Okay, i know, in many parts of the world, including the United States, a foot of snow is hardly an event. But we haven’t had accumulation like this for at least a decade! I’m not a fan of snow, but soft, loose snow like this is useful for subsoil moisture and filling ponds.
Thankfully, with managed grazing protocols in place, one can largely avoid having to get out into the weather and on the bad roads. Today’s event is continuing, but the temps hovering around 30 degrees. The snow ploughs have been doing the best they can to keep highways open.
Mostly livestock have no problems grazing through this snow, though heavy cover of ice on top of a foot of snow is actually a really bad situation, which we haven’t had for many, many years.
Below are some photos from years past since i’m not driving up to my farm today on slick roads just to take a photo of my cows. In a few days, i’ll mosey on up in my JD Gator and check on them. If they need more grazing, i’ll roll up the polywire and let them have access to the next paddock already set up. In the next paddock are 5 big hay bales they will have access to as well as mostly grazing. However, i don’t expect them to need a new break.
The only livestock we have that refuses the snow are our small flock of laying hens!
Many of us have been caught up in discussions on social media which sometimes turn into nasty mud flinging and other nonsense. Religious issues with many gurus often offers answers which are confusing and double-minded at best. Livestock grazing, soil regeneration (regenerative is the goal; sustainable is out, and rightly so, since many of us have denigrated soil resources; sustaining that is ridiculous), wildlife enhancement, water quality, breed of cattle (or other livestock) are promoted with such fervor and worship to qualify as religions.
Yet, the reality of our fallen world and its natural processes, is so complex, that one size fits all does not work. In the words of my friend Jim Gerrish, “it depends.” And indeed it does. Sure, there are some principles, ideas, and theories which are basic and we can learn from these. However, the key must be to identify our own goals, resources, restrictions, and, as Allan Nation coined, ‘unfair advantages.’
You can search and find a myriad of experts ready to guide you on goal setting. Read through them, many will help fertilize your own thoughts. Here are a few thoughts to get you started.
Goals will involve family and friends- you don’t live in a bubble – be mindful and consider if your goals will push loved ones away.
Goals should consider the future – remember, you won’t always be 25 years old. Work hard now, but move into more investments.
Goals should include those things you want to do. You may become successful not doing this, but there may be limited satisfaction.
Goals should be written down and in a place you can reference them.
Goals should be flexible – we cannot control the world – sometimes shifting a goal is necessary to be relevant.
Grazing livestock management schemes are confusing and challenging – like a lot of fields (excuse the pun). When you throw in that one guru says do this and another says do the opposite, how is a newcomer to make decisions? It is tough, for sure, but read a lot, go to a few conferences by tried and true teachers, for example guys and gals who are or have been graziers themselves. Networking with other producers will really help, but avoid meaningless quarrels.
Just like knowing the difference between economic (is the endeavor worth doing?) and financial (can i afford to do it?) decisions, knowing the difference between goal setting and planning is essential. You may have great goals, but can actual plans be made to reach the goals? And beyond that, you must ask yourself, am i motivated enough to see it through? Don’t start a task if you don’t count the cost in advance. These costs are beyond money – they include relationships which may be lost, declining health, spiritual or mental stress.
Change is inevitable, goals change, plans change, plans change because the goals change, goals change because of many, many factors, including age, time, priorities. Don’t get bogged down with thinking you cannot change goals or plans, but keeping meaningful, timely, and accurate records is a must!
One of the best educational conferences, Missouri Livestock Symposium, in the state of Missouri, with an outstanding lineup of speakers every year is free to attend and a free lunch sweetens the pot. But all that aside, it is an excellent opportunity for farmers/ranchers/beekeepers/horse owners/stock dog enthusiasts to learn, not only from ‘experts’ but mostly from each other. Like most industry, farmers learning and networking with other farmers often results in more improvement.
Of the many takeaways from the symposium was a brochure that hubby, Allen, picked up from the ATTRA-NCAT booth on “Building Healthy Pasture Soils.” While the bullet points they make have been known for millennia, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them to see if a return to the old ways will be profitable and regenerative for today’s farming. The answer is already a resounding ‘yes’ for the hand’s on land owner, but is debatable (short term anyway) for the renter or absentee land owner. As my son’s fiance pointed out, it takes at least 4 years of regenerative farming practices to turn that soil health around. Renters will not want to invest in a long term fertility strategy; absentee landowners are typically only interested in immediate returns in the form of annual cash rent.
Excerpt from article:
Strategies for Building Healthy Soils
Let’s consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right?
Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices:
Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.
Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.
Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an “armor” to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.
Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm- season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.
Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.
Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.
For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices.
Managing means planning AND implementing. All the planning in the world will not enact change or improvement; action and motivation drives profitability and regeneration. If you are not motivated, not able to get things done in a timely manner, then get someone to come alongside you and map out a plan – yet YOU are the one to ‘git ‘er done. Too many times, i see people with excellent plans stymied by their inability to get out of the chair and off the paper – i call that analysis paralysis. Don’t be a victim!
This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.
Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.
Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.
1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.
This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.
2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.
It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.
3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.
You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.
4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.
This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.
5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.
In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.
You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.
Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.
The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.
Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.
Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.
Enonkishu Conservancy, (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs. Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement. The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.
Their stated mission:
Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”
The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.
‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’ I think it’s a good change. Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded? Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives. From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.
However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs. Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices. To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered. Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre. With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains. Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking. One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives. Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.
Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri. Wow!
We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life. More on all that in future entries.
Across our expansive lawn, Dallas relaxes on one of the swinging beds overlooking the Mara River, which was often visited by trumpeting hippos!
Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild. I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!
Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done. My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses. This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition. I don’t know what the conception rates are. I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle. This is no mystery as to why they do this! The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest. This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management. He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important. The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on. However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions. For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days. However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days. This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.
Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process. However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.
The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya. Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do. Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.
The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing. Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice. We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.
Today’s (June 19) chores were frustrating and exhausting – hopefully, i won’t vent too much, but instead methodically record what happened and what decisions to make based on the mishaps. However, the first of the morning was spent walking in 3 Angus heifers to attach Estrotect patches in preparation for AI (artificial insemination) over the next weeks followed by spraying off 30 gallons of Surmount chemical mix on woody brush at my farm. Started about 5:30 am.
This late spring I started letting my cows graze the new seeding implemented last fall. It’s been super, super dry (until today! already 8/10s of an inch and still gently raining), so using a back fence was not important since the grass wasn’t trying to grow back after grazing because of the heat and dry.
Nevertheless, I’ve been stripping off sections of about 2 days grazing each – no where near what could be considered mob grazing, but i’ve already decided that is a practice which simply won’t work for me. I had already set up 2 temporary fences of polybraid of about 1/4 mile each. Anyone who has done this realizes that that 1/4 mile of walking turns into at least a mile by the time the poly is unrolled, then walk back to get posts, then set up posts along the poly and hook the handle into a hot (electrified) lead.
When i arrived this morning, the cows had blasted through both of them!! I was not a happy camper to say the least. Thankfully, i had brought along another 1/4 mile roll of poly braid and I pushed the cows sort of back where they belong and i unrolled this tape. The grass and weeds were tall, so it just sort of laid on top and looked like a fence the cows didn’t want to bother. Testing the lead, i found that there was no electricity. Ah ha! all the polybraids were ‘dead’ and with baby calves running around, it didn’t take long for them to run through with mommas right behind.
But why was the fence dead?
I had spent some time at that very spot repairing some wire and gate just 24 hours before. Why did the tree not fall while i was there? Only by the grace of God. Not only that, but my spinning jenny was unharmed and the end post was still in place! Only one gate handle and the top hi-tensile wire was busted. Easily repaired that. Plus, the tree fell in such fashion that i didn’t even have to move it or cut it up. (thank goodness because i didn’t have my chainsaw on this trip). I simply repaired around it. It will have to be removed when i have time.
But this also is a prime illustration as to why forests, timbers, draws, need managing! Treehuggers take me to task for removing mature and junk trees. But without management, trees can become diseased, can’t compete for sunlight and nutrients so they can die and are a major hazard.
Anyway, back to my morning winding up. Once all was said and done, i’d walked at least 5 miles in tall forage, scratched through dense brush, and crawled in and out of deep ditches to retrieve all my temporary fencing and posts, finishing the morning installing a new rain gauge, checking my replacement heifers, and resetting an end post.
Dragging back to the seed plant, refueling the JD Gator and using forced air spraying out the seed heads from the grill (this must be done to keep the Gator from overheating), unloading the reels of polybraid and a bunch of posts. I forgot to take water with me and by noon (got home), i had lost 4.2 lbs. Goodness, that is 1/2 gallon of water sweated out!
This was another reminder of why mob grazing with multiple shifts per day will not fit with my schedule and quality of lifestyle. It’s just too stinking much work – i sold off the sheep to get away from so much exhausting work. With tall grass (not complaining), deep ditches, long stretches of temporary fencing, dense brush, and baby calves not trained to electric braid, there are simply too many bugaboos to make this a happy time. The mob currently has about 20 acres to relax and graze. It is what it is – i do the best i can.