now had a victim.  How many times do we experience that in life?  Some issue that never mattered an iota to us becomes a cause when it becomes personal.

I think the greatest challenge to becoming a true grass farmer are those family members who cannot see the farm with the same vision.

If your brother is a crop farmer who sees only gross income, how is he going to switch from growing corn bringing in $1000/acre to a cow-calf operation with a revenue of only $300/acre?  That is a very hard sell.  But, why does he have a job in town?  He says he can’t make it just farming.  When the breakeven cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3.85/bushel and the price is $3.46/bushel, a gross income of $1000 doesn’t pay the bills.

If you have a gross margin of $240/calf and it takes you three acres to run a pair year around, the gross margin per acre is $80.  Which enterprise is actually better for the farm?

As long as your brother looks at gross income rather than gross margin per acre, he will never understand grass farming as a viable business.

When you have been taught all your life to till ground, kill weeds, spray bugs, and take whatever price the elevator offers you, it is hard to understand there is another way to use the farm.

If your culture says land must be divided with a 5-strand barbwire fence on the quarter section line, how can you accept weird shaped pastures created with single polywire?  The whole cultural construct must first change.

As long as the mentality is that is it OK to spend $100,000 for a new tractor but you must buy the cheapest electric fence energizer at the farm and home store, grass farming will not move ahead.  As long as the thought process i that the land rental rate is too high to run cattle on that field so we better plow it up, grass farming will never advance.

When farmers can wrap their heads around the idea that Mother Nature is our friend, then grass farming will move forward.  When we truly believe our mission as stewards of the land is to create a living landscape on every acre of ground we manage, then we will become true grass farmers.

Sadly, that is why we still say we advance only one funeral at a time.

Hate to start the New Year with such a downer thought.  Let’s see what February brings.

 

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant provide 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 26.  He will present a Stockman Grass Farmer Grassroots of Grazing Schooland a Stockman Grass Farmer Management-Intensive Grazing School in February.  

 

 

Sunn Hemp in the Garden

There was just a couple pounds left over of the Sunn Hemp and although it was a couple years old, i just threw it on my garden spot and expected it to do nothing.  HA!  Not only did the seed sprout (it was not even inoculated) it thrived, then took over!  Needless to say my garden production suffered, but i’m just gonna let it grow and see what it will do.  It is not supposed to mature and make seed in our environment.  Otherwise, it could become an invasive species and though it is not native to the US, it is being promoted as a deep rooted plant which will bring up minerals as well as provide some grazing when it is much younger.  The stalks now are up to an inch in diameter and quite sturdy.  I plan to chop them down and let them lay as a cover to the soil.  The chickens will have opportunity to winter in the garden plot and they will scratch it around and maybe eat a few leaves all the while adding manure out the back end.

IMG-7098
Those middle cattle panels are 8 feet tall.

IMG-7099
The flowers on Sunn Hemp are really lovely.  It is a native of India and is extremely heat tolerant.

IMG-7101