Tag Archives: Real Wealth Ranching

Mud, Mud, Mud

The past 5-6 years, the weather has quite deviated from the norm, but this year is more its irritating self. With frequent, yet light rains, drizzles, and cloudy weather resulting in constant mud, even on top of the ridges – there’s not a dry or even well drained spot on my farm. Pugging is everywhere, though thankfully, i don’t have large cows, so damage is mitigated by less animal weight per square inch.

This year is the first year in implementing the ‘no molestar’ (do not bother) concept of not shifting cows and calves to new paddocks during calving season. This has been a real blessing, however, given the mud and misery this year, the cows have trampled their large paddock and from the looks of it have wasted at least 50% of their forage mostly by walking around and trampling into the mud. This has forced me to move them to another paddock which is just as wet and muddy, but with thick forage. They will destroy it rapidly as well. Very thankful that through total grazing, there is plenty of reserve forage for the cows. The concept of not bothering the calving cows was interrupted and i had to find and pack and haul and drive a few calves – i think one has been abandoned – this is precisely why the pairs should be left alone during the important bonding time.

Gateways are becoming quite a mess with both cow foot traffic and Gator traffic

The continued cold, cloudy, and wet weather is taking its toll on the cows’ conditions and that of their calves, though it is most noticeable on those yearling first calf heifers and the really old cows.

Despite the rain, work continues as much as possible to avoid getting completely behind though there are many many jobs which must wait for warmer and much drier weather. Next week is supposed to warm up and not rain. Really looking forward to some warmth and especially sunshine.

Pugging is absolutely on every square inch of the paddock.
Forcing them to eat the brown and the green is keeping manure in pretty good shape, but the weather and ground conditions are taking the toll on animal condition. Plus they are very unhappy and unsatisfied – i’m not sure why except there’s been no sun and no place dry to lie down for a couple weeks. That would make me cranky, too.

Turn Out!

What is it about turning calves out to pasture makes me smile. No nanny cows now so will the calves respect familiar boundaries without adult supervision? #totalgrazing

This is where the calves were weaned into and it was getting short on grass! The hay is to help balance their diets so that the protein isn’t too high so as to get the ‘squirts.” If cattle are squirty, that’s diarrhea and they are likely losing weight.
Here’s the forage in pasture for them to graze. As soon as they came off the trailer, their heads dropped and they went straight to grazing! Nonselective (#totalgrazing) grazing in this would be ideal for cows, but growing calves will need to be monitored to be certain they are not being pushed to eat the dead grasses to the point they calves begin losing condition. On the other hand, if allowed to pick and choose only the fresh green forages, the calves’ diet will be skewed towards too much protein and will also lose condition. There is both art and science to grazing and animal husbandry in general. Observation is key, action is critical.

Oi Vey! Missouri Weather

My best laid plans to wean 2021 calves are once more thwarted by bad weather – rain, rain, rain, mud, mud, mud, cold, cold, cold, and tomorrow’s forecast will add snow. Uggghhh!

So, tomorrow (the 24th) i’ll head up and set up more grazing for my cows and calves instead of mustering in for weaning. Maybe next week!

Was really, really hoping to apply non selective total grazing to this patch of sedge, but impending rain changed my plan to loosen up the animals in anticipation of excessive pugging. Glad i made that decision despite knowing that by doing so, the cows will trample considerable amount of stockpile.

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

Arctic Plunge!

Indeed we had a huge drop in temperatures and windchill numbers. Outdoors went from ‘what a blessing!’ to ‘ooh, winter is getting even.’ Above ‘normal’ to ‘well below normal’ which evens out to ‘normal.’

Is there climate change? i haven’t lived long enough to know whether that is a permanent change or just ‘normal’ shifts in weather patterns. I have noticed a shift in having nicer weather almost to the winter solstice, but lingering bitter weather until spring equinox. Annual rainfall tends to arrive in ‘events’ rather than scattered throughout the year and the timing of the rains have changed. But that’s only been the past 5 years – it could be ‘normal’ in 2022. But if the cultural upheaval is any indication, there won’t be normal.

How does total grazing look when it gets this cold? Not much change, except,

  1. i am leaving a bit more residual so the cows and calves will have more ground cover to lay on for protection from the frozen ground and provide better footing on the snow and ice.
  2. Access to more forage allows them to fill guts more easily and completely – the super cold really makes them hungry!
  3. On my farm, there is little need for trees or other windbreaks because the land is quite undulating and there is typically somewhere the cows can lay out of the wind but would be a consideration if one had flat land.
  4. I’m only providing 1 to 2 moves per day. It is so cold, i simply cannot handle being outside. Also, as the ground continues to freezer harder and harder, even that protected under tall forage is becoming more difficult to install step in posts to set up fence. So far, so good on that though.
  5. Keeping the water available has been a challenge as well – even with the leak valve full open, the rising water level forms an ice sheet by the time it reaches the overflow pipe and with not enough pressure to keep it flowing then it doesn’t flow over. The float freezes ‘up’ in the ice sheet as well, thereby keeping that higher flow from entering as well. Thankfully, the intake pipe from the pond has not frozen.

Having the cows run low or out of water has caused great problems with the cows getting out of their prescribed paddock since the mob the tank and push through the electric rope. This is frustrating, but understandable. So, i’ve had to check water everyday for sure.

Another observation is that with nonselective grazing, keeping stock focused on their work and not escaping to ‘greener’ pastures is more difficult than with selective grazing. Even with brown looking stockpile, the calves and sometimes followed by the cows, will find the smallest break in the fence such as a new washout under the hot wire and nearly every animal will soon find it and escape. I’ve had to bolster the paddock they are in to fix this situation. Bad habits are easy to start, harder to break. There are even a couple cows who seem to suddenly want to jump the hi-tensile fence to get to the other side even though what they have is exactly the same – they just are ‘free’ from being next to their mates.

Here’s a sample of forage the cows and calves have now to eat. This paddock has actually been rested since May 25, 2020. It is more mature than the real wealth ranching/total grazing protocol, but it’s what i have. Hopefully, this coming grazing season, i can do a better job by having more livestock – unless we have a drought. Who knows what the new year will bring. I’m thinking of keeping this good steer calf and growing him up as my lead steer/nanny for future calf weaning events. An adult in the room always seems to help youngsters learn the ropes of growing up and accepting new responsibilities. They can’t learn well from their peers.

Total Grazing Saga Continues

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.

My journey and changes in management since joining/implementing Real Wealth Ranching

Began in fall of 2020. 

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!

GOALS:

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.

Harmony

There’s my good adapted girls chowing down on weeds!!