A Spot of Winter

Yesterday (the 16th) is cold with a sharp wind, but sunny – not cold like in states closer to the 49th N parallel, but i don’t live there – my north Missouri Tannachton Farm at 39.95 is even too far north, but this is where my husband lives, so guess i’ll hang around.

Anyway, today the ice is coating all surfaces and the forecast is snow, single digits, sleet, ice, pellets, wind so to prepare for a nasty week ahead, I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s weather to set up a polywire electric fence with step in posts to strip off 1/4 of me cows’ next paddock.  If ground is somewhat dry and there is no ice, i have to weigh in my mind whether or not it is better to give them a 20 acre paddock vs a portion.  They won’t waste a lot in those conditions, so does my labor in setting up the fence offset less waste?  This is how i think.

However, knowing there is going to be ice coming, i know that once quality and quantity winter stockpile is coated in ice, each hoof step can break the stems and leaves and do considerable damage to the grazing experience.  Then my labor becomes much more valuable.

Considerations:

  1. evaluate quantity and quality of stockpiled forage.
  2. evaluate ground/weather conditions as to amount which may be destroyed just by livestock walking on the forage.  (mud, ice, rain)
  3. Dry cows in good condition need the least quality of forage – if you have finishing cattle, young cattle, thin, or nursing cows, higher quality forage is necessary.

These factors give value to your labor.  How much you determine your time to be worth will decide whether or not you can justify driving to your cattle and stripping off small allotments of grazing.

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How do i shift cows?  open the gate and get out of the way!

 

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In just a couple minutes all 170 animal units are shifted to new paddock.  Happy cows and calves.
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Get out of their way.

 

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Candy to a cow in mid-January with an ice storm on the way.  Filling their bellies!
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This tire tank is protected from wind and catches the sun.  With 170 animal units watering out of it, it takes many days of bitter weather before i need to start the overflow or chop ice.  You can see a bit of floating ice that the cows easily broke through by themselves in this tank.
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Polywire (i actually use this Powerflex polybraid– it lasts much longer than twisted wire) and pig tail step in posts.
Buckman 80
My cows are on the part of Tannachton Farm i call the Buckman 80 because i bought it from Jesse and Janice Buckman years ago.  The red line is the barbed wire perimeter, the yellow is the ‘permanent’ hi-tensile electrified single strand wire powered by a Parmak solar 12 volt energiser.  The purple line shows where i put up the polybraid for temporary grazing (strip grazing).  The area measures about 6.5 acres, i estimate 5000 lbs per acre of standing dry matter for grazing.  My mob eats about 6000 lbs per day, so 6 acres times 5000 lbs equals 30,000 lbs.  Divide that by 6000 allows about 5 days of grazing.  Always estimate conservatively to allow for waste and error in estimates.
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Buckman 80 in the fall.
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This is the same paddock though being strip grazed in the spring.  

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer?

This article is printed in the most recent issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer and written by our good friend, Jim Gerrish.  For more great articles like this, subscribe to The Stockman Grassfarmer.  If you are interested in an upcoming speaking engagement or prefer private consultation, contact Jim.

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer? By Jim Gerrish

MAY, Idaho,

Allan Nation used the term “grass farmer” to describe a new type of agricultural producer who was something beyond the conventional mold of a farmer or a rancher.

The true grass farmer is someone who understands the foundation of our business is harvesting solar energy and converting it into a salable product.

A grass farmer strives to create a healthy landscape where water infiltrates and does not escape the boundaries of the farm as runoff; someone who understands that life in the soil is as critical to farm production as the life above the soil.

A grass farmer understands the fewer steps you put between your livestock and the direct harvest of solar energy, the more likely it is that you will be profitable.

The true grass farmer is someone who becomes one with their landscape and the life within it.  Grass farming has been described as farming in harmony with nature.  This is contrary to many of the basic tenets of conventional or industrial farming where nature is viewed more as an enemy to be vanquished.  Droughts and floods.  Weeds and bugs, Scorching summer and bitter winter.  All of these are aspects of nature conventional farmers and ranchers do daily battle to overcome.

It is very hard for most conventional farmers to understand grass farmers.  For this lack of understanding grass farmers are often ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes, sadly, beaten into submission to the gods of iron and oil.  Sometimes that conflict is fought in the local coffee shop, sometimes across the neighbor’s fence line, and sometimes across the kitchen table.

That brings me to the consideration of what is the grass farmer’s greatest challenge.

Four years ago, I received an anonymous letter from a frustrated grass farmer.  It was five pages long and it outlines a 30-year long struggle to convert the family farming operation to an entirely pasture-based grass farming business.  The letter writer asked me to somehow tell this story and try to help other farm families struggling with the same issues find some resolution.

I thought about that letter quite a bit at the time and tried to find something to pull out of it for a monthly column.  I came up empty.

Earlier this year, I spent a day with a farm family and when I left, one of the family members put an envelope in my hand and suggested I read the contents some time later,. I did and, lo and behold, it was the same letter I had received anonymously four years earlier.

Now I had a face and a person to attach the story to.  The victim-less crime now had a victim.  How many times do we experience that in life?  Some issue that never mattered an iota to us becomes a cause when it becomes personal.

I think the greatest challenge to becoming a true grass farmer are those family members who cannot see the farm with the same vision.

If your brother is a crop farmer who sees only gross income, how is he going to switch from growing corn bringing in $1000/acre to a cow-calf operation with a revenue of only $300/acre?  That is a very hard sell.  But, why does he have a job in town?  He says he can’t make it just farming.  When the breakeven cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3.85/bushel and the price is $3.46/bushel, a gross income of $1000 doesn’t pay the bills.

If you have a gross margin of $240/calf and it takes you three acres to run a pair year around, the gross margin per acre is $80.  Which enterprise is actually better for the farm?

As long as your brother looks at gross income rather than gross margin per acre, he will never understand grass farming as a viable business.

When you have been taught all your life to till ground, kill weeds, spray bugs, and take whatever price the elevator offers you, it is hard to understand there is another way to use the farm.

If your culture says land must be divided with a 5-strand barbwire fence on the quarter section line, how can you accept weird shaped pastures created with single polywire?  The whole cultural construct must first change.

As long as the mentality is that is it OK to spend $100,000 for a new tractor but you must buy the cheapest electric fence energizer at the farm and home store, grass farming will not move ahead.  As long as the thought process i that the land rental rate is too high to run cattle on that field so we better plow it up, grass farming will never advance.

When farmers can wrap their heads around the idea that Mother Nature is our friend, then grass farming will move forward.  When we truly believe our mission as stewards of the land is to create a living landscape on every acre of ground we manage, then we will become true grass farmers.

Sadly, that is why we still say we advance only one funeral at a time.

Hate to start the New Year with such a downer thought.  Let’s see what February brings.

 

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant provide service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 26.  He will present a Stockman Grass Farmer Grassroots of Grazing Schooland a Stockman Grass Farmer Management-Intensive Grazing School in February.  

 

 

Ultimate Glamping

Fundo Panguilemu is just a 20 minute drive from Coyhaique, Chile.  Stepping into your booked yurt is settling into surprisingly luxurious accommodation overlooking the renowned Simpson River – famous for waters rich with trout and perfect for fly fishing.  and quiet.  Peace and quiet with dark skies and stars like diamonds.

Relax and get away from it all, fly fish, go for a hike, sign up for horse trekking, or just enjoy being on a working farm complete with sheep, cattle, chickens, and horses.  Owners José and Elizabeth are dedicated to regenerating their beautiful property to an even higher level of productivity and beauty through proper management of resources and they are happy to share their knowledge with anyone interested in such endeavors.

Follow along on Fundo Panguilemu Facebook page.  There is good reason to plan your Chilean trip around this outstanding experience.

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Walking towards one of three yurts available for booking.

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There are two other yurts available.  you can see both here along with the larger one to the left of the photo which is the commons area where meals are provided (kitchen in the silver shed in back)
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Your hosts, José and Elizabeth.

Trekking and Mustering

Can i just giggle?  will i sound like an insane person?  you’ll forgive me when you see the photos of the horse trekking our Savory Journey group took this morning at Fundo Panguilemu.  Much to Jose’s frustration, the sheep were out, but we all enjoyed mustering them back to their proper paddock — On horseback!  Have trailed cattle on foot in Kenya and Argentina, and now mustered sheep on horseback in Chile.  I am blessed.

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Getting ready to ride!
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Our wonderful hosts serving us Pisco Sours on the banks of the Simpson River.

Milk Run: Mediator (Esther 4:12-14)

Shabbat Shalom!

Enter Wonderland

This is one of a series of posts called Milk Runs which are intended to provide short, clear teachings from the Bible and their application for Christians.  For more information about the series, please see the explanatory post.  Now to the regularly scheduled programming:


When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:12-14 (NIV)

The book of Esther is a little strange.  It starts with some background info that tells of King Xerxes wanting to show off his queen, Vashti, and…

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Across Country-Across the Borders

After a great supper followed by a good night’s sleep and enjoying a delicious breakfast next morning, we loaded in our vehicles and headed for the Argentinian border.  Crossing the border here is just part of the experience.  There are two windows and agents to visit with at each border with a driving space of about 7 kilometers between the two.  Getting out, showing and studying paperwork (for vehicles and people), stamping, questions, get loaded back up.  It took our small tour of about ten people, 2 hours to navigate this labyrinth.  The return was somewhat quicker – still a few bumps and luggage needed to be opened but only a cursory examination, more paperwork.  If you don’t have your paperwork in order, chances are good, you will not cross.

But the effort was worth it once we arrived at Numancia Estacion.  First greeted with open warm hospitality and then seated informally for a traditional Argentinian meal.  We did have to wait about an hour for the rain to stop before we began our now shortened farm walk.  Pablo shared details of his Hereford cattle program and Merino sheep scheme.  Then we went out to examine how his 10-year implementation of managed grazing has improved forage quality and yield.

Back to Coyhaique for supper at Hotel El Reloj (awesome) then to Raices Bed and Breakfastjust before they closed the doors for the night!  Finally to be in bed by midnight – scheduled departure is at 5:15a to meet a family business to take us to see the condors on a cliff side.

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Now this is just a fun group.  On the left front, Mimi Hillenbrand, owner of 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota, as well as recent owner of a small property in Chili and on the right front, Elizabeth, owner of Fundo Panguilemu.  Photo taken just before supper at Cabañas El Diamante
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El Diamante’s owner (on the right) is assisting the builder with sprucing up the lovely accommodation and meals served business in Chile.  Stihl chainsaws all over the world!

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Our host slicing off slabs of tender juicy lamb to serve to his guests.  
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Pablo explaining his pasture improvement methods.
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Yes, we got to walk these quiet Hereford pairs into another lot.
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This and several other Merino rams being graded for quality by an inspector for a composite which tries to improve both wool and meat quality.

777 Bison Ranch

So, the short story is that an awesomely talented and accomplished woman, Mimi Hillenbrand, has for some years owned and managed the 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota in a holistic manner vis-à-vis that which is promoted by the Savory Institute or Holistic Management International.  Bison on an open ranch of thousands of acres requires a bit different approach to grazing pressure and rest to improve the soil health and forage quality/quantity.  It was very interesting to hear how she handles the animals.

These past few years, she purchased a smaller property in Chile she named 45 South to not only improve the pastures, (though using cattle this time) but also just to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and to live in a completely different culture –at least part time.

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It will take more years, but with managed cattle impact on the land, improvement can already be measured.
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Properly managed livestock impact is critical to healing the land.