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.
If, by purchasing hay, i can increase the number of employees (cows) which do not need health insurance, workman’s compensation, employee benefits, bonuses, etc and they seldom complain about the work (grazing and raising babies) they enjoy, and in so doing, also increase the soil quality by feeding microbes (making those employees happy as well), and would decrease my actual labor costs and time, wouldn’t this be a good thing?
There are many qualified experts who discourage the hay habit – and i completely agree if i had to own and operate the very expensive equipment and time needed to bale hay, which would be on my own property, thereby simply moving nutrients from one point to another and not increasing – so, am i missing a very big point?
Winter is basically 180 days in north Missouri, so if hay is the sole feed source, the amount would figure as 180 days times 30# per cow/calf pair= 5400#, allowing some ‘waste,’ and unusually harsh weather, it would be reasonable and wise to round up to 6000#. If it cost me 5 cents per pound delivered and unloaded at my farm, this is $300 per cow/calf unit for winter feed (180 days), the rest of the year would be 2 acres per cow/calf at the rate $55 per acre rent or $110 per annum. Total grass/hay feed costs total $410 per cow/calf unit. It would actually add about 12 hours of my labor to position the bales for bale grazing. So adding another $20 per cow/calf for $430
Given that info, my farm, depending on weather, could accommodate 200 pairs, figuring 2% death loss of calves to various reasons would result in 196 calves to sell. If i continue with what i can do and graze only through the winter (relying on fall rain to grow stockpile), then there are 98 calves to sell. So, to compare:
Calves to sell: 196 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $141,120 – $86,000 = $55,120
Calves to sell: 98 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $70,560 – $22,000 = $48,560
BUT, soil quality is not increased (unless mob grazing is implemented), and certainly not as fast, Compared to renting more acres, fence and water maintenance does not increase.
There is time for more reading, listening, studying, and sharpening the pencil. In the meantime, first week of April , calves will be weaned, then second vaccinations on weaned calves, by 25 April cows will begin calving for 45 days, soil sampling select paddocks, then i plan to implement UHGD (aka mob grazing).
Winter grazing in north Missouri.
Mob grazing, planned grazing, cell grazing, Savory grazing, MIG grazing, AMP grazing – All these terms and more have been coined to describe managed grazing. When we say managed grazing, it means cattle are being moved to fresh pasture often enough that the manager has some control over consumption level of the cattle, as well as the graze and recovery times for plants. It also implies the manager has a plan (planned grazing) for grazing that meets certain goals of both the soil-plant complex and the livestock.
MIG is management intensive grazing. AMP is adaptive multi-paddock grazing. Savory grazing was a colloquialism based on consultant Allan Savory’s early advocacy for multi-paddock grazing in the U.S.
Cell grazing refers to the once-common label of a grazing unit as a “cell,” with a grazing unit being the area where one herd is managed. This is less common terminology today. Mob grazing refers to very-high-stock-density grazing and has either Australian or South African origins.
Paddock — is the term defining an enclosure where cattle are contained for a brief grazing period. This might be a week, or more, or less. It might be a few hours. It could be made with permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary fencing.
Stocking rate – Typically refers to the number of cattle that can be run on a ranch, or more specifically the total pounds of a livestock type and class that can be run year-around. It is typically based on the number of animals that can be grazed on one-half of one-half (or 25%) of the total forage grown in a year. Arguably, this carrying capacity would not include additional animals dependent on purchase of hay and other supplemental feeds. It can be a way to measure ranch productivity, but improvements in consumption, regrowth and soil health under well-managed grazing should improve stocking rate immediately and long-term.
Why does stock density matter?
Stock density is inversely related to grazing time. The higher the stock density, the fewer pounds of forage will be available for each animal and therefore the shorter must be the grazing time. The longer you graze livestock in a paddock under any circumstances, the less residual forage you leave in the paddock and the more forage animals will consume. High stock density also increases trampling. Managing stock density also helps determine the evenness of grazing and of urine and feces distribution, and whether less-desirous plants will be grazed or left behind.
Further, high stock density is directly correlated to length of recovery time and to number of paddocks needed. Put another way, higher stock density requires more paddocks and increases length of forage recovery. In turn, that allows greater forage production and the chance to leave more forage behind, preferably much of it trampled onto the soil surface to make more available for consumption by soil life while still protecting the soil.
Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.
Grazing comparison data is as follows:
2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs Total: 5089 lbs
2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs Total: 5574 lbs
2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs Total: 3294 lbs
2016-2017 – lost all my records
2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs Total: 2242 lbs
As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience. When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days! In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit. However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest. One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition. At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too. So…..
So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing. The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing. Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department. However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter. It does look like that has happened at least in short term. It is very hard to measure long term benefits. However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland). Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work. I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week. This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done. There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.
Additional thoughts and observations:
Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls
Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.
There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages. However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections. Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres. Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.
If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.
Post grazing observations:
Lab Results 2015 – Purdin Paddock 8 Old stockpile from May-June growth
Lab Results 2015 – various
Lab Results — 2015 – Oldfield purchased hay 2015
Depending on weather conditions, it’s quite likely our cows may need some energy. What we are concerned about is the lack of green in any of our stockpile which, from what we read, can result in a serious lack of Vitamin A. We are looking into supplementing that since the lack of this important vitamin results in expensive compromises to animal health.
We have been truly blessed to have splendid weather so far into the autumn season. This has allowed a considerable amount of extra outdoor work to be accomplished – making up for the lack of such earlier in the year due to constant rain.
However, signs of winter are moving across the country, so it’s time to get serious about it. We’ve been feeding some hay since it was nice and dry, but that seems to be past for a while, so back to grazing. Too bad for deer hunters at all the rain this firearm season.
At all places, we’ll have set up two polywires across an ungrazed paddock ready for winter stockpile grazing. With the warm weather, we’ve been able to keep the stock on paddocks with only a little regrowth, but that will soon change once the nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. It’s important, too, to not graze too short this time of year unless you are purposefully doing so to ‘set back’ the existing grass and root system.
At my south Missouri farm, Dallas, Christian, and I worked nearly all daylight hours to set out hay bales for bale grazing, clearing brush, and building hi-tensile perimeter fence.
Friday morning, however, we finished up and took some leisure time. We don’t often do that. Ziplining in the southwest Missouri Ozarks. Branson Zipline is an awesome place to go with great guides. Fun time. And, yes, even I stepped off the platform into a 100 foot freefall!
With cold weather coming, it’s time to address the livestock water tanks. Allen sat down this morning to make a list of his tanks, which he’ll either shut off and drain or some he’ll turn on the leak valve and allow the water to run through the overflow pipe. The moving water won’t freeze up. He has 74 tanks to attend to while i only have 10!
That forecasted rain hit about 9:30 pm and just poured for about 5 minutes – storm over. The Mizzou game in Columbia, MO, however, looked like miseryfor a LONG time – it didn’t help that the hometown team lost badly.
Today dawned clear and bright and i managed to clean the frig, wash a load of laundry, feed the calves, wash windows, and start the oven cleaning before the day got started.
Paperwork has been gathered for my trip to Chillicothe in the afternoon to the license bureau. Allen and I had planned to purchase the pickup through bartering, however, i found out at the license bureau that that can only be done throught a dealership! No private transactions. That doesn’t sound fair. So, of course, i had to pay sales tax after all. The inspection for the pickup resulted in a $600 repair bill!!
I took some photos of an old McCormick International seed drill that I listed for sale on Powell Seed Farm, Inc facebook page. It is old and small by today’s standards, but it would be perfect for someone starting out or for use in grass paddock improvements.
Stopped in Meadville at my friend’s house and we had a serious heart to heart visit. I cannot imagine going through life without a close friend with whom each can share our joys, concerns, and heartaches.
Slow late afternoon since i’d allowed plenty of time for the license bureau, yet i was in and out in less than half an hour! Fed the calves, worked on my chicken tractor (this is my 9th design and build of chicken tractors and eggmobiles). I’ve been at the chicken tractor for months, but it’s the lowest item on my priority list, so I seldom have time to piddle around with it. Had hoped to have it done before i butcher our last 14 hens so as to see if it works, but that may not happen. Might get chicks next spring, but might not. I may just enjoy not having extra chores, but it’s fun building stuff – it just won’t get used.