We are so muddy in north central Missouri, and perhaps all over the Midwest, but i only know about my little piece the world that i cannot even drive into the pasture with a Gator. Back to walking and wearing my tall rubber boots to ford the running water. The 19th of March is supposed to be spring, but the typical telltale signs are far from sight.
I had planned to talk about the challenges of feeding hay in the winter in north Missouri last year, but never got around to it. As it turns out, there are a different set of challenges this year, so i’ll roll them in to one blog.
Winter of 2017-2018 was really long, cold, bitter, but it was too long ago and though i know it was a challenge, i can’t remember. So, starting with winter 2018-2019, which was the second consecutive long winter following a drought made for a very tough feeding season despite selling about 30% of my cows/calves.
My plan was to set out hay for bale grazing in July while it was dry, leaving the Netwrap on for protection of the hay, then using electric polybraid to ration it out to the cows in the hopes of minimizing waste. Sounds like a plan, but you what happens to best laid plans. I did set it all out – about 70 bales spaced appropriately on about 5 acres, then set up the tape. then came the bitter winter early on along with deep, deep snow. Of course, then with no way of removing the Netwrap because of snow and ice and snow and wind took down and buried the polybraid. Cows and calves had their way with the hay.
Unfortunately, the amount of mud and trampling destroyed the 1/4 mile roll of polybraid and the Netwrap from 70 bales is buried. I needed to remove it before grass grows but it was impossible even with Dallas using the harrow to try and pull it up a bit. Sadly, most of it is still out in the pasture even now February, 2020. But the resultant organic matter definitely improved forage production!
This year (2019-2020) blessedly has been mild by comparison of the past two winter. Though we had an early cold snap, it didn’t really dig in cold until Jan 11 when a blizzard rolled in (the day i arrived from Fundo Panguilemu) with 1/4 inch of ice by the time i got to my pickup in the economy parking at airport.
I had started feeding hay way back in August to allow as much forage to grow for winter grazing as possible. Thankfully, we had an excellent growing season though a late start in 2019. However, the two previous years of drought has set back our typical production. But haying while it’s dry only works if your growing paddocks are out of reach for the cows – otherwise, they will practically refuse to eat hay if they see green growing grass.
The freezing spell which lasted until the 31st of January allowed us to unroll hay on frozen ground, but couldn’t take off the netwrap very often because it was frozen to the bale. We cut it across the bale so we could at least unroll it, but that leaves the netwrap under the hay.
Today (2 Feb 20), it was warm enough for me to survive outside for a while (actually spent 3 hours outside because it was 55F!), yet though thawed enough that i could pull up some of the netwrap from underneath the hay that the cows had left behind.
While i was gone to Chile (first of January), it was dry enough that Dallas was able to unroll about 22 bales on another location that needed more organic matter, so that is set for later to be eaten. And in December, Brett had set out about 30 bales with netwrap removed on a section that needs soil building with organic matter before breaking through the barely frozen mud. So once the cows run out of grazing (hopefully there is enough to last ’til first of March), then they’ll back track to these areas where hay is already set out.
I set up the polybraid around the remaining bales hoping they won’t need to be fed this winter. Time will tell. But unless it freezes hard again, it may not dry out until July or August.
Welcome to north Missouri – always 2 weeks from a drought in the summer and cow killing mud under sometimes deep snow and ice in the winter. It’s been said there are 3 good days a year in north Missouri.
Yesterday (the 16th) is cold with a sharp wind, but sunny – not cold like in states closer to the 49th N parallel, but i don’t live there – my north Missouri Tannachton Farm at 39.95 is even too far north, but this is where my husband lives, so guess i’ll hang around.
Anyway, today the ice is coating all surfaces and the forecast is snow, single digits, sleet, ice, pellets, wind so to prepare for a nasty week ahead, I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s weather to set up a polywire electric fence with step in posts to strip off 1/4 of me cows’ next paddock. If ground is somewhat dry and there is no ice, i have to weigh in my mind whether or not it is better to give them a 20 acre paddock vs a portion. They won’t waste a lot in those conditions, so does my labor in setting up the fence offset less waste? This is how i think.
However, knowing there is going to be ice coming, i know that once quality and quantity winter stockpile is coated in ice, each hoof step can break the stems and leaves and do considerable damage to the grazing experience. Then my labor becomes much more valuable.
- evaluate quantity and quality of stockpiled forage.
- evaluate ground/weather conditions as to amount which may be destroyed just by livestock walking on the forage. (mud, ice, rain)
- Dry cows in good condition need the least quality of forage – if you have finishing cattle, young cattle, thin, or nursing cows, higher quality forage is necessary.
These factors give value to your labor. How much you determine your time to be worth will decide whether or not you can justify driving to your cattle and stripping off small allotments of grazing.
Whilst waiting for my next flight out of Santiago and no internet the next couple of days, i’ll post a quick blog that is a reminder that farming and ranching is not the glamorous career choice some think. Now, my photos are tiny inconveniences.
This article had been written back in the winter, but could be said for today and many other days as well. Today i found a dead ewe and a dead lamb wrapped up in the electrified netting. Why can’t they stay out of it! Sheep were out, but corralled AGAIN. This is just a regular problem. Half of the sheep are scheduled for sale at Kirksville Livestock Market on August 3rd. The rest will go when lambs are old enough to wean.
Those little woolly buggers! They busted out for freedom, but freedom for sheep generally means something will go wrong and some of them will die. Sheep must be kept in close and protected ALL the time. Since I cannot be there as a full time shepherd, I rely on guard dogs and electric sheep netting. Together, those work about 95% of the time.
Alas, they did bust out at a bad time – the ground was extremely frozen and there was no way to replace the fence, so they ran amok on 320 acres. During their freedom, one orphaned lamb was nabbed by a coyote and a young bred ewe had fallen into a muddy ditch and couldn’t get out – both died of course.
However, today I managed to reset ten nets to give them about 10 acres plus 8 big bales of hay – this should hold them for quite some time. The ground along the ditch bank and out of the sun was still frozen, so I had to use the hammer on about 75 posts to drive them in! Nevertheless, the sheep are now safe once again, so it was all worth the effort.
Here in north-central Missouri we’ve continued to stay rainy and muddy since winter. However, we cannot complain compared to the horrific flooding, damaging thunderstorms, tornadoes, tropical storms, and continuing droughts and wildfires other parts of the country and world are receiving. It’s been hard on equipment, livestock, and people, but maybe someday it’ll change and become ‘normal.’ We wear mud boots everyday all day despite 107ºF heat indices on some days and terrific humidity even when it’s in the 80s and pretty sure i’m starting to get foot rot! Gonna switch to 100% wool socks pretty quick if we don’t get relief soon. Any socks with nylon or such in them cause my feet to sweat and peel – kind of gross for sure.
We keep a good supply of coconut water in the cupboard and frig for rehydrating when water just won’t quite supply enough minerals. Bananas and buffered salt are on hand as well to help with muscle cramping at night.
We’ve weaned the fall calves, doctored a good number for bad eyes (pinkeye) already, and sorted off two loads of calves to sell at North Missouri Livestock Auction the 6th of July. The mud and rain has prevented us from establishing summer annual pastures that we had planned to graze and grow out some of yearlings this year. Since we didn’t get that done, we are running out of grass, so the calves need to go where ever grass is available.
Tough on calving, but the cows and calves are really doing quite well despite the heat and rain. A couple of calves lost due to navel ill because of them lying in a muddy spot and allowing infection to develop. There is little help for a calf once it gets navel ill. We always lose some baby calves and this year really hasn’t been any worse in that regard. However, what I call ‘jungle rot‘ is on the increase. It is likely more calves will not survive if we don’t get some dry weather soon.
The ewes are pretty much done lambing and in the timber now which not only helps keep them cool and not sunburnt, but, by their grazing choices, they are helping control the brush which needs taming! Pretty hard on wool sheep all this rain and mud. Constantly wet wool on a live animal can be conducive to parasites that can kill the sheep. Usually not, but any animal with a compromised immune system is susceptible.