Tag Archives: total grazing

Prairie State Park

Before i lay into the management of the park, let me be clear that i haven’t a clue as to the constraints and regulations a state park must adhere to. Also, don’t hesitate to visit the park – winter is certainly not its most beautiful season. I did see about a dozen bison.

Covid stuff has made doing stuff a bit awkward – i didn’t see a soul at this park – rangers or visitors. The Prairie State Park visitor’s center was closed, so i back tracked to the camping area and with a bit of driving around, discovered an outdoor privy. It was gross, but didn’t gag me – maybe because i was desperate.

Anyway, that relieved, I drove back towards the visitor’s center – there was one long trail near the privy, but it was too late in the day for me to conquer it. I found one much shorter which was only a path through a burnt out field of native prairie – or what is accepted as native prairie.

Let me admit my bias up front; for regular pasture/field/timber management, i think fire is stupid. It destroys the micro organisms, small critters, and sends amazing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – not to mention it is dangerous and takes careful management so that the fire doesn’t get away. Typically, it does the exact opposite of what it is touted to accomplish.

There, having said that, fire can be a necessary tool for emergency renovation if we haven’t managed a parcel and now need to jump start healing – a one time deal – if other practices have been exhausted.

As i drove around the park, it appeared to have perhaps half of the property burnt to the ground. I almost didn’t take the time to make this hike, but so glad i did. This was the first time, i’ve explored, examined, encountered the devastating effects of fire on pasture/range/prairie.

Path of the Scorched Earth – would have made a better title.
The grasses are completely burnt, leaving not only no cover, but scorched soil. Any nutrients and saliva provided by bison are burnt up as well. Hopefully, the plants were allowed to grow enough to develop deep root systems to facilitate fast growth in the next growing season.
Oodles and myriads of small rodents and other critters skeletons and bones completely stripped of any hide or sinew. Either these animals were eaten or died a very long time ago or they were caught in the fire.
Pieces of a turtle shell. No one can know for sure the demise of the turtle. We have so few box turtles in north Missouri, i hate to see their destruction. We do have a lot of snapping turtles though, which we could do without – terribly hard on ducklings and goslings.
Woody sprouts thick and getting out of control without proper grazing by bison. These are a result of very low density grazing which allows selective grazing. Once these tree sprouts, thorny vines, etc get started, it’s very difficult to restore the prairie without mowing or chemicals. Fire does not hurt them.
People of the Sky trail – more charred earth – it was getting cold and i’ve learnt a lot by walking on charred pastures.

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.

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.

Permanent Ley Update

So very odd that i’ve completely forgotten to finish this summary of my expensive permanent ley scheme which was completed the fall of 2017! So quick answer is that three years hence, there is a beautiful and diverse stand of valuable desirable mix of grass and legume species. Much of the original plants seeded are returning each year. I’ve been careful to allow them to mature and go to seed each year since to add to the seed bank. However, i still have not gained in cow days per acre in comparison to what i had before though the species are higher quality and likely allow better gains and performance in the cattle. Overall, i won’t do it again. I don’t like tillage and now that i’ve started total grazing, i’m hopeful i can improve forage while making money instead of spending money.

Update on that permanent ley seeding initiated last summer (2017).  We are still quite dry and with an unusual fall and lengthy, cold, harsh winter followed by a record setting cold April followed by a record warm May, grasses here in north Missouri are really confused and not producing.  The deal is that cool season grasses which show their greatest growth in spring had no chance this year.  April kept the soil temperatures far too cold for growth, then May spiked the heat, so grasses stopped growing!  Many grasses normally 2-3 feet tall were heading out and setting seed at only 6-8 inches!!  Another challenging year in agriculture.

The result of the shortage is that a lot of cattle have gone to market.  We have already sold ALL of our yearling calf crop born last year because of the shortage.  Plus, as part of a managed drought plan, we’ve also sold a good number of cows that we wouldn’t normally have done.  North Missouri was already short on livestock (due to the spike in crop prices a few years back, many pastures were plowed up and farmed), and now it is significantly more depleted.

 

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This beautiful burnett plant is such a valuable plant and three years later, it still comes on strong each spring.  Always excited to see it!

Three years after renovating this paddock, there is still a lovely mixture of red clover, lespedeza, birdsfoot trefoil, timothy, meadow fescue, chicory, and others!

Delar Burnet is an awesome grass – excited to see it staying established.

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!