Tag: Grazing

Educated Cows Eat Weeds!

Turn a Foe Into Forage

In 2004, Kathy Voth invented a method for training cows to eat weeds. The idea grew from the responses from ranchers when she suggested they use goats or sheep to manage weeds. That just wasn’t an economically viable or sustainable solution for them.

Kathy believes that animals are a good solution for weed management, so she decided that if cattle ranchers weren’t interested in goats or sheep, she’d figure out how to turn their cattle into weed managers. Using discoveries made by researchers at Utah State University, and decades of animal behavior studies, she put together a very logical set of steps for teaching cows to eat weeds.

Minimal Time Investment
Using Kathy’s process a cattle producer can teach cows to eat weeds in as little as 10 hours over 10 days and then sit back and relax while the cows get to work.

Cows Are Good Learners and Teachers
A small group of trainees will teach their calves and herd mates to eat weeds, to create a weed eating army in the course of one grazing season. Cows will continue to eat the weeds year after year and add new ones without additional training.

The Training Steps Click HERE

Wealth really comes from sunshine

Improving the life processes that convert sunshine to energy on the ranch or farm can increase all forms of wealth.

Walt Davis 1 | Feb 18, 2020

Ranching is different things to different people but like all types of agricultural endeavors, it comes down to converting sunlight into wealth through green plants and photosynthesis.

This wealth can take several forms aside from money. Grazing animals, especially ruminants, can convert vegetation that is inedible to humans into high quality food. This can be done, without machinery, on land that is unfit for cultivation. Lately this has been getting press under the guise of “upcycling.”

There are other beneficial products, but one desperately needed in today’s world is improved water management. In some situations, if grazing management is used properly, it can double or triple the amount of precipitation captured and used to grow vegetation. This management will also greatly increase the amount of water that accumulates in the soil and in subsurface aquifers.

Proper grazing decreases the likelihood of flooding and increases the usefulness of precipitation. These advantages come about through creating the conditions that allow water to enter and be held by the soil. Foremost amongst the conditions is keeping the soil surface covered with organic matter.

I was on a ranch recently in the hot dry summer when a four-inch rain fell in about four hours. This was followed several hours later by a two-inch rain. This ranch is rolling sandy loam with sandy clay subsoil and has some steep slopes. Little, if any, water ran off the ranch while the neighboring areas had heavy runoff of muddy water.

The difference was the amount of bare ground on the two areas. The ranch with good ground cover absorbed the rainfall to the degree that the tanks (ponds to those of you not from Texas) caught no water. Twenty-four hours after the rain stopped, clear water began to flow from springs into the tanks.

What is the value of six inches of rain stored in the soil rather than running down the creek? There are millions upon millions of acres world-wide that are totally ineffective in capturing and storing rainfall. Water shortage for crops but also for humans is already critical in many areas. Good grazing management can dramatically improve the water cycle of these degraded areas while producing food and profit.

A second condition critical to improving water capture and retention is soil organic content. Organic matter that has been processed by microbial action can seize and hold many times its weight in water. Soil life is dependant on soil organic content, and plants are dependent on soil life. Soil life, especially mycorrhizal fungi, produce the organic compounds – essentially the glue – that holds soil particles together in aggregates and gives soil the porosity and permeability that allows it to take in and hold both water and air.

A big portion of soil organic content comes from root exudates – mostly carbohydrates – pumped into the soil by living plants. In a classic example of symbiotic relationship, the root exudates nourish the soil lifeforms which nourish the plants that provide the root exudates.

Given the opportunity, natural forces promote life to the benefit of the whole soil-plant-animal complex. This is not always a straightforward process. Drought can cause an explosion of grasshoppers by killing the fungi that normally limit the viability of the hopper eggs. When normal weather returns, the fungi will return, and balance will re-establish in insect populations. If we intervene with insecticides spread over large areas, the ecology of that area becomes unstable with ongoing wide swings in both populations and numbers within populations.

Catastrophes such as wildfire, drought and flood happen in the natural world, but only man prolongs the effects of these events. Millions of acres of grassland have been destroyed by holding stock on areas that can no longer feed them. The diversity of life from plants, animals and microbes provides stability and productivity, but it is destroyed when management focuses on “kill the pest” rather than on fostering the conditions that promote health through out the local environment. This may sound sophomoric, however it is not only possible but much more effective financially, ecologically and to human benefit than what is common practice over most of the world.

Don’t Break Rule #1

Raising cattle comes with a lot of rules, but one stands out as most important.

R. P. ‘Doc’ Cooke | Dec 16, 2015

Yes ma’am or sir, there are lots of rules in the cattle and land business. There are several rules that get tagged as Rule No. 1. But the list is topped by one rule which states “Do No Lasting Harm”. Pain often leads to gain. Death does not.

Page 115 of Walt Davis’s book “How Not to Go Broke Ranching” explains a part of Rule No. 1 that needs to be burned into the cerebral cortex of each of us cattle ranchers/farmers. Cattle feeders should have it fire branded on the back of hands as well as minds.

Following one simple rule can avoid a world of hurt to your cattle herd.

The part of Rule No. 1 that I am talking about is “Don’t Make Sudden Changes in Cattle Diets.” Sudden, drastic shifts in rations and/or forage move animals toward a dangerous health cliff.

Remember that cattle do not digest forage or feed. The bugs (mostly bacteria) do the forage digesting and the cattle digest the bugs.

Bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in grain are not the same as the bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in cool season plants and grasses, and are not the same as bacteria that digest the more complex starches (cell wall cellulose) of warm season grasses. Different still are the bacteria that digest woody plants.

The different bacteria needed to digest the various feedstuffs are present in a healthy ruminant (cow). But the numbers vary depending on what the animal is consuming. When feed changes the bacterial species number changes and this change needs time as its major cushion. Major changes need 18-30 days to safely occur.

Fast forage changes especially when moving to higher sugar and simple starch grains, cool season plants, and other immature grasses result in a tremendous ‘kill off’ of rumen organisms (bacteria and protozoa). Performance and animal health head south. Scours is frequently seen as is a lack of cud chewing. The cattle do not seem content. Bad boys (bugs) raise their heads. Clostridial perfringes can take cattle out in a matter of hours, but we can also open up several other ‘cans of worms’ that are expensive.

Plan and manage

Nature tends to work or move in what has been described by Montana’s Ray Bannister as ‘boom and bust’. Walt Davis and I believe and recommend that it is always wise to plan and manage in a way so as to cushion the boom and the bust when it comes to cattle. I think Bannister agrees.

Ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) are cushions for high sugar and simple starch feed and forage and cattle health. The same is true of long stem hay especially long stem warm season (C4) hay. The same is true for amounts and time.

Remember that cattle just do not handle sudden changes well if the change exceeds 15 to 20% of the dry matter intake or consumption. Changes from C4 based pasture to C3 based pasture are much tougher than changing from C3 to C4.

Related: Reviewing a few basics might help

Ionophores, C4 hay, and limited grazing time are all more than a good idea when moving cattle onto small grain or pretty fescue, rye grass pasture, etc. The old advice of “never move hungry cattle onto pretty pasture” has not changed. The same is true of grain feeding. Remember that cud chewers take the majority of a month to make successful feed changes.

Cattle health must be and is very important. My phone has been ringing regularly with questions, problems, and sometimes wrecks for most of the last 40 years. Lack of knowledge, planning, and execution are usually evident. The weather often gets the blame when the mirror would reveal the demon.

Optimal health may be less than a necessity; “pretty close” is where we likely need to be almost every day throughout the year. Setting goals for cattle health is a requirement of profitability. Annual profitability is a requirement of sustainability. Goals without execution are no more than dreams.

Walt Davis says that if we don’t know what we are doing it does not make a damn what we do. I agree with Walt but when it comes to cattle we had better know or be plugged into someone who does.

Out in the pasture cattle are made to move and what they ate yesterday needs to be real similar to what they eat today.

The ‘take home message’ for all of us is to think, learn, plan, execute and don’t forget the rules.

Think and grow rich.

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

By Lacey Newlin Jan 7, 2020

“There are some really highly educated people out there who are actively against the beef industry,” said Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think there is going to be anything we can do to change that. I think they will be against everything we do, no matter how we do it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mount a defense or stop educating the consumers about the value we bring to their plates.”

Wickersham spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in a presentation called “Beef’s job title.” He says beef’s job title is to be a protein upcycler, which means to improve the value of protein.

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

 

 

 

 

Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University, spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference about beef’s job title of protein upcycler. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Wickersham says, on average, it takes 770 pounds of corn to get a beef animal ready for slaughter. Corn is the primary source of human edible protein, or HEP, we feed and the main competition for food sources between cattle and humans. HEP does not necessarily mean tasty protein, but it is protein a person could consume. For example, grass is a source of non-HEP. Soybean meal, though we would not want to consume it, is a great source of HEP. Some people challenge agriculture for raising corn-fed cattle and believe we should be feeding all that corn to humans.

“If we didn’t feed corn to cattle, we wouldn’t compete with humans for that much food,” he said. “To justify corn-fed beef, we have to be able to say it is a better use of corn to feed it to cattle instead of children.”

He says children are used in his model because they have high amino acid requirements and they grow rapidly. The 770 pounds of corn we normally feed to one beef animal would meet the indispensable amino acid requirements of three children, according to Wickersham. Indispensable amino acids must be consumed in a diet to meet your protein requirements. If a child does not consume them, growth will be stunted.

“We don’t think a lot about stunting in the United States, but it’s a real problem in the world,” Wickersham said. “The world is not deficient in calories, it’s deficient in protein and other micro-nutrients and beef happens to be a really good source of those things. If you want to be a vegetarian in the United States you can, and you can meet your requirements and not be deficient, but not everyone is in the United States.”

Wickersham says corn is also high in calories, so those children would have to consume a lot more calories to meet their amino acid needs. In fact, it would be essentially impossible for a child to eat enough corn to meet their requirements.

On the other hand, if we feed the corn to cattle, through the value of protein upcycling we could feed 17 children and easily meet their protein requirements by feeding that one beef animal the 770 pounds of corn. Furthermore, ruminants can utilize sources of biomass that other meat-producing animals, such as fish, pigs and chickens, cannot.

“We’re really dependent on ruminal microbes to convert low-quality sources of protein into a more valuable source of indispensable amino acids,” Wickersham said. “Our animals can eat things that those other animals can’t and convert them into steak.”

Balancing the pillars of sustainability

Another method Wickersham uses to measure protein upcycling is net protein contribution or NPC. It estimates how a production system is contributing to meeting human protein requirements. Wickersham says this metric does allow us to address social sustainability. Sustainability is built on three pillars: social, environmental and economic sustainability. Wickersham says producers cannot pick just one pillar to focus on, they must balance them all.

“The beef industry does a really good job of addressing economic sustainability because everyone wants to stay in business,” he said. “We think about environmental sustainability indirectly as a result of improving economics. However, we rarely think about social sustainability of beef cattle production.”

According to Wickersham, methane production and HEP consumption are inversely related. The more HEP we feed cattle, generally methane production goes down. Conversely, if we feed them less HEP, methane goes up.

“We want them to balance each other,” Wickersham said. “We don’t want to go too far down on NPC. We want to have something counter balancing and pushing against NPC, so we are making the best decisions for the environment too.”

Another important figure is protein quality ratio or PQR, which determines if we are improving the protein quality of the product produced. As an example, the input PQR of corn is 36.8 and the output of beef is 112, by the end of the process, the beef animal has improved the protein quality three-fold. Wickersham says corn is about as bad as you can get when it comes to HEP and PQR and beef is at the best. Beef is a fixed biology; we cannot change the amino acid profile for the output. We can, however, change the input.

“We want the protein produced to be better than the protein we fed,” Wickersham explained.

Wickersham says we can determine if beef is competing with humans for HEP if we multiply HEP by PQR which will equal the NPC. If it is one or above, it is contributing to the human protein supply. Beef is usually around three, but at times it rises or falls, depending on phases of the beef cycle.

Wickersham says beef has a really great story to tell, but most of the time we fail to tell that story very well. He says NPC is a useful tool for defining the value of beef production systems.

“It gives us social sustainability and allows us to tell a compelling story that beef cattle are producing improved-value protein,” Wickersham said. “It also gives us an environmental sustainability and efficiency of nutrient utilization and provides us a way of capturing the benefit of having cows grazing our pasture. That brings value to humans. We are taking that grass that we have no way to utilize and turning it into steak.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

Testing New Futures

Testing New Futures

Holistic Ranch Management More Than Grass

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

“No. You missed that,” Scott Johnson says, correcting a caller. He and his wife, Jean, were traversing a part of eastern Colorado on one end of a long-distance struggle with cell service. The caller had entirely missed the point Scott made about holistic management. It is much more than grass.

The template of holistic management laid over the Johnson family’s Flying Diamond Ranch, Scott explains, is a collaboration of moving parts. It considers the harsh seasons of Colorado’s semiarid eastern plains and the sustainability of the ranch’s composite Angus herd. It is management of predatory coyotes, of spring calving and scrutiny of meat markets. Most of all, it is family — this one taking its first steps into a sixth generation with five grandchildren, four born in 11 months.

“Do you follow my way of thinking?” Scott asks. “If our ROI [return on investment] is great, but someone is maimed, we wouldn’t be real proud [of our performance]. We will give up profit for safety or harmony,” he says. “The focus is on the whole. If we’re not getting along as a family, if we’re not safe, then the rest of this really doesn’t matter,” he explains. “It’s its entirety. Its wholeness. Its balance. Not perfection. But, bottom line, [we are] profit-oriented. Business is business.”

The Flying Diamond’s clean and highly viewable website uses six words to articulate holistic management: “Ranching with family. Working with nature.”

BORN ON A CATTLE DRIVE

Flying Diamond is 112 years in the making. Charlie Collins, Scott’s great-grandfather, fell in love with the land when, as a teen in the late 1800s, he trailed cattle near the banks of Big Sandy Creek on a drive from Mexico to Montana. By 1907, Collins had moved his family from Kansas to Kit Carson, where the ranch is still headquartered today.

The ranch is dominated by a shortgrass and sand sage landscape. Thick riparian areas border the Big Sandy and Horse creeks, tributaries of the Arkansas River. Culls are based on a female’s ability to wean a calf every year beginning at age 2 and succeed in 13 inches of precipitation and temperatures running the scale from below zero to above 100ËšF.

The cattle winter on corn circles in Kansas and Nebraska. “We like to rest our pastures during the winter. It’s healthier for our grass to have the cattle off and let it rest, and get a little more growth,” Jean says. Scott adds, “Having cattle on cornstalks, our day-to-day chores slow down a little bit in the winter. We can give family a little breather.”

Flying Diamond is an operation run by a family of type A personalities, Scott allows. “We’re not real chitchatters. We socialize. We have good times. We want to maintain excellent family relations. But, we’re not sitting around drinking a lot of coffee.”

GENERATIONS MANAGE TOGETHER

Scott and Jean anchor the Flying Diamond’s fourth generation. Their four adult children represent its fifth. Ownership is based on a meritocracy. The more a family member contributes, the more they own.

Jen Livsey, married to Jay, is the oldest. She is a Princeton University undergraduate and the first female graduate from the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management. She recently opened Eastco Group, a livestock and drought insurance business. Jen oversees the rotational-grazing plan and analyzes purchase and lease opportunities.

More Recommended for You
Will and Lauren Johnson live full-time on the ranch. A Marine Corps veteran, Will is CEO of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc.

Myles Johnson and his wife, Katie, live in Idalia, Colorado, where Myles is the K through 12 superintendent of schools. Myles is the ranch’s administrative officer, managing compliance, meetings and corporate records. Katie is a certified public accountant and manages the ranch books.

Charlie Johnson and his wife, Kaitlin, live in Kit Carson. He is chief operating officer (COO) of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc. He partners with Jen in livestock and drought insurance.

Business is organized around communications—face-to-face, weekly conference calls and a monthly executive committee meeting. Quarterly board meetings are a newer function Kirk Samuelson, Scott’s cousin, brought to the ranch. Samuelson served as COO of Fortune 500 Kiewit Corp., in Omaha, until he retired. He and Scott are cochairmen of the board for Flying Diamond. Quarterly board meetings are formal. “Ten years ago, I was the dictator,” Scott admits. “Now, no one is comfortable with that. When we talk about family harmony, that’s not to suggest there aren’t red faces and pounding on the table.”

The board meetings are to play a role in the ranch’s vitality. “You go to workshops, and you hear horror stories,” Jean says. “Families won’t talk to each other. Ranches divide. That is a threat. How do you keep a 100-year-old ranch together for the next generation?”

The board meetings have a start-stop time and a structured agenda. They often include talks by outside experts. Assignments are given before the meeting—budgets, range management, cattle movements, fertility testing and branding, selling bulls, commodity markets and new market opportunities. “There is an element of accountability brought into the operation that we didn’t have before,” Jean says. “You are held accountable. What did you say you were going to accomplish? Did you do it?”

AGREEMENT IS KEY GOAL

Flying Diamond’s meetings are collaborative. The goal is consensus. “At the end of the day, we want to come up with a compromise we can all live with. This is a new concept for us,” Scott explains.

New is a continuing education standard. Time spent in continuing education is measurable and reported quarterly toward an annual goal of 300 hours. Safety is one component. Jean is the ranch’s safety officer. She has organized horse- and cattle-handling courses. “We specifically do safety training, communicate safety and track safety by hours per year.”

Calving runs from March through May. “We try to mimic nature,” Scott says. “We calve when the deer and the antelope and the elk calve.” Cows graze on spring grasses and not supplemental feed, and the calves generally miss late-season blizzards. Predation is better managed. Calves invite coyotes in the dark of winter. Coyotes have a wider menu in the spring, when the ranch’s wildlife also is giving birth.

“Deer and antelope spend zero dollars, and their offspring have a 50 percent survival rate,” Jen told ColoradoBIZ in a February article about Flying Diamond Ranch. The goal of the ranch, she explained, is to improve the odds of survival among the calf crop but mimic nature to lower production costs.

And here, an example of holistic management: “Our guys aren’t out in blizzards. The weather is better for the calf and better for us,” Scott says.

PATH TO PRODUCTIVITY

Cattle graze only 5% of the ranch’s ground at any one time. Nearly 200 miles of single-strand electric interior fence mark paddocks typically less than 300 acres in size. Cattle graze in some paddocks no more than three days in a growing season. Stocking rates once ran 40 acres per cow/calf unit. Today, it is 30 acres per unit. “We are able to run 30% more animals. Maybe we’ll be able to get to 20 acres per cow/calf unit with more intensive grazing,” he says.

Scott traces his land-management practice to several days spent 35 years ago with Allan Savory, the guru of grazing lands holistic management. Savory’s notion was to move cattle frequently—as bison moved themselves—by way of intensive, human-directed management.

Flying Diamond has laid out 20 miles of water pipeline with the assistance of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Stewardship programs. Seven wells pump water to 23 stock tanks. The family has an eye to tightening its grazing practices—that cattle would graze no more than 1% of the ranch’s acreage at any one time.

Few ranches are as intense, Scott says. “Everything gets more intense the more intense we get. More monitoring, quicker moves. We are not know-it-alls. But, it can be a big benefit to the resource and a big benefit financially.”

ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT

Holistic management is one of many parts. Flying Diamond Ranch has won its share of acclaim for this approach as the recipient of the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award and regional Environmental Stewardship Award, the latter partially sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.

Awards recognize achievement. Flying Diamond Ranch tests new futures. Its organic cuts, for example, are finding customers in San Francisco. As a member of its advisory committee, Jean learns how the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University studies water conservation, sustainability, even urban farming. But also, meatless meat.

“It sounds like science fiction to us, but maybe it’s something that’s coming,” says Jean, not setting aside opportunity perhaps born of a petri dish. The future does not discourage Flying Diamond Ranch. “We’re bullish on agriculture,” Scott says.

The Flying Diamond Ranch evolves and grows and shifts for a time beyond Scott and Jean, and perhaps beyond Jen, Will, Myles and Charles—from today to a time for five grandchildren: Collins, Sofia, Clint, Stella and Henry, growing up among the hills of Colorado’s plain.

One generation builds on another. “We think,” Scott says, “that future is pretty bright.”