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Archive for the ‘mob grazing’ Category

>Managed Grazing – Surviving Summer Slump

Posted by Thrivelearning on July 8, 2010

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Those of us in the Midwest have the blessing and curse of fescue. While it’s hardy (and invasive), it is also a cool-weather grass, meaning that it only grows during spring and fall, really. Cooler days of summer do it OK, but when you get into those dog-days of August, you get nearly nothing.

Cattle, meanwhile, have to keep eating something year ‘round. And they like to eat from dessert to spinach, so will pretty much pick and choose what they want to eat and when. Meaning that they will graze down the clover to nothing and leave other grasses like fescue alone to put up its seed head, which they really don’t like. (And you’ll see horseweeds and others show up tall across the pasture if you only do conventional grazing.)

Conventional grazing is to leave them in a pasture until they’ve eaten everything they want and it’s all pretty short. Then you move them into another one. And you’re keeping hay fields out of their reach so you can grow and cut hay for winter. We used to have them mostly on a single pasture and then feed hay from Nov 15 right up to April 15. 5 months out of the year.

Gradually, we’ve been transitioning over to managed grazing. A couple of years back, I planted rye next to their winter pasture and fed them on this in the early spring. And I’ve been learning how to push them through the short spring growth and manage fields with only a small amount of old growth from the previous fall.

The idea with managed grazing is to quit making hay – buy it instead. Put that acreage into rotation with the rest and move the cows every two or three days. You then come back in about a month, when it’s had a chance to re-grow.

Ultra-high density stocking moves every day, but you bunch up the cattle into heavy concentrations and then rest that land for almost half a year before coming back to it. This is also called mob grazing.

Managed grazing says to keep back some of your land so that you can stockpile the grass on it from about August on through November and the first hard freeze (for our part of the country). The idea is that you only have to feed hay when it’s too frozen and/or snow-covered for them to graze what’s out there.

Here’s some pointers from Rory Lewandowski out of the OSU Extension Beef Team

The goal of managing a rotational grazing system is to keep the pasture forage plants healthy and growing so that grazing livestock can meet their nutritional needs by eating those plants. This goal is accomplished by adhering to some general grazing principles within a context of understanding an animal’s nutrient needs. The summer months of July and August typically are months of hot temperatures and limited rainfall. Let’s examine some specific management decisions required by summer conditions.

There are two general grazing principles to keep in mind; residual leaf cover, the take half, leave half rule, and second, provide a rest period until the plant is ready to be grazed again. Specifically, in the summer, do not graze pasture grasses below 4 inches in height. Keeping some leaf cover will result in quicker plant recovery after a grazing pass. The leaves will provide some shading of the soil, helping to keep the soil cooler and more conducive to cool season grass growth. Shading the soil from the sun will also conserve moisture, and provide better regrowth conditions. In the summer the rotation through pasture paddocks must slow down. Cool season grasses grow slower under summer temperatures. More time is needed for the grass to re-grow to grazing height after a grazing pass. Specifically, allow the pasture sward to regrow to an 8 to 10 inch height before entering a pasture paddock for another grazing pass.

The application of these grazing principles requires an adequate number of pasture divisions or paddocks. What is an adequate number? In our beginning level grazing school we teach that the number of paddocks needed is determined by this formula: # of paddocks = Rest period/Grazing days + 1. The rest period during a typical summer can vary from 30 days in early summer or if temperatures do not exceed the mid 80’s and some timely rains continue, to 45 or 50 days when temperatures are in the 90’s and rains are few and far between. In the case of a drought, the required rest period can be 60 days plus. The amount of grazing days spent in the paddock depends upon several factors, including stocking density and grass regrowth.

If stocking density is light, more days can be spent in a paddock, but there is a high amount of selective grazing and at some point desirable plants that are beginning to regrow can get grazed again. From a plant health and productivity standpoint, plants should not be grazed again as they begin growth following a grazing pass. So, grazing management will dictate that the time it takes a plant to begin active regrowth after being grazed determines the grazing days part of this formula. In the summer, it is generally accepted that plants do not begin active regrowth until about 4-5 days after a grazing pass.

Of course, you can move over to native warm-season grasses, but these take more time to establish and don’t flourish in early spring when you want to put the most weight on your cattle, just before the peak auction prices in May-June.

Now, mob grazing has an advantage over this, since when you keep them out, the thick mulch cows will trample and leave (they eat about 50% and trample the rest) will actually build in some water-holding capacity. So there are reports that farms using mob grazing don’t dry up even during droughts. However, that’s another day’s blog post.

I’ve got some more stuff on mob grazing over at “A Midwest Journal”.

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>Pinkeye in cattle – doesn’t affect the beef quality

Posted by Thrivelearning on July 6, 2010

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But it will get you docked at the auctions. They like their beef black and beautiful…

I’ve had another version of this same bacteria this year and have become a regular customer at my vet to get it treated. This strain seems to only affect new calves, yearlings, and 2-year olds. I did take one of my “grannies” in, and one 4-year old, but otherwise it left the older adults alone.

And it wasn’t the pinkeye I treated last year – most all of these caught it again.

And the reason I wanted them treated was to reduce weight loss, ensure they didn’t lose that eye to blindness, and generally to help them as I could. Antibiotics, given time to clear the system (21 days) does nothing to affect the meat quality.

While I could have treated it myself with a local anti-biotic ointment twice a day for two weeks, this just didn’t work out. No head chute and after they were about a month old, these calves weighed nearly as much as me – and had a lot more spunk.

So the vet dosed them up with long-lasting anti-biotic and I gradually got all of them through the line-up. Now it’s just the newborns which are catching it. And I was hoping their mothers would give them antibodies through the milk…

But I found this write-up from Dr. Bill Shulaw of OSU (in their June Newsletter):

The presence of seed heads on tall stems does not, by itself, cause pinkeye. The presence of seed heads can be a factor causing some eye irritation as the cows and calves graze. Of course, so are dusts, pollen, strong sunlight, and face flies – all considered predisposing factors. But the causative bacteria have to be present, and at least a few non-immune animals have to be present, before the disease appears. And not all the predisposing factors have to be present to have the disease appear. Pinkeye in a non-grazing dairy herd can be a nightmare to deal with to which I can attest from personal experience; several times.

The disease often disappears from a herd after a couple of grazing seasons without any special preventive efforts like vaccination or pasture clipping. I suspect that this is caused by the eventual exposure and development of a good immune response by almost all the cows with the carrier cows eventually clearing the infection from their eyes. Unfortunately, there are several strains of Moraxella bovis out there, and it is a pretty safe bet that the available vaccines do not provide good protection for all of them. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see the disease reappear in a herd previously infected if new animals carrying a different strain are introduced or if the herd grazes close to another herd that has the disease. Face flies can carry the bacteria on their body for up to three days, and can transmit it between animals and between herds. The disease can also be spread cow-to-cow by close facial contact such as around feeders. The bacteria are in the tears. I have never seen any evidence to support that seed heads or other inanimate objects are involved in the spread of the disease from animal-to-animal, but the bacteria certainly are mechanically transmitted by flies, so I suppose it could occur in just the right circumstances.

Pinkeye demonstrates a well-known principle in infectious diseases. Disease usually occurs only when there is a susceptible host (in this case a non-immune cow), an infectious agent (Moraxella bovis for pinkeye), and environmental conditions that favor infection of the host (irritation of the eye to create tears that attract the flies and that favor the attachment of the bacteria to eye tissues). Infectious agents involved in many diseases are relatively common in most cattle herds, but disease isn’t usually observed until the other two criteria are present. I have written about this concept in several past articles in the Ohio BEEF Cattle Letter especially in regard to calf scours. This is why management of animals and their environment to reduce the concentrations of infectious agents and the stresses on the animals is so important in the reduction of disease.

So it’s not a real mess like we’ve been told.

My gut feeling is that this is still a nutrition problem in addition to a genetic one. So I’m looking for some better minerals to combat it and increase the forage quality of my pastures.

Again, leave the tractors out of the pastures and let the cows do the clipping. Seed heads don’t have diddly to do with pink-eye or other eye infections. And you want that grass tall for mob grazing…

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>Should small producers even bother baling hay – or move right over to mob grazing?

Posted by Thrivelearning on July 5, 2010

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I’ve gone back and forth on this. And the bottom line seems to be that it’s always cheaper to buy hay than cut-rake-bale-store it.

Having just finished getting all my snack hay in the barn (alfalfa and orchard grass, which they love dearly), I’m now getting someone else to bale the rest of that acreage in big round bales for their main meals in late winter, early spring.

However, next year, I plan to do very little haying. Practically none. When you study up on high-density stocking, you can see that very quickly you’ll be able to stockpile grass enough to keep you through all but the most frozen-over times of winter.

Here’s some advice from NRCS Specialist Victor Shelton, off their OSU Extension Newsletter

Smaller operations, especially ones with less than 15 cows or equivalents would have difficult time justifying owning hay equipment. That depreciating investment would probably be best spent on improving the grazing efficiency of the farm or on fertility. I have to be careful here not to step on toes – but I’ve seen people buying a lot of hay equipment so they can stop buying hay and perhaps even "sell" some hay. While they really could have gotten away from using very little hay, they have spent their money on iron and now try and mine their soils to help pay for that equipment…can you really sell that hay for enough to replace the nutrients and pay for labor and equipment? Not likely.

If you are in what I will refer to as a "building" stage of soil fertility – in other words, it still needs some, then you would be better off bringing in fertility, i.e., hay, than to remove it. This is somewhat true even if you are not selling it and utilizing it yourself, you are still most likely removing nutrients from where they are needed and moving them to a "feeding" area where they are already high. Moving those "feeding" areas around some will certainly help, still the more you can graze, the better. If fields are in that "building" stage, it is counterproductive to cut hay off it – no question. You are just removing and moving needed nutrients – especially phosphorus. Let’s look at the cost for just a moment and compare it to grazing. If you look at nutrient removal between the two scenarios – grazing an orchardgrass/clover mix pasture or haying this same field…assuming the nutrients are actually present; the grazing cost of nutrient removal is about $2.50 per ton dry matter produced. Hay cost from nutrient removal with the same nutrient values is about $40 per ton assuming that no or minimal nitrogen was applied and most nitrogen was supplied by the legume. Still want to cut hay off that field? Smaller operations are almost always better off buying what hay they need. You don’t have to fight the weather and you can actually shop around and buy good quality hay – often cheaper than you can raise it.

Now I recall going to a grazing school a couple years back, where they told you how to make the transition over to managed grazing. First, you take the pasture you’ve been baling hay off of and put it back into the rotation. Next, buy just the minimal hay you need in order to get by during the worst of winters. Then, start stockpiling some pastures after August. This way, you’ll be able to feed these off during the early winter by strip-grazing them when they go dormant.

If you’re able to really (and daily) squeeze your cattle down to frequent moves, you’ll only visit the same spot approximately 2 times a year – in Ultra-High Density Stocking, or Mob Grazing. So they have plenty of time to regrow after your cows have stripped and stomped and fertilized everything in small strips.

The point is that you are saving time and money by utilizing your cows to do your reseeding and fertilizing. If you need hay, buy it – and then you’re bringing more nutrients back to the farm instead of having to buy expensive fertilizer and spend your time applying it.

What you will need is some decent minerals as free choice for the cows. This starts making up what your soil just doesn’t have. I’m still working on that one.

But thought to let you in on some haying data today…

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>Moving from Conventional to Mob Grazing

Posted by Thrivelearning on April 9, 2010

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Just wanted to let you know the simple steps on how to move from conventional grass fed beef over to mob grazing, or “ultra-high-density managed grazing.” It’s really quite simple. Since I’ve already blogged this today over at “A Midwest Journal, I’ll give you the highlights:

1. Get out everyday for some excuse and move some fences. Actually walk out in and around your cattle regardless of the weather. This gets them used to you. And you’ll get more familiar with the individual cattle and how they are doing. You’ll probably go through more pairs of boots, but it’s cheaper than fuel and engine parts.

2. Study up on Managed Grazing. This is the step that both Joel Salatin and Greg Judy did first, while they eventually moved to Allan Savory’s methods of ultra-high-density stocking.

3. Start laying some temporary electric lines out with battery-powered chargers, subdividing your existing pastures so that cattle just have enough to eat for a couple of days in every small part. You’ll probably want to start with a small herd in a back pasture. We have some heifers and steers we keep back until they’re ready to meet the bull or the processor, so they are a good experiment. Take a nice pasture that already has a water supply available and a good perimeter fence.

4. Start buying hay with the money you’d spend on fertilizer, fuel, and equipment for hay. It should buy you the same amount or more. Quit growing your own. Import other people’s grass onto your farm and use it to fertilize your own fields.  But put those hay bales out where they’d do some good – not just in a feed lot where you are having to move it back out to the pastures again. Takes some foresight – but you’ll use your tractor a lot less during the winter as you do.

5. Start moving your cattle through those former hay pastures. Under managed grazing, you’ll get through these about three or four times over eight months. In mob grazing, you’ll get through about twice a year. All that former hay ground can start making beef pounds while it’s fertilized at the same time. Win-win.

6. Study the temporary layouts you are using. Cattle need three things – water, grass, and shelter. In “Grass-Fed Cattle”, Julius Ruechel says that you can take your whole farm and simply rotate the cattle through it as you go. Our own farm is dotted with ponds, strips of woods, and waterways that are full in the spring, so this is a no-brainer.

7. Study where you are putting fences – if you keep putting them in the same spot, maybe you should put a permanent fence up there. We use steel t-bar posts for corners and just leave them there with the insulators on (so we can find them later) and this tells us where we are coming back to all the time.

 8. This brings up another point – use what you got to start with. There’s a lot of great fiberglass poles out there and fancy-dancy geared wind-up reels. We use reels for power cords and our old rebar poles with plastic insulators on them. (If you can’t shove them in with a heavy leather glove on your hand, you can carry a hammer on your belt for frozen or summer-hardened ground.) Invest in better gear when your cows start bringing you more profit from the lower overhead.

And I’m trying out an Amazon widget to give you some related books – so you don’t have to look all over for references as you’re getting started. (But this looks buggy – have to get back to you on it…)

This of course brought up the point of figuring out how to raise just a few or a couple of cows on very few acres. Look’s like I’ve got some more to put on my backburners…

Posted in allan savory, grass fed beef, greg judy, joel salatin, mob grazing | Leave a Comment »

>New Calf – New Breed?

Posted by Thrivelearning on March 8, 2010

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Well, this little cuss was born yesterday and was up and kicking his heels within hours. Quite a beauty.

He’s a cross between a Belted Galloway (Beltie) bull and a white-faced Angus cow. That’s how he’s gotten his darling Panda looks.

The advantage of the Beltie/Angus cross is that you get the faster weight-gain of the Angus with the improved forage efficiency of the Beltie – who is rumored to eat almost anything out there. We’ve had one other last year, a heifer, who is already known affectionately as “Little Goat”.

Combined with our shift to managed grazing, ultimately to a “mob stocking” level, we will be able to produce an improved efficiency through our crossbreeding and forage management.

I’m working on a whitepaper about this subject, so should have more information for you shortly. And I have to get a video of this new little one for YouTube…

But our lives are already enriched.

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Posted in angus, belted galloway, grassfed beef, mob grazing | Leave a Comment »

>What is grass-fed beef?

Posted by Thrivelearning on October 31, 2009

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What is grass-fed beef?

Some purists consider that grass-fed means only animals which “have have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from birth to harvest—all their lives.” Technically, this is a bunch of bunk and impossible to achieve.

Reason being is that there are seeds, legumes, tree leaves, even small shrubs that cows need to eat to keep their bodies in balance. A pure grass diet would actually make them a bit sick. But cows eat a wide variety of forage to keep themselves healthy. They do this because they have a four-chambered stomach and so re-digest it until all the nutrients they can use are extracted.

Any healthy pasture you look at has a thousand or more different varieties of plants growing there, and not all of them are really grass.

The best, most environmentally responsible grazing (called mob grazing) will actually have them eating stalks that have grown up and gone to seed. So it’s not some academic issue phrased by government dictocrats. Cows eat a lot of varieties of stuff to make your beef. And that’s what gives it real flavor.

Which then brings up the problems that grain-finished cattle producers have – a pure grain diet changes the body chemistry of cattle and makes them put on extra fat, which causes all sorts of problems for us human consumers (as well as the cattle.) Since our corn has similarly been commoditized to be always yellow and 1/3 of the possible protein geneticized out of it, it’s mostly tasteless starch – which to us would be similar to having a diet of Twinkies. Sure, we put on extra fat and gain weight. That’s what a grain-fed diet is supposed to do.

The bulk of our meat in grocery stores and local markets and restaurants are grain-fed beef. The problems with this is that it is fairly tasteless and a steady diet of it would not help your heart much. Too much fat, too little of the good vitamins people need.

And the current trend is to get back to more traditional methods of raising beef – which is just on grassy pastures. Of course in the winter, unless you make other preparations, you’ll be feeding them hay – which is just grass dried up and compressed into big rolls or squares and kept out of the weather so it doesn’t decay.

Environmental and health benefits of grass-fed beef

To be most environmentally responsible, it make far more sense to raise animals on pasture. High quality, healthy pastures reduce soil erosion, improve water quality (a University of Wisconsin study showed that pastures are the “best” crop for reducing runoff and erosion), increase plant diversity, and provide high quality wildlife habitat. Properly managed, grazing cattle will actually improve the quality of the pasture in both quantity of forage and diversity.

Grass-fed meats are associated with a variety of health benefits as well. It is leaner and lower in fat and calories ounce for ounce than grain-fed beef.

Additionally, studies have shown that grass-fed meat contains more of vitamins A and E, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which have been shown to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, and decrease the risk of diabetes and cancer.

Nutrition information for grass-fed beef: Galloway beef nutrient content comparison to other cooked meats, three ounces, trimmed

pasture-finished Galloway beef loin
USDA Prime Grade beef loin
USDA Choice Grade beef loin
Pork loin
Lamb loin
Chicken breast without skin
Chicken thigh without skin

Protein (grams)
27
24
24
26
26
26
22
Fat (grams)
3.5
11.6
8.7
6.6
8.2
1.3
7.0
Calories
129
201
175
165
176
119
151

And Grass Fed Beef has real taste

A pasture-based diet directly affects meat flavor. It changes the fatty acid content of meat. Grass-fed meats are often described as more intensely flavored. And this changes your approach to cooking this meat, as it requires far less additives to make it tasty. It already is tasty..

The other points affecting beef flavor are age (how old the animal is) and stress at slaughter (when the animal is shipped to a remote location, it is often excited and releases hormones into the muscle). Many locally-raised beef producers will have the animal slaughtered on site and then processed at a locker nearby to avoid that stress. And older animals, even when made into hamburger, are still far more flavorful than their corn-finished cousins.

(My old standby is to tell someone to take an average fast-food burger with everything on it, then take out the patty and eat the rest. Usually, there is no difference in taste, just slightly softer in texture.)

Another action taken with most pasture-finished natural beef is to “dry-age” it for 3-4 weeks, allowing the natural enzymes to break down the tissues and make the beef more tender. (Commercial grain-fed beef is “aged” only the amount of time it takes to ship it cross-country to its destination.)

– – – –

While I raise my own grass-fed beef here in Missouri, I suggest you try a vendor such as La Cense Beef if you want to sample some truly wonderful, Montana-raised grass fed beef.

(Thanks to the University of Wisconsin, “A Consumer’s Guide to Grass-Fed Beef” Bulletin A3862 http://www.uwex.edu/ces/cty)

Posted in beef cattle, grass fed beef, mob grazing | Leave a Comment »