It’s SO tempting to start grazing those tender grass plants since we are exhausted from feeding hay and, by golly, those cows would really be your friends if you’d let them have at it, but long term, they’ll come up short of forage as the season progresses due to sward quality reduction. Instant gratification doesn’t work in grazing.
Woody Lane, author of this article in Progressive Forage, is a certified forage and grassland professional with AFGC and teaches forage/grazing and nutrition courses in Oregon, with an affiliate appointment with the crop and soil science department at Oregon State. His book, From the the Feed Trough: Essays and Insights on Livestock Nutrition in a Complex World, is available through www.woodylane.com.
Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.
Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”
Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.
This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.
Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.
Balance animal needs with grass management
One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.
When your animals need quality for growth or lactation, you shouldn’t demand they eat deep into the plant canopy, consuming older leaves and stems.
If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.
Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves
Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.
Erratic grazing breeds success
Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.
If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.
If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.
Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.
Cattle legs are for walking
Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.
Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.
This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.
Time for an update on the annuals. It’s now been 33 days since planting on the 26th of May and it’s been terribly dry until just now.
The soil had some moisture in it when i tilled the 18 acres the first go on 18-19 May, but then we received a rain (4/10s) which delayed the second tillage until 25 May, at which time my husband seeded the hills right behind the second tillage so we could wrap up this project for the first stage.
Then weather set in hot, dry, sunny, and windy. Some of the seeds germinated and some even sprouted and grew. If we didn’t get a rain soon, those brave spindly plants would soon wither and die.
At last, over the course of 14-15-16 June, we received 1.5 inches of rain and temps cooled just a little bit – a breather for plants, soil, animals, and man.
Rainfall has been scarce until 28-29-June, when a gully washer of 7 inches fell in a bit over 24 hours. Thankfully, not much soil moved because i was careful to leave grass strips and there was still some dead plant material. Ideally, there would have been new root growth to help, but the previous dry weather compounded by my poor soil restricted growth tremendously.
So, bring on the next 30 day! With that 7 inch rain and little of it running off, there should be a massive increase in forage growth. Excited!
There are certainly obstacles – huge obstacles- in place to keep a person from farming, but if you don’t even have a garden and feeding your family from it – i will suggest you take a really hard look at the reasons keeping you from farming.
Do you lack motivation? knowledge? funding? land? Of those four, lack of motivation is the most deadly to keeping you off the land (or whatever your dream). The others are easily overcome.
The only way to get started is to do it! In four square feet you can grow 15-20 lbs of pole beans! That is 60 servings of fresh green beans at a start up cost of seed (4 seeds at $0.08 each for $0.32) and a tiny spot of earth. Plan ahead and start putting all your kitchen scraps into your planting area all winter long. Use the lasagne method of building compost in your garden (aka sheet composting). Retail Value of your crop – $34.35! On four square feet! Now, that is not counting your labor or water. But i can tell you that with green beans, the most labor is in harvesting!
What if you scale that up to 1/4 of an acre? Don’t forget that gardening doesn’t scale without an increase in labor on every single plant or vegetable that you harvest. And you can’t go on holiday during the growing season. Oh, right, the RETAIL value of crop on 1/4 of an acre = $49876!
Before getting too excited about long pole beans, bear in mind, that even though the seeds cost 8 cents a piece and retail value of your production could approach $210,680 per acre, (difference in math is number of plants on a larger property) it’s a LONG way between purchasing an acre, equipment costs, preparing the soil, purchasing and building trellises, watering when necessary during the next 5-6 months, and, without fail, hand harvesting every 2-3 days after the plants begin producing in about 80 days, finding a market for those fresh beans immediately, or be prepared with refrigeration and storage AND putting money in the bank. Add in crop failures every once in a while and that seemingly massive income per acre whittles away very quickly. BUT, with careful management, use of cover crops, crop rotations, offering a variety of staple produce, and developing an excellent market, a good living could be gleaned from a small property – even in town!
Additionally, i can tell you right now, that even if i was so motivated to produce this many best-tasting-beans in the world, there is no way i could find buyers for 92,000 lbs of long pole beans. We simply have too much food produced in this country (not in Linn, CO) for people to buy that many. That would be 19 lbs per household in Linn County, MO and $2.29/lb far too expensive. Cheaper products are available at big box stores.
Just my opinion, but the easiest crops to grow and sell (available market) are tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, snow peas, garlic, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, squashes (squash bugs are challenging though). Now, put a sharp pencil to inputs, especially labor and marketability. Only plant what you want to eat in case you can’t sell it all! Too much diversity just increases stress! But some variety all season can bring in more customers.
However, Missouri is considered a minor state in vegetable production, due to inappropriate soils and wide swings in weather variation. Heavy soils in our north central part are particularly challenging and other than small gardens, vegetable growing is not part of the agricultural base found in this part of Missouri.
Ready to explore alternative profitable plants? Read about these. But you must do your homework! Can you even find a market for ginseng or bamboo?
There is a movement across the country to embrace homesteading as a way of life. Remember, though, farming is hard work with little financial reward, but it can be profitable with careful management, hard work, and no debt. Keep your day job until the farm is paying.
What are your success stories of living on the land?!