Forage Samples

Before i took off on my driving trip to warmer weather in Continued Wanderings, and before super cold weather set in, i collected forages from standing forage (winter stockpile) for grazing to see what it’s value for animal nutrition would be. Since i raise beef cows, it is not so critical to have high quality all the time like a dairy cow needs, but since starting this new (to me) #total grazing scheme, i wanted to train my eye, so to speak, as to what the numbers look like in comparison to what the actual forage looks like.

There were three applications i wanted to measure;

1) Stockpiled forage which had been allowed to grow to full maturity since last being grazed very short in late May. This test will give me a good indication of what forage quality will be going forward with the total grazing plan i’ve implemented since fall, in which, forage is allowed to grow to full maturity before being grazed in winter.

2) new growth stockpile or that which had been grazed in August and had a little time to regrow (likely highest quality but lowest quantity). Once again, north Missouri was very short on late summer rains so very little forage could be stockpiled under the traditional MiG grazing plan, so many producers bought hay in preparation for a long winter of feeding – as you read in a previous posting here, i decided to sell stock to avoid hay feeding.

3) This sample will be a compilation of waterways, buffer zones, and other areas not worked up to raise organic soybeans. This one is from the Bowyer Farm and is 4 1/2 year old ungrazed or mowed old growth primarily toxic endophyte fescue.

As expected, all forages samples are marginal at best as far as feed value and crude protein which necessitates the feeding of some sort of protein supplement to help the cows’ guts break down the highly lignified grasses to grind out the nutrition in the forages. Even though i knew this going in, i felt it was worth the time and expense for my own education to have these images in my mind and numbers on paper to match up.

Education, sampling, researching, learning, observation are critical in any endeavor worth doing – ranching/farming is no different.

Scissors and a yellow plastic bucket are the complicated tools necessary to collect forage samples. These samples contained a lot of dry matter, so to collect a pound of forage, made for a lot of volume! This is the paddock # 8 sampling – the one not grazed since May 25, 2020 and collected on December 27, 2020
Once I brought home the sample, i cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to handle and dry more quickly. Using a protein tub to hold the sample kept messiness to a minimum.
Once cut into pieces, i could stuff it all into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag – it was really full – and weighed it up to be certain i had at least the required 1 lb sample for testing. Then i stuck all samples in the deep freeze because i wanted to wait to send it after the holidays – it still took 14 days from north Missouri to Ithaca, NY while paying for 3 day priority. Not happy.

Click on the link above to open the forage samples information from Dairy One Forage Testing Lab.

Paddock 8 – last grazed 12 May 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Paddock 24 – last grazed 11 Sep 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Bowyer Farm – last managed Nov 2016, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Selecting Land

My good friend, Greg Judy, who actually has a Youtube channel to which you can subscribe for his interesting and informative videos about farming/ranching and a whole host of other topics related to profitable cattle and sheep farming, has offered up some key points for considering land purchases for your specific goals.

Greg’s check list when selecting a farm.

The check list really hasn’t changed in considerations for the purchase throughout history.

Buying undeveloped land may seem less expensive, but bear in mind the high cost of making it livestock worthy (or whatever it is you will use your land for). Perimeter fencing is expensive made even more so if hiring a bulldozer to clear the fence rows first is necessary.

As we get older, land which may be more expensive yet closer to a hospital or at least a sealed road will likely become more important.

If you are so fortunate to find a reasonably price parcel in the location important you, with limited buildings, then don’t wait because someone else will buy it. Desirable parcels of property are snapped up very fast. My observations of looking for properties, indicates that poor properties are offered at ridiculous prices just hoping for someone to bite; quality, in-demand properties will sell immediately and land auctions are becoming more popular due to immediate sell and they are bringing a premium price.

If the neighbours aren’t interested in the property and it has been languishing on the market, that is a red flag that something is wrong – do in depth research. Oftentimes, it can be high taxes, poor production values, swampy land, no water, low rainfall, the lay of the land requires constant maintenance (i have a 160 like that, every little rain causes my deep watergaps to blow out, fighting encroaching brush is an annual and long days event)

My personal search requires:

  1. enough acreage in one block location with minimal perimeter (in other words more squarish, not nooks and crannies. one property online had 11 miles of perimeter to maintain yet enclosing only 1700 acres!)
  2. A nice home which has been built with finishes which stand the test of time. Too many homes from the 80s and 90s and so faddish inside, it needs to be completely gutted and redone. May be better to tear it down and start again. Not out of the range of possibility, just be sure you aren’t paying twice for a new home.
  3. Live water with no or little flood plain.
  4. Located on a sealed road with minimal traffic
  5. Near infrastructure to livestock auctions and other supportive ranch venues
  6. Warm winters, warm winters, warm winters – did i mention warm winters?!
  7. Minimal timber and very little brush.
  8. I would like to not be close enough to neighbors to hear or see them, but within 2 hours of a major airport.
  9. Price is critical – i’m not rich – the ranch i buy must find a way to pay for itself or at the least provide a good rate of return. This is nearly impossible in today’s environment where there is very little low risk good investment. Land is in too expensive for its productive value.

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.

Cows coming up to shift to a new paddock
Haven’t a clue what changes, but when a hard freeze comes upon giant ragweed, the cows will eat it like candy! Good girls.
I asked Dallas to remind me to never, ever engage in having my land row cropped again. These ridged rows were left after the final crop was harvested leaving the field extremely rough and we found it very difficult just to walk around on it! This is ridiculous. We walked in to turn on the water, but there was plenty of running fresh water in the ditch, checked that fences were up. Didn’t drive in since the deep snow fell before the ground froze. Had we pulled in with a heavy pickup on the soft cropped soil, we would have likely buried the pickup. A tractor is an hour and half away. Not worth the risk. Walking is good for us anyway.
Moving across the Road! At long last, after 4 1/2 years, my cows are once again grazing the Bowyer Farm. Hallelujah! Now it can begin healing from the 4 years of organic soybean farming. It will take a lot of brush cutting and chemical kill to get control of the farm after 7 years of certified organic use. Most of these cows had never been on this farm! But a handful of the old timers well remembered how to come around the hay barn and cross the road. Had hoped to snap a photo, but my phone went dead because it got too cold. WIndchill walking around out here for about an hour was -9F.
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.’?!

Snow Still on

The snow is still on along with some ice and this prickly thistle must have some vital nutrients since i observed a few of the cows purposefully selecting bits off this frozen plant. Typically, they’ll only eat the flowers off in the late spring, but this cow is showing her calf how to strip off the branches and leaves and eat them here in winter – leaving the stalk. Otherwise, there is a lot of fescue and other grasses they will thrive on with a bit of effort in this paddock. Not doing the more intense total grazing right now since there is more snow forecasted and i sure don’t want more polybraid strung out again. Uggggh. Additionally, these paddocks they are grazing now are really just gleaning in preparation for better total grazing next winter.

Behavior and Tasks

I’ve always been amazed and astounded at how, even at very young ages – preteen in fact, my children have exhibited the powers of observation, deductive reasoning, insight into human behavior, and spiritual intellect far above what i would think is normal at any age. Maybe i’m just clueless. Whatever the reason, most of the time, i’m thankful they feel free to share my shortcomings with me.

In fact, the biggest change was to learn to NOT start another project until the one at hand is completed. They noticed that this would cause me to be overwhelmed by too many incomplete tasks – which simply drives me nuts! It seems like a low priority task should be started while you are in the location of a high priority task – but i’m guessing that 90% of the time that simply isn’t true. Best to make the priority list and stick with it. Don’t start that task that could be put off for 6 months or a year. Just don’t do it. Finish what you are doing, tick it off the list, then start the next. (along with this admonishment comes the all important question – does it really need to be done?)

Don’t get me wrong – if you are reroofing a building and you have a crew and equipment all on site and well into it and you find some rotted boards – yes, replace the rotted boards, then finish the roofing. You get the drift.

Why do i bring this up? As readers have noticed, i’ve started a new and exciting grazing program which is already show promise. Will i be able to maintain the protocol? Yes, with modifications in time and allotments, but the principles can be used. (and mostly as Yah allows)

Anyway, my youngest son, years ago, (okay it can’t be that many years since he’s only 24), pointed out that until the grazing and cow business can’t be put to a management level that most people can handle – even with minimal training – i’m simply never going to find anyone who will want to take over or even help because the day to day is ridiculously overwhelming – basically feeling like i’m putting out fires rather than focusing on building a profitable business that’s fun to watch grow with healthy animals, healthy soil, water, and forage, while producing a premium food product.

To that end, i’m finishing up getting my semi-permanent hi-tensile fences in place to better utilize water, forage, and time resources.

The total grazing plans are a bit bumpy for now because i’m not fully on track, but i’m getting there. Grazing where i wouldn’t normally graze if i was already , but needs to be prepared and get in sync. HA! Well, that was clear as mud.

I needed to change the location of a fence – nearly done with that – this is not necessarily in response to easier strip grazing (though it will be extremely better placed for that) and was already on the to-do list for a couple years now. I installed it in the wrong place 12 years ago – finally getting it done. Otherwise, there are a few short stretches of fences to install, remove, or shift plus i will re install the fence on the Bowyer farm which were removed for the organic soybean farming.

But every task has a priority and unless weather or some such intervenes, I plan to tackle them in the proper and timely order.

So thankful to be able to work hard everyday – though i run out of steam and muscles a bit more quickly than i did a decade ago.

Have fun!

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.

Faith, Family, Farm

%d bloggers like this: