Tag Archives: GRASSES

Grazing Patterns

Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion.  Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle.  In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.

Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).

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The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019.  They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information),  but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure.  Observation is key.
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This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species.  However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.
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This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year.  Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly.  Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen.  This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.
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Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.
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Red clover in the foreground.  The smaller purple flower is alfalfa.  I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.
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See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground?  that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!

 

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This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing.  Not all the severely eroded spots have mended.  May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing.  My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.
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Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land.  Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them.  They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will  now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.
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This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze.  More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.

 

 

Purdin Paddocks 23 and 24
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks.  This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling.  The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first.  They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown).  They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade.  If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance.  Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line.  No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left.  For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile.  The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres.  Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.

Pasture Renovation

Farming and ranching are both career choices which require continued study, education, and practice modification to remain profitable and regenerative.  As you know from previous blog entries, i’ve tried tillage and replanting with perennials, hired an organic farmer who is using minimal tillage and planting food grade soybeans and has tried planting cover crops to hold soil when crops are harvested (this has not been successful – weather), and both of these approaches to eliminate toxic endophyte fescue have been very expensive and no enhancement of soil health.

My next practice is planned to start with frost seeding as soon as weather allows – which is looking to be challenging since we are in the midst of a polar vortex right now and near record lows.  But turnaround this weekend to near historic highs.  Missouri is always a challenge in the weather department.  Broadcast frost seeding is typically accomplished by early March.

High stock density grazing or mob grazing is labor intensive and thereby expensive to implement, but i hope to use this practice to prepare the soil for receiving the grass/forage seeds.  All these expenses i will record, track, and monetize to make an apples to apples comparison with the other two practices i’ve tried.  (Organic soybean farming and Permanent Ley Pasture)

To keep costs down, i plant to use annuals, grazing, and long rest to allow these plants to produce a lot of growth but before the plants become unpalatable, mob graze again allowing lots of manure and urine deposition across the paddock as well as trampling plants to keep soil covered and cool.  That’s the plan anyway.  My top photo was taken last year, but illustrates what the grazing/trampling effect i hope to achieve with hoof action and no mechanical tillage.

Planned seeds for broadcast:

  • Alsike clover – .25 lb
  • Barley – 8 lbs
  • Lespedeza  – 3 lbs (if a supply can be sourced)
  • Oats – 8 lbs
  • Sunflower – 3 lbs

I’ve ordered a broadcast seeder for my John Deere Gator, so that should make broadcasting much easier so that i’m more likely to get it done in a timely fashion.  Sometimes having the right machinery makes money rather than costing.  It depends on one’s goals and how much you value your time.  Also, if the practice is effective.  If, for example, the practice does not add value to my operation, then the more i do it, the more expensive it becomes.  One of the holistic management testing decisions.

  1. Energy/money source & use
    • Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source in terms of your holistic goal?
    • Will the way in which energy or money is to be used lead toward your holistic goal.

So, this is what i do when i have a really bad head and it’s below freezing outside. Study and plan.

Cheers!

tauna

 

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

Unrolling Hay

Bitterly cold today and with ground frozen hard, the best job for today is to unroll hay for grazing.  The plan is to strip graze it for the remainder of the winter.  This will add considerable organic matter to the soil. When the cattle and sheep have cleaned up the hay and pooped all over the paddock, I’ll broadcast legumes and grass seeds over the area.  Hopefully, i’ll have a chance to unroll more hay over the top for grazing, but our weather is so unpredictable that that is not a certainly.  I may just walk the cattle around on the area to encourage seed to soil contact, then graze it occasionally as the original grasses grow.  Once the new grasses take hold and grow (all depends on the weather), then the livestock will not have access for about 60 days for full growth.  Sure hope it all works.

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Looking back to load and unload.
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Controls for the Hydra Bed
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Two hay bales loaded for moving. Each weighing about 1700 lbs.
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Unloading.
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Slicing through the net wrap with a box knife.
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Pulling off the net wrap in preparation for unrolling.
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Threw the wraps for 32 bales in the front so they wouldn’t get in the way of hauling hay.
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Downtown Linneus, Missouri
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Should have left just a little bit earlier. No problems, though, just locked into four wheel drive and kept to about 40 mph. About a 25-30 minute drive home.
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My office view today!