About a week ago, despite our poor pasture growing situation due to dry and hot weather, i tried what others have done and that is UHDG or ultra high stock density grazing. There are some who have successfully managed shifting cows 5,7,9 times a day and obtaining up to 1 million pounds of livestock per acre! That can result in a phenomenal improvement in soil quality due to deep rooted plants and evenly distributed manure.
My experience was far different and after a couple of hours quickly realised my misgivings as to mob grazing’s effectiveness in our area.
Cool season grasses often don’t have deep roots, by and large, unless allowed to grow quite tall (and mature) which results in unpalatable grazing.
Mature grasses are unpalatable and very low ‘octane’ (nutrition)
Laying down cool season, fine stem grasses by trampling is virtually impossible.
Hot, humid weather causes some animals to suffer and they need shade – not all small paddocks can have shade.
I quickly realized that i was exhausting myself setting up polybraid and posts to shift the cattle. To the point that, instead of accomplishing other tasks whilst at the farm, i felt like napping instead!!
A problem perhaps unique to my situation is the distance from the stock. My farm is 35 minutes’ drive (via JD Gator) from our home. Though my solution was to shift cattle often on the days i could go up there, then give them a large break to last up to 3 days, but i found point 6 overwhelmed even that idea.
Putting dollars to that extra growth: In normal and decent growing conditions (not over 90F and normal rainfall), cool season grasses and legumes could potential produce 8-12 inches of growth in 36 days. An average pasture with little to no bare ground (spaces between plants) might yield 300 lbs to the inch per acre. So, if the entire farm received that additional 36 day rest, then 400 acres x 300 lbs per inch x 8 inches growth = 960,000 additional lbs produced. Reduce that by 20% to get a hay equivalency and price it at 5 cents per pound, then 768,000 lbs x .05 = $38,400 worth of hay that is not needed to purchase and maintain or grow the herd. OR, consider that as my wages for setting up and taking down posts and polybraid during the summer. Of course, nothing is perfect or normal, so even these conservative figures may fall way short in the face of a drought or hot temperatures. Nevertheless, there is gain to be considered IF the labor does not become cumbersome and cost more than the value of forage.
Well, this was all written on Monday the 21st of May – a week later – still no rain and temps continue well into the 90s with heat indices above 100 for several hours each day and little to no wind. It’s muggy and hot; cool season pastures are no longer growing, so the planned grazing is relaxed already since the cows need shade and i’ve set up a paddock with a big timber patch. Guess where most of the manure (nutrients) will end up? Yeah, not where planned. As usual, theories, plans, scenarios all go out the window in the face of nature. Like any other year, we just do the best we can with the conditions we are given.
Another stunningly beautiful weather day here. Just a touch of frost on the windshields and crunchy grass early this morning.
Woke up about 4am since i’d fallen asleep so early the evening before, but with a horrible headache. Took some Tylenol, fixed some mate, then opened the door to let Thunder in and along with him a bird flew in! Weird. So a little early morning excitement – Allen and i finally coaxed it out by turning off all the lights in the house and turning on the porch light. Birds are not like bats, they have to see where they are going.
My main project for today was to load up those little calves i talked about earlier and the thin bull and take them to market. Now we don’t have those baby calf feeding chores which frees up about 45 minutes a day! Not to mention just the inconvenience of being tied to this task twice a day. Most of that time is taken up with preparing the bottles and feeding the bottle calves. There is also no more feed costs.
Next big project was to prepare another 16 foot cattle panel into a circle which is what we use in south Missouri for decorative and useful end posts for fence. Once these are filled with rocks (and there are plenty of those on my farm there!) then they are set to go. Beautiful and functional at once. It is hard work to fill up them up, however.
Dallas put the second coat of linseed oil/mineral spirits on his lawn tractor trailer yesterday and took out a couple bales of hay for my cows up north. He also moved several more bales from the neighbour’s farm. We bought the rest of his hay bales just recently and while it’s dry, we are moving them off his farm as quickly as possible.
This afternoon and early evening will be spent at the Forage Systems Research Center‘s 50th anniversary with guest speaker, Dr Fred Martz, professor emeritus and former FSRC superintendent. It’ll be nice getting to visit with friends we haven’t seen for some time.
Cold temperatures have descended on north Missouri today and forecasted to hang around for at least the next 10 days! With the ground already frozen, these continued below freezing temps made
it tough to set up the sheep electric netting fence. Thankfully, I put up netting around several large bales of hay and running water for the sheep to stay put until the weather breaks, though I may have to chop ice if we don’t get any snow. Sheep really don’t need water if there is snow available.
No longer am I trying to graze the road banks with the sheep. Moving them down the bank is like pushing water now and with the ground frozen, it’s far too difficult to install the Kencove sheep netting fence. At this point, grazing the banks in the spring after green grass starts coming on will be the next time they are pushed out. Sheep grazing the banks eliminates the need for me to mow the banks with the brush hog, but it is extra work.
Cattle are a different story in the water department. If there is plenty of heavy, wet snow, they won’t drink much, but if that’s what we have, it destroys the stockpiled winter forage for them to graze much faster than just being frozen or a light snow. However, with a light snow, they will need fresh flowing water available. Therefore, in anticipation of freezing weather, I filled the water tank and opened the leak valve so that the water will fill the tank and then continue running over the top of the overflow pipe. Flowing water will not freeze easily – especially if the cattle are drinking from it. The drawback to overflow is that the water is draining the pond from which it originates, though in Missouri, this is usually refilled easily when spring rains come.
Winter grazing with the lack of grass regrowth allows us to strip graze whatever size breaks we want to give the cattle or sheep. If I know I’ll be back up to the farm the next day, I’ll give the cows a very small break of forage so that they won’t walk all over it and ruin it before grazing. However, if it will be several days or if it’s going to be extra cold, I’ll set up a bit larger break. The breaks are fenced with one strand of Powerflex Fence electrified polybraidfence and step-in posts for easy set up and tear down. I use two lines and leap frog them across the paddocks – allowing enough quality forage to maintain a healthy condition on the animals. Strip grazing versus free access will vastly increase utilisation resulting in, on average, about 60% more grazing days! Additionally, manure is more evenly distributed across the paddock. (my paddocks average about 20 acres each). My cows and calves require about 6500 lbs of dry matter per day, so accurately estimating the amount of forage per acre is crucial, then I open up enough acres for the cows to graze however many number of days I want.
Taking a bit to get our days and nights sorted but almost there. I’m still feeling weird about driving on the right hand side of the road, although it feels normal – I still find myself thinking a moment before pulling onto the highway. However, if I don’t think, turning into the proper lane comes naturally. Hmmmm. I think – therefore I’m confused.
Lots of catching up on the farm – fences to repair, batteries to charge, water tanks and lines to drain and cap off in preparation for winter. It’s been wonderful weather for these activities. Have had trouble with some corner posts, so am replacing them with traditionally set hedge posts. The ground is not hard, so this job only took me about 45 minutes!
I was able to sort off my five bulls from the cows and walk them a quarter mile to the corral for loading out. They’ll spend the next 10 months hanging out with their bull peers. What a life – work (not sure a bull would consider what he does as ‘work’) for two months, then just hang out for ten.
The boys and Allen are tearing out and building a new quarter mile of perimeter barbed wire fence at the Oertwig farm. He and Christian had already hauled the bulls from all his cows earlier this month as well as rebuilding all the washed out water gaps from the flooding we had the day before the boys and I left for Scotland.
Sadly, my allergy symptoms began within 36 hours of our return – itchy eyes, scratchy throat, sneezing, itchy face and neck, congestion. Dallas and I went to Columbia to the allergist and had our oral drops made and we started the treatment. It will be at least 6 months before there is any change so in the meantime we may have to take some antihistamines. The plan is that we’ll be symptom free next year!