Tag Archives: winter stockpile

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.

Grazing Winter Stockpile

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.

In the meantime, here are some snapshots.

Total grazing allows me to manage my livestock’s forage intake through multiple moves, though often i end up with moving only once a day. However, mostly I have enough time to move them 2-3 times. It depends on the weather and the time i have available to spend away from home. Step in postshttps://powerflexfence.com/collections/portable-fencing/products/obtp-white-obrien-tredaline-post-white-temporarily-on-back-order and polybraid electric fence make this a mostly easy task.
Total grazing encourages the cows to eat all the forage and not be participating in selective grazing – i’m effectively teaching them to clean their plates. By removing less desirable forage species along with the ‘ice cream’ more ‘ice cream’ can grow. Before allowing the cows to move forward, I encourage them to get up and do their evacuations on the grazed areas so they don’t foul the new break. Total grazing is not just forcing cows to eat everything, it is a plan to keep cows, plants, soil, water, and wallets fat and healthy. This photo illustrates a very nice nutrient distribution.
A cow manure pat indicating good digestion and a properly balanced diet.

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.

Forage Samples

Before i took off on my driving trip to warmer weather and before super cold weather set in, i collected forages from standing forage (winter stockpile) for grazing to see what it’s value for animal nutrition would be. Since i raise beef cows, it is not so critical to have high quality all the time like a dairy cow needs, but since starting this new (to me) #total grazing scheme, i wanted to train my eye, so to speak, as to what the numbers look like in comparison to what the actual forage looks like.

There were three applications i wanted to measure;

1) Stockpiled forage which had been allowed to grow to full maturity since last being grazed very short in late May. This test will give me a good indication of what forage quality will be going forward with the total grazing plan i’ve implemented since fall, in which, forage is allowed to grow to full maturity before being grazed in winter.

2) new growth stockpile or that which had been grazed in August and had a little time to regrow (likely highest quality but lowest quantity). Once again, north Missouri was very short on late summer rains so very little forage could be stockpiled under the traditional MiG grazing plan, so many producers bought hay in preparation for a long winter of feeding – as you read in a previous posting here, i decided to sell stock to avoid hay feeding.

3) This sample will be a compilation of waterways, buffer zones, and other areas not worked up to raise organic soybeans. This one is from the Bowyer Farm and is 4 1/2 year old ungrazed or mowed old growth primarily toxic endophyte fescue.

As expected, all forages samples are marginal at best as far as feed value and crude protein which necessitates the feeding of some sort of protein supplement to help the cows’ guts break down the highly lignified grasses to grind out the nutrition in the forages. Even though i knew this going in, i felt it was worth the time and expense for my own education to have these images in my mind and numbers on paper to match up.

Education, sampling, researching, learning, observation are critical in any endeavor worth doing – ranching/farming is no different.

Scissors and a yellow plastic bucket are the complicated tools necessary to collect forage samples. These samples contained a lot of dry matter, so to collect a pound of forage, made for a lot of volume! This is the paddock # 8 sampling – the one not grazed since May 25, 2020 and collected on December 27, 2020
Once I brought home the sample, i cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to handle and dry more quickly. Using a protein tub to hold the sample kept messiness to a minimum.
Once cut into pieces, i could stuff it all into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag – it was really full – and weighed it up to be certain i had at least the required 1 lb sample for testing. Then i stuck all samples in the deep freeze because i wanted to wait to send it after the holidays – it still took 14 days from north Missouri to Ithaca, NY while paying for 3 day priority. Not happy.

Paddock 8 – last grazed 12 May 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Paddock 24 – last grazed 11 Sep 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Bowyer Farm – last managed Nov 2016, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

A Spot of Winter

Yesterday (the 16th) is cold with a sharp wind, but sunny – not cold like in states closer to the 49th N parallel, but i don’t live there – my north Missouri Tannachton Farm at 39.95 is even too far north, but this is where my husband lives, so guess i’ll hang around.

Anyway, today the ice is coating all surfaces and the forecast is snow, single digits, sleet, ice, pellets, wind so to prepare for a nasty week ahead, I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s weather to set up a polywire electric fence with step in posts to strip off 1/4 of me cows’ next paddock.  If ground is somewhat dry and there is no ice, i have to weigh in my mind whether or not it is better to give them a 20 acre paddock vs a portion.  They won’t waste a lot in those conditions, so does my labor in setting up the fence offset less waste?  This is how i think.

However, knowing there is going to be ice coming, i know that once quality and quantity winter stockpile is coated in ice, each hoof step can break the stems and leaves and do considerable damage to the grazing experience.  Then my labor becomes much more valuable.

Considerations:

  1. evaluate quantity and quality of stockpiled forage.
  2. evaluate ground/weather conditions as to amount which may be destroyed just by livestock walking on the forage.  (mud, ice, rain)
  3. Dry cows in good condition need the least quality of forage – if you have finishing cattle, young cattle, thin, or nursing cows, higher quality forage is necessary.

These factors give value to your labor.  How much you determine your time to be worth will decide whether or not you can justify driving to your cattle and stripping off small allotments of grazing.

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How do i shift cows?  open the gate and get out of the way!

 

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In just a couple minutes all 170 animal units are shifted to new paddock.  Happy cows and calves.

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Get out of their way.

 

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Candy to a cow in mid-January with an ice storm on the way.  Filling their bellies!

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This tire tank is protected from wind and catches the sun.  With 170 animal units watering out of it, it takes many days of bitter weather before i need to start the overflow or chop ice.  You can see a bit of floating ice that the cows easily broke through by themselves in this tank.

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Polywire (i actually use this Powerflex polybraid– it lasts much longer than twisted wire) and pig tail step in posts.

Buckman 80
My cows are on the part of Tannachton Farm i call the Buckman 80 because i bought it from Jesse and Janice Buckman years ago.  The red line is the barbed wire perimeter, the yellow is the ‘permanent’ hi-tensile electrified single strand wire powered by a Parmak solar 12 volt energiser.  The purple line shows where i put up the polybraid for temporary grazing (strip grazing).  The area measures about 6.5 acres, i estimate 5000 lbs per acre of standing dry matter for grazing.  My mob eats about 6000 lbs per day, so 6 acres times 5000 lbs equals 30,000 lbs.  Divide that by 6000 allows about 5 days of grazing.  Always estimate conservatively to allow for waste and error in estimates.

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Buckman 80 in the fall.

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This is the same paddock though being strip grazed in the spring.  

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

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This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.

Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.

Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.

1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.

This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.

2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.

It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.

3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.

You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.

4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.

5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.

In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.

IMG_9954You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.

Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.

The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.

Thanks to the On Pasture readers providing financial support.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a $15,000 match from readers to make our grant happen this year. If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. Being able to show that kind of support is especially helpful when we’re approaching outside funders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.