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!
Paddock 18a is located near my corral and therefore is overused. It seldom has opportunity to get any rest and mercy it sure shows. This year, i was determined to give it a rest and let something grow. Typically the succession plant to damaged soil are tough weeds and my experience is no different. Before the ragweed is pollinating, i thought i’d go have a look. There is very little palatable undergrowth – these tall weeds – mostly ragweed and cockleburr can out compete nearly anything.
So my plan is to mob graze this 4.5 acres paddock with all my cows (about 150 adult animals and 60 calves) keeping an eye to the volume of tasty forage they need to leave behind, then come in and brush hog the remaining tall stuff before it goes to seed.
Check out this short video my friend Greg Judy puts together to help graziers manage their stock and soil. Greg is an excellent teacher – you might enjoy subscribing to his YouTube channel.
Quick update – i moved my cows et al to a temporary paddock i set up with electric netting (although it wasn’t electrified for this event, the cows are trained and respect it) and the bull had stayed nearby during the night and with some patience and quiet handling using Bud Williams Stockmanship techniques, i was able to not only ease the blind bull from the 20 acre paddock through a 16 foot gate, but with a bit more time walked him all the way to the corral and in. However, i had to do this mostly from my Gator with a/c on; the ragweed allergy (yellow pollen) was horrible and i was suffering.
I called Dallas and he came up with the trailer and, together, we loaded him easily. In the morning, i will doctor him for his bad eyes and spray him with natural fly repellent to give him some relief.
Thankfully, i discovered he could see a bit – very close up only, but at least that keeps him from running into fences and gates. Today was a lot of handling and being by himself the whole time and sorted away from cows, yet he remained calm and well behaved.
Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds. There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway. Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.
I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years. The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn. It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.
Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.
A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.
I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.
Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.
These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.
I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.
However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)
Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.
Even calves like fresh tree leaves that haven’t been exposed to grazing, therefore haven’t built up high tannins.
A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.
So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.
The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.
And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.
The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.
There has always been great debate about whether or not to sell open (not pregnant) cows in the fall at pregnancy check or turn the bull back in with them and see if they’ll breed for another season, then sell them pregnant. Many trade publications will encourage producers to ‘add value’ to a cull cow, but i seriously question the validity of such endeavor, but then again, i’m not an expert with numbers, i’m just lazy and don’t want to be shifting and handling and sorting my cows more than necessary.
It’s easy enough to simply put numbers to the various practices, then make your favourite decision.
My first stumbling block with the concept of adding value to one of my cull cows has to do with passing off a potentially problem cow to my neighbor. That doesn’t sound very neighborly or make good business since. However, one could simply ‘add value’ by pouring the feed to the cow to make her fat and increasing the grade or value for slaughter. It also could be justified by the fact that my management is super low input and most of my cows would thrive in another producer’s management style.
Pregnancy check in the fall reveals 10 open cows. My cows all have a calf at side or they’d already be sold, so 14-30 days after the calves have received their vaccines, I’ll wean the calf by selling off the cow to slaughter. She’s not going to be in the fattest condition because she’s nursing a nice calf and a non-fat cow will not bring top dollar.
For example, the different cow classes are as follows:
Breaking and Boning (75-85% lean) $47.50-$57.50
High dressing $58.00-$67.00.
Lean (85-90%) $44.00-$54.50
Cows in the fall nursing a calf will typically fall in the Lean or Breaking and Boning categories and this year are bringing about $43/cwt (hundredweight). My cows are primarily Corriente or Corriente cross and will weigh about 800 lbs (by comparison and Angus or other beefier breed will weigh 1200 lbs, although she still may be thin and be in the same category).
Keep the cow and turn the bull back with her and hope she gets bred – Let’s say there is 70% chance that she will. So, we keep the cow until she is in the 2nd stage of pregnancy or about 5-6 months along.
Therefore, if she would bring $875/head as a P2 cow (and this would be a stretch if she is older than 5 or 6).
Leave the bulls in with the cows an additional 20-30 days and hope that another 50% of the potentially open cows actually breed, then sell the bred cows that calved late as well as the open cows in mid-December.
bred cows sold
open cows sold
keep and sell in June
open cows sold
bred cows sold
sell in December
Things to consider.Interestingly, in my opinion, these numbers probably won’t change even if one leaves the bulls in for another 20 days, sort out the cows that have not calved by 10 June and selling them as ready to calve in the last trimester (P3). In this part of the country (Missouri, USA) a summer calving P3 cow is not as desirable as a fall calving P2 even though i’ve credited her with more value in my chart above.
Leaving the bulls in an additional 20 days is advantage for me in that i avoid having to handle the cattle during ragweed allergy season. My allergies are so bad, that this is a serious consideration. However, the reality of bringing in the cows with baby calves and sorting off the one which haven’t calved yet is that it likely won’t happen and one would be right back to a 65 day calving season. However, those cow numbers could be written down, paired up in the fall and then sold as pairs when animals are mustered in for preg check and calf vaccinations.
The point of changing the time and reducing the length of breeding season was to avoid ragweed allergy season. However, i discovered that at least this year, i was unable to withstand the debilitating effects of ragweed as late as 1 September. Also, the longer the calving season, the more inconvenient it is to shift the animals through a managed rotation.
Other alternative is to separate those open cows and a bull put in with them. Disadvantage is that a separate herd must be maintained for 7 months. Not really a feasible situation.
So, now that i’ve thought through the pros and cons of the various scenarios, especially solving the issue with allergies i will plan to leave the bulls in an additional 20 days, thereby hauling them out about 20 September. This means, however, that the following spring that i’ll be dealing with an additional 20 days of baby calves to shift (yes, this is a pain in the butt) and be diligent to write down the numbers of those cows calving late so they can be sorted off during preg check in November. If half of those late calvers go ahead and get bred, it will add dollars to my bottom line without adding much expense. Most importantly, it solves the allergy issue.
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:
where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application. Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered. Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.
It's been a rather busy and momentous month, so i'm way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project. Here are photos of growth at 60 days. Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017. Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon. It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i'm ready to put paid to this project.