Tag Archives: management

June Grazing

Pretty good article by Hugh Aljoe, Director of Producer Relations, Pasture and Range Consultant at the Noble Research Institute as published in the June 2019 (Issue 6) of Progressive Cattleman entitled, June:  The most critical forage Month of the Year.


Many of his pasture preparation ideas i would not implement, but his final thought is well said and quite possibly all that needed to be said.

Keep Past Seasons, predicted weather in mind

Recent weather trends – featuring more-frequent fluctuations and greater intensities of extremes across the country (USA) – should influence our management toward a more conservative and intentional approach to our pasture and grazing management.  The greatest probability for a successful forage season comes from preparing operational strategies based upon predicted weather conditions as well as adapting our management strategies to address issues or opportunities carried over from the previous seasons. 

With June being the most critical forage month for most of us producers, our pasture and grazing management strategies should be fully implemented early in this month to capture the full potential of our growing season.

All the best!

tauna

One Millimeter At A Time

One of my favorite storytellers is Paul Marchant, who publishes short essays in Progressive Cattleman magazine, amongst others.  His May blog is apropos for our time as a reminder to take one day, one moment at a time.

His tongue-in-cheek humor may not relate to someone not familiar with raising, calving, caring for cattle, but for the most part – his messages are clear and straight forward.

A note i will add is that we often make decisions which make life more difficult than it should be.  Calving in the winter is not a good decision for neither man, nor beast.  In nature, those calves will largely die due to cold – when do the bison calve?  Mid-April to June in north central Missouri.  Where ever you live observe natural processes.  This will also demonstrate that huge calves will also result in pain and death.  Pain and death is a sad part of our fallen world, but there is no reason to encourage or perpetuate bad situations and decisions.  (bearing in mind, that nature being what it is, sometimes big calves just happen, but usually not).  Part of the flooding (much is just too much precipitation all at once) is also bad decision making, much of it out of the hands of we the people, but rather those made by government ‘professionals.’  But, all we can do is govern our own selves and decisions.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

 

 

Irons in the fire: One millimeter at a time

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 April 2019

A happy and healthy post-prolapse pair enjoys an evening meal.

It was shaping up to be a good spring day. The snow was pretty much gone, and the mud was drying up. It was one of the first days of the year that dared me to attack it without the aid of muck boots or snow packs on my feet.

The light gray clouds in the sky danced with the wind and the sun, a ballet that enticed me to leave my coat in the pickup if not in the closet back at the house.

We were a couple of weeks into calving and were getting several calves a day. For the most part, luck had been on my side. Apart from a couple of bitter cold nights to start things off, we’d survived to that point without anything I’d classify as a wreck. I’d doctored a few for scours, so I was a little on edge, but we weren’t losing them.

I stopped in at the house for a quick lunch before we set back out to string up a hot wire around a corner of the southwest pivot where we were keeping a little bunch of heifers. Before we started with the project, I figured we should make a quick trip through the biggest herd of cows just to see if we needed to tag one or two new calves.

As the old pickup bounced across the ruts and brush, my eye was drawn to the far corner of the field, where an ominous scene was unfolding. I’d noticed the big old Simmy-cross cow earlier in the day. I expected her to calve that day. What I didn’t expect was what I found. She was one of the marker cows: big, black, white-faced with the old traditional Simmental markings you don’t see much of any more. She never raised much of a calf, but I kept her around, thinking she may someday produce a show-worthy 4-H calf.

As we approached, I could see my anticipated yet unwelcomed wreck had arrived. The old cow lay there on her left side, legs outstretched and a 120-pound calf shivering behind her. What distressed me was the full uterine prolapse that accompanied the calf. My heart sank as I beheld the scene.

“Do you want to call the vet?” my dad asked.

I answered in the negative. It was Saturday afternoon, and I figured Trevor, the ever-patient vet, would be at a roping in Pocatello or anywhere else where he could catch his breath and a break from his country vet dream life. As much as I wanted to outsource this burdensome project, I figured I could at least save a dollar or two, since I figured she’d die anyway.

There is no metaphor or simile or analogy to properly describe a full-blown bovine uterine prolapse and its treatment. It’s what you use to describe some other unfathomable task. When Sir Edmund Hillary asked what ascending Everest would be like, his Sherpa guide no doubt told him it was akin to fixing a prolapsed cow.

I raced back to the barn to fetch the umbilical tape and a needle. I had nothing to give for a spinal block, so I could only hope the old girl wouldn’t fight too much. I needed a little fight in her but not so much it made the job more impossible than it already seemed. She did indeed have enough fight in her to stand up and try to trot away. I roped her, got a halter on her and tied her to the back of the pickup. At least she could stand. I’d at least have a little bit of gravity to help me.

Two hands are hardly enough to start the job, so my 82-year-old father gloved up and dove into the fray with me. All you can do is start the job and practice a little faith and trust in what you’re doing. You just keep working, a millimeter at a time, and amid the doubts, anxiety and fear, you eventually see some progress. Really, though, it doesn’t seem like you see any progress until somehow, miraculously, everything is back in place.

The clock said 35 minutes had passed. It was an eternally long half-hour, but we got the job done. The working conditions were just slightly less than sterile, so I loaded the cow up with antibiotics and stitched her up, all the while praying everything didn’t go inside out again. I wouldn’t have bet the farm on it, but the old girl survived. So did the calf. As desperate as the situation seemed, we all came through it.

I couldn’t help but think of this miniature personal struggle as I’ve watched the massive and tragic devastation in the wake of Mother Nature’s powerful theatrics in Australia and America’s Heartland these past months. I’ve been hesitant to mention it in my insignificant prose because I am vastly underqualified and overwhelmed. My finite ability to comprehend the tragedy of it all hardly allows me to lend any commentary at all.

Yet I hear of and see people who have been ravaged and deeply impacted by these catastrophic events rise up and take their own brand of fight to the battle before they’ve even had a chance to put on a pair of dry socks. It gives me hope. Hope in not only their recovery but in all of us and our ability to overcome devastation, weakness and pettiness. They’re fighting on, one millimeter at a time.  end mark

PHOTO: A happy and healthy post-prolapse pair enjoys an evening meal. Photo by Paul Marchant.

Paul Marchant

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What a landowner looks for in a lessee

What A Landowner Looks For in A Lessee

Helpful article in the April 2019 Issue (4) of Progressive Cattleman.

Online article.

 

What a landowner looks for in a lessee

Jenny Pluhar for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 March 2019
Frank Price (left) and Grant Teplicek

“Is this Jenny?”

“Yes. …”

“This is John Q. Public. I heard you have a ranch available for lease, and I run some cattle. …”

That opening line pretty much guaranteed I was not going to consider that offer to lease. Most likely John Q. had a job in town. He may have been the pharmacist, owned the hardware store or been a schoolteacher. But in my neck of the woods (Texas), “running cattle” is the ultimate sexy, cool, cowboy thing to do.

The mere fact so many think it is easy offends me. That fellow on the other end of the phone hoping to lease from me needs to be managing a complex ecosystem and ensuring sustainability into the future. He is running a business where profitability is closely linked to stewardship of the land. He is not just “running cattle.”

This was not my first rodeo. I have changed lessees for these owners twice before over 24 years. We tend to choose carefully and hope to have long-term relationships. I have been threatened: “I will pay more than John Doe; aren’t you supposed to make the most money possible for the owners?” “You’ll never find someone to go along with all your stipulations.” “If I lease your place, I will decide how to operate it.” “Give me the owner’s number; I will tell him I will pay more.”

Nope, yep and nope. By all means, call the owner. He will hang up on you, guaranteed. My goal was to find the right lessee, someone who wanted to manage that complex ecosystem, strive for sustainability, make a profit. The happy ending is: Although I received the above-mentioned phone call probably a hundred times, I had four outstanding candidates to lease the ranch, and another four queued up if the first four opted out.

Serious about stewardship

What to look for in a lessee? How to find the guy or gal who can manage a complex ecosystem and steward the rangeland resource while still making a profitable living for their family? Face it, if we don’t take profitability into account, the goal of stewardship becomes just another buzzword.

Of the calls I received, only one was actually a credible possibility – and only because I had lost touch with the young man. I knew and respected him but was out-of-date on his progression in the ranching industry. The viable candidates were people I contacted, folks I knew from field days, ranch tours, word-of-mouth. I knew them to be serious about stewardship, profitable, eager to learn and progressive-type operators. I had observed them in action, often at Texas Grazing Land Coalition activities, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers School for Successful Cattlemen, local workshops.

My initial concern was that none of them would want to consider this property. It is remote and, frankly, was beat up – continuously grazed, overstocked, infrastructure needing attention, definitely a ranch in rehab. Lucky for me, I had four respectable land stewards who were interested.

After a bad experience with past lessees, the owners and I were determined to make a good selection. We were in no hurry, which was key to a successful process.

I spent a day on the ranch with each potential lessee. We climbed on the side-by-side and attempted to see as much as possible. Thirty-thousand acres is a lot of ground to cover, but I wanted them to see the good, the bad and the ugly. And I wanted to gauge their goals. The owners and I have some specific goals, focusing primarily on improving rangeland conditions.

It is a mighty challenge, and I needed to know if the candidates were up to the task and aware of the degradation of the resources. Those hours on the ATV allowed me to quickly assess their mettle. Did they know the plants? Did they know how much water a cow-calf pair or a stocker needed daily? Were they savvy on stocking rates, animal unit equivalents, grazable acres and harvest efficiency?

Then I turned the tables. I asked to see country each candidate leased – in my book, that’s the “résumé” of a rancher. What does the place you operate look like? So I spent a corresponding day with each of them, riding around, looking closely at how they conducted business.

Following the days on the ranch, I asked each to tell me what they saw. I developed a few questions. What did they see as the shortcomings of the ranch? And how would they overcome those obstacles? What about the advantages? How would we collaborate, communicate? How would they handle the necessary labor?

Why would we care about the labor? The ranch is remote. School is nearly a 50-mile bus ride away with the potential for the ability to transfer to the school district only 20 miles away. Sadly, substance abuse is a real problem among ranch cowboys in the Texas Panhandle. This location is not for everybody. Leasing this ranch and putting someone out there with a young family or a fast crowd of friends is not going to get the job done. “Cowboys” who have limited skill sets and want to drive around or spend aimless time horseback are a dime a dozen. We recognize the need for the labor to be able to manage the resource, not just cake the cattle in the winter and ride a horse all summer.

Up for a challenge

By now you are thinking, “Man, she put these potential lessees through a bunch of hoops just to ‘run some cattle’.” It was exciting to find four candidates who found the opportunity to improve the conditions, something that excited and challenged them. They provided potential solutions to our challenges, grazing and monitoring plans, communication plans and really showed off their eagerness and enthusiasm. Anyone who says there are not young, enthusiastic ranchers wanting a chance to get started or expand in the business hasn’t looked around very hard.

Finally, the owners and I interviewed them together. That face-to-face meeting is important. It also allowed the potential lessees to gauge if they wanted to enter into a challenging ranch rehab and do business with the owners. These things go both ways. Our extensive process allowed for plenty of time for both sides to assess the situation and evaluate the potential.

The best advice for folks looking to lease land is really pretty simple. Think of it as a job interview. What do you bring to the table? How will you work with the landowner? Plan to forge a relationship, stewarding the land for the good of the owner and your own profitability. If you are just looking to “run some cattle,” put that phone down and go look for something else to do.

Ranching is the management of a complex ecosystem, grazing animals all with the goal of economic and environmental sustainability. It’s not rocket science. Literally. It’s way more complicated.  end mark

PHOTO: Frank Price (left) of Sterling City, Texas, explains the improving forage conditions on a lease property to Grant Teplicek of USDA-NRCS. Photo provided by Jenny Pluhar. 

Jenny Pluhar

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

 

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

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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.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This 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.

IMG_9954You 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.

We hope you’ll join the On Pasture crew at this year’s conference in Reno. We love it because there are so many producers sharing their experience from all across the country. We always learn a lot! Remember – registration goes up to $475 on October 16!

 

 

Thanks to the On Pasture readers providing financial support.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a $15,000 match from readers to make our grant happen this year. If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. Being able to show that kind of support is especially helpful when we’re approaching outside funders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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:

“REGENERATIVE GRAZING

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!

Dallas and I recently (July 23, 2018) returned from a 9 day stay on Naretoi Estate at the House in the Wild accommodation.  We traveled with Trey Shelton, who owns Denizen Global as our TD and along with four other like minded travelers (now good friends) and offered through Savory Institute Journeys.

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.

Journey on!!!

tauna

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Our ‘estate’ at House in the Wild

 

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My bedroom with full ensuite behind the bed.

Across our expansive lawn, Dallas relaxes on one of the swinging beds overlooking the Mara River, which was often visited by trumpeting hippos!

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Mara Training Centre

 

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Currently, the Enonkishu Conservancy consists of about 6000 acres and 11 cooperator cattle herds.  Nearly three years into the managed grazing component, they shift cattle through 13 blocks.  Unlike Missouri and other places, the cattle are maintained in mobs by trained herdsmen rather than electric hi-tensile wire fencing.  Of course, the elephants, hippos, zebras, and giraffes would be pretty hard on fences!  Labor is very inexpensive, although the Conservancy makes a point of paying excellent wages.  
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Plans are underway to soon double the number of blocks, or paddocks as i call them.  My experience in north Missouri is that 24-28 paddocks is a sweet spot to balance labor and pasture improvement as well as cattle health and growth.

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!

Beautiful cooperator cattle on Enonkishu Conservancy.

 

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Another value added enterprise is the Mara Beef.  Born, grown, and butchered right on the farm at a state of the art abattoir, Mara Beef will be offered at House In the Wild and the many lodges located  in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve.  Chef Purity at House in the Wild prepared Mara Beef for us one supper – superior flavor and tenderness. 

 

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Another enterprise or ‘holon’ of the Conservancy is the Mara Training Centre at which young people and adults from around the world come to learn about managed grazing.  Camping and dorms are available for long term stays.

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.

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Here is a boma (corral) which can hold 200 cows in each large round pen, while the smaller center pen will hold all their baby calves.  Each evening calves are sorted and separated from their mommas for safety.  If the cows are spooked, they can easily crush babies if they are penned together.  See in the forefront where the soil has been disturbed in a circular fashion.  This indicates the area where the boma was the night before.  Dallas and i helped pack a couple panels to the next location to set up for the upcoming night.  The panels are about 7 or 8 feet long, but not really too heavy, yet there is extra wire on them to make them lion proof.   The herdsman’s hut was nearby, but i forgot to take a photo of it.  It is not lion proof, the the night herdsman is also guard.
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This photo clearly shows the great improvement in soil production where the bomas were located.  These areas are indicated by the circular areas of thick green grass cover.

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.

Wishing them all the best!

tauna

 

 

Pasture Recovery

Basics of management-intensive grazing (MiG) as coined by Jim Gerrish.

Although, Mr Pratt’s focus is often on finance and economics, here he explains simply one aspect of how to manage pastures for regenerative and profitable ranching.

 

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!