Category Archives: Grass & Forages

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.

Deer Are A Menace

Those of us in certain areas of the US are challenged daily by the abundance of White-tailed Deer. While beautiful and a necessary part of the ecosystem, they are very destructive. Not only do they eat a large portion of crops, graze massive amounts of stockpiled forage, run out in front of your vehicle (keeps the car repairmen in business), but they run through fences like they can’t even see them! Frustrating.

As i continue my journey through Real Wealth Ranching precepts by using Total Grazing protocols, there are issues come up that are not necessarily unforeseen, but brought to the fore as the year progresses.

One of those is the deer taking out interior hi-tensile paddock division fences. Although they do this year round and in any kind of managed grazing system, it is especially noticeable with total grazing because of the long rest period to grow fat roots. There is SO much forage and if the fence has been torn down, the tall grass grows over the wires making it very difficult to pull back up for repair.

This scenario was one of yesterday’s tasks for me on a 1/4 mile of 2 wire hi-tensile. About 2/3rds of the way pulling up both wires, i gave up and concentrated on getting the top wire pulled up and will leave the bottom wire for after the cows nonselectively graze over so it will be easier to pick it up. Nevertheless, I liken this activity to a similar exertion of shoveling 2-3 inches of heavy snow for 1/4 mile. Yes, it was difficult, but doable in the 4-6 tons/acre of laid over and heavy stockpile.

Whilst pulling up and preparing to repair the wire, I came across this kink. Don’t even risk tightening the wire with a kink in hi-tensile wire – it will break. Take the time to repair it now. Cut out the link and attach wires with a Gripple.
Pull ‘tails through and leave plenty of length for the next repair. If this is the regular pathway for deer, you will need to repair it over and over. Leaving plenty of lead wire make future repairs much easier.
Because i leave plenty of ‘tail,’ this wire can be easily reattached by sliding (using a Gripple Adjustment Key) the Gripple closer to the open bit of wire allowing the two wires to be pulled together and through the Gripple. Simple retighten with a Gripple Torque Tool at that point – done and done unless posts are also pulled out of the ground. Thankfully, i didn’t have that to do this time.
Fence is hot!

Arctic Plunge!

Indeed we had a huge drop in temperatures and windchill numbers. Outdoors went from ‘what a blessing!’ to ‘ooh, winter is getting even.’ Above ‘normal’ to ‘well below normal’ which evens out to ‘normal.’

Is there climate change? i haven’t lived long enough to know whether that is a permanent change or just ‘normal’ shifts in weather patterns. I have noticed a shift in having nicer weather almost to the winter solstice, but lingering bitter weather until spring equinox. Annual rainfall tends to arrive in ‘events’ rather than scattered throughout the year and the timing of the rains have changed. But that’s only been the past 5 years – it could be ‘normal’ in 2022. But if the cultural upheaval is any indication, there won’t be normal.

How does total grazing look when it gets this cold? Not much change, except,

  1. i am leaving a bit more residual so the cows and calves will have more ground cover to lay on for protection from the frozen ground and provide better footing on the snow and ice.
  2. Access to more forage allows them to fill guts more easily and completely – the super cold really makes them hungry!
  3. On my farm, there is little need for trees or other windbreaks because the land is quite undulating and there is typically somewhere the cows can lay out of the wind but would be a consideration if one had flat land.
  4. I’m only providing 1 to 2 moves per day. It is so cold, i simply cannot handle being outside. Also, as the ground continues to freezer harder and harder, even that protected under tall forage is becoming more difficult to install step in posts to set up fence. So far, so good on that though.
  5. Keeping the water available has been a challenge as well – even with the leak valve full open, the rising water level forms an ice sheet by the time it reaches the overflow pipe and with not enough pressure to keep it flowing then it doesn’t flow over. The float freezes ‘up’ in the ice sheet as well, thereby keeping that higher flow from entering as well. Thankfully, the intake pipe from the pond has not frozen.

Having the cows run low or out of water has caused great problems with the cows getting out of their prescribed paddock since the mob the tank and push through the electric rope. This is frustrating, but understandable. So, i’ve had to check water everyday for sure.

Another observation is that with nonselective grazing, keeping stock focused on their work and not escaping to ‘greener’ pastures is more difficult than with selective grazing. Even with brown looking stockpile, the calves and sometimes followed by the cows, will find the smallest break in the fence such as a new washout under the hot wire and nearly every animal will soon find it and escape. I’ve had to bolster the paddock they are in to fix this situation. Bad habits are easy to start, harder to break. There are even a couple cows who seem to suddenly want to jump the hi-tensile fence to get to the other side even though what they have is exactly the same – they just are ‘free’ from being next to their mates.

Here’s a sample of forage the cows and calves have now to eat. This paddock has actually been rested since May 25, 2020. It is more mature than the real wealth ranching/total grazing protocol, but it’s what i have. Hopefully, this coming grazing season, i can do a better job by having more livestock – unless we have a drought. Who knows what the new year will bring. I’m thinking of keeping this good steer calf and growing him up as my lead steer/nanny for future calf weaning events. An adult in the room always seems to help youngsters learn the ropes of growing up and accepting new responsibilities. They can’t learn well from their peers.

Grazing Winter Stockpile

My plan was to muster in the cattle, sort off the randy bull calves (they are about 8 months old now) to wean. Also, my husband has a few cows i’m grazing for him and one of them i noticed had been in heat a couple times, so took her out (she is without calf), and earlier in the year, I’d purchased some large frame heifers to breed then resell.

Normally, the freshly weaned calves would be fence lined weaned for about three days but with only 7 weaned, i didn’t want to mess with setting up feed bunks and feeding so far from our house. I don’t feed grain, but do like to get them started on high protein alfalfa pellets (or better, quality alfalfa hay) since stockpiled forages or hay could be too low in quality for young growing animals.

The remaining cows, calves, and first calf heifers began winter grazing on December 18. There is a bit leftover from the growing season they could grub around on, and as they winter graze, i might let them back to those paddocks if it is convenient, but for now they will move forward on the grazing plan. It is also important that they graze the particular paddocks they are on now because I’ve hired a fence crew to come in and replace a quarter mile of perimeter fence between my neighbor and me. If the cows graze down the grass, then it won’t be destroyed as the contractors move equipment in and, the shorter grass will allow the soil to freeze harder for easier access as well.

In the meantime, here are some snapshots.

Total grazing allows me to manage my livestock’s forage intake through multiple moves, though often i end up with moving only once a day. However, mostly I have enough time to move them 2-3 times. It depends on the weather and the time i have available to spend away from home. Step in postshttps://powerflexfence.com/collections/portable-fencing/products/obtp-white-obrien-tredaline-post-white-temporarily-on-back-order and polybraid electric fence make this a mostly easy task.
Total grazing encourages the cows to eat all the forage and not be participating in selective grazing – i’m effectively teaching them to clean their plates. By removing less desirable forage species along with the ‘ice cream’ more ‘ice cream’ can grow. Before allowing the cows to move forward, I encourage them to get up and do their evacuations on the grazed areas so they don’t foul the new break. Total grazing is not just forcing cows to eat everything, it is a plan to keep cows, plants, soil, water, and wallets fat and healthy. This photo illustrates a very nice nutrient distribution.
A cow manure pat indicating good digestion and a properly balanced diet.

Hauling Hay With Ease!

This entry was written late summer of 2019 and it’s now December 2021 and the weather patterns have continued with rain in spring and into early summer – seldom coming as gently slow rains, but ‘rain events,’  In other words, we receive 4-8 inches in a few hours or a day.  Then it completely dries up from early August until late October or even into winter – this is the critical period in which we depend on voluminous growth of grasses for winter stockpile grazing.  In summer of 2020, I decided I would no longer feed hay – it’s too much work and very expensive.  At nearly the same time, I was introduced to Real Wealth Ranching developed and taught by Jaime Elizondo and this was the direction I’ve embraced this past year (fall 2020 – fall 2021) and plans are in place to graze through the winter using Total Grazing protocol.


Last winter (winter 2019) was a nightmare of feeding hay.  We knew that winter stockpile for grazing was in short supply because we’d had two years of drought followed by wet weather AFTER the growing season in the fall.  We sold about 30% of our cows and had a normal supply of hay yet that wasn’t enough because winter began much earlier and wouldn’t let up until late May.  This was the second severe and harsh winter in a row.  Cows came out of it this spring in pretty rough condition.  Not wanting to ever get in that spot again, we researched inline hay trailers to help us haul hay home from local purchases.  After watching a lot of Youtube videos and learning about the various brands and what to look for, we decided on a Missouri built model Freedom Hay Trailers that we purchased from a Raymer Farms Sales & Service near Green City, MO.  (Actually just accidentally found them on Craigslist whilst searching for more hay this past spring (2019))

Allen purchased another 270 bales here just a couple weeks ago and the weather was perfect for hauling on gravel roads and dumping into pastures, so i got crackin’ and ended up pulling 11 loads to my farm about 13 miles from the hay field to my farm and includes mostly narrow, uneven, hilly, bumpy paved roads followed by 2 miles of steep single lane gravel/dirt roads then pulled into the pasture.  Except for loading, i handled the pulling, net removal, and dumping by myself.  Allen had hauled several loads from another location earlier this year.  I don’t know how we got along now without it!  Very convenient time saver.

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I’m sitting in the pickup watching Dallas load 7 bales on the 36 foot hay trailer.  My first couple loads on such rough and narrow roads with a trailer that is 12 feet longer than i’m used to, i tended to be pretty cautious.  After that, seeing how the trailer is reliable and able to handle the conditions (and i got used to how differently the longer trailer took corners and handled), it was business as usual – roll on!

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When loading and hauling by yourself, you’ll need to cut a length of 2×4 to hold down the foot brake; the parking brake will not hold when the tractor is shoving the bales on from behind.

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With the board holding down the brake, I can jump out and snap a photo of Dallas loading the last bale.  It takes Dallas 6 minutes to load this trailer with 7 count 1400 lb bales.

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Upon arrival at the dump site, I cut off the net wrap because i’m going to put this straight out for cattle to eat.  Slice through the net wrap on the side opposite of the dump mechanism.

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Once cut, then go to the other side and pull the net wrap over and down from the bale.

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Remove the red safety bar, then it’s ready to dump the bales.  We purchased the hydraulic mechanism.  Yeah, it’s a bit more money- just get it.  I took Dallas on this trip so i could take photos.

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Remove the net wrap and ball it up on the pickup.   Never leave nylon strings or net wrap out in the pasture.  Here the cradle is reset and red safety bar back in place.

Shoulda Listened the first time

Ten years ago, my good friend, Jim Gerrish, (American Grazinglands, LLC) stopped by on his way from his daughter’s house back to his home in Idaho and we walked my farm, which he was already familiar with from his days at FSRC as lead grazing specialist, (and as our neighbour) and he worked up a paddock design and grazing plan. I did not follow it to the letter, but just recently, I have taken MiG (management-intensive grazing) to the next logical step in Total Grazing concept as taught by Jaime Elizondo, I am moving fences and retooling. Early this morning, i woke to the possibility that i was moving towards Jim’s original design and recommendation. I pulled out the professional consultation booklet and, sure enough, it is nearly precisely what i’m now moving towards. Now, the changes are not huge, but they are critical and a good workout.

Now, in my defense, there is a reason that i didn’t go entirely with his plan and that is because the EQIP program i signed up for which paid for all this fencing required solar water/temporary water tanks. Since i am not comfortable depending on solar/battery water pump when checking the cows only every 3 days, i could not, in my quality of life choice, rely on solar pump supply. My pump doesn’t have a check on it, indeed it will pump for 45 minutes per battery then completely drain that battery and the solar panel cannot recharge it once it is flat. That is a problem. Now i have significantly improved that situation because now two batteries are linked together. In other words, if the cattle drink a lot at night or when the skies are super dark for an extended period, the batteries will allow about 1 1/2 hours of continuous pumping and will be flat if there is no voltaic recharge during that time. However, having two batteries there has not been a charging failure.

Since I’ve discovered the new (to me) Total Grazing program in which the best balance is 4x moves per day nonselective grazing (for cattle satiation and soil/forage improvement), i will be at my farm nearly everyday or as often as possible so i can keep an eye on water supply from the solar pump. There are a lot of other things i can do whilst there, plus being away from home, maybe i can lose a few pounds by avoiding easy access to food. In fact, today i am actually looking at quality tents so i can spend more time camping and fishing in the two big ponds i stocked with good fish a few years back. (Any recommendations on waterproof tents?!)

Okay, back to the story – Jim figures with my soil types (but not having tested how poor and depleted they are), that 400-500 animals units could be sustained year round on my 520 acres. However, despite 3 day grazing periods and 40 day day rest periods, i found that the carrying capacity has appreciably declined each year even though a LOT of hay was being fed. Something had to change leading to selling off some 76 head of cows/calves last fall. There are but 75 animal units now and i still am feeding some hay even now, in large part, to protect the tiny green plants trying to grow – May 1 is our traditional ‘start of grazing season’ date in north Missouri. The decline in numbers is also due in large part of leasing out 120 acres to organic soybean cropping these past 4 years.

Jim also uses an 80% seasonal utilization on cool season pastures and 60% for warm season, but MiG as i was implementing it, couldn’t come close to that! Therein lies the change in movement, allocation, and observation of gut fill, manure consistency, and plant growth. BUT, and this is a big but, it will require me to be at the farm full time. Given the distance to drive there is the challenge to try and fit into a quality of life long term decision. But my life has far fewer demands on my time now that the children are educated, grown, and gone (except for Dallas – thank goodness he has stayed to help!)

Cheers!

tauna