Category Archives: Total Grazing-Real Wealth Ranching

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!!

Stop being Lazy!

Wrestling with the option of moving my cows across the road to the Bowyer Farm or setting up 1/3 of a mile of poly braid and step in posts, then cajoling the cows to follow me nearly a mile to hay bales set for bale grazing, i decided to do the easy (but wrong) of moving them across the road ….. until i listened in on Jaime Elizondo’s Q and A session on total grazing/adapted genetics. Someone asked a question pertinent to my situation and Jaime’s answer goaded me into the proper choice.

In actuality, this afternoon turned out sunny and reasonably warm, so it was a pleasure to do much walking. The cows were taking their afternoon nap, so after encouraging those lying down get up, they decided to patronize me by following me to the chosen paddock with hay. They were quite pleased with the grazing selection.

Set up with Thorvin kelp and natural salt in the mineral pan and a 200 lb tub of 20% mineral supplement (to help with digesting the high fiber diet), they settled in and seemed content for Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom, my friends!!

tauna

Why was this the right decision? 1) keeps cows from grazing those young plants trying to green up and grow. Grazing too soon will set the grass growth back for the entire year! 2) the green grass will be too high of protein and likely cause squirty manure which can lead to loss of body condition and a host of infirmaries due to high pH in the gut.

Most were happy to chow down on some good hay – others wanted to nibble at a speck o’ green.

With my new total grazing scheme, this little Delar Small Burnett plant will have a year without grazing (well, can’t control the marauding deer) to fully express its potential.

Total Grazing/Genetic Adaptation

Hoof impact, at high densities, allows for breaking any crust in the soil surface, improving gas interchange to where our best forage species thrive.  Saliva, applied close to the crown of our forages, enhances regrowth by up to 80%.

Dung and urine contain microorganisms that enhance soil life.  But if we apply chemicals to soil or livestock, we may end up killing soil and insect life.

This goes against maximum production with the low-cost biological methods required to increase humus content in our soils.

We must remember a ranch or farm is a living organism and should be treated as one.”

Jaime Elizondo

Real Wealth Ranching

Winter Grazing

Remember when several weeks ago i commented on how fortunate it was that i could begin the grazing program as taught by Jaime Elizondo which he terms #total grazing or #nonselective grazing. Well, the easy street is well over. I went on a couple week getaway and came back to 8-10 inches of snow and single digit daytime highs and below zero night time lows with wind chills well be low zero. Although other producers who are much more dedicated than i am are doing a stunning job of total grazing right through the snow and cold as evidenced by the beautiful photos they post on Instagram.

But i cannot do cold – never could – so if i can get my cows on a 10 acre to 20 acre paddock with tall grass and running water in the ditch and provide them with protein tubs, kelp, and salt – i say ‘sayonara’ see ya in a week. Maybe it’ll be up to 10F by then.

Beef cows do not need barns – why are so many barns built – a mystery. It’s a pain on the old barns to rig up something that will sort of block all the doors and holes in the barns so the cows don’t get inside and make a mess, get sick, or worse crowd up and smash someone to death. (several years ago, nasty weather encouraged the cows to bust down a south doorway, crowded into the barn you see here and 3 young cows were smashed to death! It was a sickening and discouraging day as i dragged them out with long log chains hooked to the pickup. ) Who said ‘life on the farm is kind of laid back.’?!

Iced Up!

Thankfully, it’s not heavy ice, but it is slick and i’m cramponed up to keep from falling and even though i use polybraid and not poly tape, the ice was heavy enough to bring the fence down to the ground.

After taking a couple hard falls on ice last year and knowing the amazing work crampons do whilst hiking glaciers in Iceland last year (2019), i invested in a couple sets of inexpensive crampons for the very occasional Missouri icy winter days.
Iceland – September 2019 (perhaps a bit of tricky photography here)

With below freezing weather for the next 5 days, i left it up as best as i could and still have it peeled back so the cows wouldn’t get trapped behind it. Sounds odd, but stock can always get across a fence one way, but are stymied by a return.

So they are set now with access to the water tank though it is unlikely, with all the snow, they’ll make the trek, but they also have a clear path to their protein tubs. The poly and reels are frozen stiff, so the cows/calves have the whole paddock for their enjoyment. There isn’t a lot of forage on the remainder of the paddock so i’m not concerned with them wasting any. Just glad i don’t need to go back and check on them in this cold and icy weather (with winter storm moving in tonight and another 5 inches of snow forecasted)- did i mention a few times i don’t do cold?

This is where that flexibility in grazing happens.

All the fence is iced up and laying nearly on the ground like this. The cows simply stepped over without much thought to whether or not they were out.
Cows in wrong temporary paddock. No need to try and fix it up. Wait until the thaw before getting back to total grazing.
Not much ice on the tank, but some since cows aren’t using it for water source.

Cows graze right through this little bit of snow and ice – teaching their calves how to graze. Still a lot of green beneath the snow.

Cow Days per Acre

Although, i’m still tracking grazing on my grazing chart, Jaime says i won’t need to under the total grazing. i bet i do, though, at least for a while.

For fun, i wanted to check the cow days per acre grazing with the total grazing situation on a tiny portion of my farm. This small section is 3.6 acres and there are 75 animal units grazing. It had last been grazed for 2 days (on a much larger scale since this small section is part of a 30 acre paddock) from 6 sep to 8 sep then allowed to grow whatever until the 18th of december when i turned the cows in on it. It didn’t grow much because it has been pretty dry since mid-August.

In 9 days it is completely consumed but not grubbed and the stock is in excellent condition despite temps dropping to single digits (F) the last 2 nights of the grazing period. This photo would reflect (imho) about a 90% utilization reflecting a surprising estimated 5500 lbs per acre yield. Had the cows been given full access to 3.6 acres at once, there would be no way of attaining 90% utilization due to fouling, manuring, and urinating. It was very thin up close, but from halfway to the far end is a natural spring area so it grows a LOT of forage since it stays kind of wet nearly all year.

Centered in this image is outlined in narrow red line a box which is the 3.6 acres the cows grazed for 9 days under total grazing method resulting in 188 cows days per acre. The cows do have full access to a 20% protein tub and salt/kelp.

Paddock Lessons so far

  1. plan paddock design with straight lines and 660 feet or less to strip graze. In a perfect world this could happen, in reality, there are draws, copses, deep ditches, travel situations which the livestock will simply never figure out, washouts, timbers, etc, etc, ad nauseum. But shoot for that layout as much as possible. Whether you aspire to total grazing, MiG (management-intensive grazing), adaptive grazing, mob grazing, the rectangular paddock with water source less than 800 feet (Paul Peterson was a lead in this study funded through SARE back in 1994) is about as an ideal for a scheme that requires much flexibility in fencing, grazing, and producer mindset.
  2. But remember to balance cost and time with grazing efficiency. In other words, if the paddock is most effective with a good water source 1000 feet, then that may be the best strategy.
  3. With paddocks designed utilizing 1.22 inch fiberglass posts about 50 feet apart (more closely spaced posts of course depending on terrain – north Missouri with undulating land, deep ditches, and timbers will frequently require closer placement than that). Using 1.22 inch posts provides a firm post for hooking onto for strip grazing at both ends.

As i prepare for the future in following guidelines for total grazing, i’m grazing this area intensively with temporary fencing for now. However, i do not plan to have to do this in the future. Far too much work and i’m allergic to work.

Here’s my on-the-fly fix for a temporary end post. Most of the time, these 1.22 inch fiberglass posts can be pulled up by hand. Note my makeshift hook (adulterated cotter pin) for the reel.
After the fiberglass is pulled up by hand, then it needs redriving in the next location along with the leap frogged polybraid and reel. Yes, i paint my driver orange so we can find them and not leave them planted all over the farm. Thankfully, the driver slid right over my makeshift hook so i didn’t have to remove and replace it. Snow was starting to come down and i was getting cold.
Better manure distribution with total grazing or some other managed program.
Cattle are restless today with snow and ice coming in. Thankfully not going to get super cold, but the wind is sharp. They have a nice timber to get in out of the wind if needed. If that break for grazing looks like a lot of area, you are right, there really isn’t much volume but yet it still needs cleaning up. Also, we are now getting ice on top of snow (3 hours after this photo was taken) so i’m giving them enough to get by in case i can’t get to my farm due to slick roads tomorrow.
Where are the now? they are on the north side of the orangish line. the orange line from extending from the timber to perimeter fence is a polybraid temporary set up only for this grazing set up . The cows are being moved to the south in a fencing leap frog scenario.