Tag Archives: On Pasture

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 4

More great information from Jim Gerrish, owner of American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

Review Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

By   /  March 18, 2019  /  5 Comments

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Did you miss the start of this series? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Bale grazing has been increasing in popularity for several years now. This method of feeding minimizes or eliminates the need for running any feeding equipment in the winter months, but is it really all sunshine and roses?

Let’s take a look at potential for excess nitrogen loading soils under bale grazing.

Spaced Bale Feeding

As part of our early efforts in the 1980s to reduce the cost of feeding hay, we developed what we called ‘Spaced-bale feeding’. This was an early version of bale grazing.

Bales were placed in a feeding block as shown on the right side of the picture. We only handled bales once as they were picked up from the field and put in a feeding block, usually in the same field. Spacing was generally 25-30 ft on centers. The bales were protected with an electric fence and then when it was time to feed, a line of bales was exposed and ring feeders placed on those bales. We manually flipped the feeders each time we fed hay.

We quickly noticed that while we were enriching the pasture fertility in the feeding area, we were having no effect on increasing P levels away from the feeding block. In fact, they were going down.

Yes, the spaced-bale feeding system allowed us to reduce cost of feeding in the winter but it was mining nutrients from the pasture as a whole and concentrating them around the feeding block. We did relocate the block every year, but they were always placed close to the permanent fence and not scattered all across the pastures.

Bale Grazing

Bale grazing was being done more commonly in Canada by the early 2000s. Ring feeders were done away with because of the difficulty using them in deep snow situations.

An electric fence is moved and a set number of bales were exposed to the cattle. Very often the bales were just left where the baler had dropped them in the summer, so equipment cost was reduced even further.

As more producers bought their needed hay rather than baling it themselves, bale grazing started to trend back towards feeding blocks rather than widely scattered bales across the field where they had been harvested.

Now we can look at the N being returned to the field in those feeding areas using the information shown earlier in this series of posts.

That is a lot of N!

You might ask, “But who would feed 20 tons/acre?”

Here is an aerial photo showing where bale grazing took place on a farm the previous winter. We easily see the increased growth where the bales had been fed. The area outlined is one acre.

With 36 bales weighing 1300 lbs fed on that one acre, the urinary N returned is over 400 lbs/acre!

Even if the cows did wander off and urinate in different parts of the pasture, there is likely still at least 300 lbs/acre raining down on the feeding block.

This is where we can end up when we don’t have a feeding plan that balances the feeding rate with the capacity of the soil to absorb and hold N.

In some parts of the US such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes watersheds, N overload is a serious issue and regulations are in place to regulate manure application and animal concentration.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we on the land understand the consequences of our decisions. We all need to have nutrient management plans for our farms and ranches – not because the government is going to eventually make all of us do it, but because it makes economic and environmental sense to do so.

Nitrogen is only part of the fertility story. Next week, we’ll look at Phosphorous. If you have questions for Jim, please share them in the comment section below.

 

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.

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 1

This is part 1 of Greg’s experience, opinion, and discussion of toxic endophyte infected fescue published to “On Pasture.”

Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 1

By   /  February 5, 2018  /  1 Comment

Some folks say we should do all we can to get rid of Kentucky 31 fescue in our pastures. But Greg Judy has other ideas. In this four part series he covers his experiences, good and bad, with this grass, and why he’s keeping his. He starts with the basic benefits of winter stockpile.

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When folks start investigating methods of shortening the winter hay feeding periods on their farms and ranches, the term “winter stockpiling” is usually found somewhere in the discussion. The term “winter stockpiling” means that you are allowing your grass to grow on your farm in the fall growing season without being eaten off by your livestock. This fall grown grass (stockpile) is reserved for winter grazing by animals in the dormant non-growing season. The only equipment required to harvest this fall grown forage in the coming winter is the four-legged kind along with some electric fence. The animals harvest it right off the stem where it was grown. Grazing winter-stockpiled fescue ranks as one of the highest money savers there is on our livestock farms.

Once you have succeeded in growing all this fall growth of grass this is your standing hay for the coming winter. Our winter stocking rate is based on how much stockpiled fescue we have available across the various farms. Cows really enjoy grazing every day they possibly can. They would much rather be peacefully grazing across the pasture in the winter, rather than standing in deep mud around a bale ring fighting off other cows.

Here’s why grazing stockpiled fescue (or any stockpile) is better than bale feeding:

Cows Don’t Enjoy Bale Rings

Have you ever watched cows around a bale ring? It is a very competitive stressful scene. There are always dominant cows whipping up on the less dominant cows, driving them off their feed that they desperately need to maintain daily performance. The stress of getting whipped every time they try to get a mouthful of hay out of the bale ring really effects the less dominant cows. Your animal performance on the less dominant cows plummets with each day of cold weather they are exposed to. (If you knew that every time you opened the refrigerator door that you were going to get whipped, you might think twice about going to the refrigerator to grab a bite to eat as well.)

Fertility and Forage Suffers

All the fertilizer benefits from the bale-ring-fed hay are being deposited around the bale ring where the ground has been trampled into a mud slurry. Once the sod around the bale ring is pugged with deep holes through the sod, this area is guaranteed to grow a good healthy crop of weeds for years to come and it years to heal before it will ever grow grass again. Not only is it an eyesore on your pasture, it is no longer a productive area on the farm. If you have to feed hay to your animals, unroll it across the pasture to spread out the fertility.

Cows Can Feed Themselves

One conventional mindset that is tough to get changed is that when winter arrives, animals cannot feed themselves on our pastures anymore. People think, “You must feed hay or your animals will not survive.” My question to that line of thinking is, “What did animals eat for centuries before we started making and feeding them hay?” It’s pretty obvious that they survived without hay and they reproduced too.

I’ve learned that when winter arrives animals are more than happy to graze if they are moved to fresh grass every day or so. The more often I move them, the better they perform and the more content they are. Our mob of cows depends on us moving them daily, they are unhappy campers if they don’t get their daily fresh paddock of stockpiled grass.

By focusing on growing grass on our farm with full recovery periods between grazing, we can let the animals harvest the grass where it is grown. The manure pats and urine patches that are deposited while grazing are dropped where they belong – on our pastures where they will grow more future grass.

We have learned to trust our grass that is standing in our pastures to feed our animals. It does not need to be rolled up in a bale to be good feed. Many times rolling up hay into bales makes it worse feed. Unless you get perfect drying conditions to cure the forage, you end up with moldy hay that is great to fill a ditch with. Animals would much rather harvest fresh grass on the stem.

Here’s a 55 second video from Greg showing his cattle grazing stockpile. He’s passionate about this and covers it in his grazing school every May.

Here’s Part 2 in the series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 3

Greg (a world renown speaker) and his wife, Jan, are very good friends and he makes some incredibly good points here.  This year, i too, spent a lot of money tilling up my fescue pastures and planting tame, sweet grasses.  Now, i also did the tillage because the old pasture was really really rough and tillage also served to even out the washouts and other wallowed out patches.  Head on over to “On Pasture”  for lots of great articles.
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Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 3 – Fescue Tolerant Animals and Grazing

By   /  February 19, 2018  /  No Comments

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This is Part 3 in Greg’s four part series about the trouble with Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue, and how he’s learned to love it. (Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.) Here he describes the management techniques that have made him question moves to try to eradicate it from his pastures.

My Pasture Renovation

First I want to share with you my complete pasture renovation project that I undertook years ago at the advice of forage professionals. I did a complete reseeding on our pastures and put in a 100-acre diverse stand of brome, orchard grass, timothy, redtop and various legumes. I got lucky that fall after everything was planted and got a nice rain. The seeding came up and looked great the next spring. We held a farm walk that summer showing what we had done with this precious 100-acre piece of infected fescue. Everybody at the pasture walk was in awe of how beautiful the pasture looked. I was so happy that I could hardly stand it until someone at the pasture walk made a comment to me privately.

One seasoned grazier crept up to me and whispered, “Greg that is pretty nice piece of grass you have there, but in five years you will have Kentucky 31 tall fescue and clover, that’s about it.”

You could have knocked me over with a match stick! I was shocked that he would dare say such a thing to me. I responded right away, “Oh you’re mistaken! We rotationally graze and will manage these improved grasses so that they thrive on this farm forever. Fescue is history on this farm, it has no use here.”

Well guess what? He was dead right, in five years our primary grass was Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue with red clover. I had a good dose of “humble pie.” My pocket book was still hurting from the money that I spent putting in all these wonderful new grasses. In those days, we still had a loan on everything on the farm including the money that we spent on the seed. That was a sick hollow feeling making those loan payments that included the purchased seed knowing that my money ended up in someone else’s pocket and my farm was right back to where it was at five years earlier.

Grazing Management and Culling Make the Difference

Once we switched to mob grazing many years later, we were able to grow many additional species of grasses that were in the soil bank. This rank fescue needs a good beating every now and then with a mob of animal hooves to encourage additional forages to grow in the canopy. This animal impact sets back the fescue enough to allow legumes and other cool season grasses to propagate. But the main grass remains Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected fescue. In the Midwest during the summer months, fescue pretty much goes dormant, but with all the other forage species mixed in with it, our animals still perform well. Fescue is what we have and it wants to grow here, so we figured we better learn to make some money with it. Life is too short to wake up every day trying to kill something.

Back to our cow herd. What we decided was that we were going to graze whatever grew on the farm. We owned no tractor or equipment, so whatever nature dealt us, we were going to manage with that. Whatever animal could not perform on what grows on our farm naturally, would be culled. Absolutely no excuses are made for any animal that fails this test. It was a little harsh starting out. We culled several more animals than we would have liked to in the early years. But we stuck to our original management practice and it has paid huge dividends.

One of the easily observed results from endophyte infected fescue is that some cows will lose their tail switches. The tail switch falls off right at the very tip of the tail due to restriction of blood flow to the extremities of the animal. My good ranching friend Wally Olsen was here this winter walking through our mob of South Poll cattle. In Wally’s prior visit ten years earlier a lot of the older cows were missing their tail switch. On this visit, he immediately commented that almost every cow now had their tail switch intact and all the animals were in super body condition for the winter period that we were in. By staying committed to culling the animals that struggled on the endophyte infected fescue, the remaining animals and their offspring are much more tolerant to the fescue on our farms today. Certainly, having a diversity of other plants in the forage sward helps the livestock perform on fescue as well.

We now have a very fescue tolerant herd, our animals look at their fescue/legume sward and get fat. We occasionally still get an animal that develops a limp (fescue foot), and that animal is sold immediately. I have no tolerance for an animal that will not perform on our forage when they are moved constantly to a fresh pasture of grass/legume sward. We just get rid of them – problem solved. When an animal that is adapted to your farm’s forage has the opportunity to select the best parts of a plant multiple times per day, those animals will make you a very nice living.

Now, think of the money we have saved by not renovating our pastures every five years and gambling it away on a promise of having a better pasture in the future. I may step on some input folks’ toes here, but I am more concerned about the grazier making a living on their land.

Who’s making all the money with farmers killing their pastures with herbicides and seeding these new fescue varieties into their pastures? Hint, it’s not the farmer! We are losing farmers every year at an alarming rate because there is nothing left at the end of the year for the guy on the land that is doing all the work. We take all the risk, they take all the money. Most of the money is going to town, and we need to keep it on the farm where it belongs. To make a profit every year on our farms, we must eliminate inputs which we do have control over.

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.