Tag Archives: forages

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.

Grazing Patterns

Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion.  Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle.  In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.

Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).

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The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019.  They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information),  but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure.  Observation is key.

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This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species.  However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.

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This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year.  Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly.  Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen.  This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.

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Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.

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Red clover in the foreground.  The smaller purple flower is alfalfa.  I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.

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See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground?  that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!

 

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This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing.  Not all the severely eroded spots have mended.  May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing.  My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.

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Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land.  Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them.  They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will  now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.

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This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze.  More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.

 

 

Purdin Paddocks 23 and 24
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks.  This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling.  The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first.  They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown).  They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade.  If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance.  Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line.  No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left.  For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile.  The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres.  Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.

Pasture Renovation

Farming and ranching are both career choices which require continued study, education, and practice modification to remain profitable and regenerative.  As you know from previous blog entries, i’ve tried tillage and replanting with perennials, hired an organic farmer who is using minimal tillage and planting food grade soybeans and has tried planting cover crops to hold soil when crops are harvested (this has not been successful – weather), and both of these approaches to eliminate toxic endophyte fescue have been very expensive and no enhancement of soil health.

My next practice is planned to start with frost seeding as soon as weather allows – which is looking to be challenging since we are in the midst of a polar vortex right now and near record lows.  But turnaround this weekend to near historic highs.  Missouri is always a challenge in the weather department.  Broadcast frost seeding is typically accomplished by early March.

High stock density grazing or mob grazing is labor intensive and thereby expensive to implement, but i hope to use this practice to prepare the soil for receiving the grass/forage seeds.  All these expenses i will record, track, and monetize to make an apples to apples comparison with the other two practices i’ve tried.  (Organic soybean farming and Permanent Ley Pasture)

To keep costs down, i plant to use annuals, grazing, and long rest to allow these plants to produce a lot of growth but before the plants become unpalatable, mob graze again allowing lots of manure and urine deposition across the paddock as well as trampling plants to keep soil covered and cool.  That’s the plan anyway.  My top photo was taken last year, but illustrates what the grazing/trampling effect i hope to achieve with hoof action and no mechanical tillage.

Planned seeds for broadcast:

  • Alsike clover – .25 lb
  • Barley – 8 lbs
  • Lespedeza  – 3 lbs (if a supply can be sourced)
  • Oats – 8 lbs
  • Sunflower – 3 lbs

I’ve ordered a broadcast seeder for my John Deere Gator, so that should make broadcasting much easier so that i’m more likely to get it done in a timely fashion.  Sometimes having the right machinery makes money rather than costing.  It depends on one’s goals and how much you value your time.  Also, if the practice is effective.  If, for example, the practice does not add value to my operation, then the more i do it, the more expensive it becomes.  One of the holistic management testing decisions.

  1. Energy/money source & use
    • Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source in terms of your holistic goal?
    • Will the way in which energy or money is to be used lead toward your holistic goal.

So, this is what i do when i have a really bad head and it’s below freezing outside. Study and plan.

Cheers!

tauna