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!!