By Tom Krawiec / 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?
Effective grazing management on pastures not only ensures high forage yield, sustainability, animal health and productivity, all of which impact cost of production, it also benefits the pasture ecosystem. Innovations in pasture management give producers greater control to support the environment (e.g. biodiversity) but also allow them to better use pasture resources for food production.
Pasture is a critical resource in the cattle industry. An effective management plan requires clear understanding of forage production, realistic production goals, effective grazing strategies and timely response to forage availability and environmental changes. Managing grazing lands so that they are productive and persist over time requires knowing when to graze certain species, if they can withstand multiple grazings/cuttings within a single year and how much recovery time is needed to prevent overgrazing (which is a matter of time not intensity)
Rest and Recovery
Developing a Grazing Plan
Grazing Management Terminology and Calculations
The efficiency with which plants convert the sun’s energy into green leaves and the ability of animals to harvest and use energy from those leaves depends on the phase of growth of the plants. Plants go through three phases of growth that form an “S” shaped curve (Figure 1).
Phase I occurs in the spring following dormancy or after severe grazing where few leaves remain to intercept sunlight forcing plants to mobilize energy from the roots. The roots become smaller and weaker as energy is used to grow new leaves.
Phase II is the period of most rapid growth. When regrowth reaches one fourth to one third of the plant’s mature size, enough energy is captured through photosynthesis to support growth and begin replenishing the roots.
Phase III material is mature and nutrient content, palatability, and digestibility is relatively poor. Leaves become shaded, die and decompose. During this phase new leaf growth is offset by the death of older leaves.
Adjust grazing and rest periods to keep plants in Phase II. Do not graze plants so short that they enter phase I as regrowth is very slow. Nor should plants be permitted to mature and enter phase III as shading and leaf senescence reduces photosynthesis. The harvest of energy is maximized by keeping plants in phase II.
Figure 1: The sigmoid (S) growth curve of a typical forage stand indicates how yield, growth rates and rest periods change over the growing season. (Voisin 1988).
The timing of the growth curve for each forage species is unique and these growth characteristics are an important factor in determining proper season of use for grazing (Figure 2). For example, crested wheatgrass begins growth relatively early in the growing season while native grass species grow later in the season. Based on these characteristics, crested wheatgrass is best grazed early in the season with native rangelands better suited for use in the summer or fall. It is important to recognize that forage species may be grazed outside their optimal season of use however, the subsequent rest period must be extended to allow plants adequate time to recover.
Figure 2 – Average relative yield and period of growth of native grass and seeded pastures in Saskatchewan.
Overgrazing is a function of time and occurs when a plant is grazed (defoliated) before it has recovered from a previous grazing event. This occurs by either leaving grazing animals in a paddock too long or bringing them back too soon, before plants have had a chance to recover and regrow. Rest is key to prevent overgrazing and must occur when the plants are actively growing, not during dormancy.
The length of time that a plant needs to recover following grazing depends on several factors including the type of forage species, plant vigour, and the level of utilization (i.e., how much plant material has been removed). Recovery time also depends on the season or time of year which determines conditions such as daylength and temperature. Fertility and moisture also impact plant growth rates.
When plants are growing slowly, such as in late summer, the required recovery or rest period will need to be longer than when plants are growing rapidly. This relates to the “S” shaped growth curve discussed above. Understanding the phase of the growth curve, the corresponding rate of growth, and the timing of the growth period for each forage species, is critical to management decisions related to adequate rest and recovery periods.
Figure 3: the required recovery or rest period will need to be longer than when plants are growing rapidly
Determining the number of days of rest required is unfortunately, not a simple calculation. Rather, watching and evaluating how pastures regrow and recover will provide the best information. With experience will come the knowledge needed to determine when a pasture has recovered and is ready for grazing. As a general rule of thumb a minimum recovery period is estimated to be at least 6 weeks.
Maintaining a pasture stand in good condition is critical to a successful grazing plan. Desirable species provide high quality forage and production for a large part of the grazing season. Typically, the desirable forages are hardy grasses and legumes that regrow quickly. Undesirable species are those that are typically unpalatable to the grazing animal or may contain anti-nutritional components. Plant diversity is also important to maintain a productive pasture throughout the entire landscape and growing season. If only one kind of plant exists, diversity is narrow, and production will be limited. If many plant varieties are present, diversity is broad. High plant density must also be maintained as bare and open spots are unproductive and allow for weed encroachment and soil erosion.
Management of a forage stand relies upon the level of utilization that allows for maximum grazing of forage without damage or negative impact to the vegetation, including both above and below ground growth. Determining the optimum amount of forage to remove versus leave behind is not an easy task and depends upon plant, animal and environmental factors. Research findings and professional judgement help provide guidelines for determining appropriate level of utilization, but experience is the best guide. A general guideline often employed by grazing mangers employs the ‘take half, leave half’ rule or 50% utilization by weight (biomass) of the key available forage species in a stand. This level of utilization fits a moderate level of grazing intensity and is a good starting guideline to employ. However, it is important to adjust utilization rates based upon site-specific variables including forage species, time of year, available forage, and overall management goals.
The overall condition of a forage stand impacts the number of animals that a pasture can support and the length of time that grazing can occur. Factors such as previous grazing management, species of forage, age of stand, soil type, texture, fertility level and moisture conditions all influence forage yield and quality and consequently stocking rate. Understanding these factors and implementing a grazing system is key to effective grazing management.
An interactive Forage Species Selection Tool is available to assist land managers in selecting the correct forage species best suited their land. Seeding rate and seed cost calculators are integrated as well.
Visit the Rangeland and Riparian Health page for more information, including videos, related to pasture condition and health assessments.
A grazing plan that matches animal numbers to predicted forage yields should be carried out before animal turnout.
An important first step in developing a plan includes defining goals and objectives for the entire grazing operation. This includes profitability measures, lifestyle choices, and biological outcomes such as soil health, forage production, ecosystem impacts and animal performance.
Conducting an inventory of resources is essential. How much forage is available and at what times during the grazing season? Is the forage source able to meet the intended animals’ nutritional requirements? How long is the intended grazing season? What physical infrastructure is available or needed?
This process of completing an inventory and evaluating resources is critical to developing and implementing a successful grazing system. The Pasture Planner: A Guide to Developing Your Grazing System provides an excellent resource to assist producers with planning, development and/or modification of their grazing system. It includes a number of worksheets and templates useful in the inventory and planning process.
A grazing system is the way a producer manages forage resources to feed animals, balancing livestock demand (both quantity and quality) with forage availability and promoting rapid pasture re-growth during the grazing season as well as long-term pasture persistence.Grazing systems will vary with the climate, plant species, soil types and livestock. Systems that are commonly used in Canada include continuous grazing or controlled grazing systems which are numerous and varied, even in their terminology, including but not limited to: rotational grazing, forward grazing, creep grazing, strip grazing, limit grazing, stockpile grazing and extended grazing.
A number of resources exist which provide an excellent overview of the types, development, and implementation of grazing systems. Examples include:
With continuous grazing, animals will naturally graze the most palatable plant species most frequently. Root reserves are eventually exhausted, and plants may die. In highly stocked continuously grazed pastures, regrowth will be grazed quite frequently. Lightly stocked continuously grazed pastures consist of patches of plants in phase I and phase III. If animals are forced to eat phase III material, their daily intake will drop, reducing animal gains.
In a controlled grazing system, animals only have access to relatively small parts of a pasture for a period of time. Pastures are divided into paddocks where the land is grazed for relatively short periods of time following which, livestock are removed to ensure the plants have adequate time to recover before being grazed again. Because this requires more knowledge of forage plants and pasture-animal interactions, controlled grazing is often referred to as management-intensive grazing (MIG).
Whether managing native rangeland or tame forage species, four basic principles of management apply:
- balance the number of animals with available forage supply
- obtain a uniform distribution of animals over the landscape
- alternate periods of grazing and rest to manage and maintain the vegetation
- use the kinds of livestock most suited to the forage supply and the objectives of management.
Stocking rate histories on similar fields in the same area can be very useful in setting initial stocking rates. The optimum number of animals on a pasture makes efficient use of the forage but leaves enough plant material behind to allow a quick and complete recovery.
When developing a grazing system, paddock shape should be determined by the topography, soil type, and species differences to reduce problems with uneven grazing and varying recovery time. If a paddock has a lot of variation in it, some areas will be underutilized while others are severely grazed.
The size of individual paddocks should be determined by the projected herd size based on forage production potential and preferred stock density to keep the frequency of cattle moves consistent. As productivity of the land increases, paddock size should be reduced to achieve desired levels of utilization. Generally, square paddocks offer more uniform forage utilization and better manure distribution compared to long narrow shapes.
Developing a practical water distribution system is an important consideration in designing an efficient grazing plan and paddock design. Access to water impacts grazing patterns of livestock and understanding this will assist in managing forage utilization. It is recommended that pasture systems be designed to provide water sources within 600 to 800 feet of all areas of a paddock for optimum uniformity of grazing2. Portable water systems are a powerful tool for managing grazing distribution and manure cycling. If water cannot be provided in each paddock, laneways designed to bring the stock to the water source are the next alternative. Plan the pasture layout to minimize laneway length and keep laneway width within 16 –24 feet to reduce the amount of loafing by animals3. Similarly, minimizing the common area around a water source will reduce the amount of time that animals spend congregating at the site.
Proper livestock distribution, achieved by spreading grazing animals over a pasture management unit to obtain uniform use of all forage resources, can increase production. Grazing distribution varies with the kind and class of grazing animal, topography, location of water, salt and mineral placement, forage palatability, vegetation type, forage quality, forage quantity, location of shade and shelter, fencing patterns, pasture size, grazing system, stock density, and prevailing winds.
Ideal grazing distribution occurs when the entire pasture is grazed uniformly to an appropriate degree within a predetermined time frame. Cattle, being creatures of habit, rarely graze uniformly when left alone. They graze convenient areas, especially those near water and easily accessible. Livestock do not graze randomly and must be forced or enticed to seldom used areas.
Improving grazing distribution results in higher harvest efficiency because livestock consume a greater proportion of the available forage. It also spreads defoliation effects across a greater proportion of available forage plants.
Methods for improving livestock distribution include:
- managing stock density and/or season of grazing;
- forcing animals to specific locations by fencing;
- using grazing management strategies such as rotational grazing;
- enticing animals to specific locations with water, salt, supplemental feed, or rub and oiler placement; and
- using the kind and class of livestock best suited to the terrain and vegetation characteristics.
Placement of water developments is probably the most important factor affecting grazing distribution as water is the central point of grazing activities. Near water, plants are heavily used and forage production drops. Reducing pasture size and reducing the distance to water can significantly improve livestock distribution. Salt and mineral should be placed away from water and used to distribute animals more uniformly.
Topography is an important cause of poor grazing distribution. Where possible, pastures should be fenced to minimize variability in topography, plant communities, and timing of plant growth.
Shade is another important factor of animal distribution as animals will migrate towards these areas during the hot times of the day to stay cool and to avoid insect irritation.
Legumes as part of an annual grazing plan can be advantageous as these plants can help restore soil nitrogen, increase forage yields and extend pasture carrying capacity. Improved animal performance may also be achieved when grazing stands containing legumes. However, legume grazing requires increased management efforts to ensure optimal stand persistence and animal performance.
Producers are often hesitant to seed alfalfa for grazing purposes due to fears of bloat even though yield and productivity could be increased. To gain the benefits of grazing this legume, careful management is critical. To reduce the risk:
- do not move cattle onto new pasture when it’s wet with heavy dew, rainfall or irrigation water. Grazing alfalfa when it is wet increases the possibility of bloat, so it’s better to move animals to a new pasture in the afternoon rather than in the morning.
- never allow animals to stand hungry before turning them into an alfalfa pasture, as it can lead to overconsumption of fresh alfalfa.
- wait until alfalfa is in full bloom to graze. Bloat risk is highest when alfalfa is in vegetative to early bloom stages of growth. As alfalfa enters the full bloom or post bloom stages, soluble protein levels decrease, plant cell walls thicken, lignin content increases, and the rate of digestion of alfalfa in the rumen decreases.
- do not graze alfalfa for three days to two weeks following a killing frost. Frost may increase the incidence of bloat by rupturing plant cell walls, leading to a high initial rate of digestion. Delay grazing alfalfa until the stand dries. The time required to dehydrate varies by location and weather.
The risk of bloat when grazing pure alfalfa stands can also be reduced through the selection of reduced bloat varieties (e.g. AC Grazeland) and the use of products including Bloat-Guard, the Rumensin CRC bolus, or Alfasure.
Many producers prefer to avoid bloat by seeding alfalfa-grass mixtures. Depending on the percentage of alfalfa in the mix, this can reduce the risk of bloat but maintaining alfalfa within the stand can be a challenge. Over time plants disappear from the stand eliminating many of the benefits including increased fertility.
A study in Swift Current, Saskatchewan4 showed that alfalfa and sainfoin plant counts both dropped by 50% over the four-year grazing trial. Research conducted near Brandon, Manitoba also found that the alfalfa percentage in a mix declined from 75.4 – 84.1% to 32.5 – 40.3% over a four-year period5.
The following management techniques can help to maintain legumes in a stand:
- in the spring, wait until alfalfa is three to four inches tall before grazing. After the spring grazing period ends, allow the alfalfa to regrow for about 25 to 40 days before grazing again or cutting for hay.
- allow plants rest during September and October, or control grazing to maintain at least 6 to 8 inches of standing alfalfa at all times.
- avoid reducing stubble height to less than 2 or 3 inches in late fall to help protect alfalfa from winter damage.
- allow plants to grow without cutting or grazing for at least four to six weeks prior to the first killing frost.
There are many other legume species that in more recent times are seeing increased use within grazed pasture stands. This includes sainfoin, cicer milkvetch, birdsfoot trefoil, alsike clover, red clover, white clover, kura clover, sweet clover, and purple or white prairie clover. These legumes may not have the yields of alfalfa but may better suit the land, soil type, or management system. Legumes including sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, purple prairie clover and white prairie clover contain condensed tannins which can reduce protein breakdown in the rumen and prevent bloat. Having protein digested in the small intestine instead of by the rumen bacteria contributes to more efficient animal growth. If these tannin-containing legumes are seeded in a mixture with alfalfa they will “actively” reduce bloat risk. Cicer milk vetch does not have tannins but is slower to digest so will not cause bloat.
As a non-bloating legume, animal gains on sainfoin pastures can be as efficient and rapid as on alfalfa pasture. Sainfoin is resistant to the alfalfa weevil, grows earlier in the spring and later in the fall. Researchers at AAFC Lethbridge have been selecting sainfoin for improved yield, regrowth and survival in alfalfa stands, and have found that sainfoin’s survival depends partly on the alfalfa variety it is grown with, as well as where it is grown.
More information about legume grazing strategies and research being conducted can be found in the following BCRC Factsheets:
A working knowledge of grazing management terms and calculations is an extremely useful tool when planning and developing practical, successful grazing plans. The ability to prepare and estimate forage utilization means less uncertainty when dealing with management decisions in ‘real time’ once animals are grazing pastures.
The animal unit (AU) is a standard unit used in calculating the relative grazing impact of different kinds and classes of livestock. One animal unit is defined as a 1000 lb (450 kg) beef cow with or without a nursing calf, with a daily dry matter forage requirement of 26 lb (11.8 kg).
An animal unit month (AUM) is the amount of forage to fulfill metabolic requirements by one animal unit for one month (30 days). One AUM is equal to 780 lbs (355 kg) of dry matter forage.
Forage requirements change with the size and type of animal. Metabolic weight (live weight to the 0.75 power) accounts for significant variation in dry matter intake among animals of different size and provides a more accurate estimate of forage demand. Animal Unit Equivalents (AUE) have been calculated for various species and sizes of animals. Table 1 provides beef cattle size categories and corresponding animal unit equivalents.
Table 1: Beef cattle size categories and corresponding animal units
Stocking rate is the number of animals on a pasture for a specified time period and is usually expressed in Animal Unit Months (AUM) per unit area. For example, an area that supports 30 (1,000 lb) cows for a four-month grazing season has a stocking rate of 120 AUMs for that area. If the pasture is 100 acres in size, the stocking rate would be expressed as 1.2 AUM/acre (120 AUMs divided by 100 acres). Your stocking rate will not stay the same year after year, so you will need to adjust the number of animals you intend to graze to achieve the desired stocking rate for each pasture within your grazing system.
Stock density is the number of animals in a particular area at any moment in time and increases as the number of animals in a paddock increase or as paddock size decreases and is based on level of grazing management. For example, a herd of 30 (1,000 lb) cows on a 2 acre paddock fenced off within the larger 100 acre land base has a stock density of 15,000 lbs/acre (30 cows x 1,000 lbs/cow divided by 2 acres) or 15 Animal Units/acre (1 AU = 1,000 lb therefore 15,000 lbs/acre divided by 1,000 lb = 15 AU/acre), even though the stocking rate for the entire 100 acre pasture is 1.2 AUMs/acre. The difference between these two values is the time factor.
Carrying capacity is the average number of animals that a pasture can support for a grazing season. It is a measure of a pasture’s ability to produce enough forage to meet the animal requirements over the long term and is expressed in AUMs.
Calculation of stocking rates or grazing acreage needed is done by the following steps:
- estimate the production of each paddock as it is about to be grazed each time to acquire a total production estimate. Include the appropriate rate of utilization (e.g., managing pasture to utilize 50% of the forage available).
- estimate animal consumption (per day) – nursing cows (with calves) and growing steers or replacement heifers consume approximately 2.5% of body weight (1 AU requires ~ 26 lb forage/day) as forage dry matter.
- calculate stocking rates (animals/acre) by multiplying your average forage yield (lb/acre) by utilization rate, then divide by the amount an animal unit is expected to consume per month. The formula would look like this:
Stocking rate (AUM/acre) = (Forage yield [lb/acre] x (Utilization rate [%] ÷ 100)) ÷ 780 lb/AU/month
Cow Herd Inventory Management By Wally Olson
The need of inventory management in the cow herd is that not all cows have the same value. What is the market telling me today?
Three-year-old cows 1300# 8 months bred @ $1700 Hi-Quality 4-5-year-old cows 1000-1100# 6 months bred @$1200 Avg-Quality 6-8-year-old cows 1000-1100# 6 months bred @$750 Avg -Quality 1300# 1100# True Value of a Cow- Her Cull Price @ $60 $780 $660 The calf Value 500# @$150 $750 $750 < Carry Costs> $40 per month $320 $400 Base value of a Cow $1210 $1010
What this tells me is the 3-year-old cow will have $920 in depreciation coming in her life. It could be the next preg check or many calves down the road. What the market is telling me that the 4-5-year-old cow could have $450 next year. If calves are selling for $750 the calf that this cow produces has a value of only $300 after paying the loss in the cow value. If it costs $480 to carry a cow you are down $180. The cow that I’m buying is the 6-8 year old cow .If she has made it to six the odds are she will make 10 or 12
She is will only have $90 in depreciation to be covered by 5 calves or $18 She has a base value of $1010 and cost of $750 .Her value to me is $1010 – $750(Her Cost)-$18 (Depreciation)=$260. This is a 32% return on my investment, which I can live with.
The market may be telling you to keep the heifer calf and sell the 3-year-old cow In the 6-8-year-old cow, it is telling me to keep the cow and sell the heifer calf. Look at the relationships of the classes and adjust your inventory. Only deal with today.
VISUALIZATION AND DESIGN
Many ranchers and builders do not have the time or expertise to make professional models and drawings of their livestock handling systems. I help by providing quality SketchUp models and construction documents for livestock handling systems.
From my earliest memories of reading farm magazines and attending cattle management conferences or seminars until now, there have been many ideas and opinions about how to develop and select replacement heifers. I am about to offer a perspective that will differ from most of what you have heard or read during these many years. I have interspersed much of it in these articles during my time as a writer. Now I will try to put it in this one piece.
Heifer development not only can be, but should be much simpler than we typically make it. Selection and development go hand in hand. They facilitate each other.
Most of you, because of “expert” advice you have received, have been over-developing your heifers. You have selected the biggest and prettiest heifers based on biased and subjective criteria. I want to suggest that you change that approach.
You will need to start where you are with the cattle that you have; so most of you will want to take a few years to get to the point I suggest. Each step will tell you how big the next step may be.
I think nearly every herd has some good cows. My definition of good—those that get pregnant, deliver and raise a good, not necessarily excellent, calf every year without you ever touching them except for routine immunizations. The rest are inferior. In the long run, you want those cows to be the mothers of your replacement heifers; so raise more of them.
How do you do it? You keep nearly all of your heifer calves. You only remove the few that are obviously challenged or inferior.
This will usually be less than 5% (maybe not at first, but keep most of them). You then shorten the heifer breeding season as fast as you dare until your bull and/or AI exposure is not more than 30 days, ideally 24.
If you have calving dates from previous years, you can see what percentage bred in 24, 45 or 65 days and can get an idea of how many days to expose this larger group of heifers. Because you will be keeping some later-born heifers and not developing them to gain as rapidly in addition to shortening the breeding season, you will need to expect a lower conception rate.
Now, instead of trying to get the heifers to 65% of expected mature cow weight, 55% will be enough. You may want to take a couple of years to get to that point. However, many have done it quickly.
I hope you see how this more moderate or “minimal” development plays into heifer selection. With less input and size, the ones that conceive in a short season are truly the good heifers. They are more closely adapted to your environment.
Now the arguments start to come:
- I won’t be breeding the best heifers. You don’t know which ones are the best. Let the bulls and the environment tell you which ones are best. They are the ones that get pregnant. There are very few, if any, people that can look and tell which ones will breed.
- I don’t want to keep that many heifers. Why not? Yearling operations are usually more profitable than cow-calf operations; and you should winter these calves like stockers going to grass. The only added expense is use of the bulls or AI.Open heifers should be nicely profitable. Many people are hesitant to keep more heifers because of the cost of development. If the cost of development is high, that is a problem; and unless you can change that, you shouldn’t be raising your own replacements.
Don’t tell me that you need to develop your own heifers because they are better. If they were better, you could get a good breeding rate with less development cost. The added value of yearling heifers should be significantly more than the added cost.
- I would like to use the genomic tools to evaluate the heifers before breeding them. Why? Those tools might give you some genetic tendency information, but it won’t tell you which ones will get pregnant in the first 24 days. The bulls will.The average heifer calving in the second cycle cannot live long enough for her lifetime production to catch up with the heifers that calve in the first cycle regardless of other genetic differences.
- That heifer’s mother isn’t good enough to keep the daughter as a replacement. You are selling the wrong one. Sell the mother. If you are using good maternal bulls, the heifer calf should have a good chance of being better than her mother. If you are not using good maternal bulls, you need to find them or raise them or become a terminal breeder.
- I might soon have more pregnant heifers than I need. Good. Now you have a marketing opportunity. You may sell the excess bred heifers. Or my recommendation is to keep the bred heifers and sell enough late bred cows to make room for the heifers that are going to calve early.Many areas have buyers for cows bred to calve later than your calving season. Also, as you remove late-bred cows, your calving season will get shorter and the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. You can see how the positive effects begin to multiply.
- I don’t think those “underdeveloped” heifers will make good cows. Research done by Rick Funston at the University of Nebraska and Andy Roberts at the Land and Range Research Station in Miles City, Mont., plus a bunch of personal practical experience says that they will make better cows than the ones I am calling “over-developed.”If you want to help them along a little, do it from the time they are diagnosed pregnant as a yearling until they are checked pregnant as a 2-year old. That is the most difficult 12-month period of her life. You would much rather sell an open yearling than an open 2-year-old.
Now let’s ring up the pluses:
- When you start putting many heifers into your herd that will all calve early in the calving season, you will soon be able to shorten the cow calving season by removing late bred (less efficient and less adapted) cows. As your calving season gets shorter, the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. Weaning weights will also increase.
- In future years, more and more heifers should be eligible breeders.
- As more of these heifers come into your herd, you will be able to remove the less desirable cows. Soon you will get by with less supplemental feed and have an increased level of herd health.
- New marketing opportunities will show up. Remember the ranchers who are terminal crossing or should be. They need your excess cows. Even though the late calving cows are a little inferior for you, they could work very well for the terminal breeders, especially after a few years into your program.
Two more points: I am convinced that the heritability of fertility, under minimal heifer development and reduced cow herd inputs, is significantly higher than the estimates of low heritability that we usually hear. You need to buy or raise bulls that will not undo what you are trying to accomplish with your heifer development and cow culling.
Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Tyson Pharo made a comment in last week’s PCC Update that came very close to ruffling some feathers. Good job, Tyson! Many cow-calf producers think it is sacrilegious to not ear tag calves at birth. Most do it because they have always done it. Several years ago, the PCC Discussion Group came up with several “Kooky Notions” that the members used to have. Ear tagging calves at birth was one of those kooky notions. I’m sure many subscribers are saying, “What’s wrong with tagging calves at birth?”
To begin with, each and every one of your cows knows which calf is hers – without an ear tag. If you are a commercial rancher (not raising registered cattle), you are NOT getting paid to ear tag your calves. I am not against putting identification ear tags in every animal – but it can be done when the calves are run through a chute for vaccinations, etc. It does not have to be done within a few hours after birth.
There are at least four problems with ear tagging calves at birth. First and foremost, it is dangerous. Every year we hear about someone being seriously injured or killed while trying to tag a newborn calf. How would you feel if someone in your family got hurt while tagging a newborn calf?
Second, ear tagging calves at birth disrupts the bond between a momma cow and her newborn calf. This is a very critical time for a newborn calf. Any outside interference does more harm than good.
Third, ear tagging calves sets you up to keep records on individual animal performance which will keep you from maximizing sustainable profit per acre. For the past 40+ years, the status quo beef industry has been enamored with increasing individual animal performance. This has created high-maintenance cattle that do not fit any environment outside of a feedlot. Consequently, the result of focusing on individual animal performance is reduced profits. I still believe most ranchers can double their profit per acre once they stop focusing on the wrong things.
Fourth, ear tagging calves at birth is very time consuming. It takes a whole lot more time than 30 to 60 seconds per calf. Tagging calves requires you to ride or drive to the cows and through the cows. If you don’t go at least twice a day, you will not be able to catch the calves. You must do this every day. Even if you have a short 45-day calving season, you will have at least 90 trips to and through the cows. Because tagging calves is time consuming, it will set the limit as to how many cows you can run. The most profitable ranches are running 500 to over 1000 cows per man. It would be impossible for these ranches to tag calves at birth. They spend their time (and money) on things that increase their profits.
The time and money most producers spend on things like keeping individual animal records and ear tagging calves at birth could be used to improve grazing management via fences and water development. This could easily double or triple your profits per acre. You could be getting paid two or three times more for doing half as much work. You could create a VERY profitable and sustainable business for your children and grandchildren.
I am often drawn into discussing this “kooky notion” at my speaking engagements. Tagging calves at birth is a paradigm that most producers struggle to get away from. For every reason people have given me to justify why they tag calves at birth, I have always been able provide an alternative.
People say they need to have an easy way to pair up cows and calves when going to summer pasture. I suggest you move bred cows to summer pasture and allow them to calve in sync with nature on green grass. Bred cows are much easier to handle, haul or drive than pairs. All of the problems producers associate with calving will magically disappear when cows are calved in sync with nature. You do NOT have to be there to see every calf born! Also… any cattleman worth his salt can pair up cows and calves without ear tags.
Some might ask, “So how do we identify the cows that produce the dink calves?” That’s easy… after separating the cows and calves at weaning, sort off the dink calves. Turn those dink calves back out with the cows – and they will make a beeline to their mommas. Ride out and bring in the dink pairs to be sold.
Would you be able to calve 500+ cows by yourself if every calf had to be ear tagged at birth? No – but you could if you did not have to tag calves. Mark Bowman, a PCC customer in Western Nebraska, once told me about an encounter he had with his dad who was over 80 years old at the time. Mark was calving around 1200 cows in sync with nature. His dad said, “If I knew ranching could be this easy, I would still be doing it.”
Keep it Simple… Mankind has always been notorious for making simple things complicated. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ranching can be fun, easy and profitable! If your ranch is NOT fun, easy and profitable, then you can only blame yourself.
Did you know… that the average age of cow-calf producers is close to 60? That is nearing retirement age for most businesses. Why do you think the average age is so high? Could it be that traditional (status quo) ranching is NOT fun, easy and profitable enough for the next generation to consider it as an occupation?