Great article in Progressive Cattleman.
Great article in Progressive Cattleman.
In the first two stories of this series we covered some terms used in managed grazing, provided their definitions, and explained why the terminology and the ideas they represent matter.
In this third and final article of our managed grazing primer, we’ll cover some important concepts that aren’t based in terminology.
Plants: Taller and deeper is better
Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.
Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”
Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.
This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.
Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.
Balance animal needs with grass management
One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.
If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.
Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves
Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.
Erratic grazing breeds success
Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.
If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.
If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.
Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.
Cattle legs are for walking
Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.
Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.
This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.
In part I of this grazing primer we covered some names and principles for managed grazing, as well as stocking rate and stock density. Today we’ll continue along those lines with more terms and definitions.
Recovery time – This is the amount of time allowed by the grazing manager for plants to regrow after a grazing event. It is sometimes erroneously called “rest,” but this term doesn’t remind the grazing manager that plants actually need time to regrow adequate leaf material for photosynthesis and fully recharge the energy stored in crowns, rebuild root systems, and reconnect with underground life such as bacterial and mycorrhizal fungi. This is even more important than once understood, since plants trade carbohydrates with underground life for nutrients they may not be able to mine from the soil with their own root systems. Allowing plants to fully recover builds soil life and fertility, thereby increasing productivity. The most productive pasture plants also require the longest recovery time to thrive.
Graze period – This is vital information for grazing managers because the true definition of overgrazing, from the standpoint of plants, is being grazed or bitten off a second time or more before it can recover from the first grazing. This means grazing several times over several days is very damaging to individual plants, although repeated biting over a day or a few hours is not problematic.
Graze period also is inversely related to the number of paddocks used in a grazing operation. The higher the number of paddocks, the shorter the graze period.
AUDs, ADAs or cow days per acre – These are primarily measurements of the productivity of your resource. These measurements are a good way to track progress or regression over time, and is very important to help with grazing planning and management. This is very important to good managers who should be changing grazing patterns and herd makeup from year to year and season to season.
As an example how to use this, a herd of 100 dry cows weighing 1,400 pounds (140 AU equivalent) might stay in a one-acre paddock one day, producing 140 ADAs for that grazing. Two of the same grazings would produce 280 ADAs for the year. This tells the manager if rainfall and time of recovery and time of year are similar, that paddock should allow a herd of 233 600-pound steers should be able to graze one day on the same paddock (140ADA / .6 = 233).
This comparison can be weight-adjusted most simply, or more accurately adjusted by the consumption of a class of livestock and forage type. It should also be adjusted to include calves with cows according to their average weight.
Residual forage — This is the forage left behind, usually expressed as a percentage of the forage present when cattle entered the paddock. Many managers aim to leave 50% under many circumstances. If forage is ample and animal production is more desired, leaving behind a higher percentage, such as 60-75% might be the goal, leaving a residual of 25-40%. If rationing out winter forage along with protein supplement, a consumption level of perhaps 80% with only 20% residual might be the goal.
Tomorrow we’ll publish Part III.
First I want to share with you my complete pasture renovation project that I undertook years ago at the advice of forage professionals. I did a complete reseeding on our pastures and put in a 100-acre diverse stand of brome, orchard grass, timothy, redtop and various legumes. I got lucky that fall after everything was planted and got a nice rain. The seeding came up and looked great the next spring. We held a farm walk that summer showing what we had done with this precious 100-acre piece of infected fescue. Everybody at the pasture walk was in awe of how beautiful the pasture looked. I was so happy that I could hardly stand it until someone at the pasture walk made a comment to me privately.
One seasoned grazier crept up to me and whispered, “Greg that is pretty nice piece of grass you have there, but in five years you will have Kentucky 31 tall fescue and clover, that’s about it.”
You could have knocked me over with a match stick! I was shocked that he would dare say such a thing to me. I responded right away, “Oh you’re mistaken! We rotationally graze and will manage these improved grasses so that they thrive on this farm forever. Fescue is history on this farm, it has no use here.”
Well guess what? He was dead right, in five years our primary grass was Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue with red clover. I had a good dose of “humble pie.” My pocket book was still hurting from the money that I spent putting in all these wonderful new grasses. In those days, we still had a loan on everything on the farm including the money that we spent on the seed. That was a sick hollow feeling making those loan payments that included the purchased seed knowing that my money ended up in someone else’s pocket and my farm was right back to where it was at five years earlier.
Once we switched to mob grazing many years later, we were able to grow many additional species of grasses that were in the soil bank. This rank fescue needs a good beating every now and then with a mob of animal hooves to encourage additional forages to grow in the canopy. This animal impact sets back the fescue enough to allow legumes and other cool season grasses to propagate. But the main grass remains Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected fescue. In the Midwest during the summer months, fescue pretty much goes dormant, but with all the other forage species mixed in with it, our animals still perform well. Fescue is what we have and it wants to grow here, so we figured we better learn to make some money with it. Life is too short to wake up every day trying to kill something.
Back to our cow herd. What we decided was that we were going to graze whatever grew on the farm. We owned no tractor or equipment, so whatever nature dealt us, we were going to manage with that. Whatever animal could not perform on what grows on our farm naturally, would be culled. Absolutely no excuses are made for any animal that fails this test. It was a little harsh starting out. We culled several more animals than we would have liked to in the early years. But we stuck to our original management practice and it has paid huge dividends.
One of the easily observed results from endophyte infected fescue is that some cows will lose their tail switches. The tail switch falls off right at the very tip of the tail due to restriction of blood flow to the extremities of the animal. My good ranching friend Wally Olsen was here this winter walking through our mob of South Poll cattle. In Wally’s prior visit ten years earlier a lot of the older cows were missing their tail switch. On this visit, he immediately commented that almost every cow now had their tail switch intact and all the animals were in super body condition for the winter period that we were in. By staying committed to culling the animals that struggled on the endophyte infected fescue, the remaining animals and their offspring are much more tolerant to the fescue on our farms today. Certainly, having a diversity of other plants in the forage sward helps the livestock perform on fescue as well.
We now have a very fescue tolerant herd, our animals look at their fescue/legume sward and get fat. We occasionally still get an animal that develops a limp (fescue foot), and that animal is sold immediately. I have no tolerance for an animal that will not perform on our forage when they are moved constantly to a fresh pasture of grass/legume sward. We just get rid of them – problem solved. When an animal that is adapted to your farm’s forage has the opportunity to select the best parts of a plant multiple times per day, those animals will make you a very nice living.
Now, think of the money we have saved by not renovating our pastures every five years and gambling it away on a promise of having a better pasture in the future. I may step on some input folks’ toes here, but I am more concerned about the grazier making a living on their land.
Who’s making all the money with farmers killing their pastures with herbicides and seeding these new fescue varieties into their pastures? Hint, it’s not the farmer! We are losing farmers every year at an alarming rate because there is nothing left at the end of the year for the guy on the land that is doing all the work. We take all the risk, they take all the money. Most of the money is going to town, and we need to keep it on the farm where it belongs. To make a profit every year on our farms, we must eliminate inputs which we do have control over.
Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.
Given the retail prices of N, P, and K – (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) from Butterfield Grain Associates in Meadville, MO.
Nitrogen – 3.71 lbs times .42/lb = $1.56
Phosphorus – 1.63 lbs times .35/lb = $0.57
Potassium – 8.875 lbs times .29/lb = $2.57
Total NPK value = $4.70 per 1250 lb hay bale or $12.17 per ton.
This value doesn’t include micronutrients and the organic matter in manure and wasted hay, including calcium, magnesium, etc.
Purchased bales of mature warm season grasses weigh about 1250 lbs each. I sent core samples to Ward Laboratories to have analysed for feed value as well as fertilizer value. Here are the results:
Time for an update on the annuals. It’s now been 33 days since planting on the 26th of May and it’s been terribly dry until just now.
The soil had some moisture in it when i tilled the 18 acres the first go on 18-19 May, but then we received a rain (4/10s) which delayed the second tillage until 25 May, at which time my husband seeded the hills right behind the second tillage so we could wrap up this project for the first stage.
Then weather set in hot, dry, sunny, and windy. Some of the seeds germinated and some even sprouted and grew. If we didn’t get a rain soon, those brave spindly plants would soon wither and die.
At last, over the course of 14-15-16 June, we received 1.5 inches of rain and temps cooled just a little bit – a breather for plants, soil, animals, and man.
Rainfall has been scarce until 28-29-June, when a gully washer of 7 inches fell in a bit over 24 hours. Thankfully, not much soil moved because i was careful to leave grass strips and there was still some dead plant material. Ideally, there would have been new root growth to help, but the previous dry weather compounded by my poor soil restricted growth tremendously.
So, bring on the next 30 day! With that 7 inch rain and little of it running off, there should be a massive increase in forage growth. Excited!
Cheers and Shabbat Shalom!
As a first step of my endophyte infected fescue eradication and pasture renovation project, today was the big day of tillage. My husband had purchased a Howard Rotavator 600, which is 10 foot wide sod-cutting and chewing machine and the soil (actually just dirt, it’s in pathetic condition) it’s been through gave it a real workout. Even the tractor couldn’t keep up and i had to sidle over and only take 2′-5′ bite of new sod at times, especially going up hill. This first pass took place on May 17-18, 2017.
One pass tillage next to existing stand of grass. Serious clay content. Methinks some of this worked up harder than if i took down the gravel road!
All in all, i mapped out about 18 acres actually tilled. There are about 25 acres total in the area being renovated, however, because of the steep slopes, several acres are left alone to serve as grassy waterways. I wonder, however, as hard as the ground is, if the tilled portions won’t actually hold and stop more water than the hard pan waterways. Hmmm.
So far, 12 hours spent (1.5 acres per hour) tilling, but not counting time servicing tractor and machine or time spent getting to/from the farm. Tractor uses about 7.7 gallons diesel fuel per hour, so 92.5 gallons there. Second pass should take a bit less time, but we’ll see!
We received a big storm last night with about an inch of rain, so the second pass won’t happen for a few days – depending on weather. Allen will be right behind the second rotatiller pass with the Einbach harrow/seeder and my selected annual grass mix.
Per acre healing forages:
These were chosen for their prolification, adaptability to poor soils, nitrogen fixing, and low cost as well as providing excellent grazing in 60-75 days.