I didn’t think i’d ever go back to calving out 2 year old heifers (exposing to the bull at 13-15 months) since calving out as 3 year olds is so incredibly stress free on the heifer and myself. A high percentage of 2 year olds will become pregnant and zero will need assistance at calving.
Since beginning total grazing and recognizing that i need to grow my herd numbers significantly and quickly (due to being understocked), i decided to take a chance last year with the 14 yearling heifers and have them bred alongside the main cow herd. As shared before, these heifers had a pregnancy rate of 76% (vs 90% + as 2 year olds) and one heifer died, along with her calf, at calving due to difficulty (front leg was back) and another heifer had her calf fine, but it was dead (don’t know why).
It will be interesting to see how many of those will breed back this year. However, I have discovered that those which calve first time as 3 year olds don’t breed back at much higher, if any, rate as the 2 year olds. I don’t know why, but that has been my experience.
This year, to hopefully avoid more calving difficulties, I have kept the 21 yearling heifers separate from the main cow mob and they are joined with a 2 year old 1/4 Corriente x 3/4 Red Angus bull out of one of my good adapted cows (#433) and a 1/2 Corriente x 1/2 Red or Black Angus yearling bull out of my good purebred 21 year old Corriente cow (#160). This should eliminate any calving difficulties but will reduce the value of each calf because of the Corriente influence. This should be less of a hit than dead heifers, calves, and/or having to assist.
After, the bulls are removed from both the cow mob and the heifer mob, the two groups will be put together into one group for grazing through the winter.
Another thing i may do is wean the calves off the first calf heifers and feed the weaners through the winter allowing the heifer to rebuild body condition better for her next calving event. Haven’t decided on that yet. Sounds like work.
Pros for calving at 2 years
selecting most fertile stock
entering production a year earlier
open heifers can be kept for trying again the next year or selling as grassfinished beeves.
Cons for calving at 2 years
keeping a separate mob before and during breeding season
possibly having to wean/feed calves
increased incident of calving difficulties
Farming and ranching are dynamic businesses requiring flexibility, creative planning, and constant learning. The ability to identify a problem is a must as is adjusting the plan and expectations to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Finding and purchasing cattle to graze and perform in a managed grazing (in my case now total grazing) is next to impossible. Growing the herd size with your own adapted animals is a slow process, but has shown itself to be the better answer for me in all animal groups; heifers, bulls, and cows.
Basically this is a math problem. What is the cost of mowing (brush hogging) a pasture vs the benefit of doing so.
Consider the fuel (which is expensive now), wear and tear on machinery, depreciation, and man hours. Now, ideally, one would not own or operate the machinery and therefore would avoid the depreciation (although John Deere tractors actually seem to appreciate in value as the dollar recedes) and hire someone to mow it for you. However, my husband has a lot of tractors and equipment, so we might as well use them, though it still takes someone to sit in the tractor.
So, i don’t know the numbers to make a math decision, but there is absolutely no doubt that the Bowyer Farm, which was cropped for 4 years with soybeans, wil hugely benefit having those suffocating weeds (ragweed and cocklebur) removed as a thick canopy preventing desirable species of grasses and legumes to take hold.
With two tractors going, one with a 15 foot brush hog, and the other with a 20 foot brush hog, it did not take long for Allen and my son, Dallas, to finish the job. It’s particularly a good job these days of intense ragweed pollinating for Dallas because he can sit in the air conditioned tractor cab and get along well. My husband has to do all the fueling and greasing, however.
These side by side photos are important in that they illustrate the difference between a paddock that was grazed in a more timely manner and the ragweed and cocklebur were removed by cows grazing, thereby opening the canopy and allowing an abundance of clover and lespedeza (poor man’s alfalfa) to flourish. The second photo shows that very little is able to grow under 4-6 foot tall thick ragweed. Even cocklebur and foxtail couldn’t get a toe hold in that mess.
About five days ago (21 Aug 22), i moved the cows/calves across the road to a paddock which had been previously grazed (13 Jun-23Jun 2022) via total grazing protocols. We’ve had more than plenty of rain, so regrowth was fantastic and the forages in this paddock are at the peak of grazing readiness to provide the cows a well balanced diet. I’m convinced they’ve gained 100 lbs in just those few days due to superior diet. Clearly, one can see i’m not mobbing them for best pasture results. This is due to my severe allergies and not being able to be outside. If not for a/c in my Gator, I would turn them out in large paddock and not see them for a week or more.
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.
My plan was to muster in the cattle, sort off the randy bull calves (they are about 8 months old now) to wean. Also, my husband has a few cows i’m grazing for him and one of them i noticed had been in heat a couple times, so took her out (she is without calf), and earlier in the year, I’d purchased some large frame heifers to breed then resell.
Normally, the freshly weaned calves would be fence lined weaned for about three days but with only 7 weaned, i didn’t want to mess with setting up feed bunks and feeding so far from our house. I don’t feed grain, but do like to get them started on high protein alfalfa pellets (or better, quality alfalfa hay) since stockpiled forages or hay could be too low in quality for young growing animals.
The remaining cows, calves, and first calf heifers began winter grazing on December 18. There is a bit leftover from the growing season they could grub around on, and as they winter graze, i might let them back to those paddocks if it is convenient, but for now they will move forward on the grazing plan. It is also important that they graze the particular paddocks they are on now because I’ve hired a fence crew to come in and replace a quarter mile of perimeter fence between my neighbor and me. If the cows graze down the grass, then it won’t be destroyed as the contractors move equipment in and, the shorter grass will allow the soil to freeze harder for easier access as well.
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.
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!
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.