Tag Archives: Real Wealth Ranching

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.

Cow Days per Acre

Although, i’m still tracking grazing on my grazing chart, Jaime says i won’t need to under the total grazing. i bet i do, though, at least for a while.

For fun, i wanted to check the cow days per acre grazing with the total grazing situation on a tiny portion of my farm. This small section is 3.6 acres and there are 75 animal units grazing. It had last been grazed for 2 days (on a much larger scale since this small section is part of a 30 acre paddock) from 6 sep to 8 sep then allowed to grow whatever until the 18th of december when i turned the cows in on it. It didn’t grow much because it has been pretty dry since mid-August.

In 9 days it is completely consumed but not grubbed and the stock is in excellent condition despite temps dropping to single digits (F) the last 2 nights of the grazing period. This photo would reflect (imho) about a 90% utilization reflecting a surprising estimated 5500 lbs per acre yield. Had the cows been given full access to 3.6 acres at once, there would be no way of attaining 90% utilization due to fouling, manuring, and urinating. It was very thin up close, but from halfway to the far end is a natural spring area so it grows a LOT of forage since it stays kind of wet nearly all year.

Centered in this image is outlined in narrow red line a box which is the 3.6 acres the cows grazed for 9 days under total grazing method resulting in 188 cows days per acre. The cows do have full access to a 20% protein tub and salt/kelp.

Paddock Lessons so far

  1. plan paddock design with straight lines and 660 feet or less to strip graze. In a perfect world this could happen, in reality, there are draws, copses, deep ditches, travel situations which the livestock will simply never figure out, washouts, timbers, etc, etc, ad nauseum. But shoot for that layout as much as possible. Whether you aspire to total grazing, MiG (management-intensive grazing), adaptive grazing, mob grazing, the rectangular paddock with water source less than 800 feet (Paul Peterson was a lead in this study funded through SARE back in 1994) is about as an ideal for a scheme that requires much flexibility in fencing, grazing, and producer mindset.
  2. But remember to balance cost and time with grazing efficiency. In other words, if the paddock is most effective with a good water source 1000 feet, then that may be the best strategy.
  3. With paddocks designed utilizing 1.22 inch fiberglass posts about 50 feet apart (more closely spaced posts of course depending on terrain – north Missouri with undulating land, deep ditches, and timbers will frequently require closer placement than that). Using 1.22 inch posts provides a firm post for hooking onto for strip grazing at both ends.

As i prepare for the future in following guidelines for total grazing, i’m grazing this area intensively with temporary fencing for now. However, i do not plan to have to do this in the future. Far too much work and i’m allergic to work.

Here’s my on-the-fly fix for a temporary end post. Most of the time, these 1.22 inch fiberglass posts can be pulled up by hand. Note my makeshift hook (adulterated cotter pin) for the reel.
After the fiberglass is pulled up by hand, then it needs redriving in the next location along with the leap frogged polybraid and reel. Yes, i paint my driver orange so we can find them and not leave them planted all over the farm. Thankfully, the driver slid right over my makeshift hook so i didn’t have to remove and replace it. Snow was starting to come down and i was getting cold.
Better manure distribution with total grazing or some other managed program.
Cattle are restless today with snow and ice coming in. Thankfully not going to get super cold, but the wind is sharp. They have a nice timber to get in out of the wind if needed. If that break for grazing looks like a lot of area, you are right, there really isn’t much volume but yet it still needs cleaning up. Also, we are now getting ice on top of snow (3 hours after this photo was taken) so i’m giving them enough to get by in case i can’t get to my farm due to slick roads tomorrow.
Where are the now? they are on the north side of the orangish line. the orange line from extending from the timber to perimeter fence is a polybraid temporary set up only for this grazing set up . The cows are being moved to the south in a fencing leap frog scenario.

Cold Snap – Total Grazing

Total Grazing takes a pause since i gave my ladies enough grazing to last 2-3 days Wednesday afternoon. Although the high temp for the day was forecasted to be 51F, that was first thing in the morning with temps dropping rapidly throughout the afternoon and winds picking up to 20 mph and regularly gusting to 40 mph. Thursday’s high might sneak up to 23 and drop to 9 in the night. Admittedly, i am a fair weather rancher, so the girls are on their own until Saturday when it warms up for the day. But they are haired up with warm coats, plenty of fresh water, protein tub, Icelandic Thorvin kelp (i purchase from Welter Seed & Honey by the pallet load (2000 lbs), and clean (without YPS) salt harvested by Independent Salt Company, thought it’s actually purchased from and delivered by Vit-A-Zine, Butler, Missouri.

My cows are doing okay on this 20% all natural protein, but when i move them to 4 year old endophyte infected fescue leftover from the organic soybean farming situation, the protein level may need to be boosted for them to effectively utilize the forage. I’m researching that situation since i’m not keen to offer urea which is the main way higher protein tubs get to the 30%-40% level. First, however, after the postal delivery crush of holidays, i’ll be sending off forage samples to assess the TDN and protein levels – maybe they won’t need higher protein. On an aside, i built this little sled out of scrap materials which is a necessity if i need to move the tub with the cows (by pulling with my JD Gator)- it weighs 200 lbs to start.

Keeping Busy

With Total Grazing best case scenario being a 4 x move per day (about every 2 hours), what in the world can i do to keep busy in between those scheduled moves? Like being at home, a farm always has something that needs doing. During this unusually kind weather we are enjoying this December, I’ve been primarily cutting trees that are in the wrong place and when i get tired of running the chainsaw, i haul all the bits and pieces of brush to a pile to burn, and when i get too tired to do that, i start walking around the grazed portions and snip little sprouts.

As my cows and calves total graze the paddocks, they leave behind these thorny Locust sprouts which are easy to see, snip, and treat so they don’t grow huge!

Honey Locust trees can grow as tall as 98 feet with circumference 15 feet! (and i have some that big) Covered with extremely sharp thorns up to 12 inches long. The honey locust is aggressive and invasive. A constant battle is necessary to keep them from taking over.
This is about as big of a tree i want to cut down. Any bigger and i’m too intimidated by its size, my lack of experience, plus my little 18 inch bar Stihl chainsaw.
Trying to control the direction of the fall.
Always a relief when the tree falls where you want it and safely.
It was a big job to get all that honey locust cut up and dragged to the burn pile. As green as the wood is, it will take several goes to finally get it burnt. But the tree is down and stump treated. On to the next!

Total Grazing Along

Thursday, although only in mid-30s (F), the sun came out brightly and there was no wind, so i braved the temps and went to my farm. I was concerned about the deep cycle 12V battery running my solar energiser getting low on charge. With temps below freezing each night, a battery outside, if flat, can easily be ruint. (my solar panel is currently under renovation)

My last entry described my plan to strip graze south of the timber, so here is an outline. There is a great deal of difference in the amount of forage just south of the timber vs heading on down the hill to the south, so my paddock sizes need to be adjusted to allow for 1 1/2 hours of grazing. Cows really won’t graze longer than that before relaxing and chewing their cud.

In this case, they still have plenty of grazing in the timber, so they were not hungry at all. I will be leaving them for several days here so they will clean up.

How do i make any determination as to how much area to give my cows? Basically, it’s a math problem. The art is training your eye. When i pulled out the polybraid (white lines), i took large steps to estimate the distance, then multiplied that number times 3 feet. In this case, it was right at 300 feet. I step off the bit on ‘y’ axis (purple line), using the second strip for an example because it is straight across to make for simpler explanation. Anyway, it is about 70 feet. So 70 feet times 300 feet equals 21000 square feet. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre, so the area in question is 48%. Obviously, for ease of figuring in my head, i’ll use 1/2 acre. Now, the art part. I estimate in this paddock there to be only 1000 lbs of forage per acre available to total graze, so total is 500 lbs. Using a 70 animal unit figure and knowing they will eat about 30 lbs per day per head. My herd will consume about 2100 lbs total forage per day. If i was on target for giving them 1 1/2 worth of grazing (4 moves per day) or 1/4 of their time grazing, they would need 525 lbs of forage to graze for that time period. Amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly since i’ve been estimating forage per acres for decades now – you can see that estimates come out extremely close. That’s just pretty cool.

My explanation is probably clear as mud, but it’s not difficult in real practice.

Paddocks will be smaller as i move down the hill since the forage is much heavier – some will be up around 3000 lbs per acre and i will adjust the grazing strip size as needed to accomplish my goals of total grazing.

My cows have learnt to come to the reel end so they will walk behind me as i reel up the polybraid to gain access to their new forage break. This reel, polybraid, and posts will be used to leapfrog ahead to form the next paddock.

Here is the illustration for that next paddock break with cows respecting the electrified polybraid. The polybraid from the former photo is now set up as you can see to the right of the photo.