Tag Archives: improvement

Shortage of Land for Farms

The title is a bit misleading.  True enough that many productive acres are consumed by housing and commercial uses – covered up with concrete and buildings – changing the micro climate almost immediately.  Although, this does lessen the number of acres available, it is also true that with properly managed grazing and proper use of cover crops and regenerative agricultural practices (read this as a return to more productive agrarian crop/livestock integration and rotation), more food can be grown on less acres with an improvement to the soil structure.  Where the shortage comes into play is that it takes larger and larger operations to actually make a full time living.  Farmers compete with one another, people looking for an investment, and folks who are looking for ‘play’ ground (hunting retreats) drive land prices farm above their production values.

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A ‘salad bar’ of grasses, forbs, and legumes doesn’t happen over night or by accident.  Most ground (mine included) has been over cropped and over grazed for decades and require attention, some money, and proper management to become productive again.  Contrary to popular belief, the addition of nitrogen and other synthetic fertilizers, do not improve soil.  In fact, nitrogen burns up organic matter!  They feed plants, but not soil microbes for long term improvement.
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The poly braid temporary fencing is just one of many tools we use to manage grazing of our cattle to allow proper rest and regrowth.  

However, here is a good article from On Pasture with ideas of consideration into what to look for in good land.

Tips for Evaluating Property for Raising Cattle

By   /  September 30, 2019  /  No Comments

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This article comes to us from the Noble Research Institute’s Robert Wells, PhD., Livestock Consultant, and Rob Cook, Planned Consultation Manager and Pasture and Range Consultant.

When buying land for cattle production, there are some unique characteristics to consider before signing a contract. These characteristics include: stocking rate, forage quality and type, soil type and fertility, terrain and slope of the land, water sources in each pasture, number of pastures and traps, working pen availability and condition, fence condition and type, and other infrastructure (overhead bins, interior roads, etc.) availability and condition.

Every Property is Different

Many times a potential buyer is told that a ranch in a given area will run “X” amount of cattle. For example, “ranches in this county can run a cow to 15 acres.” These figures are rules of thumb that are normally rooted in some truth but are hardly ever accurate, especially for a specific property. Not every ranch is created equal. Ranches in the same area can have varying forage production potentials based simply on the soil types that are present.

Soil Types

Soil types can vary widely, not only across counties but also across ranches. Each soil type has different forage production potential. A loamy, bottomland soil will have the potential to produce more grass than a shallow soil found along ridges or hilltops. Knowing what and how much of each soil types are on the ranch will allow you to understand the forage production capability of the land you’re investigating. Land that has the capability of producing less forage for cattle consumption than other properties in the same general area could be less valuable to a livestock producer because of the reduced animal number it will support relative to properties of comparable size.

The Web Soil Survey website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a great tool to determine what soil types are on any given piece of land. This tool allows you to map out the property and run reports on what soil types are present, in what amounts, and the forage production capability for each soil type. There is also ratings on the building suitability for home and barn sites, crop production, and pond development just to name a few. This tool can be found at websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov or with a quick internet search for “Web Soil Survey.”

Nongrazeable Land

Not all of the acres on the property will be grazeable. Roads, energy production sites, steep or rocky terrain, and high densities of brush cover will restrict grazing animal accessibility and/or reduce or eliminate forage production. These areas will have to be accounted for when determining the property value for cattle production because the production realized on other acres or income from other enterprises will need to be utilized to pay for nongrazeable acres.

Studies have shown that cattle use decreases as rock cover increases. Rock cover of 30 percent or more could result in no grazing use from most cattle in a herd. Cattle seem to avoid areas with greater than 10 percent slopes if other options are available. Reduced production from high brush densities can be overcome by implementing brush management practices. These practices are usually relatively expensive, and must be accounted for when considering the cost of operation or purchasing land.

Past Land Management

The land health must also be considered. Past management can have a large impact on land health, and large amounts of time and/or money may be needed to overcome misuse by previous managers. A quick soil test on introduced pastures will give you an idea of the soil fertility and what type of nutrient inputs will be needed to meet the management goals you have for the property. Native grass communities could be shifted to less desirable grasses or low production because of past overgrazing. These issues can be corrected with proper management but will need to be thought through when developing a grazing management plan or an analysis of the economic feasibility of purchasing and operating a property.

Water Location and Quality

Water location and quality is essential when evaluating land for cattle production. As a general rule of thumb, cattle prefer not to range more than one-half to three-quarters of a mile from a water source. Therefore, make sure water sources are no farther than 1 mile apart in each pasture. The closer the better, as areas closest to the sources will be more heavily grazed; those furthest away will have little to no grazing activity. Larger and deeper impoundments will typically have better water quality. The larger the water source, the less susceptible it is to drying up in a drought. Well water is usually better quality and a more dependable source, especially during droughts. However, it is prudent to test all water sources to ensure there are no pollutants that could cause an animal to reduce intake or harm. Well water can be high in sulfur and salts that can be detrimental to cattle performance.

Infrastructure

What infrastructure will come with the ranch? Is there is an overhead feed bin on-site that could be negotiated in staying after the sale? Overhead feed bins cost $8,000 to $10,000 to purchase, deliver and set up on a ranch. They allow for flexibility in feed types as well as when and from where feed can be procured. Are there quality and large-enough working pens that are strategically placed on the property? Look to see how well the working pens are constructed. Make sure the layout is logical and that cattle will flow calmly and smoothly through the working area. Make sure there is a good, full squeeze chute in the pens, not just a head gate at the end of an alley. Building new working facilities on a ranch is an expensive undertaking, especially if old pens have to be torn out before a new set is built.

Additionally, make sure the ranch has good internal roads. Inclement weather events, especially during the winter and spring months, can make it difficult to get into pastures that are only serviced by dirt roads. If the property has oil field activity, ask who maintains the roads. A good gravel road can make it easy to feed cattle during the rainy season.

Fence Conditions

What condition are the fences in and are they in the right places? Fence construction typically costs more than $9,000 per mile if built on flat and clear land. If brush has to be removed or earthmoving has to occur to ensure building ease of an effective fence, costs can increase dramatically. Different forage types need to be fenced from each other to be properly managed. Native grasses should not be in the same pasture as introduced grasses or crop ground. All fences need to be in good enough condition to hold the species you plan on grazing. Field fence with several strands of barbed wire on top is desirable in traps located adjacent to working pens and where weaning will occur. Goats will require field fencing to be most effective in containing them. Bulls will require at least a five-strand barbed wire fence in good condition to keep them apart from the cow herd during the nonbreeding season.

Easements

Finally, ask if there are easements that could impact property use. Be sure you understand the nature of any and all easements that my impede portions of the land. Pipeline or power transmission line easements will require a certain setback where no building construction can occur. Have there been any easements with private groups that prevent livestock grazing?

This list is not exhaustive and the topics discussed are not intended to be looked at as a make or break on a deal. They are only meant to make you aware of some things to consider when looking at properties. Things such as location, options to purchase other land, goals and objectives, and cost could trump any or all of these. Remember to engage industry experts such as Noble Research Institute consultants, land-grant county extension services or NRCS employees before buying a property to help you make the right decisions. Ask the right questions and take everything into account before deciding to buy. Knowing all this information up front can help you as a potential buyer determine a reasonable value for the ranch.

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Managing Stock and Pasture

With an exciting title like that, one can hardly wait to read what’s within!  HA!

Nevertheless, managing our resources (in my case it’s primarily land and cattle) is a must and, yes, even biblically (Genesis 2:15) mandated, to not only preserve unadulterated landscape (not to be confused with managing by removing human and wildlife impact or just letting nature take its course – ‘mother nature’ is not wise), but also we can use intense management to restore and improve ravaged soils and water.  There is a cost, time, and planning involved – and, to most, that is just not exciting.  It’s more fun to blame someone else for whatever climate change, global warming, environmental downfall you believe in on someone else and, those in power play on emotion to create ways to transfer wealth out of yours and mine pocket and put it in theirs.  But the fact is that each of us can make incremental changes in our own lawns, houses, driving habits, purchasing choices which will make us feel better and it will, rather that cost us, put money in our own pockets.

We have waste on our farm and farming practices, to be sure, just as any company or household has – oftentimes there is a cost to manage the waste, so it’s more profitable to waste.  No harm in that – usually.   For example, after having my timber and draws profitably logged which also improved the land, air, water, wildlife, soil, the resulting branches and small logs are more effectively burned where they lay vs  chipping or chopping for firewood.  It is a huge cost to do either of latter.  However, before burning, i’ll allow them to rot down, putting nutrients and carbon back on the soil and provide some shelter for wildlife before i burn the piles.  So not a total waste.

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Here I’m installing a single strand poly braid electric fence with step in posts to keep the cows on the tall (older forage) grasses to the right.  I did this because the south half of this paddock was grazed Jun 23-25.  Although there is little regrowth even after 45 days (we are still dry despite the green forage), it will be more tasty to the cows and they will grub it down to the soil thereby setting it back for regrowth and allowing the drought to get a deeper grip.  Bare soil and short roots make for a disaster.  Soil erosion, high soil temperatures, slow regrowth, microbes, essential to soil health, will start dying off.
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Photo showing the shorter regrowth up front, the poly braid, and the taller, older forage in the background. The taller forage has not been grazed since last December and, though we are short on moisture, the rains have been much more timely than the past two years, so there is a nice variety of forages available and many of them have already gone to seed – adding to the reserve or seed bank in the soil for the future.
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Variety in the sward and decent ground cover for my worn out soil.  It has taken years to build a better pasture and this is actually some of the best.  It is located near the ditch so it has the topsoil from the ground above it plus more moisture.  However, even the worst soil is starting to support a thicker stand.  I’ll get a photo – i’m very excited about the improvement at long last!
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Not much regrowth despite being rested for 45 days.  Thankfully, through managed grazing, i can let this rest at least another 45 days.  You can see my boot in this photo – estimated height of sward is 6-8 inches.
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Perfect time to allow a long rest to allow this birdsfoot trefoil to go to seed!

Annuals Scheme – Final Analysis

Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.

Grazing comparison data is as follows:

2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs  Total:  5089 lbs

2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs  Total:  5574 lbs

2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs  Total:  3294 lbs

2016-2017 – lost all my records

2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs    Total: 2242 lbs

As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience.  When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days!  In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit.  However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest.  One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition.  At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too.  So…..

So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing.  The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing.  Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department.  However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter.  It does look like that has happened at least in short term.  It is very hard to measure long term benefits.   However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland).  Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work.  I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week.  This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done.  There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.

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I drive through the annuals with my Gator to make it easier to set up a polybraid fence through it.
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Grazed part next to ungrazed annuals.  That tall stuff still standing in common ragweed.
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My ground is very poor in most areas and this is all it will grow in a 65 day period of the annuals.

 

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This is along the fence line (see fence on the left).  What a difference in where i tilled and planted vs undisturbed.  The ubiquitous Kansas ragweed (lanceleaf) is still thriving where it is undisturbed.

 

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Those cows didn’t waste any.  They really, really enjoyed eating the succulent annuals and snarfed down the volunteer yellow foxtail.  The stalks are trampled nicely.
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This is a close up of the left behind common ragweed.  That step in post is 36 inches tall.
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A closer look at the Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed in undisturbed soil.  Same step in post.
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Larger area shown here of what is left of the annuals after grazing.

Additional thoughts and observations:

Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls

Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.

There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages.  However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections.  Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres.  Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.

If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.

Post grazing observations:

  1. where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
  2. Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
  3. The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application.  Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered.  Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.

Cows on the Annuals

It's been a rather busy and momentous month, so i'm way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project.  Here are photos of growth at 60 days.  Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017.  Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon.  It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i'm ready to put paid to this project.

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