Tag Archives: polybraid

Snow Still on

The snow is still on along with some ice and this prickly thistle must have some vital nutrients since i observed a few of the cows purposefully selecting bits off this frozen plant. Typically, they’ll only eat the flowers off in the late spring, but this cow is showing her calf how to strip off the branches and leaves and eat them here in winter – leaving the stalk. Otherwise, there is a lot of fescue and other grasses they will thrive on with a bit of effort in this paddock. Not doing the more intense total grazing right now since there is more snow forecasted and i sure don’t want more polybraid strung out again. Uggggh. Additionally, these paddocks they are grazing now are really just gleaning in preparation for better total grazing next winter.

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.

Cows eating prickly thistle.

Iced Up!

Thankfully, it’s not heavy ice, but it is slick and i’m cramponed up to keep from falling and even though i use polybraid and not poly tape, the ice was heavy enough to bring the fence down to the ground.

After taking a couple hard falls on ice last year and knowing the amazing work crampons do whilst hiking glaciers in Iceland last year (2019), i invested in a couple sets of inexpensive crampons for the very occasional Missouri icy winter days.
Iceland – September 2019 (perhaps a bit of tricky photography here)

With below freezing weather for the next 5 days, i left it up as best as i could and still have it peeled back so the cows wouldn’t get trapped behind it. Sounds odd, but stock can always get across a fence one way, but are stymied by a return.

So they are set now with access to the water tank though it is unlikely, with all the snow, they’ll make the trek, but they also have a clear path to their protein tubs. The poly and reels are frozen stiff, so the cows/calves have the whole paddock for their enjoyment. There isn’t a lot of forage on the remainder of the paddock so i’m not concerned with them wasting any. Just glad i don’t need to go back and check on them in this cold and icy weather (with winter storm moving in tonight and another 5 inches of snow forecasted)- did i mention a few times i don’t do cold?

This is where that flexibility in grazing happens.

All the fence is iced up and laying nearly on the ground like this. The cows simply stepped over without much thought to whether or not they were out.
Cows in wrong temporary paddock. No need to try and fix it up. Wait until the thaw before getting back to total grazing.
Not much ice on the tank, but some since cows aren’t using it for water source.

Cows graze right through this little bit of snow and ice – teaching their calves how to graze. Still a lot of green beneath the snow.

It may be cold, but cows and calves with good grazing and healthy are satisfied and don’t even notice.

Total Grazing – It’s Cold

That cold weather hit on monday – knew it was coming, so i did have a plan and that was turn them loose on the remainder of the paddock which is predominantly timber with not a lot of forage anyway. I plan to return in about 3 days when it warms up. The cows are perfectly capable of thriving without me looking at them everyday. Total Grazing on holiday as well.

Here’s a screenshot of the portion i’ve started with my new Real Wealth Ranching Total Grazing plan. Hopefully, i can explain it here so it makes some kind of sense. The paddock outlined in the thin red line is ground zero – particularly to the right of the purple line running through the middle along the pond. It was at that point i started with stripping off enough to move the cows 2-3 times per day. During these past 12 days, i’ve managed in this manner until the thin red line shown along the timber. At that point, after one time of trying to strip off through the timber, wrestling multiflora rose bushes, and crossing 2 deep ditches, i was not having fun and it was to turn very cold the next three days. Monday evening, i reeled up all the polybraid i had out, picked up the step in posts, and gave the girls the remaining grassy patches and the entire timber (south to the yellow line). I don’t do cold weather, so the plan had to give way. Friday, when it is somewhat warmer, my plan is to start stripping off to the south (towards the bottom of the picture). I will set up a polybraid from the gate to my south permanent fence, then start leap frogging 2 polybraid fences from that temporary fence to the highway (to the right). This will take 3 reels, polybraids, and multiple step in posts.

What will they do for water? the paddock has a water tank below the big pond all the way to the left of the screen shot. Even when grazing to the south of the timber, they could go back to it for water. However, that is unlikely because there is plenty of water in the timber ditches. Putting in a back fence is not necessary for winter grazing since the forage is not growing.

Decision Making

With ragweed pollen turning everything yellow and making my life physically miserable, i was not looking forward to driving to my farm and setting up 600 feet of polybraid electric fence and start to move my cows to another paddock.

Today it dawned on me that i could just use the receiver hitch on my pickup to pull the polybraid across the field with my special attachment. Boy, i was sure feeling better – faster to drive up there and i could just sit in my air conditioning – my John Deere Gator has excellent a/c, but not as good as my pickup – when needed to recover. Open the gate, then leave. BUT, the more i thought about this decision, the more i thought that really i don’t need to put up any fence; just open the gate and let the cows into an entire paddock. Sure, this decision will result in losing some utilization of grass – more might be wasted, some will be overgrazed and set back from regrowth, but balanced against my quality of life and that later this fall i could just sell a couple extra cows or feed a couple extra hay bales, the more wasteful option is the better option.

And that is the beauty of management-intensive grazing. Flexibility can include intense mob grazing or open it up to take a holiday or break for illness (allergies in my case). Then when the issue passes, go back to a more managed approach to optimize the balance of grazing, soil, water, health.

POSTSCRIPT – Guess i forgot to post this one earlier in the fall. Ragweed season started later this year, but also hung on well into September. Couldn’t leave the country this year because of chinese virus, so coped best i could. Thankfully, the pollen didn’t affect me as badly this year – or i’m learning to manage better. Whichever the case, it is in the past now until August 2021!

Total Grazing – Week 1

To my delight, the weather in north Missouri has been extraordinarily fine, which has provided a great start to my new grazing plan. As you may know, i DO NOT LIKE cold weather, and in all rights, it should be upon us. However, Yah blessed and allowed me a nice beginning.

When the weather is fine, i have all sorts of things at my farm which i can accomplish in the afternoon (still cold in the mornings). So a late start allows only 2-3 moves per day, but it’s a beginning. In between the moves, i’ve burned small brush piles (it’s still a bit too dry for me to feel comfortable starting conflagrations), cut down a lot of small to mid size trees. Even trees, when growing in the wrong place, are weeds. Plus many are scraggly and worthless or they’ve grown too close together, so none will amount to anything. Or, they are on the bank of a deep ditch, so i know as they grow, they will facilitate a great deal of bank erosion and eventually fall down which is dangerous.

Anyway – back to how did i get on with total grazing. The short answer is excellent. I’m excited to see cows with excellent gut fill, calves growing, and more more even nutrient distribution across the grazed portion of the paddock.

My cows and calves have adapted quickly and without much debate though in the beginning, they would ‘come and get me’ when they thought it was time to move. Now, after a bit of training and teaching them some patience, they quietly wait for me to reel up the polybraid and they file in behind me to gain access to a new break of yummy stockpiled forage. #TOTALGRAZING and Real Wealth Ranching

Total Grazing – Day 1

Have you ever read Scripture yet it didn’t make an impact? Then maybe 20 years later, you read the same passage and suddenly the light goes on in your heart and head?! And maybe you don’t ever remember having read it, but that’s unlikely. Or maybe you remember reading it often, but suddenly, the scales are removed and the culmination of our understanding and experiences make a particular passage, parable, or concept crystal clear.

Perhaps learning about grazing livestock doesn’t have the same moral impact on our lives, but, the above paragraph, applies in a similar way for me.

Using O’Brien reels and Powerflex polybraid, I set up the first break which was too large and they wasted some forage by walking on it and manuring.

Jaime Elizondo, Real Wealth Ranching, is an experienced grazier and teacher – i’ve even sat in on one of his presentations at a conference with other grazing teachers. I can honestly say that i absolutely do not remember him teaching about total grazing. I do remember he spent time discussing silvopasture.

For whatever reason, a few weeks ago, i decided to sign up for Pillar 1 – Total Grazing Course of his online grazing course, the Q and A live session just ended a few minutes ago. The course takes about 10 hours to complete and the format is easy to follow and comprehensive. The community discussion is excellent with all class participants able to post questions and Jaime answers for all to see. Not the same networking as sitting at a round table in the same room, but for whatever this year is, it’s a good substitute.

On November 19th, i sold half my cows/calves because without fall rains – again – there is little stockpile and as i’ve stated before, no matter how sharp my pencil or how badly i want it to financially work – feeding hay as a substitute forage for beef cows is a fast way to spend a lot of money with no return and a whole lot of work – in the winter – when it’s cold, miserable – and nasty.

Since taking the course, i’ve spent considerable time on Google Earth Pro drawing lines, paths, and polygons in an effort to optimise fence building. My current fences are 2 strand hi-tensile (2 strand because i had sheep before). There are a couple I am going to move. It’s a big job, but not a hard job, so i’ll keep pecking away at it if winter allows. The reason for moving them is to keep the Total Grazing scheme simple in design.

More on the whole deal as time progresses – Here’s today.

The 58 cows, 30 calves, and 15 yearling heifers were on a small 10 acre paddock cleaning it up the previous day. I had already set up the first stretch of polybraid, so all i did today was use another reel and polybraid to section off about 12,000 square feet. My goal was to feed all the cows in that break for 2 hours (Jaime says 1 1/2 hours – i’m still learning). My stockpile is super light in many places and this first break was certainly no exception.

If i eyeball estimate that there was 2000 lbs of forage per acre available to graze and in 1/4 of an acre there would be about 500 lbs and the animals could consume 2100 lbs per day (8 hours), then in 2 hours it is reasonable to assume they may eat 525 lbs.

Chowing down on yummy cow food.
This is after about 1 1/2 hours – Some of the forage is grubbed out well (mostly legumes like red clover) and then some selected against. The point of Total Grazing is to promote non selective grazing. So, the cows and I have some learning to do. I need to estimate better the amount of forage available so that i give them only that which can be entirely consumed in 1 1/2 hours and the cows need to learn to clean their plate.

Incredibly, the scenario played out very close to that. There is some trampled and soiled forage because I forgot to allow them to stand in the previous paddock and deposit their manure and urine before moving into this fresh break. Also, the cows ran all the way to the fence before stopping. This is new to them, so that is not unexpected, but they settled immediately to grazing. Good girls.

I left them alone once they were settled, but they were restless being in such close proximity to one another. I have observed this every time i graze the roadbanks. About an hour is all they can stand to be around one another before they want back into their large paddock for social distancing.

In about an hour, they did the same here by walking back into the closely grazed paddock and just standing around. When i saw this, i went back to them and encouraged them to return to the lush paddock, at which time i also moved the poly braid forward about 12 feet for a quick fresh break. That only took them a few minutes to consume.

Fresh break of only 12 feet

It was getting late in the afternoon and i won’t be returning for 2 days, so i gave them a break large enough to accommodate that.

Final break for the day and enough to last them until i return in a couple days. The animals are more relaxed at this separation. This isn’t ideal in terms of forage and soil improvement or even keeping cow condition on an even keel, but balancing all aspects of management, including time, is the challenge all of us face in some fashion.

Hope to have more stories to share!!

Hay Challenges

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s muddy!  Back to grazing.