While there is an abundance of stockpiled forage, this standing forage in February is not good quality. For dry pregnant cows, it’s fine – but not for nursing pregnant cows which have suffered condition loss despite having high protein tubs on free choice offer throughout the winter since protein levels are too low in the available non growing forage for that class of cattle. There is a way to have better quality stockpile even well into winter.
Going forward into this year of 2023, the plan is to graze one time through the forages in the spring when the plants have reached sufficient growth levels to not cause diarrhea in the cows. This will be when the lower leaves are slightly yellowed, plant height maybe 6-9 inches tall, though that will vary in plant species. This will allow the plants to start their final growth to maturity a little bit later in the year so they will not reach maturity until the very end of the growing season rather than late summer, resulting in more green (protein) in the plants thereby providing better nutrition for cows during the winter non growing season.
The challenge is to find that sweet spot so that the grasses can be non selectively (total grazing) grazed through yet not overgrazed (regrazed before forages are recovered) by set stocking (not moving or bothering) the calving cows (mine begin May 1). Managing cool season and warm season grasses requires observation.
To compound my problem of allowing the young and old nursing cows to lose weight was to push them too hard in grazing dry forages which had no nutritive value. Though it will benefit land next year, the practice caused the cows to lose far too much condition. The decision i made to give the cows some relief and start their return to good condition before May 1 calving was to wean their calves by February 12.
Not to be forgotten is the importance of selecting genetically adaptive cattle. To increase the number of mouths on my farm, i purchased 40 Angus 3-year-old pairs which originated from Montana and South Dakota – clearly not our high humidity, deep cold, toxic endophyte fescue environment with managed grazing. They have had a tough time getting used to life in north Missouri and a few have fallen out. There are also several first calf heifers and ancient cows which have struggled in maintaining body condition.
Not having enough stock last spring is a large part of why my pastures were not grazed properly and resulted in the poor stockpile. However, Jim Gerrish reminds us too stock for winter grazing. This may mean removing enough animals to graze without hay through the winter. Real Wealth ranching protocols is different than more well-known grazing schemes in that one will know earlier in the year whether or not there is enough forage available.
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.
TANNACHTONFARM One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project. Alas, that isn’t true in my case. Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan. Old fence posts and wire had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.
Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!
The second step was to watch my soil be disked and planted to organic soybeans. The contract stated that each fall after harvest either chicken litter would be applied OR cover crops would be planted for soil protection and provide plough down organic matter the following spring.
What actually happened was;
Year 1 – 2017 disking and planting to organic soybeans – ample waterways were left and of course the 20 foot minimum from perimeter (organic rules). Harvested late in fall. no cover/no manure
Year 2 – Annual rye was thrown out in the spring and allowed to grow then plough down and plant to organic soybeans – harvested in very late fall. no cover/no manure
Year 3 – Disked early, but no planting and was allowed to grow into weeds. Weeds were apparently approved by government to qualify as a cover crop for (weather) preventive planting payment.
Year 4 – Disked weeds under, planted organic soybeans, harvested in late fall and left my field with ridges from ridge tillage (extremely rough). No repair, no cover crop, no manure
Year 5 – end of contract and, in February, i moved my cows onto the 120 to start the cleanup and repair. The ridging repair was not completed, so i kept my cows shifting on this piece in hopes of keeping down the weeds for easier tillage to repair. By August, still no sign of the repair to be done, so i did it. It took two passes with tandem disk followed by a harrow and the soil is bare once again. However, there was a good amount of ragweed, cocklebur, and some grasses starting to establish which were disked under and should help hold soil in case of wind or torrential rain until young plants start popping up.
FESCUE CONTROL WITH ROW CROPPING
THOUGHTS ON LEASE CROPPING VS GRAZING YOUR OWN STOCK
There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out. Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan. But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating. Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid. Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.
Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres(Bowyer Farm) for organic farming for 4 years. My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops. I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.
Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal). I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.
Here are some bullet points i have:
animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered. (in fact, in Missouri, the owner must get permission from the tenant to even walk onto the property!) This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting. (it’s now October 2019 and covered with weeds again). Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property. I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor.
Lessees do not care for your property as you would. Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land. I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage. In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow. It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property.
This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again. I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways. My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules). At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time. (mistakenly, i agreed to that)
The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced. Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’ This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had. Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed. We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market. The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
At the end of the day, we do the best we can and then we die. The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom. A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on. Conventional, monoculture agriculture is government supported and is primarily how a farmer makes money.
The third step is move my cattle back in and begin the repair and return to perennial pastures for regenerative ranching.
Over 4 years ago, I rolled up the fence on the Bowyer farm and hung the hi-tensile wire rolls on the posts at the end of each run and stored the fiberglass posts in the barn on pallets. At age 55, i truly was questioning this decision to have the farm organically row cropped for 4 years in a quest to eliminate or set back the toxic endophyte infected fescue which had become quite horrible to animal and wildlife health. Reminding myself that, should i live long enough, i’d be reinstalling all this fence at age 59 – and here i am doing it. Praise Yah for the strength and health to do so.
In addition to moving fences on the east 320 in preparation for more efficient and effective total grazing, I’ve been doggedly setting up this 120 for total grazing. It is supposed to start raining this evening (Wednesday) and do so for more than a week, so i’ve spent hours each good day walking out hi-tensile line, pounding in posts, clipping the wire to the posts, setting up gateways, and scrambling up and down the ditches with drop lines through the many ditches and draws on my farm.
Additionally, as i’ve been putting in fence and taking a break from pounding in posts by hand, i spend time resting by lopping out locust tree sprouts and treating the stumps with RTU. The bigger trees will require my chainsaw, but there are really, really high winds right now plus i must focus most of my limited energy on getting the fences installed. Tree and brush removal is a HUGE job considering they were allowed to grow these past 7 years due to organic certification regulations. (3 years prior to organic farming, then 4 years of farming). I’ll likely use more time, fuel and chemical (including brush spraying) getting the place back under control than would have been needed keeping it under control since the cattle will actually eat a lot of the little sprouts and brush before they can grow into trees.
The fourth step is to put numbers and thought to the final analysis.
The wrap up of working with a tenant and incorporating cropping with grazing.
I was notified after the last crop was harvested that the land was very ridged because the tenant had used a Buffalo ridge till cultivator. He asked me if I wanted him to level it back out. Not being familiar with such a practice, I said I would check it out and see if the cattle would fix it. Quickly, I discovered that even hundreds of mobbed cattle would never repair the damage done to the lay of the land and asked the tenant to fix it so that it was like as he found it.
In December nothing had been done, by spring, nothing again, so I began putting the paddock hi-tensile fences back in so I could begin managed grazing and moved the cows in as soon as there was something to graze. Despite there being primarily cocklebur, ragweed, and foxtail, there was a massive amount of grazing for the cows. They did a very good job eating the weeds and thereby keeping them short as I waited and waited for the tenant to return to fix the fields. By August, it was clear he was not going to get the job done, so between myself, my son, and a young man who was willing to work, we got the double disking followed by harrowing to smooth the ground done.
Something had to be done quickly since some of the paddocks had weeds nearly three feet tall and growing rapidly in the hot dry summer, so we pulled our old 14-foot disc out of the fence row, put on new tires, greased it up and off to the field. Double disking was required to take out all the ridges caused by the Buffalo ridge tiller used on the 100 acres of tilled soil then we followed up with a 23-foot harrow. This really did a good enough job since now the field will rest until grazing for winter stockpile in November 2023.
(After visiting with Jaime Elizondo, I may no-till a summer annual (sorghum almum) in May to provide some roots and shade for the soil. It can be grazed safely in about 30 days, then the entire field will be allowed to return to perennial pasture and stockpiled until November 2023)
Now, though my fields are once again bare to wind and sun, it was a necessary step. I did not plant any forages in the soil since I think there will be plenty of seeds already in the soil and many young plants could already be observed from summer growth.
In an ideal scenario, the field work should have been done immediately or shortly after soybean harvest of 2020 and would have been a fabulous opportunity to sneak off another crop – wheat – when grass seeds could also be thrown out. Harvest the wheat the next summer and a nice cover of grasses and forbes underneath. Field work done, living roots in the soil all winter, crop in the summer, ready to stockpile for winter grazing. But it didn’t happen! This is why i submit that to manage crop/pasture rotation and improvement the landowner must do it or maintain total control at all times.
I did not include the $8300 worth of lime spread on the place because it sort of stays there for future use though i hear that soybeans use up a lot of lime.
Remember that my main purposes for allowing the property to be farmed was to try and eliminate toxic fescue, to allow my neighbor and friend more acreage for his farming operation and I knew he would respect it as best as he could. He left ample waterways, left the steep bits unturned and did not turn the soil more than necessary, thereby hopefully not destroying microbes and mycorrhizal symbiotic relationships even after four years.
Time will tell if this has any effect on setting the fescue back. However, I was very excited to view the soil test results. Something happened with tillage, application of lime, a couple of ‘cover crops’, and soybeans. Not surprising was the reduction in organic matter, but with proper total grazing management, that’ll be set to right or better in a year or two.
Excessive growth of forages will cause too much thatch covering the soil and not allow young plants to grow through or at least set them back. Good grazing management and disturbance (cattle walking around) will help alleviate this issue.
Having no animal impact on grass pastures results in overgrowth which kills out good forages. Thankfully, managed, nonselective grazing will put this problem to rights within one growing season.
The big surprise was the release of nutrients in the soil as per this basic soil analysis. I took samples in the same spots at the same time of year and sent to the same lab with same parameters for best comparison.
All in all, the question becomes ‘would i do it again?’ The answer of course, is ‘it depends.’ Seven and eight year crop/pasture rotations have been in practice for millennia and even as soon as just 80 years ago, but the right protocols must be followed for any good results. Typically, 3 years cropping, 4 years of annual/perennial pasture/hay. However, to do this, one needs to maintain full control, which would include owning expensive machinery and someone on staff who wants to and knows how to run it and achieve the work in a timely manner.
Using biblical principle of counting the cost in advance was wise, but i neglected to realize how much it would bother me to disturb the soil in such a manner. As a friend pointed out “at the end you will know what you didn’t know.‘ And that is so true – no use lamenting the choice now, learn from it and remember.
Limited disturbance. Limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance of soil. Tillage destroys soil structure. It is constantly tearing apart the “house” that nature builds to protect the living organisms in the soil that create natural soil fertility. Soil structure includes aggregates and pore spaces (openings that allow water to infiltrate the soil). The result of tillage is soil erosion, the wasting of a precious natural resource. Synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides all have negative impacts on life in the soil as well.
Armor. Keep soil covered at all times. This is a critical step toward rebuilding soil health. Bare soil is an anomaly—nature always works to cover soil. Providing a natural “coat of armor” protects soil from wind and water erosion while providing food and habitat for macro- and microorganisms. It will also prevent moisture evaporation and germination of weed seeds.
Diversity. Strive for diversity of both plant and animal species. Where in nature does one find monocultures? Only where humans have put them! When I look out over a stretch of native prairie, one of the first things I notice is the incredible diversity. Grasses, forbs, legumes, and shrubs all live and thrive in harmony with each other. Think of what each of these species has to offer. Some have shallow roots, some deep, some fibrous, some tap. Some are high-carbon, some are low-carbon, some are legumes. Each of them plays a role in maintaining soil health. Diversity enhances ecosystem function.
Living roots. Maintain a living root in soil as long as possible throughout the year. Take a walk in the spring and you will see green plants poking their way through the last of the snow. Follow the same path in late fall or early winter and you will still see green, growing plants, which is a sign of living roots. Those living roots are feeding soil biology by providing its basic food source: carbon. This biology, in turn, fuels the nutrient cycle that feeds plants. Where I live in central North Dakota, we typically get our last spring frost around mid-May and our first fall frost around mid-September. I used to think those 120 days were my whole growing season. How wrong I was. We now plant fall-seeded biennials that continue growing into early winter and break dormancy earlier in the spring, thus feeding soil organisms at a time when the cropland used to lie idle.
Integrated animals. Nature does not function without animals. It is that simple. Integrating livestock onto an operation provides many benefits. The major benefit is that the grazing of plants stimulates the plants to pump more carbon into the soil. This drives nutrient cycling by feeding biology. Of course, it also has a major, positive impact on climate change by cycling more carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil. And if you want a healthy, functioning ecosystem on your farm or ranch, you must provide a home and habitat for not only farm animals but also pollinators, predator insects, earthworms, and all of the microbiology that drive ecosystem function.
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!)
“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.”
Change is not always good – certainly i’ve made more than my share of changes that have turned out badly and/or expensively. But i’ve learnt, tried, and found what i do NOT want to do.
When my children were little and had their own bits to do, i planned and built with their little bodies in mind. In other words, all the equipment and chores had to be designed so that a child can do it and be successful without overcoming them with too much work. I find that the older i get the more i need to lean back into that mindset for myself!! The adage of work smarter, not harder is becoming more important – in reality, it’s always the right thing. As David Pratt reminds me “you can be efficiently doing the wrong thing.” The key is to be effective. Is what i’m doing important to my goals – what are my goals? Am i aiming for the right target?
I’ve learnt from many grazing teachers (or as they are often referred to ‘gurus’), my experience and knowledge has greatly increased as i implemented their suggestions and techniques. But, when “Total Grazing” caught my attention, I was intrigued enough to explore this new thought process. My farming/ranching operation is now poised to become more fun and more profitable and I’m excited again about my career/lifestyle choice ingrained in my DNA and encouraged by my Grandpa Falconer on whose land (now mine) my cattle graze.
Some general thoughts, considerations, ideas, suggestions, and changes:
Forage testing not needed – observe your cows and their manure. Of course, i had just tested 3 spots of forage and spent $150 in testing and shipping (not counting labor -because farmers don’t do that but should). When i sent the results to Jaime Elizondo, who has developed the pillars of Real Wealth Ranching, he advised me to observe the manure as to whether or not the cows need supplemental protein on mature forages. I was surely wanting him to tell me which of the protein results numbers generated is the one i choose to determine the need for protein (all the numbers were at the 8% threshold). Funnily, he would NOT answer that question. He patiently, yet persistently, circled back to “observe the manure”. So, that is what i will do – and i will no longer waste money on forage sampling.
Consider weaning all spring born calves before December then selling or feeding them through winter. I’m not keen on feeding calves through winter or anytime for that matter, however, i will consider weaning then selling the steers and any heifers i won’t keep for replacements. I would then have far fewer animals to feed. I’m not set up to feed calves, so that will take some planning. Pulling the calves off earlier than March (my traditional weaning time) will give the cows a much longer time to recover as well as not have the stress of nursing the big calves in addition to preparing to calve in April.
It would be nice to get away from purchasing high protein tubs – handling them is doable by myself despite them weighing 200 lbs each. I simply slide them out of the bed of my pickup into the bed of my John Deere Gator, then in the pasture, i pull the tub out onto the ground. I can haul 2 tubs at once this way. I’ve also hauled 6 to the pasture in the back of my pickup, but this is tricky in winter because of bad roads and muddy or snowy/icy fields.
A better protein supplement is good quality alfalfa or other high protein legume or grass hay. I’m not sure how i can implement this with the equipment i have. However, it could be that weaning the calves before December will eliminate any protein supplementation for the cows.
Given the distance from my house to the farm, i know i cannot implement the everyday 4x a day moves. However, i can do this more often if i don’t have the expense of other labor intensive chores. Wintertime, however, has a different challenge in that sometimes road conditions won’t allow me to get there for up to a week or rarely even longer!
This year (2021), i am very low on cows numbers because i sold so many last year to avoid feeding any hay – thankfully, i did so because i will have to start feeding hay had i not done so – still going to be close. So, what to do to increase numbers for the upcoming grazing season? This is a question i am researching and deciding – what do i like to do? Stockers? Heifers? Steers? Cow/calf pairs? There are tools to help with the financial decisions but the quality of life decision is mine.
To reclaim the 120 acre Bowyer farm, i’ve been advised by two friends, Greg Judy, regenerative rancher (and wife, Jan, on Green Pastures Farm) in Clark, Missouri, USA and José Manuel Gortázar, Savory holistic instructor teaching in Coyhaique, Chile on the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate – Fundo Panguilemu not to worry with planting anything on the soil which has been organically soybeaned for 4 years. It is likely there is plenty of seed still in the soil which will come back with proper grazing management. I do know from observation, that the one year the farmer didn’t not plant soybeans it grew massive (like 6 feet tall!) foxtail and cocklebur. Not good choices, but very high quality forage actually if grazed at the right time. I’ve considered dragging a no-till drill up there and putting in oats as a suppressive, but weighing the cost and time to do so is not fun. I don’t like to drive a tractor and machinery plus our 15 foot drill does not shift to an inline pull, so it’s kind of dangerous to get it up to my farm on the long narrow and hilly roads. I think we are selling our no-till drill this year anyway. Running machinery is not a high priority for us and there are only so many hours in the day.
Every year, I make changes to my annual ‘itinerary’ and this one is no different. Time to type up a new plan.