Thoughts on Heifer Development

I didn’t think i’d ever go back to calving out 2 year old heifers (exposing to the bull at 13-15 months) since calving out as 3 year olds is so incredibly stress free on the heifer and myself. A high percentage of 2 year olds will become pregnant and zero will need assistance at calving.

Since beginning total grazing and recognizing that i need to grow my herd numbers significantly and quickly (due to being understocked), i decided to take a chance last year with the 14 yearling heifers and have them bred alongside the main cow herd. As shared before, these heifers had a pregnancy rate of 76% (vs 90% + as 2 year olds) and one heifer died, along with her calf, at calving due to difficulty (front leg was back) and another heifer had her calf fine, but it was dead (don’t know why).

It will be interesting to see how many of those will breed back this year. However, I have discovered that those which calve first time as 3 year olds don’t breed back at much higher, if any, rate as the 2 year olds. I don’t know why, but that has been my experience.

This year, to hopefully avoid more calving difficulties, I have kept the 21 yearling heifers separate from the main cow mob and they are joined with a 2 year old 1/4 Corriente x 3/4 Red Angus bull out of one of my good adapted cows (#433) and a 1/2 Corriente x 1/2 Red or Black Angus yearling bull out of my good purebred 21 year old Corriente cow (#160). This should eliminate any calving difficulties but will reduce the value of each calf because of the Corriente influence. This should be less of a hit than dead heifers, calves, and/or having to assist.

After, the bulls are removed from both the cow mob and the heifer mob, the two groups will be put together into one group for grazing through the winter.

Another thing i may do is wean the calves off the first calf heifers and feed the weaners through the winter allowing the heifer to rebuild body condition better for her next calving event. Haven’t decided on that yet. Sounds like work.

Considerations:

Pros for calving at 2 years

  1. selecting most fertile stock
  2. entering production a year earlier
  3. open heifers can be kept for trying again the next year or selling as grassfinished beeves.

Cons for calving at 2 years

  1. keeping a separate mob before and during breeding season
  2. possibly having to wean/feed calves
  3. increased incident of calving difficulties

Farming and ranching are dynamic businesses requiring flexibility, creative planning, and constant learning. The ability to identify a problem is a must as is adjusting the plan and expectations to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Finding and purchasing cattle to graze and perform in a managed grazing (in my case now total grazing) is next to impossible. Growing the herd size with your own adapted animals is a slow process, but has shown itself to be the better answer for me in all animal groups; heifers, bulls, and cows.

Shabbat Shalom!

001 is not the fanciest bull in the land, but this 2 year old has shown himself prolific as a yearling, sound on his feet, and clear eyes. He is out of now 8 year old cow who has been a consistent producer. He is quiet and easy to handle. He is 1/4 Corriente and 3/4 Red Angus.
This yearling bull seems to be whispering sweet nothings in this heifer’s ear!
Here’s theyearling bull i chose to join with the 2 year old bull. Although it’s likely the 2 year old can easily service 21 heifers, I’ve had a bad experience having only one bull with a mob – they ALL came up open (not pregnant) That was a very expensive mistake. This 102 bull is also home raised and not fancy, but out of my 21 year old purebred Corriente cow – so adaptation, longevity, and soundness are built in. He is also clear eyed, slick hided, of good disposition, and healthy from birth. He is 1/2 Corriente and 1/2 Red or Black Angus (his coloring makes it tricky to call). His mum is solid red.

Cows Grazing Weeds

We know that goats and sheep are excellent for eating weeds and brush and cows – not as much.

However, with adapted, trained cattle in a nonselective grazing protocal really do a fabulous job with a whole lot less labor and infrastructure (ie – fence that will hold water)

Compare these two photos taken before and after mobbing with total grazing principles.

Shabbat Shalom!

To Mow or Not to Mow

Basically this is a math problem. What is the cost of mowing (brush hogging) a pasture vs the benefit of doing so.

Consider the fuel (which is expensive now), wear and tear on machinery, depreciation, and man hours. Now, ideally, one would not own or operate the machinery and therefore would avoid the depreciation (although John Deere tractors actually seem to appreciate in value as the dollar recedes) and hire someone to mow it for you. However, my husband has a lot of tractors and equipment, so we might as well use them, though it still takes someone to sit in the tractor.

So, i don’t know the numbers to make a math decision, but there is absolutely no doubt that the Bowyer Farm, which was cropped for 4 years with soybeans, wil hugely benefit having those suffocating weeds (ragweed and cocklebur) removed as a thick canopy preventing desirable species of grasses and legumes to take hold.

This paddock was the last to be grazed on the Bowyer farm, and like a couple others the results are the abundance of ragweed. The second photo below shows what is left after grazing then brush hogging. For perspective, there are 160 cows, 7 mature bulls, and 90 spring born calves in this photo!

With two tractors going, one with a 15 foot brush hog, and the other with a 20 foot brush hog, it did not take long for Allen and my son, Dallas, to finish the job. It’s particularly a good job these days of intense ragweed pollinating for Dallas because he can sit in the air conditioned tractor cab and get along well. My husband has to do all the fueling and greasing, however.

These side by side photos are important in that they illustrate the difference between a paddock that was grazed in a more timely manner and the ragweed and cocklebur were removed by cows grazing, thereby opening the canopy and allowing an abundance of clover and lespedeza (poor man’s alfalfa) to flourish. The second photo shows that very little is able to grow under 4-6 foot tall thick ragweed. Even cocklebur and foxtail couldn’t get a toe hold in that mess.

About five days ago (21 Aug 22), i moved the cows/calves across the road to a paddock which had been previously grazed (13 Jun-23Jun 2022) via total grazing protocols. We’ve had more than plenty of rain, so regrowth was fantastic and the forages in this paddock are at the peak of grazing readiness to provide the cows a well balanced diet. I’m convinced they’ve gained 100 lbs in just those few days due to superior diet. Clearly, one can see i’m not mobbing them for best pasture results. This is due to my severe allergies and not being able to be outside. If not for a/c in my Gator, I would turn them out in large paddock and not see them for a week or more.

Oh, the ragweed pollen!!!

Shabbat Shalom!

Let Them Eat Weeds!

A good definition of a ‘weed’ is simply a plant growing where it’s not wanted. Oftentimes, while the ‘weed’ may be ugly and unwanted, it’s a powerhouse of nutritious food/feed source of man or beast. At least at certain times of growth.

Thankfully, cattle, sheep, or other livestock can take full advantage of many weeds and can turn them into meat or milk and I don’t have to mow them, chemically kill them, or stress that they are there. There are times i do have to intervene, but proper grazing pressure can sure eliminate a lot of work for me.

Ironweed, multiflora rose, foxtail, honey locust, mare’s tail, ragweed, even cocklebur (though to a lesser extent) are readily eaten in whole or in part by cows. Those are only a few of the weeds they eat but those listed are some of the most egregious to a producer because if allowed to proliferate, they can shade out better quality grasses and forbes.

The huge mess I have on the farmed ground is 90% weeds on the acreage i allowed to be organically row cropped for 4 years to soybeans. I had to disk it twice and harrow it to smooth it out from the ridged till condition in which it had been left, so another year of open soil provided a perfect seed bed for weeds. There is little doubt that there is plenty of grass seeds in the soil bank, but it may take several years of strategic grazing pressure to bring it back to its pasture. I can’t say ‘former glory’, because before it was about 90% toxic endophyte fescue and that wasn’t good either.

These are the last of my mob entering a paddock violently overgrown with ragweed. Incredibly, in this photo on the hillside are over 165 cows and bulls plus the baby calves! Since it is now ragweed allergy season, i’m no longer spending time with #totalgrazing or much of any managed grazing.

Both calves and cows will obliterate thorny honey locust trees when the leaves are tasty and perhaps when they are the most nutritious.

Whenever possible, use polybraid and step in posts to mob the cows to eat more than they trample. However, i’ve discovered that these weeds seem high in protein and body condition needs to be carefully monitored. Note the colored plastic tape i’ve tied onto the polybraid. This is to help with visibility in the tall folage.

Spring Grazing Observations

As blogged before, since changing to Real Wealth Ranching protocol which not only teaches a change in grazing management, but includes other changes which i believe will make my life easier as well as being more profitable all the while building soil, forage, and animal health.

One of the main precepts of any grazing management is observation of stock condition. If the livestock are suffering under your management, you must change something immediately. Daily or, at least often, observation of body condition, manure consistency, thriftiness, and overall general health including appropriate hair shedding, bright eyes, well hydrated, being alert, calm cud chewing, not bawling or wandering, and ears up demeanor are a few subtle clues to health.

For good reason, up until this year, i’ve set my calving season from 15 April to 31 May. For me, personally, that is not a good time because breeding season is 7 July to 20 Aug and 100% of the time, mid August to late September is high ragweed season which is debillitating to me making it nearly impossible to remove the bulls to keep defined dates for calving season.

However, this year (2022), i’m pushing that back to 15 May thru 30 June, With the change to total grazing and by default and plan i am offering a better balance protein/roughage diet to both cows and calves and hope to avoid the serious scours (calf losses about 30% for a couple years running!) encounter by earlier calving. However, calving that early in north central Missouri has its downsides in that it often can be extremely cold and muddy, plus cows will not be in best condition coming out of winter before calving.

Pushing it back a month means I avoid the beginning and ending of ragweed season. The animals need to be nearly set stocked during that time because i cannot be outside.

However, the final decision was to turn out the bulls on 22 July and will plan a 60 day breeding season. Most will likely breed in the first 35-40 days anyway, but the few which are later may allow me to grow my herd a bit. This is a calving season of 1 May to 1 July. However, the bigger benefit will be that removing the bulls will be after allergy season. By keeping my own replacements, there is a much greater chance of success by having adapted animals to my particular environment. Purchasing stock is a crapshoot at best.

As calving season has come along this spring (2022), I’ve really enjoyed noticing the HUGE difference in condition of cows which calved early/mid April and those few which have calved mid May. Any cow which calved early is very slow to recover from calving and has not shedded out well at all. Will that affect rebreeding? In the past, it has not, but the cows sure look better and are carrying much more weight.

One thing that has given me considerable concern is the number of open cows this spring that were pregnancy checked as being bred last fall. Young cows and really good 8 and 9 year olds have lost. In other words, it’s not been any particular age group or any specific bloodlines. Still pouring over records to see what might have caused this. It was about 5% abortion/fetal loss last year which the vets say is on the upper limits of normal. This year’s percentage is hovering around 7% abortion/fetal loss. This despite giving my cows a Lepto shot last fall, which is not what i usually do. However, a couple of those are purchased cows/heifers which are often not adapted to my environment.

The typical death loss of 1% to 2% sadly hit that upper percentage point this year to some sort of chronic wasting disease, most likely anaplasmosis. Seems like it hits my 3-6 year old good doing cows. Unfortunately, this seems to be just a part of raising livestock.

I’m continuing the Real Wealth Ranching protocol and total grazing plan because it has been an amazing program. Coming up on my second full year of implementation here in a few months. I tell people all i’m doing is providing landscaping tools and my cows do the work (grazing). Well, they don’t run the chainsaw.

Mustering and Sorting in the Road

Earlier this week, I moved my cows and calves to Cord Road with the intention of sorting off a few cows which I did not want to joined with the bulls, which will be turned out the 22nd of July.  The particular morning chosen was ideal because it was 63F degrees!  Such a change from the intense and long lasting high temperatures and high humidity we have been experiencing and within a couple days the weather went right back to the intense heat.

Once the cattle were in the road, which I had blocked off at the end of the road and beside the gate through which they had passed, I set up a single strand electric polybraid to form a small holding yard to contain each cow as I sorted her off.  This worked exceptionally well.  The only difficulty was to get the  now weaned calf which belonged to the cow which died by tree roots a few days ago.  It had lost its sight to a large extent, so was particularly hard to handle, but I gave it a pass – blind, no momma for guidance, strange location (this is a purchased cow/calf and the calf had never been to this location), and being pushed around.  Nevertheless, she was coaxed, along with the cows I’d sorted off, into the hay barn from which we would load out.  Dallas had arrived with the trailer just in time to help me get that calf in.  Thank goodness – I might have had to give up and that would not have bode well for a lone calf on its own in life.

We loaded out of the hay barn which was not without challenge since there is no facility to do so. But they respect a hot wire, so a rope posing as a hazing fence was helpful to encourage them to hop into the trailer. The rest of the cows had already walked across to the Bowyer farm.

From the time I left home at 5:30 am to my return was about  8 hours, but it takes me an hour and 10 minutes drive with return in my Gator.  Nevertheless, I took a lot of steps and was spent by mid afternoon, but very glad to have that task completed.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mud, Mud, Mud

The past 5-6 years, the weather has quite deviated from the norm, but this year is more its irritating self. With frequent, yet light rains, drizzles, and cloudy weather resulting in constant mud, even on top of the ridges – there’s not a dry or even well drained spot on my farm. Pugging is everywhere, though thankfully, i don’t have large cows, so damage is mitigated by less animal weight per square inch.

This year is the first year in implementing the ‘no molestar’ (do not bother) concept of not shifting cows and calves to new paddocks during calving season. This has been a real blessing, however, given the mud and misery this year, the cows have trampled their large paddock and from the looks of it have wasted at least 50% of their forage mostly by walking around and trampling into the mud. This has forced me to move them to another paddock which is just as wet and muddy, but with thick forage. They will destroy it rapidly as well. Very thankful that through total grazing, there is plenty of reserve forage for the cows. The concept of not bothering the calving cows was interrupted and i had to find and pack and haul and drive a few calves – i think one has been abandoned – this is precisely why the pairs should be left alone during the important bonding time.

Gateways are becoming quite a mess with both cow foot traffic and Gator traffic

The continued cold, cloudy, and wet weather is taking its toll on the cows’ conditions and that of their calves, though it is most noticeable on those yearling first calf heifers and the really old cows.

Despite the rain, work continues as much as possible to avoid getting completely behind though there are many many jobs which must wait for warmer and much drier weather. Next week is supposed to warm up and not rain. Really looking forward to some warmth and especially sunshine.

Pugging is absolutely on every square inch of the paddock.
Forcing them to eat the brown and the green is keeping manure in pretty good shape, but the weather and ground conditions are taking the toll on animal condition. Plus they are very unhappy and unsatisfied – i’m not sure why except there’s been no sun and no place dry to lie down for a couple weeks. That would make me cranky, too.

Faith, Family, Farm

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