Tag Archives: pasture

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

Lesson for This Week

Oh my, ranching and managed grazing can be completely frustrating and discouraging. That was my week. My plan was to total graze from the corral through part of the timber, then on to the ridge to the south before moving them to the northwest paddock of the Buckman 80. The plan went along fine until they hit the timber. I was using a polybraid and step in posts (white line on map) of about 1000 ft. The turquoise line is another reel.

The fuchsia lines are my proposed fence changes. I’ve already shifted 1/2 mile of 2 wire hi-tensile wire fences and my plan is to finish up this winter with the remaining fence changes. But i’m old, so we’ll see how i get along. Driving even fiberglass posts is starting to wear on me, but it sure builds muscles in my back and shoulders.

To the far right of the photo (this map is from 2015), you can see the white line which is the temporary polybraid which the deer took out 4 times this week, releasing my cows from their confines. The turquoise line represents polybraid as well, but was primarily used to guide them to the paddock on south with the red line drawn east to west (700 feet). Between it and the yellow line south of it are where the cattle are now. That little patch is about 3 acres – by allowing the recovery period to be over one year, there is at least 6000 lbs of forage per acre (about 18,000 lbs total). For my 135 cow/calf units eating about 30 lbs per day (about 4000 lbs) there is more than enough to provide them with quality forage for Shabbat (saturday 11F), Sunday (too cold for me 13F), and Monday afternoon (i might survive being outside). I’ve already strung out the next allotment so i won’t have to be outside for long, although i will have to allow time to drain and winterize a water tank i forgot to do before the cold temperature plunge. UPDATE (8Jan22) temperatures have entered the arctic zone and it is important to leave more residue for the cows to lay on so they avoid resting on short grass and have better footing over the snow and ice. Additionally, the cows have increased their forage intake to combat the brutal cold.

So what was the discouraging parts. DEER! I spent about 8 hours this week chasing cattle back into their appropriate paddocks for total grazing of the their winter stockpile and repairing broken poly braid and replacing busted step in posts, and straightening the metal probe on those posts that were bent. I still managed to finish up driving all the fiberglass posts and re installing the wires on the fences I’m changing (my back, neck, shoulder, ribs, hips, feet, skull adjustment appointment is Wednesday, so i was really wanting to finish that beforehand, so i can rest and recover from the physical pounding).

As it turns out, since i gave up chasing cattle, i moved them all to the Buckman 80 and drove them to the far south of that paddock. I plan to total graze them away from the water. Winter time, i don’t have to worry with regrowth, so with even my few number of cows, this is a workable plan. The move was perfectly timed – we are now in snow, cold, ice, wind. the day before was 51F, today (the 1st) the high is 12F. The cows and calves have plenty of belly deep grazing and access to wind cover so that my next trip will be Monday afternoon when the temps rise above freezing and hopefully a bit of sun.

The other silver lining to my deer problems is that i went back to the drawing board on Google Earth and rerouted my proposed new fence placement to go around the timber. Deer on the run will not respect electrified fences no way, no how for any number of years the fence is there. It’s weird, but that’s the way it is. Since i don’t want to be fixing fence everyday, i will simply not put it in there. Now, that is not to say that i won’t have to fix fence. There will be plenty of that because the deer take down all the fences eventually, but to avoid their favorite runs seems to be wise.

Total Grazing – Day 1

Have you ever read Scripture yet it didn’t make an impact? Then maybe 20 years later, you read the same passage and suddenly the light goes on in your heart and head?! And maybe you don’t ever remember having read it, but that’s unlikely. Or maybe you remember reading it often, but suddenly, the scales are removed and the culmination of our understanding and experiences make a particular passage, parable, or concept crystal clear.

Perhaps learning about grazing livestock doesn’t have the same moral impact on our lives, but, the above paragraph, applies in a similar way for me.

Using O’Brien reels and Powerflex polybraid, I set up the first break which was too large and they wasted some forage by walking on it and manuring.

Jaime Elizondo, Real Wealth Ranching, is an experienced grazier and teacher – i’ve even sat in on one of his presentations at a conference with other grazing teachers. I can honestly say that i absolutely do not remember him teaching about total grazing. I do remember he spent time discussing silvopasture.

For whatever reason, a few weeks ago, i decided to sign up for Pillar 1 – Total Grazing Course of his online grazing course, the Q and A live session just ended a few minutes ago. The course takes about 10 hours to complete and the format is easy to follow and comprehensive. The community discussion is excellent with all class participants able to post questions and Jaime answers for all to see. Not the same networking as sitting at a round table in the same room, but for whatever this year is, it’s a good substitute.

On November 19th, i sold half my cows/calves because without fall rains – again – there is little stockpile and as i’ve stated before, no matter how sharp my pencil or how badly i want it to financially work – feeding hay as a substitute forage for beef cows is a fast way to spend a lot of money with no return and a whole lot of work – in the winter – when it’s cold, miserable – and nasty.

Since taking the course, i’ve spent considerable time on Google Earth Pro drawing lines, paths, and polygons in an effort to optimise fence building. My current fences are 2 strand hi-tensile (2 strand because i had sheep before). There are a couple I am going to move. It’s a big job, but not a hard job, so i’ll keep pecking away at it if winter allows. The reason for moving them is to keep the Total Grazing scheme simple in design.

More on the whole deal as time progresses – Here’s today.

The 58 cows, 30 calves, and 15 yearling heifers were on a small 10 acre paddock cleaning it up the previous day. I had already set up the first stretch of polybraid, so all i did today was use another reel and polybraid to section off about 12,000 square feet. My goal was to feed all the cows in that break for 2 hours (Jaime says 1 1/2 hours – i’m still learning). My stockpile is super light in many places and this first break was certainly no exception.

If i eyeball estimate that there was 2000 lbs of forage per acre available to graze and in 1/4 of an acre there would be about 500 lbs and the animals could consume 2100 lbs per day (8 hours), then in 2 hours it is reasonable to assume they may eat 525 lbs.

Chowing down on yummy cow food.

Incredibly, the scenario played out very close to that. There is some trampled and soiled forage because I forgot to allow them to stand in the previous paddock and deposit their manure and urine before moving into this fresh break. Also, the cows ran all the way to the fence before stopping. This is new to them, so that is not unexpected, but they settled immediately to grazing. Good girls.

I left them alone once they were settled, but they were restless being in such close proximity to one another. I have observed this every time i graze the roadbanks. About an hour is all they can stand to be around one another before they want back into their large paddock for social distancing.

In about an hour, they did the same here by walking back into the closely grazed paddock and just standing around. When i saw this, i went back to them and encouraged them to return to the lush paddock, at which time i also moved the poly braid forward about 12 feet for a quick fresh break. That only took them a few minutes to consume.

Fresh break of only 12 feet

It was getting late in the afternoon and i won’t be returning for 2 days, so i gave them a break large enough to accommodate that.

Final break for the day and enough to last them until i return in a couple days. The animals are more relaxed at this separation. This isn’t ideal in terms of forage and soil improvement or even keeping cow condition on an even keel, but balancing all aspects of management, including time, is the challenge all of us face in some fashion.

Hope to have more stories to share!!

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.

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 to Buy Part 2

The second part of Jim Gerrish‘s excellent article and how to not only make your farm or ranch more profitable, but also improve soil, grazing, water, and wildlife.Building electric fence in rough countryJim Gerrish

In most locations, single-wire electric fence and water facilities are the main costs for improved grazing management.

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

For a fraction of the cost of purchase, most ranches can make improvements that sometimes double their carrying capacity.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 12, 2019

I ended that article with the observation that increasing pasture or range production by 40% would be more profitable than trying to increase individual animal productivity by 40%.

My 40% is not a magic number. It is simply the example I am using. I do that partly because of the commonly held idea that producing a 700-pound calf must be more profitable than raising a 500-pound calf. The other reason I am using 40% is because that is also a common level of increase in pasture productivity we see when ranchers implement management-intensive grazing (MiG).

MiG is the term I use to describe an approach to grazing management that is more intensive than the set-stocking or slow rotations common in the ranching industry. Our objective is to shorten the period of time any piece of pasture or rangeland is exposed to grazing animals. If we do this, the potential recovery period is always significantly extended. This is the key component of time management I have been referring to.

When we build subdivision fencing across the landscape of the ranch, we are not only subdividing space, we are also subdividing time.  Each time we make a smaller pasture increment, we reduce the amount of time the stock will be on that increment. That has a tremendous, and for some ranchers, an almost unbelievable change in the vigor and productivity of the pasture. With shortened grazing periods, we can more tightly control every aspect of the soil-plant-animal relationship. That is the component missing from almost all of the grazing management research of the last 100 years.

What is this management of time worth down on the ranch?

As mentioned above, the average increase in carrying capacity we see among our ranching clients adopting MiG and making investments in stock water development and subdivision fencing is about 40%. We have numerous clients who have doubled their carrying capacity. We have a few who have gotten less than 40%. All of this is the product of more effectively managing the period of time cattle are allowed to be in a particular area. On rangeland we usually work toward having that time period no more than 7-10 days. On productive pasture, we keep the length of the grazing period to no more than 3-4 days.

What does it cost to install all that fence, pipelines and tanks?

Every ranch is different, so of course the answer is that it depends! For example, is there already a good well on the property or do we need to drill a well? Is there already a pipeline network on the property that we can spur off of? Are there existing fences that are in reasonable locations that can be used in the new management scheme? These are the components that can make a difference. Here are examples from a couple of recent projects we have designed and which the ranchers implemented.

Jim GerrishA dozer pulling in water line.

Livestock water typically is the most limiting resource for managed grazing, but it is far cheaper than land.

Twice the ranch

On an 8,000-acre ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, we started a ranch that had 15-20 existing pastures with low-output windmills that allowed them to only carry 20-60 cows in each pasture. With a 7.5-mile pipeline project, 20 new stock tanks, and more than 20 miles of two-wire electrified high-tensile fencing, the ranch was split into about 60 permanent pastures with a stock-water supply system that allows 600-800 cows to be run in a single herd. The project cost was about $400,000 when we include the rancher’s labor contribution to the construction project. That is a big chunk of money, but on a per-acre basis it is only $50 per acre. In three years’ time, this ranch doubled its carrying capacity and the infrastructure investment was paid off in the third year.

That means they essentially bought another ranch for $50 per acre, while the cost to go out and actually purchase another ranch would have been $1,000 per acre, plus closing costs and added taxes.

Might double

Another recent project on a 30,000-acre ranch racked up an infrastructure development cost of about $1.1 million. That is a per-acre cost of about $36. Projecting a 40% increase in carrying capacity has the project paid off in year four. With a 40% increase in carrying capacity, the equivalent per acre purchase price is $90 per acre. I am confident this ranch will also experience a doubling of carrying capacity in 3-5 years, so the payoff rate should be accelerated. Why do I expect this ranch to double carrying capacity? Because the ranch is presently very under-supplied with stock water and much of the ranch is rarely even being grazed.

Remember the title on the article: “What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy?”

It is the one you acquire by more effectively managing grazing and recovery time on the ranch you already own.

Read part one of this story here. 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.