any ideas for converting to rotational grazing?

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by godsgapeach, Jan 4, 2009.

  1. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    Hi, all. Our family has been a farming family for 4 generations now and my brother and I would like to convert it to a more sustainable state. We've got at least 250 acres in pasture, but the 150 head of cattle have been allowed to roam wherever they please and graze on their favorite grasses--mostly fescue. Then they get alfalfa or bermuda hay in winter.

    What I'd like to know is how best to plant seed for forage to introduce the rotation and eventually have fresh forage year round.

    Also, would you suggest portable fencing or permanent paddocks?

    One major consideration for us will be water availability. Since the cows are able to roam right now, they have access to a creek that backs the property. I can't envision how to include the creek (across some of the terrain we have--woods and steep hills) while limiting the grazing area, so some other watering method would be necessary.

    Thanks for all suggestions!
    Godsgapeach
     
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  2. TSYORK

    TSYORK Jhn Boy ina D Trump world

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    I would suggest talking with agmantoo. He's on here quite a bit and is a deep well of knowledge with regards to rotational grazing. I'm confident he can provide a plethora of exceptional advice and wisdom regarding your questions. His achievments speak for themselves.
     

  3. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Let me forewarn you. I will bore you with encouragement to commit to rotational grazing. Over the years I have tried with varying degrees of success to make a profit farming. I did obviously survive those enterprises but with some profit most years and great risks all years. I was not comfortable as there was tremendous concern from too many variables. As farmers we have been sold a bill of goods that are questionable at best when we were told to increase production to increase profit. That does not work! Not for the farmer. It only increases risk. What we needed to learn was to reduce costs and profits will increase. Recently a conventional producer and I sent feeder calves to the sale on the same day. He went to the sale barn and got his check and I waited for the mail to deliver mine. Next morning at the local coffee shop he made it a point to announce in front of others "you are going to be disappointed when you get your check as I took a licking" or something close. I told him that "if they bring more than 20 cents a pound at least I will break even". His mouth fell open. Costs of land is not in that figure. If this resembles something similar to what you and your brother have in mind I can help.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    Go ahead, Agman! I don't believe you'll bore us a bit. We are like minded--not looking to increase production at all. We have the land; we have the cows. We just need some prodding in the general direction of how to convert the overgrazed pasture to something resembling your photo!

    We know soil tests are in order so that will probably be our first step. We've looked for best choices for forage for our area for each season. We need to find our best option for seed supply (don't know what you think about Pennington, but they're in our hometown). What else do you suggest we do to get started?

    Thanks for your help!
    Godsgapeach
     
  5. momanto

    momanto SW FLORIDA HAPPYLAND

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    Go Agman, Sw Fl Is Listening Too.

    Thanks, Mom
     
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  6. travlnusa

    travlnusa Well-Known Member

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    Rotational grazing is VERY easy.

    Just do what Agmantoo tells you to do.

    That is how I got under way.
     
  7. mrpink

    mrpink Well-Known Member

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    welcome to the board godsgapeach. its sounds like you are just up the road from me. i have to agree that agmantoo is the resident expert on rotational grazing here. lots of other knowledgeable folks around here as well.

    greg
     
  8. SusyTX

    SusyTX Well-Known Member

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    We're just starting out and contacted the NCRS (USDA) in our area, lots of good programs available.

    A great series of U-Tube videos is available by Gene Sollock in Texas, here's a link: http://www.texasgrassfed.com/id4.html

    That, along will Joel Salatin's "Grass-Fed Beef" is good...hope this helps!
     
  9. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    If you do not mind I will ramble a bit and later we will get down to specifics. Going to rotational grazing is a big shift initially and one is working with a lot of unknowns that generates a level of uncomfortableness. Only with experience will you become fully certain it will work. How comfortable would you be if you had nearly no hay this time of year? I have 16 days worth for emergency use! I plan on going through the entire winter without feeding any hay and I am not uncomfortable. The extension agent has told me that I cannot calve year round, I do. I run the herd together, all ages, all sexes, never wean by separation. I am not the midwife to a cow. I may help a cow in trouble but I will cull her from the herd. I do not tolerate nervous, flightly or mean cows. I feed no grain, only salt and minerals. I have never had a vet to the place but I did call one once and he did not show. If I cannot cure the animal I put it down. It is cheaper and less involved. The farm grows only endophyte infected fescue and clovers and I feed the same forage 365 days per year. The cows seem to relish the forage each day. My calves sell in the top 10% of the feeder calves sold at the local sale barn. It is a large weekly sale with nearly a couple of thousand head per week. I have no help, this is a one man operation other than my wife will help me sort market calves. She opens and closes the gate. I sell at least four times per year. This schedule should give me an average of the sale price over the year instead of the lows typical when the market is flooded and yes I may miss the highs. The average is less risky to me. Other than periods when running the bushhog or dragging manure with a $50 worn out harrow I spend about 15 to 30 minutes moving cattle per day. I do band the bull calves and I ear tag all calves. The ear tags are coded to the year the calves are born to aid in knowing the age of retained heifers. I only bring in outside bulls. I harvest seed from the paddocks and reseed with these adapted seed. I do not disturb the existing stand, instead I just over seed. That little top soil is the best seed bed you will have and trash seed are not encouraged to grow. I have about 1.4 acres per cow/calf pair. Obviously the cow is on the farm all year and the calf is sold at approximately 550 pounds. I have not applied commercial fertilizer in 3 years. I did apply chicken litter on a portion. I keep the PH at 5.8 or higher. Just last month I hired the farm tested for PH and fertility needs. No fertilizer is needed, with rotational grazing more than 80% of what goes in the mouth comes out the rear as fertilizer and is spread by the animal. I do not have a weed problem and I do not use herbicides of any consequence. My baler is in storage and I sold my haybine. My fuel consumption has dropped dramatically. My machinery parts needs are minimal. I am certain that I have left something out as to the benefits but those will surface as we proceed. I will share this also. I live in the largest cow population county in NC so I have neighbors with animals. It hurts my conscience as I go about my minimal chores and I see the neighbors working as hard as they do.
     
  10. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    godsgapeach
    I need a little info.
    How many of the acres are in the production of forage?
    What are the average size of the fields? rolling hills growing grass are fields to me. I am actually a grass farmer with beef cows. I sell grass as meat.
    Call you mentally visualize a large number of rectangular fields approximately 300 ft wide by any longer length (up to a couple thousand feet) running parallel with each other on this farm with the narrow ends of the rectangles reaching the back of the farm where there is water?
    What breed of cattle are the majority?
    What is their frame size?
    Rate their milking ability.
    Are you marketing feeder calves?
    If so, at what weight?
    What do you realistically expect to net from a calf?
    State what your goals are with this conversion to rotational grazing
    Do you have a budget for this project?
    Would you consider installing a water system?
    Do you have machinery? Tractor, bushhog, sod drill, drag harrow, post driver
    Are you and your brother physical fit to do fencing and other farm type work and are you willing to do it?
    If some of the questions are too personal just ignore them
    The pic below is a strip that is ~300 wide and I have been allocating about 60 to 80+ feet of length to the cattle for the last 34 days. I just give them another section each day. Look closely and you can see the poly twine that is electrified to limit the movement. The cows are traveling less than 800 feet to water and their daily needs are being meet. They are ready to move but they are not hungry or balling. I just repeat this type thing day after day on the stock piled fescue as winter progresses. Are you aware that stock pile fescue has a a protein level around 17 percent and a tdn of more that 65%. This is better than most hay. The cattle harvest the fescue saving all the work and expense.
    [​IMG]
     
  11. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the encouragement y'all. Yes, MrPink we're fairly close to your area.

    We've been gathering info for the most part. We've been reading some Salatin--waiting on Salad Bar Beef from the library right now. And I found Sollock's videos just the other day. We've also been checking out Tom Trantham's grazing/seeding schedule (www.happycowcreamery.com) for forages that would work in our zone.

    Our farm has been, and continues to be run predominantly by our Dad. We're just trying to help him out and try to lighten his load while we extend the legacy we've been given. In addition to the cows he also has 5 commercial chicken houses.

    Agman, it'll take me a little time to respond to all your questions (I've got to find out some specifics). But I'll hit you with what I'm sure of now:

    There are roughly 250 acres (by my guess) that the cows are pastured on now. Rectangles will be something of a challenge for forage areas. Someone many moons ago terraced the whole pasture area and there are some wooded areas as well within the pastures.

    The cows are "mutts" mostly. The bulls are angus, but we've got mixed generations of breeder cows--some Santa Gertrudis, some Angus, a few Charolais, some Brangus, some Herefords, and a fair mix of all the above. They calve all year long too--not monitored, rarely have trouble--but most calve around February and October. We'll be able to weed some out to fund some of our ventures. But basically as long as they don't jump the fences or cattleguards(or lead the whole herd onto the local airport runway... but that's another story), they're with us long term and only calves are sold around 550#--I'll have to ask Daddy what they bring at the sale barn.

    As for their size that varies depending on their mix. The Santa Gerts are largest--I think taller but just as barrel chested as yours maybe.

    Our goals are to improve the fields, improve the stock, require less work of Daddy, and hopefully make it easier on him at tax time. We'd like to be as sustainable as possible, as little chemical as possible--not shooting for organic necessarily (cost of the hoops to jump through isn't worth it when we can sell locally as well as at the sale barn and those who know us will know our practices).

    Since we're still in the info gathering stage we haven't set a budget yet.

    We are considering setting up a watering system--won't be the first time we've ditch-witched across the terraces. We may just have to drill another well for that purpose. There are a few old bored wells, but I don't know how reliable they are now.

    I laugh about machinery--we've got just about one of everything. Maybe not a sod drill and the planting machinery, but bushhogs, plenty of tractors, augers... even the shell of an old combine that I rode on with my grandmother while we bagged fescue seed. And what we don't have, I'm sure Daddy can round up.

    Yes, we're physically fit enough to do the hard jobs (hard headed enough, too).

    I'll see what other numbers I can find out

    If it will help you any, I can post some pics if you tell me what you want to see. Cows, fields...

    Thanks again!
    Godsgapeach
     
  12. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    godsgapeach, there are specific characteristics of cattle that best adapt to rotational grazing. Do you think your family would consider phasing from some of those you have to a more specific animal? I highly recommend that your brood cows weigh no more than 1100 pounds, preferably 1050, and be of medium frame size. These cows need to be moderate milk producers. There are good reasons for this, mainly smaller cows and moderate milkers are more economical to feed. It is a fact, some just refuse to acknowledge the known truth. Keep an open mind while I explain. An acre of forage will carry just so many pounds of animals. Whether you are aware or not you are marketing grass. You may produce calves but in reality you are a grass farmer. The same land that may support 10 each 1600 pound big mommas will carry 15 each 1050 lb each smaller cows. With a 90% survival rate the big momma cows will send 9 calves to the sale. Yes those 9 calves will be heavier. However, the little mommas will at 90% survival produce 13 plus calves. A side note, smaller breeds usually reach sexual maturity earlier and can calve by their 2nd birthday. Those 13 calves on good forage will weigh more than the 9 big calves. The significant advantage is that the little mommas dig not eat anymore than the 9 biggies. Your carrying capacity and the production thereof has suddenly increased significantly. What did not increase is the price of fertilizer, the property tax on the farm, the machinery costs, the work load, etc. We will call that the cost of production. What did increase is the number of pounds of meat sold. If the biggie calves were profitable then the number of additional pounds from the larger headcount little cows calves become more profitable. If the price of calves drops and the biggies just break even the additional pounds from the higher headcount little cows calves is still profitable. In difficult times some profit is still better than no profit. Your thoughts? PS.....here is a pic of the type animals I am promoting. The parent stock of these came from the sale barn.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    Yes, Agman. We're open to culling out some of our bigger breeds to head in the rotational direction. That's actually encouraging to me since one of my "pets" is a small no-name brand that's about the size you mentioned. She's getting up in years, but still calves twice a year and almost always has a bull calf. When I go out and whistle she romps across the pasture like a dog.

    There are others about her size in the mix.

    What else do you suggest?
    Godsgapeach
     
  14. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Early on you mentioned growing different forages for different times of year grazing. I am going to recommend that instead of reworking and replanting that you salvage the fescue pastures you have. I would like to know how many acres are predominantly in fescue? I would like to know if you have any bottom land that is wet in the summer? Do you have shed storage for hay? How many round bales? Do you use the chicken litter for your pastures? Is the litter from a layer or broiler operation? Once you answer these questions I will need some time to think this through. Realize, if this was super simple everyone would be doing it. I am still waiting on how many forage producing acres do you have? PS....How many days are you now feeding hay through the Winter?
     
  15. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    Ok, I've gotten the answers to your questions I think.

    There are about 175 acres in the main pastures with an additional 25 or so in bottom land--not necessarily "wet" but pretty fertile. Daddy has been fertilizing with the broiler litter once or twice a year.

    I'm not sure exactly how many round bales he ended up with this year, but it's enough to feed 5 bales every other day beginning sometime in November and they'll last through spring greening.

    I also found out that before the market crashed the calves were selling for $.90-1.10 per pound, but recently they brought .50-.60.

    I'm sure I missed something, but I hope this helps. Thanks for helping us out!
    Godsgapeach
     
  16. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Broiler letter is not as potent as layer litter but it remains a wonderful fertilizer. You are fortunate to have access to the litter with the price of commercial fertilizer having risen so high. Layer litter offsets the need for lime but not so with broiler. Therefore you need to get the soil Ph checked ASAP. We need the whole farms forage producing acreage above 5.8. Lime takes time to break down and so this needs to be addressed now. Does the farm co op Southern States cover your area? They or a similar co op should offer a GPS layout of the farm, dividing the fields down to 12 to 25 acre sizes with a professional soil sampling. The fee may run around $500 but it is worth the price. You can use this tool to track various practices that you perform such a fertilizing, liming, pasture paddock layout, water planning, communicating with others, long range farm acreage utilization, etc. You mentioned that you had trees growing in some places and I interpreted you though they were a possible negative. They are definitely a plus as long as the herd in not under one when lightning strikes it. Shade is very important for use as rotational grazers. Have you ever heard people reference that they wanted light colored or brahma influence because "those cows will be out there eating in the heat of the day". That IMO is totally unsubstantiated nonsense! A cow can eat in quality pasture during two each 45 minute times periods in 24 hours all she needs*. She has nothing better to do than to dine early in the morning and late in the evening. In the interim periods I want her efficiently digesting the forage. I want her chewing her cud and resting and not wasting energy in the heat of the day. *We will use this fact to establish the amount of area allocated to feed your herd when you start rotational grazing. You referenced a herd count or 150 animals, I assume this is a mix of sizes since I have learned you also calve year round. Your grown heifers and brood cows must be numbering around 85 to 95, is this about right? Regardless, I predict that you can carry 116 momma cows. Now here is what should impress your dad since he is the one doing all the hay. I am confident that barring drought, you can do this year round Without Any Hay. So now calculate how much the hay is costing and move that to your pocket! Include the fuel, machinery costs, time lost that other tasks could be done, time and expense of feeding, hot sweaty unhealthy heat stress of putting up hay, risk of fire, riding the tractor in inclement weather trying to feed, stress on the cattle as a timid cow tries to eat and a boss cow keeps knocking her about, inability of the calves to compete and the fact that the hay only has 2/3 rds the nutritional quality of the stockpiled fescue. The fertile bottom will be reserved to produce forage for mid July to late August. With the litter you have ask your dad what will give the maximum growth and regrowth during this time period. An annual would be OK as this area could be replanted to something such as annual rye as a safety net for late winter grazing. You dad is probably applying the litter as it is available, ask him is it possible to schedule the houses to some extent for mid to late August. I know this is an unconventional time period to apply fertilizer but there is unrecognized merit in doing so. Here in the South we start getting night dew in that time frame. We will not let the cattle eat the grass into the ground. We want 3 inches of top growth always. This 3 inches of top growth coupled with the night dew will start growing fescue! We will then get a head start for Winter feed and we will get a jump on Fall growth. This combination will grow surplus grass for current consumption and reduce the amount of area grazed. Reducing the area grazed will create more of the 175 acres to be reserved for growing the fescue we will be stockpiling for Winter. We are going to stop the feeding hay practice in Nov and will graze growing grass until the end of Dec. I go until mid Dec but you have a milder climate. I have a 90 day period to feed stockpiled fescue in a mild year. In a harsh year I may have to go 115 days. There is minimal reason for concern however as the initially grazed Dec stockpiled grass has regrown some on the warm days and we also have the 25 acres in the bottom. : ) An application of litter in early to mid March will give an early boost to the fescue coming out of dormancy. If you apply too much litter you will have to make some hay or just bushhog the top off the fescue. I bushhog as I want the fertility to remain instead of it leaving in the form of hay. A bale of hay at todays fertilizer price is said to have $42 worth of nutrient in it. Pass this by your dad and brother and give me their unedited opinions. I can only counter their arguments if I fully understand their reservations.
     
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  17. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    If you were to move to all black cattle I am of the opinion the price per pound will increase around 10 cents. Review the sale slips and compare the income from the black calves to the others. Selling 40 to 50 thousand pounds of calves per year this will make a noticeable difference. It all adds up to more profit and that is the goal.
     
  18. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    We do have a Southern States in town (at one time it was just called the Co-op but it was Gold Kist then). We've also got a friend in the extension office. I think we'll see which can get the soil tests back quickest.

    Chicken litter can pretty much be spread any season within the 6-7 week turnaround. I know it has usually been spread in March (had a wedding shower at our house in March one year and the litter had just been put out--made for an aromatic event!), and at least once later in the year.

    Yes, the herds are mixes of sizes/ages, and your guess of mamas to calves is probably pretty accurate.

    I didn't tell you they're divided into 3 herds. The largest is in the pasture that stretches from my house to my folks'--about 110 acres. That herd is the most people friendly, and that's the pasture with bottom land access. The 2nd herd is across the road near my brother's house on about 45 acres--they're getting more people friendly. And the 3rd is smaller and on about 22 acres--rarely around people.

    We've pretty much been given the go-ahead to try whatever we want (within reason, of course), and nothing you've mentioned has been objectionable so far ;->. I don't know how comfortable Daddy will be without doing all the hay, but there are another 45 or so acres that aren't in the pasture acreage that have always been designated for hay--so they don't take away from the rotation. And he can always sell the excess. The bales are good enough for horse quality, so that's always a plus.

    I also haven't mentioned that there is quite a bit of thistle we're always battling (Daddy is certified to spray, but we'd like to eventually eliminate that--hopefully balancing pH will help...), and there are an overabundance of young persimmon trees. They're as hard to eliminate as thistle! They just get bushhogged usually.

    Thanks for your willingness to make suggestions!
    Godsgapeach
     
  19. godsgapeach

    godsgapeach Well-Known Member

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    One other quick question (probably a dumb one) but: What do you mean by "stockpiled" fescue?
    Godsgapeach
     
  20. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Stockpiled fescue is what we are going to grow using the chicken litter applied in August. Then we will save the stockpiled fescue to rotational graze going through the winter. We will also boost the growth in the spring for grazing during the summer. The stockpiled fescue will be the replacement feed that the cows will harvest instead of your dad making hay from the fescue pastures and then having to redistribute back to the cattle in bad nasty cold wet weather. As for the weeds and other trash growing in the pastures. When we use good management practices for the pastures and and rotate the animals to where they cannot damage the desirable plants and we control the trash by choking out the undesirable by properly managing the grass growth and by timely bushhogging. We will not need a lot of herbicide. It will take 3 years to get the trash under control but it will still be far less work and expense than what you are doing now. Keep deeply imbedded in your minds that we are in a marathon to get to be the lowest cost producer. We want to achieve this goal by working smarter, not harder. Do you see any thistle in this stockpile fescue? any persimmons ? This paddock has not been sprayed and has not been fertilized, other than cow droppings, in 3 years.
    [​IMG]
     
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