Renovating pasture and moving to rotational grazing

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by Patt, Aug 19, 2006.

  1. Patt

    Patt Well-Known Member

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    Since we moved the cows to my in-laws we want to get our pasture going better and fence it for rotational grazing. Could anyone recommend a good book with the basics? Any ideas you have would be appreciated too!
     
  2. tyusclan

    tyusclan Well-Known Member

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    Subscribe to The Stockman Grass Farmer.

    www.stockmangrassfarmer.net

    They have a bookstore with a good selection of books on various grazing and pasture topics. You can also find some great articles on their website.
     

  3. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    I do rotational grazing and would be willing to answer questions. I am unaware of a source or a written guide. Many of the things I do were learned from my own experiences. My extension agent told me that a number of methods I use would not work. I am here at this site all too often. I prefer to respond to questions through the forum as others are interested and in so doing provides a learning opportunity for all of us. Post your question here.
     
  4. KSALguy

    KSALguy Lost in the Wiregrass Supporter

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    when i was in school for animal science this was something they went over, i cant remimber exact numbers but the principal works,
    the herd at the collage farm was soo used to the rotation that they would be at the gate waiting to go to their new lot every couple days
     
  5. Patt

    Patt Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the link, we'll check that out. :)
    Well to be honest I'm not even sure what to ask. :) I'll give you a run down of our situation and maybe you can point me in the right direction. When we moved here 5 years ago we got 2 bred cows with the property. We just assumed grass would grow and cows would eat it and that was it. :) We figured out after a couple of years it didn't quite work that way. We got some goats who cleaned up the weeds. Then last summer the drought hit. We sold off the goats and figured we had enough grass for the cows. We were feeding supplimental hay by August. We limped through last year and this year the grass just never caught back up.
    After 2 years of drought we're in bad shape. Part of our land is on a fairly steep hill and that area is just bare now. We also have a lot of trees on that side but we're afraid to cut them because they seem to be keeping the erosion down. We don't know what to plant when, we don't know what to fertilise with or when. Around here it's rye grass in the spring and bermuda in the summer and neither has done particularly well for us. That's all our Co-op sells too so I'll need a mail order source for anything else.
    We're kicking around the idea of having the pigs till up areas as we can get them fenced off and then planting them but with the drought we're not sure any seeds we throw out will sprout.
    I will be the first to say we are completely ignorant here but we're willing to take advice and learn. So far our Co-op and Extension agent haven't helped much. :(
     
  6. Mid Tn Mama

    Mid Tn Mama Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Where is your water source? We have troughs next to the barn that catch rainwater off the barn roof and that we fill. That's for that part of the rotation, there are two natural ponds at the other two rotation places. I don't know of a book, but we are currently running them around the fruit trees after we have picked so they can eat some of the spoiled ones on the ground. Boy does that help the old back.
     
  7. topside1

    topside1 Retired Coastie Supporter

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    Patt, not trying to steal you thread and in fact my question may benefit everyone. Agmantoo, just got to ask one question. My pastures are green but pitiful, lots of weeds and various grasses. My primary grass (40%) unfortuanately is sage grass (aka broom straw grass) and nothing that I know of eats it. I sent soil samples to U. of Tennessee and applied lime like as recommended. I am ready to apply fertilizer in March as required via soil sample, but why??? I feel that all would be accomplished would be feeding a healther sage grass and a stronger weed base. One day I would like to have a designated hay field but right now thats's out of the question. I mow the fields regularly to prevent this worthless grass from going to seed. How can I economically rid my fields of unwanted grass, primarily broom straw grass???? In case you don't know what this grass looks like, it's the golden 2 foot straw looking grass you see blowing in unkept fields during the winter. Lastly growing weeds is the last of my concens, getting rid of sage grass effectively is all I am hoping for. Any advice from anyone will surely be appreicated....John
     
  8. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    I will respond to Topside's question as it is the easiest to answer. I do know what broom straw is and I know how to eradicate it. You must get the ph up to around 6 to 6.2. The plant is an acid loving plant and when the ph is corrected the broom straw will disappear. The lime you applied may not have had enough time to work as it is a slow process. Additionally you may not have applied enough lime. The ruel of thumb around here is 2 tons per acre but I have seen areas that need twice that or more. Send another soil sample and do not tell them that you applied lime already and see what the recommendation is now. Now for addressing weeds. An analogy that I use when discussing rotational grazing and weeds is as follows. When you go to a vending machine for a snack and it is full it is human nature to select what you like best. If the machine is partially full and what you like best is already sold then you select what you like second best and if that is not there you drop on down to third best. The same thing happens when animals are placed on a pasture. The animal will eat all of what it likes best first. Then it will eat what it likes second best, then third best and by now the animal starts roaming around hoping to find it's first choice regrown enough to eat it off to the ground again. In so doing the preferred plants are overgrazed, sometimes to the point it stresses the plant to the place it dies. The weeds are left to thrive if there is enough preferred plants left to satisfy the animals needs. A cow that is in good condition can eat enough in 2 each 45 minute periods per day to maintain that condition. In rotational grazing you limit the animals to the area and you permit the animals to graze to meet there needs but not to graze to the point it stresses the plants. In this restricted area and restricted time period the animals will eat as described above but the will eat all of the forage plants that are palatable to them. The animals are permittted to stay on an area long enough to eat the plants down to about 3 inches and then moved. You never want the animals to stay on an area more than 3 to 4 days ideally. They will manure the area to the point of wasting grass if left for longer periods. You will want enough paddocks to where the plants can recover from the grazing and to grow to 6 to 8 inches tall before returning to graze again. I live in zone 7 and I can stockpile fescue in the paddocks for winter use. In so doing I do not bale hay, I let the cattle harvest the crop themselves. During periods of Winter or drought I have to meter the feed in order to make it last. I do this by using the flexible electrical twine and a solar charger. I just reduce the size of each paddock for what I want the cattle to consume in a single day. I can get a lot of mileage out of a seemingly small amount of pasture in doing this. It is much simpler doing the restricted partitioning than making hay, storing it and then putting it out expecially in bad weather. Things that I have learned with rotational grazing
    It is the most profitable method of feeding
    Less money is required as compared to conventional methods
    Very little labor is required, my operation is a one man show
    The farm looks neat as weeds are a minimum
    More cattle can be carried per acre
    You can survive a drought using the process
    You need the "right kind" of cattle to rotational graze
    There are almost no parasite problems
    You need to fertilize twice per year
    In zone 7, you can calve yeararound
    marketing calves throughout the year gives the average price per year
    vet requirements are almost nonexistent
    Rotational grazing uses management instead of inefficiency and high expense to raise cattle.
    This was a scattergun approach at answer some of the questions. I am certain I failed to address some of your needs. Just ask again if I need to elaborate, respond or restate?
     
  9. dodgewc

    dodgewc Well-Known Member

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    Agmantoo, it looks like you put the principle of rotational grazing into simple, and easily understood answers. My brother and I have a 65 acre farm in NY that he will be running. His plan is to use rotational grazing. He is well schooled in agriculture. I, on the other hand, am an auto tech, so this is all foreign to me. This forum has been a great help to me in understanding agriculture in terms I can understand. I look forward to your posts on this subject especially.
     
  10. Patt

    Patt Well-Known Member

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    Maybe I can simplify what I need to know. We have fencing down, we know how rotation works and we have water troughs. :) What we don't have is fertile soil or grass that does well here. We have dirt and rocks and drought. Weeds aren't really a problem either the goats cleaned them out 2 years ago.
     
  11. JulieLou42

    JulieLou42 Well-Known Member

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    Thank you so much, agmantoo, for the wonderful instructions.

    I have a 6.5 acre hillside pasture mostly in orchard grass that hasn't been cut since '04 and is in dire need of refurbishment for even the local custom haying that used to be done on it every early July. I couldn't even give it away to the rancher who usually swaths and bales it, which needs done every year regardless because of the fire danger, especially when we're so dry as we've been lately. Tho' being a north-facing hill might be a good thing in that regard.

    On the plot map of the land, I have it divided off into 6 nearly one acre paddocks that I'd like to set up to rotate my cow and calf on...or should I just perimeter fence it all off and let them roam? Keeping their water tank full could be a problem for me that I need to be thinking about, too.

    What carrying capacity do you think I might have with this? I'd like to put a few feeder calves on the land, too.

    As it's set up right now, they have none of our 3-4 small treed or wooded areas in which they could seek shelter from sun or cold...only an open-sided south-facing 8x16 shed with a roof that needs sides and tin roof repairsl

    I can post picture of the land to aid in suggestions from anyone.

    This forum can be equated to attending classroom lectures and discussions, and I just love it for what I'm learning here. I really appreciate all the help you all are to one another!!! Unlimited thanks!!!
     
  12. RedGeranium

    RedGeranium Well-Known Member

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    Allan Savory is the reigning guru on rotational grazing, IMO. He has a few books and lots of articles available. Some of his methodology seems almost harsh, yet he backs it up with real life data from real life farm/ranch sites around the world. He documents the processes he uses to get from 'only rocks and dirt' to productive pasture. And he uses different classes of livestock (sheep, goats, cattle) and fencing (some permanent and some temporary) to repair the land, not allot of chemicals and equipment.

    His own personal story is empowering too. He was a 'tree hugger environmentalist' out to prove that domestic livestock were causing the poor range conditions and had no place on this earth, and found that they had the opposite effect than he hypothesized. (and he admitted it, what a stand-up guy!)

    I have implemented quite allot of Mr. Savory’s practices on my ranch for about 15 years and have seen the AUM’s increase over 50%, and the ecosystem seems to be nicely balanced. There are native prairie grasses coming up in my rangeland that were supposedly grazed out of this area decades ago along with a diverse wildlife population that is expanding and coexisting with the livestock I run.
    I live in an arid (7"-9"anual precip) zone2-3 and his theories work well here.

    Tamara
     
  13. Up North

    Up North KS dairy farmers

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    Just a few observations:
    Topside - Agman has your answer - ph adjustment.
    KesWind - Thank You for your contribution. I have been wondering if and how theses systems would work in arid or high desert regions. Your experience suggests they can benefit those areas as well. With your vast areas of rough terrain, do you use electric fencing?
    AgMan- 1.) Don't cattle genetics play a role in the effectiveness of your system?
    2.) Please differentiate between rotational grazing in the green season verses strip grazing fo winter stockpile forages?
    3.) For someone like Patt, how long would be a reasonable time frame for transition from current state of affairs to a fully developed "No Hay" system such as yours?
    4.) In a previous post you recommended the application of Nitrogen fertilizer to take advantage of dew for regrowth, etc. Please explain Units/N /Acre versus Pounds N/Acre for the layman to comprehend? Also, is there a preferred time of application for N - i.e. will N fertilizer spread on sod degrade during hot, sunny weather?

    I'll leave it at that for now, LOL.
     
  14. topside1

    topside1 Retired Coastie Supporter

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    Agmantoo, thanks for all your time and advice. Yes U. or Tenn. recommended 2 tons per acre, bought and spread in October 05. Yes I can still see lime particles on top of the soil from time to time. I will retest come October and re-apply as necessary. Thanks again for your knowledge...John
     
  15. phantompark

    phantompark Well-Known Member

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    Acres USA magazine can be quite helpful. Their bookstore has a good selection of books about grazing. Our latest book we liked was Gregg Judy's No Risk Ranching . He gave a great speech at a local conference. He's done it and succesfully. He uses stockpiled forage for winter also.

    Also, Bill Murphy, Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence might be useful.

    So if changing the ph can get rid of broom grass. Will it work for buttercup also?
     
  16. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Phatt ......"Maybe I can simplify what I need to know. We have fencing down, we know how rotation works and we have water troughs. What we don't have is fertile soil or grass that does well here. We have dirt and rocks and drought."
    My awareness is within zone 7. Certain quidelines apply regardless. Search your area out and find what will grow under your conditions and determine if those plants are suitable for cattle. Do not accept what is "common knowledge" to necessarily be true. For example, mention fescue in many places and you will often get remarks that it is a diseased trash grass "unsuitable for my animals". Fescue is the base forage for my cattle. The fescue I have is the endophyte infected undesireable type. To compensate for the fescue problems I have clovers interplanted and I do not knowingly have a problem. This trash grass is hardy under adverse conditions and is predictable in production. I even harvest my own seed in order to have known adaptable to my farm seed for reseeding poor areas or reworked ground. Once your find a plant that thrives go to great effort to get it established. Find someone growing the plant in your area and ask for their inputs on how they manage to get it to flourish. There are a lot of subtle inputs that differentiate a pasture from a great pasture. For example, I make an effort to not stress my plants, I avoid soil compaction, I do not put horses on my pastures, I have lanes for equipment that has to repeatedly travel the pasture, I move the gates(temporary ones) to each paddock to avoid wear on the plants, I take measures to fix problem spots, I fertilize timely and keep the ph near correct, I try to worm the animals at a time not to kill the dung beetles, I pull a harrow when necessary to spread manure, I provide salt and minerals, using a portable container, in the area the cattle loaf to minimize trampling one area bare. These efforts may seem to the extreme but actually they are easy to apply, require very little time and the rewards are significant. The layout of the farm is also critical. You will want the cattle to lounge in non productive areas and to travel from paddock to paddock and to water with the least impact on the pasture. I await any questions you may have.
     
  17. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    JulieLou, You need a good perimeter fence. Then you need to have many small paddocks within the perimeter. These small areas to be grazed can be separated with no more than a single electrical wire. The size of these paddocks should be about what the cattle will consume down to a height of 3 inches in 3 days. At the end of the 3rd day the cattle need to go to a different paddock and not permited to back graze the area just vacated. I use a simple means to create a gate to these paddocks. I cut 1 1/2 inch diameter PVC pipe to the length that I can reach vertically. In one end of the pipe, I saw a V notch in the pvc. To create a "gate" I remove the electrical partition wire from the post and stretch the wire upward and place the wire in the V of the pvc pipe. The cattle simply walk under the fence to get to new grass. You need to have a mechanical means to cut the weeds to prevent them going to seed from the grazed area. The desireable plants will then become the dominant plants and supress the undesireable ones. As for carrying capacity, you need to ask someone that graze cattle in your area. You can match or exceed the best number they provide using rotational grazing.
     
  18. Oxankle

    Oxankle Well-Known Member

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    I'm not familiar with the term broomgrass, but around here we have common sedge, a square-stemmed, tough grass that the cattle will not willingly touch once it is mature. When it is young, green and growing they will eat it. Because it sends up the long, stiff seed stem that blows in the wind as described for Broomgrass I suspect it may be the same. USDA reports that fertilized sedge has about the same nutrient value as bermuda. Doesn't matter if the cows won't touch it. If you put them on it in early spring and force them to it they will continuously eat the tender green shoots and so eventually kill it. I have found that you can also brush-hog it short, let it re-grow about three inches, put on the cattle and they will eat it as it grows back.

    It is said to be a weak perennial, and intensive grazing in early spring is the method the USDA here suggests for getting rid of it. Liming the soil, in my opinion, aids competitor grasses as much as weakens sedge, so it is a good thing both ways.

    I have tried running the electric string, as Agman describes, to stretch winter pasture. It works, but I am getting past moving electric fence every day or two. I have divided my place into paddocks, and I simply move the cattle to a new one and force them to clean it up before I move them again.

    The principal problem is water; they must have adequate water in each paddock, and I have had to pipe water to them. It is a chore, but once done it is over for most of a lifetime. I have creeks on the place, but right now they are dry, first time since I have been here. Even when they are running the cows prefer and will walk to fresh well water.

    Everything I have seen on rotational grazing suggests that you allow 35 days for regrowth between rotations. The more paddocks you have, the less time spent in any one paddock. Too big, the cattle will eat selectively just as has been pointed out. Too small and you will be pulling up fences or moving cattle daily.

    Agman mentions fertilizing twice yearly. That will not work here on poor land with little moisture. I put down fertilizer this year that did not get watered in for 8 weeks. We had better fertilize early in the spring here or risk seeing the nitrogen disappear. The economics here will not justify anything other than broadcasting fertilizer on pastures.

    That said, there is no question that dividing a place into smaller paddocks and rotating the animals thru them will greatly increase the carrying capacity of the land.
    Ox
     
  19. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    "AgMan- 1.) Don't cattle genetics play a role in the effectiveness of your system?
    2.) Please differentiate between rotational grazing in the green season verses strip grazing fo winter stockpile forages?
    3.) For someone like Patt, how long would be a reasonable time frame for transition from current state of affairs to a fully developed "No Hay" system such as yours?
    4.) In a previous post you recommended the application of Nitrogen fertilizer to take advantage of dew for regrowth, etc. Please explain Units/N /Acre versus Pounds N/Acre for the layman to comprehend? Also, is there a preferred time of application for N - i.e. will N fertilizer spread on sod degrade during hot, sunny weather?"

    1) Certainly some animals are easier kept that others. I do not want an animal that was bred to thrive only when having access to grain. Such animals leave very little profit for the producer with such high input costs. If I shared the percentage of gross profit my calves return you would not believe me. I feed no grain. I buy no feed other than minerals and salt. As you may know, I sell feeder calves, calves that typically sell near the top at the sale barn. For me, a medium size cow (1050 to 1100 lbs.) with a moderate milk producing capability is ideal. I do not want the cow to milk to the point she is giving up body conditon to where she will not breed back. I never want a cow to show more than 2 ribs. A cow meeting the above will thrive without consuming excessive feed and thus allows for a higher carrying capacity on the acreage. I sell what the buyer wants as to color and condition.
    2)In the green season, provided we have rain, I have surplus grass. I actually waste some of this abundance by clipping the pastures eventhough there is plenty of forage there to graze. I could bale it but since I feed no baled hay I have no need to spend the time and money to bale. In areas of pasture that the stand of fescue is not to my liking, I may let the grass go to seed and then clip to spread the seed. This effort also chokes out undesireable weeds.
    For Winter, I start by restricting the cattle to a more thorough grazing of the paddocks that will not be used to stockpipe. In late August, I fertilize the paddocks to be stockpiled, the cattle will not be permitted to access this grass until January. Once the stockpiped grass is to be grazed, I will limit the cattle to having access to what they are to eat for that day. I do this by using small metal stepin posts and an electrical twine with a solar charger. If the weather looks bad, I even prepare the next days area so that I can move the cattle within a few minutes.
    3) I am not qualified to determine if Patt can go without hay. Actually I know very little about Patt's situation. I can tell you how to determine if you can go to no baled hay. Total the number of days that you have to feed hay in a bad weather year. In the best paddock you have observe how much hay your cattle can consume in 45 minutes by using a electrified wire to limit the area and move the wire to give the cattle access as the 45 minute pass. Determine the size of the area eaten to the ground in the time period and double that. That will be one days feed. I need stockpiled grass for 90 days. Therefore, if my cattle consumed 1/2 acre then I will need 45 acres for the Winter needs. Kind of simple wasn"t it? Needless to say the first couple of years I did have some emergency hay set aside. I still have some junk hay stored outside should we have a major to our area storm.
    4) Units are the same as pounds to me. The only difference is that units are less confusing when you have the amounts of actual ingredient varying in different products. 60 units of nitrogen are the same whether the source is chicken litter or lagoon waste or bagged fertilizer. Chicken litter is the best product that I can obtain for grass production. Nitrogen will go to atmosphere in dry weather and nitrogen will have been exhausted in around 90 days. Nitrogen is applied to the area to be stockpiled before the typical Fall rains start because I am want to get a jump on the growth. I do the same if there has been a drought to get the grass growing ASAP. A balanced fertilizer is applied on the nonstockpiled areas to feed the roots. I attempt to rotate the nonstockpiled and the stockpiled areas from year to year.
     
  20. Up North

    Up North KS dairy farmers

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    AgMan - Thank You for the considerable effort put forth sharing your experience. I would put forth that your system can be highly profitable AND yield a higher quality of life for the farmer and his livestock. That said, a year around grazing system takes time and experience to develop. Takes time to develop a good sod, and to learn your own land, what it will carry. The prudent choice is to maintain adequate hay stocks while you develop systems, and always have a backup plan.

    There is another benefit to rotational grazing not yet mentioned here - The Creation of sustainable and highly desirable Landscapes where you live and work.