Category: Livestock

Here’s How to Successfully Grow Grass

By   /  May 6, 2019  /

I took the time to walk through most of my pastures a few days ago. I recommend doing this fairly often to keep a mental forage inventory. It is best to record the findings. Some use fancy electronic data sheets, some track on paper charts, some just have notes in their pocket datebook or smart phone. I use a combination. I like the paper charts for long term planning, but for a quick assessment, I like a white board.

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I have a white board, you know, one of those new-fangled chalk boards that you use erasable markers on. I took 1/8-inch black tape and used it to outline the boundaries of all the fields. If I get present yield estimates taken, I put those numbers on the board with the date collected. But I use the board more for tracking grazing patterns and, more importantly, rest.

Animal groups are color coordinated and enter and exit dates are marked on the board. If animals are strip grazed across the field, then an arrow is included to show the move. I can now look at the board and quickly see how long it has been since the field was last grazed and/or how many days it has been rested.

Rest is very important – Really important!

How productive would you be if you worked 24/7 with no rest? It’s the same for forage.

Rest grows grass. If a pasture is continuously grazed, how much rest does the pasture get? None if the animals are never removed.

Forages can’t rest while being bitten off by ruminants. They only rest when they are allowed to regrow in peace! I often talk about stop grazing heights. It takes grass to grow grass! We need to move the animals to maintain an effective solar panel. Only green, growing leaves carry out photosynthesis! Most tall cool season forages, such as orchardgrass and tall fescue, need at least four inches of live leaf matter left for collecting solar energy for rebuilding roots, reserves, and then regrowth.

The grazing or harvest event of forage removal has a direct correlating effect on root growth. Research shows that we can remove up to fifty percent of the forage plant with little or no impact on root growth. If we removed more than that fifty percent, then root growth is drastically slowed down. Once we remove seventy percent or more of the plant, which is approaching hay removal levels, root growth comes to a screeching halt. It will now take a longer rest period. There is approximately equivalent live growth above and below ground. When we remove plant leaf matter, roots respond similarly because they are supported by those leaves. Therefore, there is die back of roots when not enough leaf matter is left for maintenance.

How much rest is really needed or ideal?

Early in the growing season when forages are growing fast, it can be pretty short, but normally never less than 14 days. As forage growth starts to slow down a little, then rest should be at least 30 days. When summer heat and drier conditions kick in, cool season grasses then benefit from longer rests, quite often 45 and up to 60 days. To keep it simple, just remember when forages are growing fast, move animals fast (no running, a gentle walk from pasture to pasture is sufficient), and when forages are growing slower, move animals slower.

Longer rests periods and more live residual left behind mean more roots. More roots support quicker regrowth of grazeable material and increase drought tolerance. The more growth there is above ground means there are more live roots below ground. As longer, deeper roots move downward through the soil profile, they bring moisture and nutrients upward. Shallow root systems have no drought tolerance. It certainly doesn’t appear right now like the lack of moisture could possibly be a problem, but we are always only about sixty days from a drought. Drought management should always be a part of our contingency plan.

How can you rest your grass?

If you divide the pasture up into four permanent paddocks and rotate through them, 75% of the paddocks are at least getting some rest. Is it ideal? No, but it is still better than no rest. If we increase the number of paddocks to say, twelve and rotate through them, then 94% of the paddocks are getting some rest while the 60% portion is being grazed.

After grazing is initiated in the spring, I generally recommend continuing to graze around the system until the first paddock is ready to graze again. You can then move back to that paddock and start over. The paddocks that you skip can then be stockpiled for summer grazing or cut for hay. If forage growth starts slowing down quicker than expected, say from lack of rain, then you can always jump back to the paddocks you skipped. If you plan ahead, especially if you have been tracking moves for a few years, you can estimate what field(s) you may want to skip this year in the first rotation. If you have fields that could benefit from longer rests due to being used hard the previous year or overwinter, or one(s) that could benefit from some extra carbon, then this is a chance to provide some extra rest and recovery.

Annual rest is important too.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. It is best not to start the grazing season in the same field every year. Those first fields often get grazed before ideal conditions. This short time abuse, done year after year, can increase problem weeds and reduce diversity of forages, especially desired forages.

How low can you go?

The old adage, or rule of thumb, of “take half and leave half” is actually not a bad rule as long as the starting point is high enough! More importantly, when we allow animals to graze too close, we slow down regrowth, require longer recovery, and reduce year around production. For the highest production, most tall cool season forages do the best when grazing is initiated at eight to twelve inches and ended at four to six inches as the stop grazing height. Stop grazing height, or residual height, is not the tallest forage left behind after a grazing event, but the shortest! The shortest forages should be at least four inches tall. Animal intake is also influenced by the amount of desirable forage present, especially height. Intake can be reduced when a full bite is not possible.

The bottom line…

Forages need rest. Rest influences forage yield, persistence and, therefore, animal performance. No or little rest results in lower forage yields and poor persistence of desirable species due to depleted root reserves and roots. On average, most forages benefit from at least thirty days of rest between grazing events.

Enjoy the new grazing season and keep on grazing!

Replacing the Monkey –

By Kit Pharo

The PCC Discussion Group recently had a very interesting discussion that tied in very well with the “Woe is Me” article in last week’s PCC Update.   While most people know what they should do, very few actually follow through.   Why is that?   What prevents most people from making the changes they know they should make?  I will share a few high points from this discussion.

The discussion thread was started by Jim Gerrish, who is a world-renown grazing expert.   Jim discussed two clients he had worked with.   He helped one client double his carrying capacity and reduce hay feeding by 60% in just three years.   Since the infrastructure required to do this cost $36 per acre, this client essentially purchased another 8000-acre ranch for $36 per acre.   Rangeland in that area is currently selling for $1000 per acre.   That was a no-brainer.

Jim worked with another client who had a 30,000-acre ranch.   Jim said, “I am confident we can double the carrying capacity on this ranch similar to what we did on the other project.   Spread across the 30,000 acres, that is a stock water and fence infrastructure cost of less than $40 per acre.”   He went on to say, “That is the equivalent of buying another 30,000-acre ranch without closing costs, additional taxes, or all the other associated overheads for less than $40 per acre when the prevailing land cost in that area for similar rangeland is about $800 per acre.”   Although the client understood the possibilities, he decided not to go forward with the project.

Doug Ferguson, who lives in Nebraska and is a very active and outside-the-box contributor to the PCC Discussion Group, responded by saying, “Jim, I have spent several years studying the subconscious mind and paradigms – and how they affect our results.   I’ll try to condense what I have learned.”

Doug went on to say, “What you ran into with the second rancher is called the Terror Barrier.   He probably understood it, and gets it.   So, what is stopping him?   His old paradigm.   The old paradigm is what keeps us from doing what we know we should do.

“The second rancher has the knowledge and you gave him a simple plan to follow.   But then what I call the Monkey Mind kicks in.   The monkey represents the old paradigm – and that monkey talks a lot.   He’s going to put up one hell of a fight because he doesn’t want to be replaced by a different monkey.

“So, the monkey says things like: That’s a lot of money.   How are you going to pay that off?   What if there is a drought in a couple years and you have to destock?   What are you going to do then?   People will laugh at you because you spent all this money to increase stocking rate and you ended up destocking.   You’ll never be able to show your face in public again.

“The monkey may go a different route.   Fear of success: What if this works?   If your stocking rate doubles, where are you going to get the stock?   Can you afford to buy that many cows?   That’s a big risk putting all those dollars out there.”

Doug concluded this part of his discourse by saying, “The second producer was on board and fired up right until the monkey started talking.   Then he gets scared, hits the Terror Barrier and goes right back to his old paradigm – with results he is comfortable with.

“Paradigms are a multitude of habits.   Habits are hard to change.   That reminds me of a great quote that ties in with what Kit is always preaching, ‘In times of change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’”

It is not easy to replace the old monkey.   It is a bit scary and a lot uncomfortable.   Nevertheless, monkeys must be replaced every now and then if we want to achieve true happiness and success.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”   ~ Horace Mann

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.   There is no cure for curiosity.”   ~ Ellen Parr

 

Rules of Thumb for Ranching

Rules of Thumb for Ranching
Compiled by Steve Moreland, March 23, 2017

This subject has come up on Ranch Talk on the Ranchers.net Bull Session. Here are a few axioms that have been passed on through the years. Others might find them to be of interest.

A theory I heard just lately is that the cost of five months of rented summer pasture should be equal to a third of what a steer calf is worth at weaning time. If the calf is worth $900, a third of that would be $300. $300 divided by five months would be $60 per month.

Always keep your best heifer calves.

Don’t keep kicking a dead horse. If something isn’t working, kick the habit.

Have a rigid culling program on cows in the herd. If you have to give them extra attention to get a calf sucking, graft the calf onto a better young cow and say adios’ to the problem cow.

Good nutrition trumps high-falutin’ genetics.

Never sell hay, especially if there is any chance you might come up short for your own cattle before green grass.

Uniformity helps to achieve premium prices.

If you are sitting in a pickup waiting for a cow to have her calf, park sideways to the cow and try to act nonchalantly disinterested. If the pickup is facing the distraught cow, she regards the headlights as “eyes” staring at her.

My dad and other neighbors always used to say that you should half your hay left by the first of March. Of course in those days it was a lot harder to haul in stacked hay if you ran short.

An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon.

Glamour tends to dissolve in sweat.

One old neighbor that my dad worked for as a young man would say each evening before supper, “Well, we didn’t get much done today but we’ll give ‘er hell tomorrow.”

It’s easy to cut a big strap if you’re using someone else’s leather.

If the sun is shining, take along a coat. If it’s cloudy do what you want.

The only way to move cattle fast is to move them slow.

It’s amazing how dumb a cow can be. What’s more amazing is how many cowboys can’t outsmart a dumb old cow.

A good cowboy on a poor horse can get a lot more done that can a poor cowboy on a real good horse.

A boy is all boy; two boys are half a boy; three boys are no boys at all.

The two most critical weeks of each year for grass and hay production are the two middle weeks of May. If you can get some rain and sunshine and no late freezes during that time period, the rest of the summer usually goes quite well.

An extra inch of rain takes the place of a lot of management.

Substance over style.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Always keep your cattle saleable. If cattle in good condition are worth a premium if they are offered for sale, they are worth that same premium if you own them. If you have to sell them for some reason, they will command a good price.

Extra feed on hand, whether it be left-over grass in a pasture or year-old hay, is always an asset and not a liability. It is just as good as money in the bank, and you don’t have to pay income tax on it.

You can’t starve a profit out of a cow.

The best insurance is a fat cow going into the winter.

Fat is a pretty color.

A good horse is never a bad color.

It is easier to pull a chain than to push one. Often times the same principle applies in moving cattle. A feed pickup in the lead can save a lot of whooping and hollering and exasperation at the rear of the herd. If a bunch of cattle won’t cross a bridge, try stringing out a little cake in front of the ones in the lead.

If a bunch of cow/calf pairs won’t cross a barrier such as a bridge or slippery ice, rope a calf around its neck. When it bellers, its mother will come and bring many of her bovine buddies with her. Pull the calf across the barrier, and the rest will follow.

Portable corral panels are very handy. Often times a panel or two in a strategic place can make cattle sorting a whole lot easier.

An ounce of rain is worth much more than a pound of hail.

A job well done is a self-portrait of the one who did it.

A sign in an implement dealer’s store that holds merit: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.”
The best cow dog in Cherry County resides on our ranch. He stays in the house yard digging up petunias while we work cattle.

Very often a dog that shows up at a cattle working screws things up as much as if three hard-working cow hands had not come at all.

Chinks look cool, but if the wrestler on a calf’s head is wearing them, the fringe tends to be very much in the way of the workers who are vaccinating, installing ear tags, ear marking, implanting or dehorning.

If you think a horse might buck and give trouble, try leaving the spurs off of your boots. Often times, the extra inadvertent poking that a horse gets from a rider trying to stay on, only further antagonizes the horse and makes them buck harder.

A brand put on properly gives extra insurance that it will be easily seen for the rest of the bovine’s time on your ranch. This is your stamp of ownership, so apply it the best you can—not too deep but not too lightly. A brand that does not blotch is an extra bonus.

DISCLAIMER: All of these rules of thumb have served well through the years except for 2016. It seems like last year none of these rules worked. But this has always been a “next year country,” and I have high hopes for 2017 and beyond.

Feel free to add to the list, or to debunk some of my theories.
Some of these ideas vary greatly from those of others. I am not trying to offend anyone, but only offering food for thought.

Is Average Good Enough for You?

Kit Pharo – Pharo Cattle Company

As silly as it sounds, average is good enough for most cow-calf producers.   In agriculture, average is breakeven.   Below average producers are losing money.   The only way they can stay in business is to subsidize the farm or ranch with outside income.   Above average producers are profitable.   A few are extremely profitable.   They are profitable because they do things differently from status quo (average) producers.   They have a distinct competitive advantage.

Most PCC Customers are well above average.   Many have doubled or tripled their profits.   They are focused on production per acre – instead of production per cow (bragging rights).   They are using ultra-low-maintenance bulls – instead of the status quo, high-maintenance bulls everyone else is using.   They know stocking rate affects profitability, or lack thereof, more than anything else.

Ag economist Danny Klinefelter explains how you can get a competitive edge simply by rejecting the status quo.   That’s right… by rejecting the status quo!   Klinefelter says, “The only truly sustainable competitive advantage today is the ability to learn and adapt faster than your competition.”   Click on the link below to listen to what he has to say.

Reject the Status Quo

Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing is never the best way to manage a business.   In most cases, it is the absolute worst way to manage a business.   If you are part of the status quo herd, you will never be above average – and you will never have a competitive advantage.   Dare to be different.   Dare to be a Herd Quitter.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t try to compete.”   ~ Jack Welch

Ranchers get training for DIY range monitoring

A University of Idaho Extension program aims to empower those using rangeland to track its use.

Apr 04, 2019

Public rangelands are a great Western resource. Ranchers running cattle on those lands know they are the stewards of that ground, and federal land managers help track the land’s use. Those grazing allotments are monitored annually — and if overuse is found, it can limit a rancher’s ability to run the same number of cattle in that location.

Standing forage height is determined annually to help with erosion and plant growth, and land managers decide how long and how many cattle can be turned out on each pasture based on data collected. If overuse is found, limiting the duration and number of cattle on pastures helps grasses replenish, but this can also reduce ranch income. This switch from grazing lands to alternative feed can be costly.

But ranchers can monitor rangelands themselves. The process can be relatively simple, and it can help those using grazing lands better manage the ground. Shannon Williams, University of Idaho Extension educator, Lemhi County, has long offered rangeland monitoring workshops but has found adoption of the practices taught to be low.

She found that workshops held during the growing season — the best time for monitoring — had ranchers attending, but few were taking the next steps. She discovered it was due to the ranchers’ lack of time or comfort level in how to monitor the land properly.

Williams added: “For the majority of ranchers, a few have a plant background, but where they were really comfortable is the animal side of everything. We train them and expect them to go out and do it, but they need a little bit of help and encouragement.”

In 2016, Williams met with federal land managers from the Salmon-Challis National Forest and Salmon Bureau of Land Management to explore ways to help ranchers better monitor those grazing allotments. The group decided that photo monitoring would be the ideal method. Photos can establish long-term trends, are easy to take and are already being shot on allotments by federal land managers.

grid for rangeland monitoring
ACCURATE MEASUREMENT: This is a photo kit with a grid and instructions developed by the University of Idaho Extension, Lemhi County office. The kit can help growers do their own rangeland monitoring.

Show, don’t tell

Photo monitoring is a solid management approach to grazing allotment analysis; instead of just telling ranchers how to photo-monitor, however, Williams took an added step. She decided to show them with the implementation of a photo monitoring tutor program. That year, Williams secured funding and hired Tessa Shepard, a UI student studying rangeland ecology who received training in photo monitoring.

The next step was to assemble a photo monitoring kit: “I didn’t want one of the excuses for the ranchers to not monitor to be that they didn’t have the equipment,” Williams said. She noted they needed a fence post, a photo frame and a book with some common plant pictures. Williams and Shepard built a photo frame with a bag to hold the hardware, so all ranchers had their own kits. The idea was to get those ranchers comfortable enough to go out and monitor for themselves.

Participants in the program, which included Shepard traveling to ranches and helping demonstrate monitoring, also gave UI Extension permission to access the photo monitoring data for their grazing allotments that was collected by federal land managers. Shepard scheduled time to visit monitoring sites with the ranches and offer help with GPS on how to find the correct sites. At that point, she showed ranchers how to take photos with all the required elements present; and how to complete a photo board, fill out the data sheet and build notebooks for housing the data.

Ranchers can’t always be on hand when federal land managers show up, but Shepard was able to set up her visits when ranchers were available. That flexibility allowed more ranchers to become familiar with the process.

The photo monitoring process continued in 2017 with a second intern. “The interns were the nudge [ranchers] needed to go out and do it,” Williams said of the do-it-yourself photo monitoring. “It was one-on-one, it was their range — so it was important to them.” And it continued in 2018 as well.

Source: University of Idaho. The source is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Overgrazing is a matter of timing

Grazing with Steve Kenyon

The Most Effective Pasture Rejuvenation Method Ever – and it’s FREE

By   /  March 11, 2019  /

Tom Krawiec and Troy Bishopp are on the same wave length – grazing charts are where it’s at if you want to have healthy pastures and a successful grazing season.

There are many ways to improve your pastures. Depending on who is presenting the method it can be in the form of a mechanical, chemical, or seed amendment. Magazines are full of ads detailing the amazing results of seed varieties, the latest chemical weed suppressant, and mechanical-stimulation. However, there are no ads for the most effective method. It is something that can’t be bought from your local sales rep. You do not need to know what soil type you have or what bugs are in your soil. The formula is something you can get for free and will last longer than any input you can purchase. The method of which I speak, is to get yourself organized with a grazing chart & a weekly planner.

A grazing plan is not romantic like going to a bull sale. Nor does it seem like you are really doing something which is quantifiable. The grazing plan is the simple counting of days. You don’t even have to know much about grass. All that is required is to know the approximate days of recovery for your area, counting the number of paddocks you have (I recommend at least 15), then counting the number of days of recovery for a particular time of year. In this article I will discuss how simple, yet imperative it is to develop a grazing plan for long term pasture improvement. This must be done before you learn about things like bugs in the soil, best growing grass, or best grass finishing genetics, etc. This is to say that if you don’t have your grass management figured out, everything else you do will eventually be a waste of time.

I was first introduced to planned grazing in 1999 when my wife & I attended a Holistic Management course. We were taught that grass has three stages of growth. The first stage is slow-growing & highly palatable. The second phase is fast growth because of the increased leaf area available for photosynthesis and is also palatable. The third phase is slow growth because the plant is putting its energy into reproduction and is much less palatable. The goal of the grazier, then, is to keep grass in late Stage 2.

By employing these simple concepts, we were able to achieve significant results. Within two years carrying capacity doubled. This phenomenon was also repeated on each piece of land we rented. At one point we had over 5000ac of rented land and 3000hd of cattle and the results were the same on each parcel.

There are subtleties of grass management that become apparent when you consistently use a grazing chart. For example, recovery time varies depending on how much sunlight is available as the growing season progresses. Daylight hours at the latitude of Athabasca, Alberta are from ~4:30am to ~11pm in June. This means that plants have a lot of time to collect solar energy and are growing very fast. To clip them before they mature, your stock must be moved through the paddocks rapidly. This leads to another subtlety. If a plant reaches maturity before being clipped, it is my observation that you lose ~50% of the possible regrowth. Once a plant reaches maturity, it has completed its life cycle for the year and there is no longer an urgency to grow & reproduce.  Again, a grazier’s goal is to keep the grass sward in late phase two.

What I have shared so far leads back to the importance of the grazing chart. Your plan is a visual reminder of recovery time. At the latitude of Athabasca, 35 days of recovery between May 15 & July 15 is pretty consistent (plus or minus five days). After July 15, recovery is more like 40-50 days. Which is to say, you don’t have to know much about grass to be a successful grazier. All that is involved is counting the number of days between when you last left a paddock and when you go back to the paddock. If you are more than 40 days you will lose ~50% production on the next rotation, so rework your plan. If you are less than 30 days you are injuring the plants because they won’t be in the second half of phase two, so rework the plan.

It should be noted at this time that the number of days in a paddock is very important as well. During fast growth, plants will grow enough in three days that animals can take a bite of new growth. This does not seem like a big deal. However, the plants are being injured and hence, weakened. This is easily overlooked because it is not immediately noticeable. If we were injuring our livestock, we would certainly notice right away. I consider plant injury the same as injuring livestock…DON’T DO IT! The grazing chart will show you if your graze periods are too long. If they are, you must once again rework the plan.

Here is an example of how to rework a grazing plan. Let’s assume it is June 5 and it has been a dry spring. Your grazing plan is based on 35 days of recovery, but you notice the paddocks that have already been grazed are not recovering as fast as you anticipated. The recovery period must be increased and you decide to extend it to 42 days. There are two ways to do this. First, add more paddocks (i.e. graze bush paddocks, some hay land, etc.) and you may need to be creative. Secondly, you can increase your graze period if you have been leaving an abundance of grass in each paddock. Increasing your graze time by one day on 10 paddocks, will give you an extra 9 days of recovery. Of course if there is not enough grass to increase your graze period then method one is your best option.

Once you decide how to increase recovery time, go back to your grazing chart and erase your plan. Then fill in your new plan using the extra paddocks or increased graze periods. Once complete, count the number of days between the when herd leaves the current paddock and when the herd will be back for the next graze. If the number of days is between 42-45 days, you are set. If it is more than 45 days or less than 42 days you must do some more tweaking.

 

In my days before ranching, I worked on oil well drilling rigs. When I was set up as a motorman (a motorman is like the head roughneck) I was working my butt off the entire 12hr shift. The only problem was that I wasn’t getting anything accomplished! The rig manager watched me for the first week without saying much. He then called me into his office and asked me how it was going. I told him it was a lot of work, and I didn’t feel like I was getting anything accomplished. He readily agreed! He then went on to explain that to get ahead in my duties, I needed to finish one task before going on to the next. By following that philosophy, I wouldn’t have to go back and do it again. Further, I wouldn’t have to fix something right before I used it because it would be completely operational ahead of time. Amazingly, my job became easier and easier as I employed this principle.

Since my rig days, I started using a weekly plan and then a monthly plan to accomplish my goals. You may question the efficacy of this thinking because there are too many variables when ranching. Maybe you always have too many ‘fires to put out’ to effectively plan. This may be true to start. However, the more you use a weekly and monthly plan, the fewer ‘emergencies’ you will have to deal with, and you will be able to get ahead of upcoming duties. Combining the grazing plan with a weekly plan enables you to remember well in advance that a fence requires fixing or water line must be set up.

When I first started grazing, I was very impressed by all the grass I could grow. I thought that what I was doing was pretty amazing. After about 8 years I realized all I was doing was being organized. It was a pretty humbling epiphany. In fact, it was a bit depressing because I thought I was this incredible grass manager when really all I was, was a good organizer.

I have now come to the realization that to jump start your pasture is a simple thing. Kids in primary school can figure it out once they understand the three phases of grass growth. All that is required is to count the days of recovery and the days of grazing. The grazing chart enables you to do this effectively and it is my contention that a grazing plan is the most effective way to improve your pastures. Once you have that mastered, only then is it time to look at other things like improved seed varieties, the latest chemicals, or any other pasture amendment. Quite possibly by then, you will realize you don’t need much more than a grazing plan.

Are You Ready to Get Organized?