Tag Archives: cows

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!!

When to Calve

To all there is an appointed time, even a time for every purpose under the heavens: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pull up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to let wander away; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew together; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (Hebraic Roots Bible)

For the past several years, my cows have been bred to calve 15 April to 30 May. Though that is earlier than i prefer, it was a decision i made some 8 years ago because i was having up to 30% death loss in baby calves getting scours. Scours so bad that sometimes the calves would die before they even passed that first scouring poop! That was calving 15 May to 30 June. So after a great deal of research into the possibilities, i made the decision to push it back. And that made all the difference – not one single case of scours since that time.

Now, i did sell those cows which lost their calves, so that is likely a good part in the reason there are no longer any cases of scours, yet it’s not the full explanation. Corriente cows tend to have rich milk, which, combined with the heat caused by grazing toxic fescue and the outside air temperature may cause additional stress on baby calves.

However, today’s weather is a reminder of why April is too early in north central Missouri to start the calving. Although my calving season officially starts 15 April, there have already been 6 calves born – fortunately, the weather has been decent until today and it is pouring down cold rain, muddy conditions, temperature at 46F (wind chill 40F) and a stiff 14 mph NNW winter type wind. Very hard are on young and newborn calves.

So, yesterday, after hearing once again from Jaime Elizondo (others have advised as well and i know better), i plan to wait to turn in the bulls 23 July for 45 days. It is with trepidation that i make this change when, despite crappy April weather these past several years, i’ve not lost any baby calves.

Here is to change once again. On the other end of it, it’s always a problem to wean calves the first week of March when grass is yet so far away and there is bitter weather ahead of them. Calving later will allow me to wait another 2-3 weeks before weaning the following year and the cows will have better weather in which to regain good condition. However, leaving the bulls in a couple more weeks is the only way to avoid me being in ragweed season to remove them. (many of my decisions revolve around ragweed season due to me being incapacitated during that time)

So, what have i decided going forward? To completely avoid ragweed season, I plan to turn out the bulls about August 4 and pull them back out about 45 days later which is September 19. Hope it works!!!

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Calves born earlier – before the onset of toxic endophyte fescue – thrived! This Longhorn cow had a dandy heifer calf.
Never plan to have cows calving in the winter! This was a purchased cow which the seller assured me they were spring calvers – he lied.

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.

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.

Cold Snap – Total Grazing

Total Grazing takes a pause since i gave my ladies enough grazing to last 2-3 days Wednesday afternoon. Although the high temp for the day was forecasted to be 51F, that was first thing in the morning with temps dropping rapidly throughout the afternoon and winds picking up to 20 mph and regularly gusting to 40 mph. Thursday’s high might sneak up to 23 and drop to 9 in the night. Admittedly, i am a fair weather rancher, so the girls are on their own until Saturday when it warms up for the day. But they are haired up with warm coats, plenty of fresh water, protein tub, Icelandic Thorvin kelp (i purchase from Welter Seed & Honey by the pallet load (2000 lbs), and clean (without YPS) salt harvested by Independent Salt Company, thought it’s actually purchased from and delivered by Vit-A-Zine, Butler, Missouri.

My cows are doing okay on this 20% all natural protein, but when i move them to 4 year old endophyte infected fescue leftover from the organic soybean farming situation, the protein level may need to be boosted for them to effectively utilize the forage. I’m researching that situation since i’m not keen to offer urea which is the main way higher protein tubs get to the 30%-40% level. First, however, after the postal delivery crush of holidays, i’ll be sending off forage samples to assess the TDN and protein levels – maybe they won’t need higher protein. On an aside, i built this little sled out of scrap materials which is a necessity if i need to move the tub with the cows (by pulling with my JD Gator)- it weighs 200 lbs to start.

Challenges or Opportunities

Oftentimes, we view challenges as mountains to overcome, but sometimes, those challenges are opportunities to diversify or force us to find the holes in our operations, the ‘dead wood’ as Stan Parson would call it.

I’ve penciled feeding hay vs grazing only. And even though feeding hay – even cheap hay and high calf prices – it is seldom (actually never) the path to take. Yet, i’ve taken it and been exhausted by mid-winter feeding hay! Now that i’m older, i must – forced, if you will — eliminate that practice. This year is tough – we are in a drought, so eliminating hay this year with little winter stockpile forage growth means a deep culling of my cow herd.

As markets have changed from their high in 2014, I also must let go of my beautifully colored Corriente and Longhorn cows. They have been a joy, but i can no longer justify the current deep discount those crossbred calves bring at market. My cow herd after November 19, 2020 will be almost exclusively black or red Angus.

Going forward, i’ve rigidly utilized the clever alliteration from the Noble Research Institute Foundation to start with my culling selections.

Old, Ornery, or Open.

This should be used every year actually, but i’ve let too many cows slide (not the ornery ones – they go quickly) through the years and this year is the year to clean up and add value. This year’s cattle prices have a lot of pressure with low demand and anything a bit off is deeply discounted.

  1. Even if a cow has really nice calf at side but comes up open (not pregnant) she needs selling because she will be freeloading for another year at least once her calf at side is sold. Plus, if she has a heifer i keep as a replacement, those poor conception genetics stay in my herd. Gone and gone. This cow may be a perfect fit for a fall calving buyer or one with better forages.
  2. 2. If a cow was bred and lost her calf sometime during the year and is open or bred back, i sell her. If she doesn’t bring a coupon (calf), she becomes the coupon.
This beautiful Corriente cow has made a lot of money for me, but she lost her calf this spring. She is bred back, starting to slip in condition, and is extremely old. She may have a difficult time making it through our harsh winter this year, so she can go to someone who may have a more gentle program. She has, until this spring, raised a big good calf for me for 12 years – she was middle aged when i bought her 12 years ago. She actually even carried an ET bull calf and raised it nicely. It’s tempting to keep her and let her die on the ranch and if she had a heifer calf at side i would do that.

3. Ornery is self explanatory. I used the same black Angus bulls for 3 years and one or more of them developed really bad attitudes. By the third year, i’d had enough and when i got them loaded out of the breeding pasture, I called the sale barn owner and asked i could just bring them up (there was a sale that day). Sold them (weighed up – i sure didn’t want anyone else have this problem) and so glad, but despite selecting my heifers very carefully for disposition, over the course of a couple years, some of them have become cranky. Now, i’m going to say, i’m much pickier on attitude than some people. I have 3 generations to work through.

4. As i wrote above, I will sell all my fancy, colored, cows with chrome – all euphemisms for being spotted or off colored. At the market, the quality of the animal is irrelevant if it is spotted. To quickly add value to the remaining calf crop is to just take my beating now and sell those beautiful cows and be done. 😦

5. If any cow had difficulty maintaining good body condition through the summer, she will also be sold. Even if she is bred back and/or has a good calf at side – eventually, she will come open. Selling her now at her peak.

6. Any cow with a dink calf (smaller or rougher haired than the other calves of the peer group) she will be sold with her calf. Usually, this happens with old cows, so they will be sorted off anyway – it’s just another mark against her.

Corriente Cows

As you know from reading my blog, i really like Corriente cows.  I’m nearly out of the purebred ones, but most of my replacements have a percentage of Corriente in them and that adds to the cross.  It’s a slim profit raising Corrientes unless you can find a niche market.  Also, they will not ‘finish’ like a beef cow, so are far too lean with next to no fat cover to make it profitable to butcher them.  (However, the meat is absolutely outstanding and that is pretty much all we butcher for ourselves.) So they remain relegated to entertainment (rodeo).

Anyway, a short article came out in the most recent edition of Working Ranch and I’d like to share it with you.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

 

 

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