Tag Archives: management

Another Pasture Map Story

*the photo above is an old photo – i no longer use netting along this lane since i found it unnecessary to contain the cows/calves and setting it up was more work than needed. It only takes one person to muster the in cows, but i am always thankful for help when they show up.

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Soon (March 2022) it will be time to wean calves born in May 2021 and with all the stock on the Buckman 80, that means a half mile move to the corral. They can be directed through a gate on the northeast corner of the Buckman 80, but then to control their direction, I will set up temporary electrified polybraid with step in posts.

In the map below, the Buckman 80 comprises the 4 paddocks on the bottom and moving toward the upper right hand of that is the northeast corner through which the cows with their calves will move towards the corral. The light green line illustrates the location i will install the temporary polybraid to guide them to the corral at the upper right hand corner of my property. The green line is about 1/2 mile.

Once the calves are sorted off, then the cows will be taken south of the weaning pen, but have nose to nose contact with their babies. (Next year, 2023, calving and weaning will push back a month – April.) In very short time (starting as soon as 24 hours) the mommas will see that their nearly a year old babies are well cared for and will no longer worry for them.

Google Earth Pro makes fence ‘building’ so much easier. Laying out plans and measuring area are ‘free’ and easy.

Predicting A Drought?

Having just returned from a 3-week sojourn visiting friends through Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, there is very serious and visible evidence of continued drought in those areas.  Fire danger is pegged at super high.  Without rain soon, pastures will struggle to start their normal growth.  Whatever ‘normal’ is anymore.

As the short, cold, blustery, gloomy days of winter slowly lengthen towards spring with renewed growth and opportunity, it’s a good time to review the past year(s) and plan to overcome mistakes and explore new pathways towards better land stewardship, animal husbandry, and profitability. Creating harmony is a good goal, so finding ways to accomplish that will mean different paths to each person and will include others and the season of our lives.

For this moment, I want to consider the very real possibility of severe drought and have a plan in place before it might arrive. How can my ranch harmonize profitability, animal welfare, and land improvement if drought becomes a reality.

In our area of north central Missouri, the ‘normal’ time to begin stockpiling forages for winter grazing is about August 10.  However, for the past 5 consecutive years, those late summer/early fall rains have been nonexistent.  This is entirely why I sold about 33% of my cow herd in the fall of 2020 because of my grazing protocol for the past 30 years I had no stockpile and was looking at another winter of feeding hay.  No more I decided, so I sold any cow that had no calf at side and any pair which was not replacement quality calf regardless of age or condition.  Additionally, even though it was hard for me (because I like colorful cows), I sold any cow with ‘chrome’ even if she was a good producer.  Colorful calves are heavily docked in price in our area regardless of quality.

That was my ‘drought’ plan for that winter even though we really were not in a period of low rainfall; the rains are just not coming at the time needed.  Shortly after that, Jaime Elizondo appeared in my view again, this time via Instagram, so I e-mailed him and asked him what in the world he was talking about! I took his courses and am a monthly subscriber to ongoing education (Fat Wallet Rancher) – game changer!  Within weeks, I now realized my managed grazing program was creating my ‘drought.’

Although, even with having found a few head of cows or heifers to increase mob numbers, I’m seriously understocked.  However, referring back to my trip and the talk of the experts, it could be that Missouri may experience real drought this year (2022). Time will tell.

The point of sharing these thoughts is perhaps to remind myself of a good way to address the unknown and be prepared.  For sure, no one knows if we will have a drought.  It is somewhat dry in our area now, but subsoil moisture is good and ponds are full.  But if one is uncomfortable going into the season fully stocked, then make changes now if livestock prices are good.  And that they are.

  1. Sell any and ALL cows without a calf – immediately
  2. Sell any bred cow with or without a calf at side if she doesn’t have a replacement quality calf
  3. Sell any cow – open or bred – who has missed having a calf at any time in her past
  4. Sell steers of any weight which are in demand
  5. Sell heifers of any weight which are in demand and you don’t plan to keep as replacements
  6. Maybe go through your bull battery and see if there are old bulls that need selling.   Be careful here until after semen check to be certain you have enough adapted bulls for your own herd.
  7. Anything with a flighty or dangerous attitude goes immediately.
  8. Making sure you are calving in sync with nature will be one of the biggest changes you can make to become more profitable, though it’s not the only easy management change you can implement to address drought situations.

Some of our cows may not be good cows – how do I justify selling them to someone else?  Oftentimes, if I have a known poor producer (which thankfully I no longer have – but it takes drastic purging to get to that point), or one which has developed a flighty or dangerous disposition, I speak up at the sale.  But most will be fine in a more traditional herd.  I push my animals to perform in mob grazing, total grazing, and a very short breeding season.

Bottom line is to ask one’s self – if I can’t make money with this cow or worse, she is costing me money, how can I possibly think that simply having another calf to sell is a good thing?  NO!  Even if you go through a time of low inventory and not many calves to sell – it is far better to not have the expense of an unproductive ‘factory.’  Sell it into a situation in which she may perform.  She is simply not adapted to our farm and management and probably never will be.

Perhaps you will need to find a side gig or off farm job to make up the difference for a few years, but when those replacement heifers and possibly home raised bulls out of the very best cows you have start to build in numbers, you will be SO far ahead of the game.  However, that will also affect your cash flow until those heifers start producing.  Cow/Calf production is a long-term game.  Be prepared.

As far as the possibility of a drought, this also leaves you in a position to be very low on numbers.  If you have been diligent and don’t have any of the cows mentioned in the sell list, then it will be harder to part with some.  Maybe wean early (sell the cows) and keep their replacement calves – they won’t eat as much – yet you will still be keeping your best adapted genetics.  Depending on the cost, one may consider shipping the stock to a place where custom grazing is available.

There are times in some areas with years of extended drought – if those are normal, perhaps livestock is not the right use of the land in that climate.  Or maybe just a certain class of livestock will work.  However, in north Missouri, droughts are usually short duration and/or are of our own making. I remember my grandpa telling of a time in the 1950s in which they cut down trees to feed the cows, but am thinking that works well but only for short term.

In Missouri on primarily cool season forages, we typically experience a ‘summer slump’ in which heat and humidity and no rains result in little to no growth in forages in the middle of the summer. This is not drought, but an annual event which can be planned for. Utilizing total grazing techniques can prepare you for this slump by having ample forage for grazing until the cool season grasses start growing again when temperatures start cooling in the fall.

What has worked for you in a drought situation?

Shalom!

tauna

Land Considerations

As i get older, i’m more aware of how much time and hard work a piece of property can be.  Many years ago, my grandpa gave me a 160 acre piece of his land and i now realize that he was about my age now when he gave it.  I was much younger and was thrilled, but now i can see that he was probably tired of managing and fixing all its problems.  In fact, it is only about the east 80 acres of the farm i now have that incurs 80% of the work i do on the 520 acres i now own/manage.  (it is a sad reflection of our time that in north Missouri that is no where near enough property to make a living on).  At the same time, it’s the corner of that piece that is the best for working and loading out livestock.  (interestingly, my daughter, at about age 11 made the comment, ‘i don’t like this farm, it is too much work!”)

Truth be told, if it was possible for me to control the land to the north of me and to the south, i could all but eliminate the massive erosion and washing problems which cause my little piece to be so much work.  But i don’t, so difficult repairs are recurring.  Controlling the ‘heads’ of the water by building ponds or dams would practically stop all but the worst rain events which cause such destruction.  The biggest help would be to seed down the hills that are being farmed every year.  There are no roots to hold any soil in place and increase water infiltration on acres and acres of slope.

So, a point i’m trying to make is – look to your future self when purchasing a property – is this property you are considering fixable?  or will it be constant work?  We actually looked at a property last year that was adjoining and for sale, but with all it’s deep ditches and no control of the head, it would be more work than what we wanted to take on now at retirement age.  It is FAR too much asking price anyway.  (It’s still for sale)

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The water rushes through this gap so high and fast that there is brush and sometimes huge logs on top of the sealed road you see in this photo.  This time, there are only a few small pieces on the road, my fence caught most of the trash.  The fence is laid over so much, that i’ll actually take the wires off the two posts you see, pull the posts and reset them on the inside of the trash and it will still be in line with the existing fence.

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For fun, i found this map which shows the watershed area through which this one water gap i’m repairing all the runoff water passes through.  I measured the area and it encompasses 560 acres of surface land area.  When we get gully washers, which do come at least 3 times a year, that’s a lot of water rushing down Lick Branch – no wonder my fence gets washed out every time.

777 Bison Ranch

So, the short story is that an awesomely talented and accomplished woman, Mimi Hillenbrand, has for some years owned and managed the 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota in a holistic manner vis-à-vis that which is promoted by the Savory Institute or Holistic Management International.  Bison on an open ranch of thousands of acres requires a bit different approach to grazing pressure and rest to improve the soil health and forage quality/quantity.  It was very interesting to hear how she handles the animals.

These past few years, she purchased a smaller property in Chile she named 45 South to not only improve the pastures, (though using cattle this time) but also just to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and to live in a completely different culture –at least part time.

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It will take more years, but with managed cattle impact on the land, improvement can already be measured.

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Properly managed livestock impact is critical to healing the land.

Fundo Panguilemu, Coyhaique, Chile

I cannot do justice to the sweet hospitality of this young family.  Our Savory Institute journey group is here to learn about the improvements they have experienced using the holistic management techniques.  The grass is thick, lush, and tender – rested paddocks are ready for consuming.

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Regenerative farm owner and operator, Jose,  (who is also a holistic management instructor) gave us an excellent overview on how they’ve managed their farm and improved the sward and healed the soil substantially in only 6 years using managed grazing of cattle and sheep.

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Elizabeth, also owner of the farm and a holistic management instructor keeps all the balls in the air on this stunning cattle and sheep farm/pastured egg laying/horse trekking/firewood gathering/wildlife viewing/fly fishing/mountain biking/yurt accommodation/HMI training site.  Oh, did i mention she also is raising 2 wonderful little children as well as training interns who show up from around the world to help on the farm?

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How about a unique stay on a working farm?! And talk about a view!  Excellent fly fishing available here on the edge of the Simpson River.  Contact Elizabeth at Fundo Panguilemu.

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Lookout Paddock provides excellent overview of paddock layout.  Note cattle and sheep grazing in lower left paddock.

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For my Missouri friends, you will be surprised to know that many of the grasses and forbes are the same as what we graze.  This is a photo of the rose bush that we also have growing, but no multiflora rose here.

Cheapest Ranch You Can Buy Part 1

Written by my friend, Jim Gerrish, for Beef Producer magazine:  This is Part 1

What is the Cheapest Ranch You Will Ever Buy?

Cows grazing Nebraska SandhillsAlan Newport
Changing the way we graze can dramatically alter the value and production of a ranch.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part 1

The value of grazing management cannot be overstated, author says.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 09, 2019

In much of the country, the price of ranch land is driven by non-ranching factors. People are paying way more for the recreational value or the view from the ranch than what livestock production can afford to pay.

There generally is a common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow in any neighborhood. Most people seem to believe this is a predetermined stocking rate that is determined almost entirely by the amount of rainfall received in any given year. The truth is, environment determines only the upper limit of the carrying capacity potential of a ranch. It is the ranchers grazing management that determines how much of that potential is actually realized.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is most ranches in the US are managed in a way that generally captures less than half of the biological carrying capacity of the ranch. The two primary ingredients for producing beef are sunshine and water. Most ranches are ineffective at harvesting these two “free” inputs. While sunshine and rain water are free ingredients, the landscape we use as our solar panel and water catchment is not free.

If we decide we need to increase the beef output on our ranch by 40% to generate the revenue flow we need to make a living, how might we go about doing that?

One obvious way is to buy another ranch that is 40% the size of our current holdings. If our current ranch is worth $1,000/acre and we have 1,000 acres, we would need to buy 400 more acres at $1,000 to get 40% more grazing capacity. That would be $400,000 outlay, plus there would be closing costs, an increase in taxes, and so forth.

The failed approach the ranching industry has taken has been the quest to increase output per individual cow by 40%. Rather than having cows that wean 500 pounds, let’s have cows that wean 700 pounds. The number of articles published in the last five years showing the folly of this approach is astounding. Go to the winter cattle production meetings and every one of them seems to feature a university researcher now showing big cows decrease ranch profitability, not the other way around.

A less obvious way to increase stocking rate is to get 40% more production out of every acre we currently own or control. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream ranchers can only think of adding irrigation or more fertilizer or tear up the native range to plant some foreign wonder-grass. Is that really all we can do?

What if we found a way to capture more solar energy and water on every acre? How could we do that and what might it cost?

Let’s step back and ask why are most ranches operating at less than 50% of their biological carrying capacity? The simplest answer is there is too much bare ground. Bare ground doesn’t capture solar energy and make cow feed. Bare ground allows water to run off or set on the surface and evaporate. Why do most ranches have too much bare ground? Because cattle stay too long in the same place and pasture and rangeland are not allowed adequate recovery time to maintain plant vigor.

In 40 years of commercial ranching and grazing research I have learned the primary determinants of range and pasture productivity are:

  1. The amount of time stock are allowed to be on a particular piece of ground
  2. The time allowed for recovery

That local common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow is fundamentally flawed because it is based on management that completely ignores the role of time management on the nature of our soil health and plant community.

For the last 50 years the ranching industry and community focused on the animal and animal genetics, which misses the point that it is the land base controlled and the productivity of that land that drives ranch profitability, not individual animal productivity.

On a commercial ranch, most of our production costs are land-based costs, not animal-based costs. This is the reason why increasing the productivity of an acre of grazing land by 40% will always have much more impact of bottom line profitability than will increasing individual cow productivity by 40%.

Next week: Learn how to get that ranch production increase of 40% or more.

Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

Genetics and Selection

There are very few reasons for mobs of livestock to have access to ponds beyond and emergency drinking water access. My reason here is that these heifers needed to be separated from the main cow herd for the 45 day breeding season and the only paddock I have does not have shade or even a high point to catch a breeze such as the pond dam where the heifers in the second photo are standing.

Ideally, allotting short term adequate shaded space is the optimal.  Video below shows comfortable cows and calves.

In many cases, cattle not selected for heat tolerance will immerse themselves in a pond for relief. The flip side is that oftentimes these cattle will tolerate severe cold better than the others. We can spend decades selecting for the genetics which thrive in each of our unique environments and management. Hopefully also providing a quality eating experience for the consumer.

This is a jarring photo and i hesitate to post it, but reality is, we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we make do until improvements can be made.  These purebred Angus heifers can’t tolerate much heat and humidity and stand in the pond. Not healthy for the pond or the cattle.

These heifers have up to 50% genetically selected heat tolerant breeds of either Longhorn or Corriente crossed with black or red Angus. Clearly more comfortable in Missouri heat and humidity.