Tag Archives: grazing

Forage Samples

Before i took off on my driving trip to warmer weather in Continued Wanderings, and before super cold weather set in, i collected forages from standing forage (winter stockpile) for grazing to see what it’s value for animal nutrition would be. Since i raise beef cows, it is not so critical to have high quality all the time like a dairy cow needs, but since starting this new (to me) #total grazing scheme, i wanted to train my eye, so to speak, as to what the numbers look like in comparison to what the actual forage looks like.

There were three applications i wanted to measure;

1) Stockpiled forage which had been allowed to grow to full maturity since last being grazed very short in late May. This test will give me a good indication of what forage quality will be going forward with the total grazing plan i’ve implemented since fall, in which, forage is allowed to grow to full maturity before being grazed in winter.

2) new growth stockpile or that which had been grazed in August and had a little time to regrow (likely highest quality but lowest quantity). Once again, north Missouri was very short on late summer rains so very little forage could be stockpiled under the traditional MiG grazing plan, so many producers bought hay in preparation for a long winter of feeding – as you read in a previous posting here, i decided to sell stock to avoid hay feeding.

3) This sample will be a compilation of waterways, buffer zones, and other areas not worked up to raise organic soybeans. This one is from the Bowyer Farm and is 4 1/2 year old ungrazed or mowed old growth primarily toxic endophyte fescue.

As expected, all forages samples are marginal at best as far as feed value and crude protein which necessitates the feeding of some sort of protein supplement to help the cows’ guts break down the highly lignified grasses to grind out the nutrition in the forages. Even though i knew this going in, i felt it was worth the time and expense for my own education to have these images in my mind and numbers on paper to match up.

Education, sampling, researching, learning, observation are critical in any endeavor worth doing – ranching/farming is no different.

Scissors and a yellow plastic bucket are the complicated tools necessary to collect forage samples. These samples contained a lot of dry matter, so to collect a pound of forage, made for a lot of volume! This is the paddock # 8 sampling – the one not grazed since May 25, 2020 and collected on December 27, 2020
Once I brought home the sample, i cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to handle and dry more quickly. Using a protein tub to hold the sample kept messiness to a minimum.
Once cut into pieces, i could stuff it all into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag – it was really full – and weighed it up to be certain i had at least the required 1 lb sample for testing. Then i stuck all samples in the deep freeze because i wanted to wait to send it after the holidays – it still took 14 days from north Missouri to Ithaca, NY while paying for 3 day priority. Not happy.

Click on the link above to open the forage samples information from Dairy One Forage Testing Lab.

Paddock 8 – last grazed 12 May 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Paddock 24 – last grazed 11 Sep 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Bowyer Farm – last managed Nov 2016, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Winter Grazing

Remember when several weeks ago i commented on how fortunate it was that i could begin the grazing program as taught by Jaime Elizondo which he terms #total grazing or #nonselective grazing. Well, the easy street is well over. I went on a couple week getaway and came back to 8-10 inches of snow and single digit daytime highs and below zero night time lows with wind chills well be low zero. Although other producers who are much more dedicated than i am are doing a stunning job of total grazing right through the snow and cold as evidenced by the beautiful photos they post on Instagram.

But i cannot do cold – never could – so if i can get my cows on a 10 acre to 20 acre paddock with tall grass and running water in the ditch and provide them with protein tubs, kelp, and salt – i say ‘sayonara’ see ya in a week. Maybe it’ll be up to 10F by then.

Cows coming up to shift to a new paddock
Haven’t a clue what changes, but when a hard freeze comes upon giant ragweed, the cows will eat it like candy! Good girls.
I asked Dallas to remind me to never, ever engage in having my land row cropped again. These ridged rows were left after the final crop was harvested leaving the field extremely rough and we found it very difficult just to walk around on it! This is ridiculous. We walked in to turn on the water, but there was plenty of running fresh water in the ditch, checked that fences were up. Didn’t drive in since the deep snow fell before the ground froze. Had we pulled in with a heavy pickup on the soft cropped soil, we would have likely buried the pickup. A tractor is an hour and half away. Not worth the risk. Walking is good for us anyway.
Moving across the Road! At long last, after 4 1/2 years, my cows are once again grazing the Bowyer Farm. Hallelujah! Now it can begin healing from the 4 years of organic soybean farming. It will take a lot of brush cutting and chemical kill to get control of the farm after 7 years of certified organic use. Most of these cows had never been on this farm! But a handful of the old timers well remembered how to come around the hay barn and cross the road. Had hoped to snap a photo, but my phone went dead because it got too cold. WIndchill walking around out here for about an hour was -9F.
Beef cows do not need barns – why are so many barns built – a mystery. It’s a pain on the old barns to rig up something that will sort of block all the doors and holes in the barns so the cows don’t get inside and make a mess, get sick, or worse crowd up and smash someone to death. (several years ago, nasty weather encouraged the cows to bust down a south doorway, crowded into the barn you see here and 3 young cows were smashed to death! It was a sickening and discouraging day as i dragged them out with long log chains hooked to the pickup. ) Who said ‘life on the farm is kind of laid back.’?!

Intentional Beef Producer

Robert Wells, Livestock Consultant with the Noble Research Institute offers his idea of 8 characteristics successful, intentional producers share.

For the full article go to: Do You Possess the 8 Characteristics of an Intentional Beef Producer? as published in the January 2020 issue of Noble News and Views.

To keep me focused, i like to reduce the lengthy description of characteristics to 8 bullet points.

  1. Understand the importance of recordkeeping. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation.
  2. Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation. The feeding program can account for 40% to 60% of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. Match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements – early lactation or around 2 months of calf age – to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest-quality and quantity forage of the year.
  3. Know when and how to market calves. Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle similar to yours.
  4. Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program. Identify which individuals which will help reach your goals.
  5. Have a comprehensive herd health program. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.
  6. Optimize stocking rate and pasture management. Forages in various paddocks need appropriate rest periods. A cost effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season.
  7. Develop a ranch management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates), weaning and marketing dates, when to work calves for vaccinations, when to conduct breeding soundness evaluations (for bulls, cows, and heifers). Evaluate and plan the grazing program, knowing that changes will be necessary as the year progresses.
  8. Remain flexible. Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. Having a plan, working the plan, but pivoting as needed.

Prairie State Park

Before i lay into the management of the park, let me be clear that i haven’t a clue as to the constraints and regulations a state park must adhere to. Also, don’t hesitate to visit the park – winter is certainly not its most beautiful season. I did see about a dozen bison.

Covid stuff has made doing stuff a bit awkward – i didn’t see a soul at this park – rangers or visitors. The Prairie State Park visitor’s center was closed, so i back tracked to the camping area and with a bit of driving around, discovered an outdoor privy. It was gross, but didn’t gag me – maybe because i was desperate.

Anyway, that relieved, I drove back towards the visitor’s center – there was one long trail near the privy, but it was too late in the day for me to conquer it. I found one much shorter which was only a path through a burnt out field of native prairie – or what is accepted as native prairie.

Let me admit my bias up front; for regular pasture/field/timber management, i think fire is stupid. It destroys the micro organisms, small critters, and sends amazing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – not to mention it is dangerous and takes careful management so that the fire doesn’t get away. Typically, it does the exact opposite of what it is touted to accomplish.

There, having said that, fire can be a necessary tool for emergency renovation if we haven’t managed a parcel and now need to jump start healing – a one time deal – if other practices have been exhausted.

As i drove around the park, it appeared to have perhaps half of the property burnt to the ground. I almost didn’t take the time to make this hike, but so glad i did. This was the first time, i’ve explored, examined, encountered the devastating effects of fire on pasture/range/prairie.

Path of the Scorched Earth – would have made a better title.
The grasses are completely burnt, leaving not only no cover, but scorched soil. Any nutrients and saliva provided by bison are burnt up as well. Hopefully, the plants were allowed to grow enough to develop deep root systems to facilitate fast growth in the next growing season.
Oodles and myriads of small rodents and other critters skeletons and bones completely stripped of any hide or sinew. Either these animals were eaten or died a very long time ago or they were caught in the fire.
Pieces of a turtle shell. No one can know for sure the demise of the turtle. We have so few box turtles in north Missouri, i hate to see their destruction. We do have a lot of snapping turtles though, which we could do without – terribly hard on ducklings and goslings.
Woody sprouts thick and getting out of control without proper grazing by bison. These are a result of very low density grazing which allows selective grazing. Once these tree sprouts, thorny vines, etc get started, it’s very difficult to restore the prairie without mowing or chemicals. Fire does not hurt them.
People of the Sky trail – more charred earth – it was getting cold and i’ve learnt a lot by walking on charred pastures.

Snow Still on

The snow is still on along with some ice and this prickly thistle must have some vital nutrients since i observed a few of the cows purposefully selecting bits off this frozen plant. Typically, they’ll only eat the flowers off in the late spring, but this cow is showing her calf how to strip off the branches and leaves and eat them here in winter – leaving the stalk. Otherwise, there is a lot of fescue and other grasses they will thrive on with a bit of effort in this paddock. Not doing the more intense total grazing right now since there is more snow forecasted and i sure don’t want more polybraid strung out again. Uggggh. Additionally, these paddocks they are grazing now are really just gleaning in preparation for better total grazing next winter.

A couple days after this photo, we finally received enough sun to melt the completely iced up polybraid so it could be reeled up. It took some effort (my farm is not flat and there is still crunchy snow cover) and i surely slept well that evening, but i did reel up all 4 polybraids (a bit over 3000 feet) and pull posts, hauled them all home and put them in the fertilizer shed where they belong before arriving home well after dark. So glad to have that project done.

Cows eating prickly thistle.

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.

Cow Days per Acre

Although, i’m still tracking grazing on my grazing chart, Jaime says i won’t need to under the total grazing. i bet i do, though, at least for a while.

For fun, i wanted to check the cow days per acre grazing with the total grazing situation on a tiny portion of my farm. This small section is 3.6 acres and there are 75 animal units grazing. It had last been grazed for 2 days (on a much larger scale since this small section is part of a 30 acre paddock) from 6 sep to 8 sep then allowed to grow whatever until the 18th of december when i turned the cows in on it. It didn’t grow much because it has been pretty dry since mid-August.

In 9 days it is completely consumed but not grubbed and the stock is in excellent condition despite temps dropping to single digits (F) the last 2 nights of the grazing period. This photo would reflect (imho) about a 90% utilization reflecting a surprising estimated 5500 lbs per acre yield. Had the cows been given full access to 3.6 acres at once, there would be no way of attaining 90% utilization due to fouling, manuring, and urinating. It was very thin up close, but from halfway to the far end is a natural spring area so it grows a LOT of forage since it stays kind of wet nearly all year.

Centered in this image is outlined in narrow red line a box which is the 3.6 acres the cows grazed for 9 days under total grazing method resulting in 188 cows days per acre. The cows do have full access to a 20% protein tub and salt/kelp.