Tag Archives: improvement

Across Country-Across the Borders

After a great supper followed by a good night’s sleep and enjoying a delicious breakfast next morning, we loaded in our vehicles and headed for the Argentinian border.  Crossing the border here is just part of the experience.  There are two windows and agents to visit with at each border with a driving space of about 7 kilometers between the two.  Getting out, showing and studying paperwork (for vehicles and people), stamping, questions, get loaded back up.  It took our small tour of about ten people, 2 hours to navigate this labyrinth.  The return was somewhat quicker – still a few bumps and luggage needed to be opened but only a cursory examination, more paperwork.  If you don’t have your paperwork in order, chances are good, you will not cross.

But the effort was worth it once we arrived at Numancia Estacion.  First greeted with open warm hospitality and then seated informally for a traditional Argentinian meal.  We did have to wait about an hour for the rain to stop before we began our now shortened farm walk.  Pablo shared details of his Hereford cattle program and Merino sheep scheme.  Then we went out to examine how his 10-year implementation of managed grazing has improved forage quality and yield.

Back to Coyhaique for supper at Hotel El Reloj (awesome) then to Raices Bed and Breakfastjust before they closed the doors for the night!  Finally to be in bed by midnight – scheduled departure is at 5:15a to meet a family business to take us to see the condors on a cliff side.

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Now this is just a fun group.  On the left front, Mimi Hillenbrand, owner of 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota, as well as recent owner of a small property in Chili and on the right front, Elizabeth, owner of Fundo Panguilemu.  Photo taken just before supper at Cabañas El Diamante
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El Diamante’s owner (on the right) is assisting the builder with sprucing up the lovely accommodation and meals served business in Chile.  Stihl chainsaws all over the world!

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Traditionally roasted lamb.
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Our host slicing off slabs of tender juicy lamb to serve to his guests.  
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Pablo explaining his pasture improvement methods.
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Yes, we got to walk these quiet Hereford pairs into another lot.
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This and several other Merino rams being graded for quality by an inspector for a composite which tries to improve both wool and meat quality.
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And back to Chile.

Managing Stock and Pasture

With an exciting title like that, one can hardly wait to read what’s within!  HA!

Nevertheless, managing our resources (in my case it’s primarily land and cattle) is a must and, yes, even biblically (Genesis 2:15) mandated, to not only preserve unadulterated landscape (not to be confused with managing by removing human and wildlife impact or just letting nature take its course – ‘mother nature’ is not wise), but also we can use intense management to restore and improve ravaged soils and water.  There is a cost, time, and planning involved – and, to most, that is just not exciting.  It’s more fun to blame someone else for whatever climate change, global warming, environmental downfall you believe in on someone else and, those in power play on emotion to create ways to transfer wealth out of yours and mine pocket and put it in theirs.  But the fact is that each of us can make incremental changes in our own lawns, houses, driving habits, purchasing choices which will make us feel better and it will, rather that cost us, put money in our own pockets.

We have waste on our farm and farming practices, to be sure, just as any company or household has – oftentimes there is a cost to manage the waste, so it’s more profitable to waste.  No harm in that – usually.   For example, after having my timber and draws profitably logged which also improved the land, air, water, wildlife, soil, the resulting branches and small logs are more effectively burned where they lay vs  chipping or chopping for firewood.  It is a huge cost to do either of latter.  However, before burning, i’ll allow them to rot down, putting nutrients and carbon back on the soil and provide some shelter for wildlife before i burn the piles.  So not a total waste.

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Here I’m installing a single strand poly braid electric fence with step in posts to keep the cows on the tall (older forage) grasses to the right.  I did this because the south half of this paddock was grazed Jun 23-25.  Although there is little regrowth even after 45 days (we are still dry despite the green forage), it will be more tasty to the cows and they will grub it down to the soil thereby setting it back for regrowth and allowing the drought to get a deeper grip.  Bare soil and short roots make for a disaster.  Soil erosion, high soil temperatures, slow regrowth, microbes, essential to soil health, will start dying off.
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Photo showing the shorter regrowth up front, the poly braid, and the taller, older forage in the background. The taller forage has not been grazed since last December and, though we are short on moisture, the rains have been much more timely than the past two years, so there is a nice variety of forages available and many of them have already gone to seed – adding to the reserve or seed bank in the soil for the future.
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Variety in the sward and decent ground cover for my worn out soil.  It has taken years to build a better pasture and this is actually some of the best.  It is located near the ditch so it has the topsoil from the ground above it plus more moisture.  However, even the worst soil is starting to support a thicker stand.  I’ll get a photo – i’m very excited about the improvement at long last!
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Not much regrowth despite being rested for 45 days.  Thankfully, through managed grazing, i can let this rest at least another 45 days.  You can see my boot in this photo – estimated height of sward is 6-8 inches.
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Perfect time to allow a long rest to allow this birdsfoot trefoil to go to seed!

Annuals Scheme – Final Analysis

Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.

Grazing comparison data is as follows:

2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs  Total:  5089 lbs

2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs  Total:  5574 lbs

2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs  Total:  3294 lbs

2016-2017 – lost all my records

2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs    Total: 2242 lbs

As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience.  When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days!  In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit.  However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest.  One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition.  At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too.  So…..

So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing.  The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing.  Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department.  However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter.  It does look like that has happened at least in short term.  It is very hard to measure long term benefits.   However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland).  Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work.  I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week.  This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done.  There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.

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I drive through the annuals with my Gator to make it easier to set up a polybraid fence through it.
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Grazed part next to ungrazed annuals.  That tall stuff still standing in common ragweed.
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My ground is very poor in most areas and this is all it will grow in a 65 day period of the annuals.

 

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This is along the fence line (see fence on the left).  What a difference in where i tilled and planted vs undisturbed.  The ubiquitous Kansas ragweed (lanceleaf) is still thriving where it is undisturbed.

 

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Those cows didn’t waste any.  They really, really enjoyed eating the succulent annuals and snarfed down the volunteer yellow foxtail.  The stalks are trampled nicely.
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This is a close up of the left behind common ragweed.  That step in post is 36 inches tall.
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A closer look at the Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed in undisturbed soil.  Same step in post.
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Larger area shown here of what is left of the annuals after grazing.

Additional thoughts and observations:

Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls

Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.

There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages.  However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections.  Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres.  Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.

If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.

Post grazing observations:

  1. where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
  2. Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
  3. The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application.  Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered.  Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.

Cows on the Annuals

It’s been a rather busy and momentous month, so i’m way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project.  Here are photos of growth at 60 days.  Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017.  Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon.  It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i’m ready to put paid to this project.

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Comparison of untilled along fence with worked and planted soil.

 

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This is the most ground cover this paddock has ever produced in my lifetime!

 

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Nice crop of yellow foxtail – cattle ate it literally to the ground.  They loved it!

 

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This is volunteer yellow foxtail as identified by our county extension agent.  Despite being a ‘weed’, this forage is exceptionally palatable with excellent nutritional value. 
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In some places, my soil is so poor, that this is all that has grown for 60 days.  We’ve had excellent rainfall amounts.

 

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Sunflowers, buckwheat, and quite a mix, but very short for 60 days of growth.  However, where this is growing, there doesn’t seem to be any ironweed growing.  Another plus.

 

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Weak soil readily visible in this photo.  How can soil be so abused?!  Was it always like this?  or did this happen because of decades of row cropping back in the mid 1900’s?

 

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Where there is no tillage, Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed is making its annual appearance.  In the background, one can see the skips in seeding.  This is due to the pneumatic seeder getting plugged far too often.

 

 

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Cows and calves grazing annuals.  in the middle of the photo, one can see where i didn’t till because of a small ditch.  I was concerned about erosion, but that wasn’t an issue this year.  Wishing i had tilled right on through them. Live and learn.