A couple days after this photo, we finally received enough sun to melt the completely iced up polybraid so it could be reeled up. It took some effort (my farm is not flat and there is still crunchy snow cover) and i surely slept well that evening, but i did reel up all 4 polybraids (a bit over 3000 feet) and pull posts, hauled them all home and put them in the fertilizer shed where they belong before arriving home well after dark. So glad to have that project done.
- plan paddock design with straight lines and 660 feet or less to strip graze. In a perfect world this could happen, in reality, there are draws, copses, deep ditches, travel situations which the livestock will simply never figure out, washouts, timbers, etc, etc, ad nauseum. But shoot for that layout as much as possible. Whether you aspire to total grazing, MiG (management-intensive grazing), adaptive grazing, mob grazing, the rectangular paddock with water source less than 800 feet (Paul Peterson was a lead in this study funded through SARE back in 1994) is about as an ideal for a scheme that requires much flexibility in fencing, grazing, and producer mindset.
- But remember to balance cost and time with grazing efficiency. In other words, if the paddock is most effective with a good water source 1000 feet, then that may be the best strategy.
- With paddocks designed utilizing 1.22 inch fiberglass posts about 50 feet apart (more closely spaced posts of course depending on terrain – north Missouri with undulating land, deep ditches, and timbers will frequently require closer placement than that). Using 1.22 inch posts provides a firm post for hooking onto for strip grazing at both ends.
As i prepare for the future in following guidelines for total grazing, i’m grazing this area intensively with temporary fencing for now. However, i do not plan to have to do this in the future. Far too much work and i’m allergic to work.
Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands, pens a thorough and relevant article. This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue. Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.
A Perfect Match
Some things just seem to fit together really well. Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.
How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG? That is another combination that is hard to beat.
Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life. No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life. The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate. To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches. The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch. High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.
The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world. While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land. We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag. Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century? Why don’t we try fixing it instead?
Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts. ray asks, “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that? If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”
Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond. I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.
In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land. Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health. We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.
We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation. Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion. Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water. Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells. No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.
Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis. I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context. With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.
For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated. There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation. Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost. It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields. The infrastructure investment is fairly low. However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.
Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation. As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments. That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.
We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak. Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups. Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else. That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.
Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system. This is where MiG comes into the picture. We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture. Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water. Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.
When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency. Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios. Regardless of the particular pasture in question. MiG always increases the return potential.
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com. His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 20.
The second part of Jim Gerrish‘s excellent article and how to not only make your farm or ranch more profitable, but also improve soil, grazing, water, and wildlife.Jim Gerrish
In Part 1 of this series, I made two fundamental assertions: The first was that time management of grazing period and recovery time is the primary determinant of pasture productivity. The second is that we should be assessing ranch output and profitability on a per-acre basis not on the per-animal basis commonly used in the ranching industry.
I ended that article with the observation that increasing pasture or range production by 40% would be more profitable than trying to increase individual animal productivity by 40%.
MiG is the term I use to describe an approach to grazing management that is more intensive than the set-stocking or slow rotations common in the ranching industry. Our objective is to shorten the period of time any piece of pasture or rangeland is exposed to grazing animals. If we do this, the potential recovery period is always significantly extended. This is the key component of time management I have been referring to.
When we build subdivision fencing across the landscape of the ranch, we are not only subdividing space, we are also subdividing time. Each time we make a smaller pasture increment, we reduce the amount of time the stock will be on that increment. That has a tremendous, and for some ranchers, an almost unbelievable change in the vigor and productivity of the pasture. With shortened grazing periods, we can more tightly control every aspect of the soil-plant-animal relationship. That is the component missing from almost all of the grazing management research of the last 100 years.
What is this management of time worth down on the ranch?
As mentioned above, the average increase in carrying capacity we see among our ranching clients adopting MiG and making investments in stock water development and subdivision fencing is about 40%. We have numerous clients who have doubled their carrying capacity. We have a few who have gotten less than 40%. All of this is the product of more effectively managing the period of time cattle are allowed to be in a particular area. On rangeland we usually work toward having that time period no more than 7-10 days. On productive pasture, we keep the length of the grazing period to no more than 3-4 days.
What does it cost to install all that fence, pipelines and tanks?
Every ranch is different, so of course the answer is that it depends! For example, is there already a good well on the property or do we need to drill a well? Is there already a pipeline network on the property that we can spur off of? Are there existing fences that are in reasonable locations that can be used in the new management scheme? These are the components that can make a difference. Here are examples from a couple of recent projects we have designed and which the ranchers implemented.
Twice the ranch
On an 8,000-acre ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, we started a ranch that had 15-20 existing pastures with low-output windmills that allowed them to only carry 20-60 cows in each pasture. With a 7.5-mile pipeline project, 20 new stock tanks, and more than 20 miles of two-wire electrified high-tensile fencing, the ranch was split into about 60 permanent pastures with a stock-water supply system that allows 600-800 cows to be run in a single herd. The project cost was about $400,000 when we include the rancher’s labor contribution to the construction project. That is a big chunk of money, but on a per-acre basis it is only $50 per acre. In three years’ time, this ranch doubled its carrying capacity and the infrastructure investment was paid off in the third year.
That means they essentially bought another ranch for $50 per acre, while the cost to go out and actually purchase another ranch would have been $1,000 per acre, plus closing costs and added taxes.
Another recent project on a 30,000-acre ranch racked up an infrastructure development cost of about $1.1 million. That is a per-acre cost of about $36. Projecting a 40% increase in carrying capacity has the project paid off in year four. With a 40% increase in carrying capacity, the equivalent per acre purchase price is $90 per acre. I am confident this ranch will also experience a doubling of carrying capacity in 3-5 years, so the payoff rate should be accelerated. Why do I expect this ranch to double carrying capacity? Because the ranch is presently very under-supplied with stock water and much of the ranch is rarely even being grazed.
Remember the title on the article: “What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy?”
It is the one you acquire by more effectively managing grazing and recovery time on the ranch you already own.
Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started
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.
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.
Here’s a primer for managed grazing, Part II
In part I of this grazing primer we covered some names and principles for managed grazing, as well as stocking rate and stock density. Today we’ll continue along those lines with more terms and definitions.
Recovery time – This is the amount of time allowed by the grazing manager for plants to regrow after a grazing event. It is sometimes erroneously called “rest,” but this term doesn’t remind the grazing manager that plants actually need time to regrow adequate leaf material for photosynthesis and fully recharge the energy stored in crowns, rebuild root systems, and reconnect with underground life such as bacterial and mycorrhizal fungi. This is even more important than once understood, since plants trade carbohydrates with underground life for nutrients they may not be able to mine from the soil with their own root systems. Allowing plants to fully recover builds soil life and fertility, thereby increasing productivity. The most productive pasture plants also require the longest recovery time to thrive.
Graze period – This is vital information for grazing managers because the true definition of overgrazing, from the standpoint of plants, is being grazed or bitten off a second time or more before it can recover from the first grazing. This means grazing several times over several days is very damaging to individual plants, although repeated biting over a day or a few hours is not problematic.
Graze period also is inversely related to the number of paddocks used in a grazing operation. The higher the number of paddocks, the shorter the graze period.
AUDs, ADAs or cow days per acre – These are primarily measurements of the productivity of your resource. These measurements are a good way to track progress or regression over time, and is very important to help with grazing planning and management. This is very important to good managers who should be changing grazing patterns and herd makeup from year to year and season to season.
As an example how to use this, a herd of 100 dry cows weighing 1,400 pounds (140 AU equivalent) might stay in a one-acre paddock one day, producing 140 ADAs for that grazing. Two of the same grazings would produce 280 ADAs for the year. This tells the manager if rainfall and time of recovery and time of year are similar, that paddock should allow a herd of 233 600-pound steers should be able to graze one day on the same paddock (140ADA / .6 = 233).
This comparison can be weight-adjusted most simply, or more accurately adjusted by the consumption of a class of livestock and forage type. It should also be adjusted to include calves with cows according to their average weight.
Residual forage — This is the forage left behind, usually expressed as a percentage of the forage present when cattle entered the paddock. Many managers aim to leave 50% under many circumstances. If forage is ample and animal production is more desired, leaving behind a higher percentage, such as 60-75% might be the goal, leaving a residual of 25-40%. If rationing out winter forage along with protein supplement, a consumption level of perhaps 80% with only 20% residual might be the goal.
Tomorrow we’ll publish Part III.