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.
Both calves and cows will obliterate thorny honey locust trees when the leaves are tasty and perhaps when they are the most nutritious.
As blogged before, since changing to Real Wealth Ranching protocol which not only teaches a change in grazing management, but includes other changes which i believe will make my life easier as well as being more profitable all the while building soil, forage, and animal health.
One of the main precepts of any grazing management is observation of stock condition. If the livestock are suffering under your management, you must change something immediately. Daily or, at least often, observation of body condition, manure consistency, thriftiness, and overall general health including appropriate hair shedding, bright eyes, well hydrated, being alert, calm cud chewing, not bawling or wandering, and ears up demeanor are a few subtle clues to health.
For good reason, up until this year, i’ve set my calving season from 15 April to 31 May. For me, personally, that is not a good time because breeding season is 7 July to 20 Aug and 100% of the time, mid August to late September is high ragweed season which is debillitating to me making it nearly impossible to remove the bulls to keep defined dates for calving season.
However, this year (2022), i’m pushing that back to 15 May thru 30 June, With the change to total grazing and by default and plan i am offering a better balance protein/roughage diet to both cows and calves and hope to avoid the serious scours (calf losses about 30% for a couple years running!) encounter by earlier calving. However, calving that early in north central Missouri has its downsides in that it often can be extremely cold and muddy, plus cows will not be in best condition coming out of winter before calving.
Pushing it back a month means I avoid the beginning and ending of ragweed season. The animals need to be nearly set stocked during that time because i cannot be outside.
However, the final decision was to turn out the bulls on 22 July and will plan a 60 day breeding season. Most will likely breed in the first 35-40 days anyway, but the few which are later may allow me to grow my herd a bit. This is a calving season of 1 May to 1 July. However, the bigger benefit will be that removing the bulls will be after allergy season. By keeping my own replacements, there is a much greater chance of success by having adapted animals to my particular environment. Purchasing stock is a crapshoot at best.
As calving season has come along this spring (2022), I’ve really enjoyed noticing the HUGE difference in condition of cows which calved early/mid April and those few which have calved mid May. Any cow which calved early is very slow to recover from calving and has not shedded out well at all. Will that affect rebreeding? In the past, it has not, but the cows sure look better and are carrying much more weight.
One thing that has given me considerable concern is the number of open cows this spring that were pregnancy checked as being bred last fall. Young cows and really good 8 and 9 year olds have lost. In other words, it’s not been any particular age group or any specific bloodlines. Still pouring over records to see what might have caused this. It was about 5% abortion/fetal loss last year which the vets say is on the upper limits of normal. This year’s percentage is hovering around 7% abortion/fetal loss. This despite giving my cows a Lepto shot last fall, which is not what i usually do. However, a couple of those are purchased cows/heifers which are often not adapted to my environment.
The typical death loss of 1% to 2% sadly hit that upper percentage point this year to some sort of chronic wasting disease, most likely anaplasmosis. Seems like it hits my 3-6 year old good doing cows. Unfortunately, this seems to be just a part of raising livestock.
I’m continuing the Real Wealth Ranching protocol and total grazing plan because it has been an amazing program. Coming up on my second full year of implementation here in a few months. I tell people all i’m doing is providing landscaping tools and my cows do the work (grazing). Well, they don’t run the chainsaw.
Earlier this week, I moved my cows and calves to Cord Road with the intention of sorting off a few cows which I did not want to joined with the bulls, which will be turned out the 22nd of July. The particular morning chosen was ideal because it was 63F degrees! Such a change from the intense and long lasting high temperatures and high humidity we have been experiencing and within a couple days the weather went right back to the intense heat.
Once the cattle were in the road, which I had blocked off at the end of the road and beside the gate through which they had passed, I set up a single strand electric polybraid to form a small holding yard to contain each cow as I sorted her off. This worked exceptionally well. The only difficulty was to get the now weaned calf which belonged to the cow which died by tree roots a few days ago. It had lost its sight to a large extent, so was particularly hard to handle, but I gave it a pass – blind, no momma for guidance, strange location (this is a purchased cow/calf and the calf had never been to this location), and being pushed around. Nevertheless, she was coaxed, along with the cows I’d sorted off, into the hay barn from which we would load out. Dallas had arrived with the trailer just in time to help me get that calf in. Thank goodness – I might have had to give up and that would not have bode well for a lone calf on its own in life.
We loaded out of the hay barn which was not without challenge since there is no facility to do so. But they respect a hot wire, so a rope posing as a hazing fence was helpful to encourage them to hop into the trailer. The rest of the cows had already walked across to the Bowyer farm.
From the time I left home at 5:30 am to my return was about 8 hours, but it takes me an hour and 10 minutes drive with return in my Gator. Nevertheless, I took a lot of steps and was spent by mid afternoon, but very glad to have that task completed.
The past 5-6 years, the weather has quite deviated from the norm, but this year is more its irritating self. With frequent, yet light rains, drizzles, and cloudy weather resulting in constant mud, even on top of the ridges – there’s not a dry or even well drained spot on my farm. Pugging is everywhere, though thankfully, i don’t have large cows, so damage is mitigated by less animal weight per square inch.
This year is the first year in implementing the ‘no molestar’ (do not bother) concept of not shifting cows and calves to new paddocks during calving season. This has been a real blessing, however, given the mud and misery this year, the cows have trampled their large paddock and from the looks of it have wasted at least 50% of their forage mostly by walking around and trampling into the mud. This has forced me to move them to another paddock which is just as wet and muddy, but with thick forage. They will destroy it rapidly as well. Very thankful that through total grazing, there is plenty of reserve forage for the cows. The concept of not bothering the calving cows was interrupted and i had to find and pack and haul and drive a few calves – i think one has been abandoned – this is precisely why the pairs should be left alone during the important bonding time.
The continued cold, cloudy, and wet weather is taking its toll on the cows’ conditions and that of their calves, though it is most noticeable on those yearling first calf heifers and the really old cows.
Despite the rain, work continues as much as possible to avoid getting completely behind though there are many many jobs which must wait for warmer and much drier weather. Next week is supposed to warm up and not rain. Really looking forward to some warmth and especially sunshine.
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.