Tag Archives: grazing

My Viewshed Today

Weather was nearly perfect this morning – a welcome relief from the 90 plus temps and high humidity.  May have been the most beautiful day since last November!

This is my viewshed whilst shifting cows to a new paddock.  Okay, actually they shift themselves – i really don’t do much with the cows most of the year.

Cheers!

tauna

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!

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.

 

IMG-4041
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

Ranching for Profit

I always chuckle a bit when i type out ‘ranching for profit’ because it’s almost an oxymoron!  Yet, David Pratt, owner of Ranch Management Consultants and Ranching for Profit instructor, contends that there is such a beast if we ranchers use sound financial and economic principles.

Mr Pratt’s most recent blog discusses using debt properly.  Now, okay, my mind goes immediately to the song, ‘Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.  Do not forget, stay out of debt.’  Which then led me to wonder where that came from.  I knew it was from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ (Polonius counsels his son, Laertes in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet by saying, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  But what about the tune?

Completely surprised when i discovered that it was created and made famous on the TV sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, which i watched religiously when i was young.  SO FUNNY!  It is sung to the tune of the Toreador Song in Bizet’s Carmen.

The Bible also has advice on debt and teaches us to guard against being in debt, likening it to slavery and bondage.  However, debt does not seem to be a sin, but a tool to earn money wisely, but counting the cost before taking on the burden.

May 9, 2018
ProfitTips
from the Ranching for Profit School
A lot of people tell me that they want to be “debt free.” They are tired of making big interest payments on land, livestock, machinery and their operating note. They have had too many sleepless nights worrying about making the next payment. They believe that if they didn’t have to borrow money they would be more profitable and financially secure.
But the proper use of debt makes us more profitable, not less. And being debt free doesn’t make us financially secure. In fact, for most of us, short of winning the lottery, the appropriate use of debt is our only realistic path to financial security.
The problem isn’t debt, it’s our misuse of debt. The two most common ways we misuse debt are:
  1. We put finance first and economics a distant second
  2. We use debt on the wrong things.
Using debt effectively begins with understanding the difference between economics and finance. It boils down to this: In economics we ask, “Is this profitable?” In finance we ask, “Can I afford to do it?” If we are going to be smart about our use of debt, economics must come first. If it isn’t profitable you don’t have to worry about how you’ll pay for it, because you shouldn’t do it in the first place.
Smart Debt
Economics vs Finance
When RFP grads evaluate the profitability of a livestock enterprise they include opportunity interest on the herd as a direct cost in the calculation. If the enterprise has a healthy gross margin it tells us that borrowing money to expand the herd will increase profit. If we haven’t included opportunity interest in our calculation we can’t be sure if expanding the herd is a good idea.
Opportunity Costs
The other problem is that people use debt on the wrong things. There are two primary places where we put money in our businesses: fixed assets and working capital. Simply put, fixed assets are things we intend to keep (e.g. land, cows, infrastructure, vehicles, equipment). Working capital is the money tied up in things we intend to sell (e.g. calves). Most of us have most of our money invested in fixed assets. This is the biggest financial problem in agriculture. It’s a problem because when most of our money is tied up in things we intend to keep, we have relatively little to sell and generate very little income relative to the value of our assets. Making matters worse, a lot of the income that we do create gets spent maintaining the fixed assets. That’s why most ranchers are wealthy on their balance sheet and broke in their bank account.
Borrowing to buy fixed assets may be a smart long-term investment strategy, but it might cause you to go belly-up in the short term. We’d be better off to use debt to buy assets that directly produce income.
We shouldn’t be afraid to borrow money, provided the economics of our enterprise is rock-solid and we use the borrowed money to buy income producing assets.
2018 – 2019 School Schedule
Sept. 9-15, 2018
Boise, ID
at Holiday Inn Express
Dec. 2-8, 2018
Abilene, TX
at MCM Elegante Suites
Jan. 6-12, 2019
Colorado Springs, CO
at Radisson
Jan. 13-19, 2019
Billings, MT
at Billings Hotel
Jan. 20-26, 2019
Rapid City, SD
at Best Western Ramkota

Fertilize with Hay

Going along with my previous post, this article appeared in the 24 March issue of Midwest Marketer and tickled my ears.  

Check out this Bale Grazing Calculator!

This primer on bale grazing is excellent, though dated.  Since its publication, i think producers have found that plastic twine and netwrapping materials need to be removed before the livestock have access to the bales.

 

Fertilize fields with hay

Winter-feeding beef cattle on hay and pasture fields can minimize labor of hauling manure while still distributing crop nutrients.

Fertilize fields with hay

Many Beef cow-calf producers feed hay rations to cows in confinement settings during the winter months. Feeding hay on fields away from the barn is gaining popularity. Labor and machinery requirements of hauling manure can be minimized by winter-feeding beef cattle on fields. Care should be taken with feeding practices to ensure that crop nutrients are evenly distributed.

Feeding on fields is typically accomplished by strategically spacing hay bales around the field either with or without hay rings frequently referred to as bale grazing. Another feeding method on fields includes unrolling bales on the ground. Unrolling bales on the ground typically allows for better crop nutrient distribution. Spacing bales across a field creates a situation of concentrated nutrients from manure and waste hay in the areas where bales are fed. Over time, nutrient distribution can equalize with good grazing and management practices to promote soil health. Nutrients can be distributed by livestock and soil microbes over time, however, uniform nutrient spreading is more ideal for crop production yields.

Utilizing the various feeding methods can result in a wide range of hay waste. Producers need to weigh cost savings associated with winter feeding on fields and feed loss with any given feeding method.  Feeding on fields allows nearly 100 percent nutrient cycling into the soil for both phosphorous and potassium while nitrogen capture will be variable. Consequently, hay waste is not a 100 percent loss. Much of the crop nutrients from hay waste is available to the next growing crop. If hay is harvested on the farm, nutrients are simply redistributed to the feeding area. If hay is purchased, those nutrients are added into the farm nutrient pool.

Purchasing hay and bringing nutrients onto the farm can be a cost effective addition of fertilizer to the farm. The vast majority of fertilizer costs for crop production are for application of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Producers should use a feed analysis of purchased feed to determine its fertilizer value. Producers can use dry matter, crude protein, phosphorous and potassium content to determine fertilizer value. Table 1. demonstrates the calculations of converting an example feed analysis to the quantities of fertilizer nutrients in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Using an example of dry hay containing 85 percent dry matter, 10.6 percent crude protein, 0.18 percent phosphorous and 1.6 percent potassium content, the following value can be calculated:

Dry feeds will usually contain 10-15 percent moisture or 85-90 percent dry matter. A 1000 lb. bale of dry hay with 15 percent moisture will contain 850 lb. of dry matter. Ensiled feeds will contain considerably more moisture.

Protein contains 16 percent nitrogen. Crude protein is calculated by multiplying the percent nitrogen by a conversion multiplier of 6.25. From the example hay analysis, 10.6 percent crude protein can be multiplied by 0.16 or divided by 6.25 to equal a rounded off 1.7 percent nitrogen. The nitrogen content multiplied by the dry hay bale weight of 850 lb. equals 14.45 lb. of nitrogen in the bale of hay. The percent phosphorous (0.18 percent) and potassium (1.6 percent) are also multiplied by the 850 lb. of dry matter hay to equal 1.53 lb. of phosphorous and 13.6 lb. of potassium.

Producers must be aware of the differences between feed analysis and fertilizer analysis. Feed analysis are recorded as percent crude protein, elemental phosphorous, and elemental potassium. Fertilizer analysis is recorded as percent elemental nitrogen, phosphate (P2O5), and potash (K2O). Using Upper Peninsula of Michigan fertilizer prices, nitrogen is valued at $0.47/lb. N, phosphate at $0.35/lb. of P2O5, and potash at $0.325/lb. K2O.

Table 2. demonstrates the fertilizer value contained in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Fifty percent of the nitrogen and 85 percent of the phosphate and potash are recycled through cattle back into the soil and is used for future plant growth. Some of the nutrients are lost to volatilization into the atmosphere and are retained in the animal. Referring back to the example, 50 percent of the 14.45 lb. of nitrogen contained in the hay gives 7.2 lb. of nitrogen into the soil for plant uptake. The 7.2 lb. is multiplied by $0.47/lb. to value the nitrogen at $3.38. Elemental phosphorous and potassium need to be converted to percent phosphate and potash. Elemental phosphorous 1.53 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 2.29 to equal 3.5 lb. of phosphate. Elemental potassium 13.6 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 1.2 to equal 16.3 lb. of potash. Eighty-five percent of both the phosphate and potash will be recycled into the soil for future plant uptake then multiplied by their respective unit price gives a value of $1.04 of phosphate and $2.65 of potash.

The calculated fertilizer value of the 1000 lb. bale of hay is worth $7.07/bale or $14.14/ton. Current value of this quality of hay is roughly $80-100 per ton. In this example, about 15 percent of the value of average beef quality hay can be attributed to its fertilizer value. Farms that are marginal on soil nutrient levels may consider purchasing at least a portion of their feed to increase crop nutrients on the farm and replace some portion of purchased commercial fertilizer.

Feeding hay on fields during the winter months has several advantages that beef producers can use to offset some of the production costs associated with beef production. For more information regarding the impact of feeding hay on pasture and hay fields, contact MSU Extension Educators Frank Wardynski, 906-884-4386 or wardynsk@anr.msu.edu or Jim Isleib, 906-387-2530 or isleibj@anr.msu.edu.

To Hay or not to Hay?

If, by purchasing hay, i can increase the number of employees (cows) which do not need health insurance, workman’s compensation, employee benefits, bonuses, etc and they seldom complain about the work (grazing and raising babies) they enjoy, and in so doing, also increase the soil quality by feeding microbes (making those employees happy as well), and would decrease my actual labor costs and time, wouldn’t this be a good thing?

I’m not sure!

There are many qualified experts who discourage the hay habit – and i completely agree if i had to own and operate the very expensive equipment and time needed to bale hay, which would be on my own property, thereby simply moving nutrients from one point to another and not increasing – so, am i missing a very big point?

Winter is basically 180 days in north Missouri, so if hay is the sole feed source, the amount would figure as 180 days times 30# per cow/calf pair= 5400#,  allowing some ‘waste,’ and unusually harsh weather, it would be reasonable and wise to round up to 6000#.  If it cost me 5 cents per pound delivered and unloaded at my farm, this is $300 per cow/calf unit for winter feed (180 days), the rest of the year would be 2 acres per cow/calf at the rate $55 per acre rent or $110 per annum.  Total grass/hay feed costs total $410 per cow/calf unit.  It would actually add about 12 hours of my labor to position the bales for bale grazing.  So adding another $20 per cow/calf for $430

Given that info, my farm, depending on weather, could accommodate 200 pairs, figuring 2% death loss of calves to various reasons would result in 196 calves to sell.  If i continue with what i can do and graze only through the winter (relying on fall rain to grow stockpile), then there are 98 calves to sell.  So, to compare:

Calves to sell:  196 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $141,120 – $86,000 = $55,120

Calves to sell: 98 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $70,560 – $22,000 = $48,560

BUT, soil quality is not increased (unless mob grazing is implemented), and certainly not as fast,  Compared to renting more acres, fence and water maintenance does not increase.

What is the right answer!!!!????  

There is time for more reading, listening, studying, and sharpening the pencil.  In the meantime, first week of April , calves will be weaned, then second vaccinations on weaned calves, by 25 April cows will begin calving for 45 days, soil sampling select paddocks, then i plan to implement UHGD (aka mob grazing).

Cheers

tauna

snowy 048

Winter grazing in north Missouri.