Pregnancy Check 2021

For decades, we’ve always had the veterinarian palpate our cows for chute-side determination of pregnancy. This year, i decided to try blood testing, so i contacted our veterinarian and asked him about the process. He said he’d never done that for an entire herd, but has used the process for individual animals.

There are some reasons for the change, primarily because i thought it would be less stressful for the cow and the vet and i think that is an important issue. If there is opportunity to reduce stress and physical labor, then the option should be explored – especially as we ranchers, farmers, veterinarians, and others are getting old. We break more easily, don’t move as fast, and get tired more quickly.

Pregnancy Tips from Beef Magazine

My cows and especially yearling heifers are smaller frame than many owners’ and the rectum is just not large enough to comfortably accommodate a big arm. Damage to fetus, rectum, and vet’s arm is more likely.

In just a few days, the results were ready and my vet’s office sent them to me via e-mail. The results: (i was very well pleased – especially since 3 of 4 bulls went bad at some point during the breeding season!) Overall, the pregnancy rate was 93% bred not counting 6 first calf heifers i bought (5 were open!). They did milk pretty heavy and are not adapted to managed grazing, so giving them a pass and will keep them another year.

  • Yearling heifers (born in 2020) – 73% bred
  • 2 year olds bred for the first time – 100% bred
  • 3 year-olds – 85% bred
  • 4 year-olds – 87% bred
  • 5 year-olds – 85% bred
  • 6 year-olds – 80% bred
  • 7 year-olds – 100% bred
  • 8 year-olds – 100% bred
  • 10 year-old – 100% bred
  • 20 year-old – 100% bred

After the work, receiving the bill and test information, followed by a chat with my veterinarian, i came away with the following points:

  • Blood testing is similar in accuracy as palpating
  • Blood testing is a bit more than twice as costly to implement
  • For the veterinarian, there is about the same work, but is far less physically demanding
  • Palpating allows chute side call and decision making based on pregnancy check – blood testing takes a few days
  • Palpating at 50-60 days can cause embryonic death due to a fragile time for the fetus. Blood testing would not cause this.
  • Blood testing is far less uncomfortable to smaller framed cows and young heifers.
  • Cows palpated around 4 months pregnant have a higher incident of being called ‘open.’
  • Blood testing takes about the same amount of time in the chute as palpating.

The actual out of pocket cost for blood testing was:

  • Veterinarian charge – $3/head
  • Blood testing – $4.50/head
  • Shipping/Processing – $ .60/head

By Comparison, only the $3/head would be charged for palpating. So, what will i do next year? i haven’t decided, but it could be a combination of blood testing the small/medium frame cows and the 2 and 3 year old heifers/cows, then palpating the remaining. This would greatly reduce cost but would require sorting the cows into two groups before pregnancy check. Is that extra labor worth the savings over just blood testing all?

Here are my new thoughts on processing my cows and calves going forward, but will discuss with my veterinarian to see if it is reasonable. My biggest concern is changing to dates in the winter – our winters can be unreasonable cold and miserable, but usually there are a few days which are nice.

  • 6 August – 20 September – Breeding season
  • 15 May – 30 June – calving season
  • Late Dec/early Jan -Vaccinate calves and preg check dry cows. WEAN BULLS
  • 20 February – Preg check 3 years and older cows i plan to keep – no need to preg check first calf heifers since i would hold them over if open anyway. WEAN CALVES.
  • Any cows which have developed a bad attitude or other reason for culling no need to preg check – they’ll need checking at sale barn.

The Right Attitude

Giving credit to Kit Pharo from his most recent PCC Update e-mail for the following.


People with the right attitude
 tend to be innovative.   They are independent thinkers who are not afraid to think outside the box.   They are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone.


People with the right attitude will often be entrepreneurs and trailblazers.   They are goal setters.   They know the best way to predict the future is to create it.


People with the right attitude are proactive – not reactive.   They know that failing to plan is the same as planning to fail.


People with the right attitude are not afraid of failure.   If they fall down, they get back up, brush themselves off and learn from their mistakes.   They seldom, if ever, whine or complain – and they never blame others.


People with the right attitude will seldom if ever say something cannot be done.   They realize that just because something has never been done does not mean it is impossible to do.


People with the right attitude see problems as opportunities.   They are always looking for ways to make lemonade out of lemons.   They realize every dark cloud has a silver lining.


People with the right attitude tend to be spiritually grounded.   They know who is really in control.  


People with the right attitude like to create win-win relationships with other positive people.   They know their success is often dependent upon the success of others.

Total Grazing Saga Continues

Goodness, it’s been a long time since giving an update. I’ve since verbally shared my experiences with those who are interested and have contacted me. Here’s a current synopsis of my thoughts and changes.

My journey and changes in management since joining/implementing Real Wealth Ranching

Began in fall of 2020. 

After attending the summer of 1994 3-day grazing school at FSRC, Linneus, MO, I began implementing Management-Intensive Grazing in earnest and, initially, amazing results in increased forage and healthier animals emerged:  we were very successful, but then, in my opinion, after a few years, we’ve been going backwards to the point of feeding hay again and watching desirable forage species disappearing.  I just figured that I was not following the protocol well enough to be as successful as so many others seem to be.   For years i’ve watched my cows selectively graze in large (20 acres or less) paddocks as they shift through the 28 paddocks with soil or grasses not improving, but I’m working harder and my herd needed downsizing as grazing improvements were disappearing!  The smaller paddocks do help some, but the infrastructure cost (initial and maintenance) is not offset in the long run because signs of continuous grazing eventually return.

This is not to recommend throwing all that I’ve learnt out the window about managed grazing, but it’s past time that changes are made to move in a different direction.  For example, in our north Missouri, USA climate, and during the growing season, 3 days is the limit on a paddock before regrowth will begin.  Cows must not have access to that regrowth!  Manage for that.

Paddock changes – moving fences to a more user-friendly manner so as to more easily implement 4x daily movements.  By and large, for me, this means 20ish acre rectangular paddocks about 650 feet across the narrow bit.  Life is not perfect –but that is the ideal – do your best to balance with your topography and watering points.

Eliminated whole farm fence energizing.  As portable electric fencing products become more powerful, I feel it is prudent to upgrade and shift to be more flexible and reduce labor.  By using the 1X portable energizer I found from Powerflex fence and only energizing that part of the fence containing the cattle, there is more shock to the cattle if they touch it and I don’t have to track down ‘shorts’ in 10 miles of electric wire thereby drastically increasing effectiveness and labor.  The admonishment of keep all the fence hot to burn through forage and keep deer from knocking it down or breaking it, is simply not a thing on my farm.  Forage growth is too great in my situation, largely due to two wire paddocks (the bottom wire is often in the grass) and the use of hi-tensile electrified woven wire on the perimeter.  Unless I use burn down chemical under it, there is no way to keep it from putting a very heavy load on that fence. And, no, the deer never learn to respect an electric fence.

Water – use creative thinking to eliminate the use of water lines and excess water tanks within reason.  Balance the possibility of reduced grazing productivity with the cost of installing and maintaining water lines and tanks taken to the paddock.  Remember, cows can walk and, my experience is that distance of up to ¼ mile will not cause the cows to mob the water tank, they simply come in small groups to water then go back to grazing.  Cows may need to learn to do this – but most are quick learners.  I also use 1 foot tall, 8 feet diameter tanks to allow even the youngest calves to drink and not run the risk of being trapped or drowned in the tanks.  Another point I’d like to recommend is to not rely on pumps and electricity – the most reliable is a tank, properly set, with shut off (relying on gravity) below a deep, clean pond.  In other environments (soil and weather), allowing managed and limited access directly to a pond may be even more reliable.

Winter stockpile management – begin stockpiling well managed previous year’s paddocks by never grazing from first frost until good grass in the spring on HALF of your farm.  Once the cows come off the half that was grazed all summer, spring, and fall, then that starts the stockpile for the following winter. This full season growth allows the forages to develop deep roots and, in many cases, go to seed and reproduce then begin fall growth until winter grazing, providing a nearly perfectly balanced diet for the beef cow of brown and green forages year round.  This is completely different than beginning the stockpile growth period in early August and hope you get rains and good growing weather before frost to have enough to graze through the winter. (If my explanation makes no sense, consider signing up for Jaime Elizondo’s classes on Real Wealth ranching).  Managing stockpile in this manner vs the traditional recommendation of clipping or grazing in early August then allowing it to grow for winter stockpile gives me a huge level of comfort in that I will know well in advance of winter how much grazing/food I have for my cows.  These past 5 years, there has been high temperatures and next to no rainfall during that narrow window for critical growing.  Yes, the longer/earlier starting growing season may result in lower quality, but not below the point of maintaining beef cattle.  If supplementation with protein tubs or alfalfa hay is necessary, that is much easier than substitute feeding with grass hay.  The traditional time frame of allowing grass to grow from August 10th results in high quality feed, but low quantity.  What does that look like in north Missouri?  Of course, it depends, but by and large, since my calving season will be 15 may for 45 days, then add 15 days or so for the last calves (if any) to really get mobile, I’ll want the cows to still be grazing green/brown stockpiled forage mix for best protein/carbohydrate mix and allowing spring growing grass to be at the proper level before grazing.  Also, since during calving they will be set stocked, extra forage is needed to allow nonselective grazing. Grazing stockpile may begin sometime December or early January, then not return to those paddocks until May or June. These dates are not set in stone; flexibility and observation are key to proper herdsmanship and grazier success.

Breeding season/calving season changed– with very good reason, my cows calve 15 April – 30 May.  This is a very good time in north Missouri, for me, my cows, and my resources. However, every year it’s a struggle for me to remove the bulls in late August because of my extreme ragweed allergies.  Since learning from Jaime to not ‘molest’ the cows during calving season, this means I manage to have enough forages to set stock during those 45 days plus another 15 days (my choice) so that by that time, the calves are well bonded to the cows and will move with momma and not lay down to hide when it’s time to implement total grazing techniques.  Before, I’ve always thought I had to move cows and calves during the calving and it is SO STRESSFUL to everyone, including me and invariably calves are left behind and die or abandoned as orphans.  I never tag calves at birth or even soon after.  It’s dangerous and unnecessary.  Calves are tagged when given vaccinations, dehorned, castrated, and their mums pregnancy checked in October/November.

This year (2021), it is impossible for me to remove my bulls when I traditionally pull them out since heat, humidity, ragweed is off the charts and I’m too old (or maybe I finally got smart) but I’m not going to subject myself anymore to such pain.  To give perspective, one year I came stumbling down the stairs into the basement to shower, with eyes swollen, red, itchy, wheezing and my young son remarking, ‘Mom, you are going to kill yourself!  Stop!’  Another year, my husband was determined to take me to the emergency room, but I convinced him through hand motions ‘no’.  I completely lose my voice when I’m overcome with the allergy.  So, this year, the bulls will be in for 75 days, but I plan to change the breeding season to 5 Aug– 20 Sep.  That last date will get me on the other side of ragweed season – still not out of it, but traditionally, it will be better.  I do not like having calves born in June, however, it could be that with the different management as promoted by Jaime, I may not dislike it anymore.  Time will tell.  It can be incredibly hot first two weeks of June or it can be excessively cold and very wet in Missouri, but typically better than April (April calving was chosen because about 30% of my calves would die due to scours – sometimes no evidence of scours until they were dead!).  In fact, choosing calving paddocks without a ditch will be less critical with June calving since mostly they will be dry anyway. Weather is a challenge regardless.  Climate change?  Yeah, that’s Missouri every year – one climate to another.

Exposing yearling heifers – this year I did it – for several years, I’ve only exposed heifers at 2 years not 1 and with good reason, my cows are a long way from my home so they cannot be observed or helped and it allows the animals to mature and puts less strain on their young body’s– I may totally regret exposing yearling heifers to the bulls vs exposing them as two-year-olds because I’ve done the math and it really is not much gain in my opinion to breed yearlings.  However, I do have to have two mobs instead of one and that is a considerable cost.  It is that expense (extra labor) that caused me to take a chance.  Next year calving season (2022) will determine the future of this choice.  On the front, it (keeping yearling heifers from joining) seems that one would only need a second mob for 45 days, however, that would mean mustering in all the cows and baby calves in the middle of the summer to sort off the yearling heifers before putting the bulls with the cows.  That is really not a smart activity that time of year and there I go back to molesting cows with young calves.  However, if I make a good plan and it’s not horribly hot and humid, it could be that the rotation will find them at the corral at a good time to sort off those younger heifers with little stress and perhaps another option of having them bred by my Corriente cross bulls.  So many plans, so little time!

These are the major changes I’m making in the day-to- day operation of my cow herd.  I’ve learnt a tremendous amount about observing gut fill, identifying healthy diet by the manure pat.  Using nonselective grazing keeps me in contact with my cows and they have become practically pets!  Not really, but they do seem to trust me more.  My cows are already quiet, but being around them more and we start to ‘read’ each other.  Much better manure distribution.  With nonselective grazing, scrap trees and brush may be better eaten, but if not, at least more visible so that I can lop or chainsaw them off and treat the stumps – and spray the multiflora bushes.  Though I only started total grazing last October and through the winter, those acres and have shown a massive increase in productivity.  Incredibly, there may be up to 6000 lbs of growth per acre for the cows to graze this winter, which for my farm, is a shocker!

GOALS:

Eliminate hay feeding as substitutional feed and even as supplemental (major expense and huge labor)

One mob (labor saving, less fence repair, better forage utilization, longer rest period)

Avoid ragweed season (sweet!)

Don’t move calving cows (no more lost or abandoned calves)

More effectively clear brush and tree sprouts

Grow more palatable forage and increase soil productivity and health

Resulting in a larger mob, less labor per AU, more profitability

Before implementing a major change, try to find others who’ve already done it and get advice.  Herculean effort and spending money are seldom the right answers.

Focus on what I really want to do and not use a shotgun approach as to stock raised and marketing efforts.

Harmony

There’s my good adapted girls chowing down on weeds!!

Positive Herding 101: Dog-friendly Training

Positive Herding 101: Dog-friendly training by Barbara Buchmayer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Herding dogs can be a valuable asset and companion to a rancher and his operation. Positive Herding 101 dog training book introduces the author, her personal experiences, expertise, and journey towards positive reinforcement dog training with real life examples. Each chapter explains in simple terms the solid foundations needed on which skills and lessons outlined in subsequent chapters are built. The training techniques, although for teaching the dog, are principles easily transferable to other animals, including the livestock themselves! By default, we also learn how to appropriately respond to stressors and pressures in our own lives. The photos and illustrations add helpful insights to the narrative. Great book!

Available at your favorite bookstore!



View all my reviews

Toxic Fescue Control with Tillage/Organic Cropping

There are a few ways to try to rid pastures of toxic endophyte infected fescue (E+ Fescue).

  1. Tillage and reseed
  2. Spray (with Roundup), Smother, Spray
  3. Tillage and farm for several years
  4. Total Grazing (this is the one i’m incorporating now – 2021)

Starting in the fall of 2016, I worked with an organic farmer friend and we wrote up a contract as to what would be done and preparation began.

The first step was for me to clear my pastures of obstacles for modern tillage equipment.

FESCUE CONTROL WITH ROW CROPPING

GETTING READY

TANNACHTONFARM One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project.  Alas, that isn’t true in my case.  Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan.  Old fence posts and wire had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.

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There’s been a 16 foot gate here for longer than i’ve been alive, although this is a new gate i had installed about 5 years ago.  But, 16 foot opening is far too narrow to pull in comfortably with big equipment, although you’d be amazed at what a skilled driver can get through!
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So, this is the new look – set two new corner posts and hung two 16 foot gates.  Very professionally done by Jim Fitzgerald.
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HUGE thank you and shout out to North Central Missouri Electric Coop for quickly removing, not only the lines from the transformer to the meter pole, but also my farm lines from the meter pole to windmill pump. About an 1/4 of a mile’s worth. While i did the ground work of chaining the pole to the front end loading, Dallas pulled the posts. Afterward, i dragged them to a burn pile with my Gator.
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The electric company removed the wires from two tall poles which were on my property.  Our little tractor had to shove a bit on the pole, then really hunker down to get these poles pulled up.  As you can see, they are buried quite deep.  Instead of burning these poles, they were cut to length and used as the corner posts for my new gateways!
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With most posts pulled up, Dallas is building me a low water crossing while I pull the remaining posts to burn pile and roll up another half a quarter mile of hi-tensile wire.  Weather is perfect for working but I’m about out of steam!
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I bet you were wondering how I can roll up 12 gauge hi-tensile electric wire.  The key is this spinning jenny from Powerflex Fence.  Don’t do this without a spinning jenny  Notice the rolls of wire I stored nearby; ready to roll back out after the 4 year renovation.  All told, I rolled up a bit more than 2 miles of hi-tensile wire and pulled some 140 fiberglass posts.  Many were 1 inch and were easily pulled by hand.  I hauled them all home and have them stored on a pallet in the barn.
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Here you can see the old hand strung electric line from way up at the barn down to the electrified pump.  It used to be run only with the windmill, but there is not enough reliable wind to make that very viable.  Anyway, those were the posts Dallas and I pulled up.

Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!


The second step was to watch my soil be disked and planted to organic soybeans. The contract stated that each fall after harvest either chicken litter would be applied OR cover crops would be planted for soil protection and provide plough down organic matter the following spring.

What actually happened was;

Year 1 – 2017 disking and planting to organic soybeans – ample waterways were left and of course the 20 foot minimum from perimeter (organic rules). Harvested late in fall. no cover/no manure

Year 2 – Annual rye was thrown out in the spring and allowed to grow then plough down and plant to organic soybeans – harvested in very late fall. no cover/no manure

Year 3 – Disked early, but no planting and was allowed to grow into weeds. Weeds were apparently approved by government to qualify as a cover crop for (weather) preventive planting payment.

Year 4 – Disked weeds under, planted organic soybeans, harvested in late fall and left my field with ridges from ridge tillage (extremely rough). No repair, no cover crop, no manure

Year 5 – end of contract and, in February, i moved my cows onto the 120 to start the cleanup and repair. The ridging repair was not completed, so i kept my cows shifting on this piece in hopes of keeping down the weeds for easier tillage to repair. By August, still no sign of the repair to be done, so i did it. It took two passes with tandem disk followed by a harrow and the soil is bare once again. However, there was a good amount of ragweed, cocklebur, and some grasses starting to establish which were disked under and should help hold soil in case of wind or torrential rain until young plants start popping up.

You can see the worked field which has now been bare soil since harvest of soybeans last November.  That means 6 months and counting of open, unprotected soil. For a grazier, this is hard to look at.

FESCUE CONTROL WITH ROW CROPPING

THOUGHTS ON LEASE CROPPING VS GRAZING YOUR OWN STOCK

TANNACHTONFARM

There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out.  Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan.  But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating.  Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid.  Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.

Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres(Bowyer Farm) for organic farming for 4 years.  My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops.  I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.

Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal).  I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.

Here are some bullet points i have:

  1. animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
  2. in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered.  (in fact, in Missouri, the owner must get permission from the tenant to even walk onto the property!) This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting.  (it’s now October 2019 and covered with weeds again). Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
  3. I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property.  I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor. 
  4. Lessees do not care for your property as you would.  Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land.  I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage.  In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow.  It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property. 
  5. This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again.  I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways.  My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules).  At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time. (mistakenly, i agreed to that)
  6. The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced.  Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’  This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had.  Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
  7. If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed.  We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market.  The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
  8. At the end of the day,  we do the best we can and then we die.  The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom.  A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on. Conventional, monoculture agriculture is government supported and is primarily how a farmer makes money.


The third step is move my cattle back in and begin the repair and return to perennial pastures for regenerative ranching.

Rolls of hi-tensile wire awaiting their return to work as paddock division fences.

FESCUE CONTROL WITH ROW CROPPING

FENCING, FENCING, FENCING

TANNACHTONFARM

Building fence, not the notion of combat sport.

Over 4 years ago, I rolled up the fence on the Bowyer farm and hung the hi-tensile wire rolls on the posts at the end of each run and stored the fiberglass posts in the barn on pallets. At age 55, i truly was questioning this decision to have the farm organically row cropped for 4 years in a quest to eliminate or set back the toxic endophyte infected fescue which had become quite horrible to animal and wildlife health. Reminding myself that, should i live long enough, i’d be reinstalling all this fence at age 59 – and here i am doing it. Praise Yah for the strength and health to do so.

In addition to moving fences on the east 320 in preparation for more efficient and effective total grazing, I’ve been doggedly setting up this 120 for total grazing. It is supposed to start raining this evening (Wednesday) and do so for more than a week, so i’ve spent hours each good day walking out hi-tensile line, pounding in posts, clipping the wire to the posts, setting up gateways, and scrambling up and down the ditches with drop lines through the many ditches and draws on my farm.

Additionally, as i’ve been putting in fence and taking a break from pounding in posts by hand, i spend time resting by lopping out locust tree sprouts and treating the stumps with RTU. The bigger trees will require my chainsaw, but there are really, really high winds right now plus i must focus most of my limited energy on getting the fences installed. Tree and brush removal is a HUGE job considering they were allowed to grow these past 7 years due to organic certification regulations. (3 years prior to organic farming, then 4 years of farming). I’ll likely use more time, fuel and chemical (including brush spraying) getting the place back under control than would have been needed keeping it under control since the cattle will actually eat a lot of the little sprouts and brush before they can grow into trees.

Bowyer farm with fences being re installed. The red lines are ones i have finished (with the exception of the north end because i have to burn brush piles created when logging out which are in the way, but it is set up with temp step in posts for now). The light purple lines are yet to be installed. So, i’ve installed 3/4 of a mile and i have about that much more to go. Actually the red line around the pond and the stretch to the south of it are barbed wire permanent.

The fourth step is to put numbers and thought to the final analysis.

The wrap up of working with a tenant and incorporating cropping with grazing.

I was notified after the last crop was harvested that the land was very ridged because the tenant had used a Buffalo ridge till cultivator.  He asked me if I wanted him to level it back out.  Not being familiar with such a practice, I said I would check it out and see if the cattle would fix it.  Quickly, I discovered that even hundreds of mobbed cattle would never repair the damage done to the lay of the land and asked the tenant to fix it so that it was like as he found it. 

In December nothing had been done, by spring, nothing again, so I began putting the paddock hi-tensile fences back in so I could begin managed grazing and moved the cows in as soon as there was something to graze.  Despite there being primarily cocklebur, ragweed, and foxtail, there was a massive amount of grazing for the cows.  They did a very good job eating the weeds and thereby keeping them short as I waited and waited for the tenant to return to fix the fields.  By August, it was clear he was not going to get the job done, so between myself, my son, and a young man who was willing to work, we got the double disking followed by harrowing to smooth the ground done.

Something had to be done quickly since some of the paddocks had weeds nearly three feet tall and growing rapidly in the hot dry summer, so we pulled our old 14-foot disc out of the fence row, put on new tires, greased it up and off to the field. Double disking was required to take out all the ridges caused by the Buffalo ridge tiller used on the 100 acres of tilled soil then we followed up with a 23-foot harrow. This really did a good enough job since now the field will rest until grazing for winter stockpile in November 2023.

(After visiting with Jaime Elizondo, I may no-till a summer annual (sorghum almum) in May to provide some roots and shade for the soil. It can be grazed safely in about 30 days, then the entire field will be allowed to return to perennial pasture and stockpiled until November 2023)

Now, though my fields are once again bare to wind and sun, it was a necessary step.  I did not plant any forages in the soil since I think there will be plenty of seeds already in the soil and many young plants could already be observed from summer growth. 

In an ideal scenario, the field work should have been done immediately or shortly after soybean harvest of 2020 and would have been a fabulous opportunity to sneak off another crop – wheat – when grass seeds could also be thrown out. Harvest the wheat the next summer and a nice cover of grasses and forbes underneath. Field work done, living roots in the soil all winter, crop in the summer, ready to stockpile for winter grazing. But it didn’t happen! This is why i submit that to manage crop/pasture rotation and improvement the landowner must do it or maintain total control at all times.

I did not include the $8300 worth of lime spread on the place because it sort of stays there for future use though i hear that soybeans use up a lot of lime. 

Remember that my main purposes for allowing the property to be farmed was to try and eliminate toxic fescue, to allow my neighbor and friend more acreage for his farming operation and I knew he would respect it as best as he could.  He left ample waterways, left the steep bits unturned and did not turn the soil more than necessary, thereby hopefully not destroying microbes and mycorrhizal symbiotic relationships even after four years.

Time will tell if this has any effect on setting the fescue back.  However, I was very excited to view the soil test results.  Something happened with tillage, application of lime, a couple of ‘cover crops’, and soybeans.  Not surprising was the reduction in organic matter, but with proper total grazing management, that’ll be set to right or better in a year or two.

Excessive growth of forages will cause too much thatch covering the soil and not allow young plants to grow through or at least set them back.  Good grazing management and disturbance (cattle walking around) will help alleviate this issue.

Having no animal impact on grass pastures results in overgrowth which kills out good forages.  Thankfully, managed, nonselective grazing will put this problem to rights within one growing season. 

The numbers:

You may choose not to include opportunity cost. Note that i did not include the lime cost of $8300. I hope that there will plenty of residual going forward in perennial pasturing. You can easily see why landowners, especially absentee landlords, will allow even their marginal pastures to fall to the plough. There is a cost of disturbing the soil (soil erosion, land loss, fertilizer, repair, brush removal), but government payments, land appreciation, and inflation will carry the day.

The big surprise was the release of nutrients in the soil as per this basic soil analysis. I took samples in the same spots at the same time of year and sent to the same lab with same parameters for best comparison.

All in all, the question becomes ‘would i do it again?’ The answer of course, is ‘it depends.’ Seven and eight year crop/pasture rotations have been in practice for millennia and even as soon as just 80 years ago, but the right protocols must be followed for any good results. Typically, 3 years cropping, 4 years of annual/perennial pasture/hay. However, to do this, one needs to maintain full control, which would include owning expensive machinery and someone on staff who wants to and knows how to run it and achieve the work in a timely manner.

Using biblical principle of counting the cost in advance was wise, but i neglected to realize how much it would bother me to disturb the soil in such a manner. As a friend pointed out “at the end you will know what you didn’t know.‘ And that is so true – no use lamenting the choice now, learn from it and remember.

The five principles of soil health are:

  1. Limited disturbance. Limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance of soil. Tillage destroys soil structure. It is constantly tearing apart the “house” that nature builds to protect the living organisms in the soil that create natural soil fertility. Soil structure includes aggregates and pore spaces (openings that allow water to infiltrate the soil). The result of tillage is soil erosion, the wasting of a precious natural resource. Synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides all have negative impacts on life in the soil as well.
  2. Armor. Keep soil covered at all times. This is a critical step toward rebuilding soil health. Bare soil is an anomaly—nature always works to cover soil. Providing a natural “coat of armor” protects soil from wind and water erosion while providing food and habitat for macro- and microorganisms. It will also prevent moisture evaporation and germination of weed seeds.
  3. Diversity. Strive for diversity of both plant and animal species. Where in nature does one find monocultures? Only where humans have put them! When I look out over a stretch of native prairie, one of the first things I notice is the incredible diversity. Grasses, forbs, legumes, and shrubs all live and thrive in harmony with each other. Think of what each of these species has to offer. Some have shallow roots, some deep, some fibrous, some tap. Some are high-carbon, some are low-carbon, some are legumes. Each of them plays a role in maintaining soil health. Diversity enhances ecosystem function.
  4. Living roots. Maintain a living root in soil as long as possible throughout the year. Take a walk in the spring and you will see green plants poking their way through the last of the snow. Follow the same path in late fall or early winter and you will still see green, growing plants, which is a sign of living roots. Those living roots are feeding soil biology by providing its basic food source: carbon. This biology, in turn, fuels the nutrient cycle that feeds plants. Where I live in central North Dakota, we typically get our last spring frost around mid-May and our first fall frost around mid-September. I used to think those 120 days were my whole growing season. How wrong I was. We now plant fall-seeded biennials that continue growing into early winter and break dormancy earlier in the spring, thus feeding soil organisms at a time when the cropland used to lie idle.
  5. Integrated animals. Nature does not function without animals. It is that simple. Integrating livestock onto an operation provides many benefits. The major benefit is that the grazing of plants stimulates the plants to pump more carbon into the soil. This drives nutrient cycling by feeding biology. Of course, it also has a major, positive impact on climate change by cycling more carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil. And if you want a healthy, functioning ecosystem on your farm or ranch, you must provide a home and habitat for not only farm animals but also pollinators, predator insects, earthworms, and all of the microbiology that drive ecosystem function.

When to Calve

To all there is an appointed time, even a time for every purpose under the heavens: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pull up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to let wander away; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew together; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (Hebraic Roots Bible)

For the past several years, my cows have been bred to calve 15 April to 30 May. Though that is earlier than i prefer, it was a decision i made some 8 years ago because i was having up to 30% death loss in baby calves getting scours. Scours so bad that sometimes the calves would die before they even passed that first scouring poop! That was calving 15 May to 30 June. So after a great deal of research into the possibilities, i made the decision to push it back. And that made all the difference – not one single case of scours since that time.

Now, i did sell those cows which lost their calves, so that is likely a good part in the reason there are no longer any cases of scours, yet it’s not the full explanation. Corriente cows tend to have rich milk, which, combined with the heat caused by grazing toxic fescue and the outside air temperature may cause additional stress on baby calves.

However, today’s weather is a reminder of why April is too early in north central Missouri to start the calving. Although my calving season officially starts 15 April, there have already been 6 calves born – fortunately, the weather has been decent until today and it is pouring down cold rain, muddy conditions, temperature at 46F (wind chill 40F) and a stiff 14 mph NNW winter type wind. Very hard are on young and newborn calves.

So, yesterday, after hearing once again from Jaime Elizondo (others have advised as well and i know better), i plan to wait to turn in the bulls 23 July for 45 days. It is with trepidation that i make this change when, despite crappy April weather these past several years, i’ve not lost any baby calves.

Here is to change once again. On the other end of it, it’s always a problem to wean calves the first week of March when grass is yet so far away and there is bitter weather ahead of them. Calving later will allow me to wait another 2-3 weeks before weaning the following year and the cows will have better weather in which to regain good condition. However, leaving the bulls in a couple more weeks is the only way to avoid me being in ragweed season to remove them. (many of my decisions revolve around ragweed season due to me being incapacitated during that time)

So, what have i decided going forward? To completely avoid ragweed season, I plan to turn out the bulls about August 4 and pull them back out about 45 days later which is September 19. Hope it works!!!

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Calves born earlier – before the onset of toxic endophyte fescue – thrived! This Longhorn cow had a dandy heifer calf.
Never plan to have cows calving in the winter! This was a purchased cow which the seller assured me they were spring calvers – he lied.

Winter Squash Rolls

Oh my goodness – found this recipe – modified it a bit – and, VOILA! New one for my family recipe book. What an absolutely awesome use of all that frozen winter squash in my freezer. Pumpkins, Jarradahls, Acorn squash, butternut, and probably Queensland Blues.

WINTER SQUASH ROLLS

Makes 12-24 rolls

INGREDIENTS:

1 ½ cups cooked, smashed, cooled winter squash
1 cup scalded milk
2 scant tablespoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
6 cups Sunrise Mills flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup butter

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  After bloom (about 10 minutes), add 5 cups of flour (I use a combo of whole wheat, bread, and white), sugar, butter, squash, and milk.  Stir with dough hook as you are slowly adding each item. Add the remaining cup of flour as needed for nonsticky dough.

Lightly oil the bowl and turn dough to coat with oil, cover bowl with a damp towel.  Rise 1 hour (maybe a bit more) in a warm spot.

Divide the dough into 12 or 24 pieces (I go with 24 because we simply don’t need a huge roll).  Form the pieces into rounds, then place on a lightly greased 12 x 15 baking.  (I used a stone).  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double.  45 minutes or so.

Bake at 400° F (200°) for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy!!!

Faith, Family, Farm

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