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,
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.
Access to more forage allows them to fill guts more easily and completely – the super cold really makes them hungry!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honestly, every entry I write could be entitled ‘Lessons Learnt.’ Usually, i learn things by bad experience which is unfortunate, but those are the ones most remember, right?!
As you know, i’ve been practicing Jaime Elizondo’s Total Grazing/Real Wealth Ranching technique now for over a year (wow! went fast) and even with my few cows and decidedly unevenly applied practice, there is a credible improvement in nutrient distribution and sward thickening.
Lesson 1 from this past week.
Even with proper paddock width, have at least 850 feet of poly braid on your reel.
One of the tenets is to design paddocks no more than 650 feet so that a reel of poly braid is easily managed and doesn’t take long to set up. However, not all paddocks measured out will be less than that due to undulating lay of the land, ditch crossings or going around ditches, draws, fingers, etc etc ad nauseum. I came up very short on one of the reels i’m using on paddock #15 and had to scrounge through all that i had in the back of my Gator. Thankfully, i had a couple long bungee cord with gate handles already attacked plus a bare piece of narrow poly braid i could tie on. About 40 feet all together to make it to the other side of the paddock. Good grief – lots of extra work. Gonna add the extra length as soon as i get a chance and put an end to extra work.
Bolster ditch gap fence!
Jaime had an excellent podcast/blog just this week about making and keeping those fences ‘hot’ (electrified). Although my fences were boasting 6.9 kw, that was not enough to keep the cows from pushing the single strand electrified rope blocking the ditch.
My previous type of managed grazing would have usually let me get away with this, however, when I’m pushing the cows/calves to graze older and perhaps less sweet grass – the stuff that really needs grazing and fertilizing to improve – they will push the boundaries if there is young green grass just on the other side. Total Grazing
Lesson 3 – Check paddockfences occasionally during growing season
Since i’ve moved the cows to start grazing on their winter stockpile, I’ve discovered that my 2 wire hi-tensile fences are largely ‘down’ and/or sagging badly. This is mostly if not entirely due to the large numbers of white tailed deer in our area. The deer cause not only damage to fences but also graze out a lot of the tender grasses and legumes. The work comes in at having to repair all the fences and allow the forage loss when calculating the amount of feed available to one’s livestock.
Since choosing total grazing, one half of my farm has been allowed to grow nearly an entire grazing season so it is beautiful, thick, with fat roots, and seed production. A fence that is down will be buried beneath the grass and entirely ineffective as a psychological or even quasi physical barrier. Pulling the wires up from underneath the mass of forage is a bit of a struggle and time consuming. I plan to stay ahead of that by keeping an eye on deer damage during the growing season and repairing fences so this doesn’t happen.
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.
Ten years ago, my good friend, Jim Gerrish, (American Grazinglands, LLC) stopped by on his way from his daughter’s house back to his home in Idaho and we walked my farm, which he was already familiar with from his days at FSRC as lead grazing specialist, (and as our neighbour) and he worked up a paddock design and grazing plan. I did not follow it to the letter, but just recently, I have taken MiG (management-intensive grazing) to the next logical step in Total Grazing concept as taught by Jaime Elizondo, I am moving fences and retooling. Early this morning, i woke to the possibility that i was moving towards Jim’s original design and recommendation. I pulled out the professional consultation booklet and, sure enough, it is nearly precisely what i’m now moving towards. Now, the changes are not huge, but they are critical and a good workout.
Now, in my defense, there is a reason that i didn’t go entirely with his plan and that is because the EQIP program i signed up for which paid for all this fencing required solar water/temporary water tanks. Since i am not comfortable depending on solar/battery water pump when checking the cows only every 3 days, i could not, in my quality of life choice, rely on solar pump supply. My pump doesn’t have a check on it, indeed it will pump for 45 minutes per battery then completely drain that battery and the solar panel cannot recharge it once it is flat. That is a problem. Now i have significantly improved that situation because now two batteries are linked together. In other words, if the cattle drink a lot at night or when the skies are super dark for an extended period, the batteries will allow about 1 1/2 hours of continuous pumping and will be flat if there is no voltaic recharge during that time. However, having two batteries there has not been a charging failure.
Since I’ve discovered the new (to me) Total Grazing program in which the best balance is 4x moves per day nonselective grazing (for cattle satiation and soil/forage improvement), i will be at my farm nearly everyday or as often as possible so i can keep an eye on water supply from the solar pump. There are a lot of other things i can do whilst there, plus being away from home, maybe i can lose a few pounds by avoiding easy access to food. In fact, today i am actually looking at quality tents so i can spend more time camping and fishing in the two big ponds i stocked with good fish a few years back. (Any recommendations on waterproof tents?!)
Okay, back to the story – Jim figures with my soil types (but not having tested how poor and depleted they are), that 400-500 animals units could be sustained year round on my 520 acres. However, despite 3 day grazing periods and 40 day day rest periods, i found that the carrying capacity has appreciably declined each year even though a LOT of hay was being fed. Something had to change leading to selling off some 76 head of cows/calves last fall. There are but 75 animal units now and i still am feeding some hay even now, in large part, to protect the tiny green plants trying to grow – May 1 is our traditional ‘start of grazing season’ date in north Missouri. The decline in numbers is also due in large part of leasing out 120 acres to organic soybean cropping these past 4 years.
Jim also uses an 80% seasonal utilization on cool season pastures and 60% for warm season, but MiG as i was implementing it, couldn’t come close to that! Therein lies the change in movement, allocation, and observation of gut fill, manure consistency, and plant growth. BUT, and this is a big but, it will require me to be at the farm full time. Given the distance to drive there is the challenge to try and fit into a quality of life long term decision. But my life has far fewer demands on my time now that the children are educated, grown, and gone (except for Dallas – thank goodness he has stayed to help!)
Wrestling with the option of moving my cows across the road to the Bowyer Farm or setting up 1/3 of a mile of poly braid and step in posts, then cajoling the cows to follow me nearly a mile to hay bales set for bale grazing, i decided to do the easy (but wrong) of moving them across the road ….. until i listened in on Jaime Elizondo’s Q and A session on total grazing/adapted genetics. Someone asked a question pertinent to my situation and Jaime’s answer goaded me into the proper choice.
In actuality, this afternoon turned out sunny and reasonably warm, so it was a pleasure to do much walking. The cows were taking their afternoon nap, so after encouraging those lying down get up, they decided to patronize me by following me to the chosen paddock with hay. They were quite pleased with the grazing selection.
Why was this the right decision? 1) keeps cows from grazing those young plants trying to green up and grow. Grazing too soon will set the grass growth back for the entire year! 2) the green grass will be too high of protein and likely cause squirty manure which can lead to loss of body condition and a host of infirmaries due to high pH in the gut.
Most were happy to chow down on some good hay – others wanted to nibble at a speck o’ green.