Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A decision has been made.

After several months of wavering between selling all of our cows and going strictly with stockers or keeping the cow calf operation, I have decided to keep the cows. The biggest issue was truly the ease of mob grazing stockers versus cows and calves. I am very concerned about the challenges of mob grazing the cows and calves and quite frankly am resigned to the fact that we just won't be able to mob graze them during the calving season. We tried that this year with disastrous results. The only positive was that we fertilized the entire ranch with vulture droppings. We lost about 10% of our calf crop to scours....we've NEVER lost so many. We WEANED a 97% calf crop last year. Maybe it was a bad year for scours, maybe there were other factors, but I am troubled that mob grazing, and the close proximity of calves to other calves, may have had a profound effect. Hence my desire to go to a complete stocker operation. I can tell you it is significantly easier to mob graze stockers than cows and calves and I was really looking forward to 2000 yearlings in one group "nuking" my pastures, brush, weeds and the like. The returns just weren't there to move to we'll stick with cows. The plan as of now is to concentrate on mob grazing August-April while giving the cows plenty of room to roam (and calve) May thru July. I'm disappointed in having to take this step, but there just doesn't seem to be much alternative.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mob Grazing School

My father and I attending a Mob Grazing School in O'Neill Nebraska put on by UNL, Terry Gompert and Chad Peterson....Neal Dennis also attended and spoke. I have to admit I was hoping to learn more, but I need to remember that this is a relatively new practice and although I've only practiced it for 1 year, I probably have as much experience as most, especially considering the numbers of cattle and acres I have utilized. The one thing I took away was how easy it was for Chad and others in that part of the world to build fences and water cattle...only in my dreams. It was like building fence on a golf course only without the trees. The ground was flat and soft. Chad and Neal both took down the fence by unhooking the handle, collecting the posts and then rolling up the wire with the handle still attached. That would never work on my ranch. It is important to not only remove the handle, but to leave the wire through the posts while rolling it up, keeping the wire from becoming entangled in brush and trees, then, once the wire is rolled up, collect the posts. I can safely say that Mob Grazing requires quite a bit more work on my ranch than it does on Chads...simply because of the effort required to build and take down fences. That said, I think our ground will benefit more than theirs from mob grazing....we HAVE to build top soil because we have so little of it.

I am currently moving our cows and calves every day, however the density is only around 40,000 lbs per acre (250 cow calf pairs on 10 acre paddocks). We aren't getting the cows to eat any of the sumac or sprouts and they really aren't even eating any weeds. They are in waist high warm season grass and are simply topping out the best forage...our residual is around 8-10 inches in what we call the south center pasture. We simply need more cattle.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Stocker Pasture

A lot of the pictures of eaten trees came from what we term the stocker pasture. This is a 200 acre pasture that we cut into 22, 9 acre traps and mob grazed in February (stockpiled grass) and again in late May and early June (May 20-June 12). When we came out of the pastures, I couldn't have been happier with the way they looked. The cattle had mauled the brush, stomped up the pastures and left what I thought was "enough" residual (I scored them a 3 out of 10)...all in all I thought it was perfect. I have since wondered if we shouldn't have left a little more residual because I have been disappointed with the regrowth in the pastures, even after 60 days. I am now wondering if WHEN we grazed them was much more important than how much residual we left. Although the weather has been near ideal this summer (cooler than normal with lots of timely moisture), it still got hot enough to curtail the growth of the fescue and cool season forbs and grasses. I think the solution is to continue to mob graze at various times with the goal getting a greater sward diveristy with more warm season grasses. A pasture we call the south center pasture has 200 acres of the most incredible stand of warm season grasses you've ever seen....we'll be moving the cows/calves/bulls through it starting this week. Pictures to follow.

A couple of interesting pictures

I am posting 2 pictures. One shows 2 pastures, the one on the left has just been grazed (we came out July 23rd) the pasture on the right has had 45 days of rest. Just an interesting looking picture I thought I'd share. The other picture shows what happens when cattle are not allowed to graze. My landlord has fenced out multiple "riparian" areas that the gov't "rents" from him. As you can see, the weeds have completely taken over the plot and are over 6 feet tall. The grass in the rest of this pasture is so thick you can hardly walk through it.

While on the subject of weeds, I have read lots of quotes from "mob grazers" talking about how mob grazing eliminated all their weeds. I don't believe them. While I think mob grazing can certainly help control what I would term "edible" weeds (I've published lots of pictures showing how well the cattle will eat the weeds in a mob grazing system) I don't think they will ever control mature blackberry and buckbrush and I'm not convinced that even if they eat the weeds, that the weeds will not return. The sprouts and the sumac that the cattle just devoured have all greened back up...I don't think grazing them will kill them, at least not in one year. And while my cattle will eat young blackberry bushes, I can't get them to eat big mature bunches and they won't touch mature buckbrush. So while it would be nice to think that a switch to mob grazing would eliminate the need for any type of brush control, I don't think it's realistic. I will spot spray blackberries this August and buckbrush next spring in the hopes of cleaning up some of the pastures.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Results on our home raised calves

We sold our home raised calves today. We weaned 473 calves March 5. We kept 53 head of replacement heifers. We lost 1 calf to some type of intestinal disease. So we sold 419 home raised calves (actually sold 416, Joplin Regional Stockyards seems to have lost 3 head between unloading them and the sale ring). 239 steers averaged 735.5 lbs. 177 heifers averaged 704.4 lbs. 416 head total averaged 722.2 lbs. When we weighed the calves at weaning (March 5) they averaged 528 lbs. So in 144 days, our home raised steers and heifers gained 194.2 lbs for an average daily gain of 1.35 lbs. While not as good as hoped, we weighed them just before weaning, so they most likely shrunk a bit during the weaning process and had to make up some lost weight. Also don't forget that this is both steers and heifers. All in all, I'm satisfied...and now we have a nice yardstick for future comparison. As always, the calves sold fantastic with our top group of 184 steers averaging 742 lbs and bringing $109. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Temporary fencing tip

Here's a tip. Cut your insulated handles like this to make it easy to roll up fence. Tie your fence to the handle and then simply slip the handle out of the knot to roll up your fence. Slip it back in to roll the fence out.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I went back through the paddocks we grazed from May 20 thru June 15 (we call it the "stocker pasture"). The earlier grazed paddocks were a residual score of 3...the later grazed pastures I scored a residual of 6's and 7's. The difference is pretty substantial. The 3's have come back well with a current stand that is probably 5-6" high (although I expected a little better growth with 50-60 days of rest)...the grass is dark green and there is still lots of clover although it just doesn't look nearly as good as the later grazed pastures that had a residual score of 6-7. One interesting observation is that where we completely stomped up the grass along the fence when it got wet has regrown almost exclusively in warm season grasses.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The results are in!

We loaded out our purchased stockers this morning. Just a little background. We purchased 309 head of stockers on March 23rd with an average weight of 727 lbs. We implanted them with Ralgro G and wormed with Ivermec. For the first 2 weeks we fed them some average hay and a little ddg. After 2 weeks, we combined them with our home raised stockers (500 of them) and grazed stockpiled fescue until green up. Our first rotation was fairly short on grass and the pastures were around 20 acres in size (stock density approx 25,000 lbs per acre)...the stockers were chasing grass a bit for probably 20-30 days until the grass caught up. We then went to 10 acre pastures and smaller (stock density approx 60,000 lbs per acre). Stockers were moved once a day. It was a great clover year and most pastures had 50% or greater ladino clover and later lespedeza.

The stockers were given free choice mineral with Rumensin and consumed .07 lbs per head per day. They were also fed an average of 2.7 lbs per head per day of pelleted ddg. We had a very cool, wet spring and forage was mostly pretty good throughout the grazing season. Aside from the 20-30 days when the stockers were chasing green grass, I don't think they were ever hungry....they always had plenty to eat and left plenty of residual in the paddocks.

Now for the results: The stockers weighed out at 905.4 lbs after 113 days for an average daily gain of 1.58 lbs. Keep in mind we cut off the smallest 24 head from this group (we presold 285 of the 309 head we purchased)...but I will tell you that we had some calves that won't get to 1000 lbs ever...just very small framed calves. Overall I'm a bit disappointed but probably only because I was expecting so much. Probably not a bad result for our first time out of the box.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Photo Album

For a complete look at all of my Mob Grazing pictures follow the link (you'll have to copy it and paste it in the address box):

Click on the pictures

I just realized that if you click on the pictures they will expand and show much more clarity. You can see much more detail.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recent Observations

The stockers are really looking good. I will be interested to see how they weigh out on July 14th. They are currently running in paddocks that are about 50% warm season grasses, 20% legumes (mature ladino and lespedeza) and 30% mature fescue. The pastures have had over 60 days of rest. There is a lot of forage and although I've limited them to a little less than 10 acres per paddock, they are leaving a ton of residual...I'd score the residual in most pastures at a 7. They are still eating nearly all the sprouts and sumac. It's still been very hot and some of the stockers are spending a good deal of time in the pond. While it's not overly dry, it's significantly drier than May or June and I think that the forage drying out is helping consumption and gain.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My observations compared to Voisin

I had to include a few more pics...some places on this ranch are solid sumac. Look what this mob did to those stands. Clearly now light can get to the ground and grass can begin to grow where it was choked out and shaded before.

Now, I have to address a few of my observations where they differ with Voisin. We are turning into pastures where the growth is sometimes 18" tall. The stockers move thru the sward grazing the tops out of everything...not taking giant bites from the bottom and having to take 30 seconds to manipulate the bite. Also, while the "morning meal" may be the largest (Voisin observed 2 hour grazing times starting at first light), I have seen our stockers graze for 2.5 and even 3 hours upon entering a new paddock, even if it's the middle of the day.

I have also heard it said that a downside to mob grazing is that the cattle have to establish a pecking order after each move. I just don't see that. I never see the cattle re-establishing dominance by fighting. You will occasionally see an animal throw his head into anothers side, but this is common in all types of grazing systems.

More before and after pictures

Before and after pictures

I continue to be amazed by the behavior of the mob. While you might think they were "forced" to eat this brush (primarily tree sprouts and sumac) they actually begin eating this brush the moment they are turned into the new pasture. They can be standing in knee deep clover and they'll be taking bites off of the brush. I am not getting the same results with our cow herd on the other side of this ranch...we rotate them every 3-5 days and they aren't touching the sprouts and sumac.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Takeaways: Grass Productivity by Voisin

Excellent book...lots of great info, some that I've obviously heard/known before, but a little refresher never hurts.

• The period of occupation on any given paddock should be a maximum of 6 days but should optimally be 3 days or less to avoid animals “re-grazing”, or as Voisin says “double shearing”, new growth grass. This “double shearing”, cutting the plant at a time when it has not yet renewed the reserves in its roots, will create great difficulty in the plant making new growth…it will take a very long time to attain proper height for re-grazing and indeed the lack of reserves may even be fatal to the young plant.
• Rest paddocks at least 18 days in the spring and most likely double that in the fall to allow grass sufficient time to re-grow. The easiest way to ensure this in a stocker operation is to stock with half as many calves in the fall as in the spring while keeping the same number of paddocks (double the occupation time from say ½ a day to a full day).
• Animal yields (either milk or weight gain) will be at their maximum if the animal stays on one paddock for one day. Yields decrease significantly after 3 days on the same paddock.
• “We must help the grass to grow and guide the cow in harvesting it.”
• Keep animals from having to stop grazing in order to chew the previous bite by keeping the grass short enough that further manipulation of the bite of grass is not required. Cattle grazing heavy, long grasses will sometimes take a bite, raise their head, and chew up a bite for up to 30 seconds while cattle grazing shorter grass will take 60-90 bites per minute, harvesting much more forage than those animals required to stop grazing to chew up a bite of forage.
• Cattle graze for 8 hours a day. Cattle will never graze for longer than 8 hours per day, regardless of their needs/requirements. They will not work overtime.
• Cattle ruminate for approx. 7 hours per day.
• Cattle lie down for around 12 hours per day…usually over the course of 9 rest periods for a minimum of 1 hour.
• Cattle generally take only one drink per day (when grazing lush pasture).
• Most grazing 60-90% takes place during the day, however, as temperatures increase a greater percentage is done at night.
• The first period of grazing is the longest and usually begins at sunrise…the big morning meal. This first period generally lasts around 2 hours.
• “Figures are only guides: in the end it is the eye of the grazier that decides. The grass commands; the eye of the grazier follows in its train, ready to receive its orders.”
• Rotations should start on different paddocks each year…considerable differences between the flora of the various paddocks will become evident after 2 years when starting rotation with the same paddock.
• It is important to vary the time of occupation (and thus the rest period) depending upon the speed of growth of the grass. Much less rest is needed in the spring while more is needed in the fall and much more rest time is needed in the summer.
• The flora makeup of a pasture is far more dependent on the conditions of management than on the mixture that is sown. “After 2 years for the same mixture sown, there can be either 80% or 1% clover according to the management employed.”
• Flora evolves rapidly and management conditions can effect change in sward makeup very quickly (both positive and negative)….tremendous change can occur even the very first year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Resist the temptation not to move

Repeat after me: Resist the temptation to “get one more hour/one more night/ one more day” out of your paddock. I know it looks like you are “wasting” a lot of good grass, but you will be money ahead to get the cattle out as planned and into the next paddock. I began this season scoring the residual left in the paddocks on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being eaten into the ground and 10 being barely touched. I felt like 3 was the optimal score….I have changed my mind….6 is the optimal score. The paddocks that scored a 3 have had 30 days of rest and they look great (about 4-5 inches of regrowth) and will probably be ready to graze in another 20 days or so. The paddocks that scored a 6 or a 7 have had 20 days of rest and are incredible…they’re ready to be grazed again right now. Just remember that the grass you leave in the paddock will be there the next time thru. Keep saying that to yourself and resist the temptation to run the cattle just a little longer….move them! I say this but understand that this sentiment might clearly don't want your grass too mature and rank the next time you move into the paddock, so there is certainly a happy medium that needs to be found that leaves the plant the right amount of leaf area for optimum recovery but still gets as much forage consumed by the cattle as possible.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Eating Trees

Something about the mob grazing drives the cattle to eat all sorts of weeds and trees. Here are a few pictures to prove my point. Notice that they are standing in good forage but are preferring to eat the tree leaves. We are not getting any of this behavior in our cow herd where we are using traditional 3-5 day roational grazing.

Fish Kill

As I've stated previously, this isn't an advertisement for mob grazing...this is an education. There are negatives associated with this type of grazing system and I will point those out in addition to all the positives. We have had fish kills in 2 ponds so has been record hot and the stockers are spending a lot of time in the water trying to cool off. I have provided the gruesome evidence of what happens when 800 head of stockers have full access to a pond for 5 days (5 pastures watered at this one pond) during record heat. I am attempting to fence the cattle out of the ponds but some ponds it's just nearly impossible. I think allowing the cattle a small area to drink from would satisfy their water requirements and keep them from fouling the water. I need to continue to experiment with what works best.

Moving the stockers

One of the complaints I always hear from people criticizing mob grazing is "I don't want to work that hard". While I admit that mob grazing requires a lot of thought, it really doesn't require that much work. It takes about 45 minutes a day to take down a fence, build a fence, and move the cattle. The pictures here show the "moving the cattle" part of the operation. I called the cattle for a few minutes, they came running, they lined up like it was a race, I opened the gate and got out of the road. It all took about 5 minutes. Always pay close attention to the last ones through the gate...they are usually lame or sick or require some sort of attention. Checking cattle has never been this easy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Too much of a good thing

As I continue to read thru Andre Voisin’s classic, I am convinced that this year we had too much highly digestible protein in our forages. The cool, wet spring produced a tremendous crop of ladino clover (we had over 70% in some pastures…we only planted 1.4#per acre) and it looked like the perfect year for stockers. They were knee deep in ladino for most of the spring. On top of the ladino/fescue pasture, we supplemented 3# of pelleted ddg (about 28% protein). Ddg is supposed to be a very complementary supplement to fescue grass. The stockers didn’t crap solid for weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, the stockers gained a little over 1.6# per day in the first 88 days…good, but not great, and I was hoping for great given the quality of our pastures. I now think we simply had too much lush, rich forage. Now that the hot weather has set in, the clover is drying up and the warm season grasses are starting to come on….all the forage is quite a bit drier now than earlier during the wet, wet spring. I haven’t been supplementing ANY ddg….the stools have firmed up to pumpkin pie consistency (right where you want them) and I think the cattle are doing well. We will ship them out in 20 days or so and I am anxious to see how they performed the last 25 days. Stay tuned.

Don’t Try Mob Grazing Unless you are a Thick Skinned Masochist.

I have to admit that all my life I have seldom cared what others thought of me and it has served me well, especially now. Attempting to mob graze your cattle will make you an “idiot”, “stupid”, “crazy” pariah in your local ranching community. When not talking behind your back about how stupid you are, they will pull you aside and tell you how “mob grazing won’t work in this area”. It will probably start with “What’s gonna happen when it rains 3 inches?” and when it rains 3 inches and the grass grows back thicker than ever it will become “What’s gonna happen when it turns off dry?” and when it dries up and your pastures still look great it will change to “soil compaction” issues or whatever else they can think of. Your peers will want you to fail….they need you to fail so that they feel better about themselves for not doing it….and consequently no matter how well mob grazing works for you, they’ll find reasons to tear you down. Think back to your younger days when someone said “I’ll bet you can’t do x” and you did it, and the accuser says you simply got lucky, so they say “bet you can’t do it again” and you do it again. In fact, you do it 9 times in a row, and when you fail on the 10th time, your accuser shouts with joy screaming “I TOLD YOU!!!! HA HA HA HA!!! I TOLD YOU YOU COULDN”T DO IT!!” and he runs around telling everyone he can find how right he was that you couldn’t do it. That’s your future with mob grazing. I have no problem dealing with things like this, but here is where it gets frustrating. I recently lost the opportunity to rent a 3000 acre ranch because the land owners “weren’t so sure about that intensive grazing stuff”. It gets even more frustrating when the person that gets it turns 1000 head of cows out into the entire thing… 3000 acre pasture…not a gate closed on the entire place. I’m reminded of the old Saturday Night Live skit of a presidential debate where Dan Akroid exclaims “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” That’s how I feel…and you’ll feel the same way. Mob grazing is not for the faint of heart.

Calf weights

Well we test weighed cattle today, June, 21. We purchased 309 head of stockers on March 23 weighing 727 lbs. Today, 31 of them averaged 869 lbs. So 142 lbs in 88 days = 1.613 adg. Not as good as I had hoped but not bad. I think the very lush clover and rich diet may have restricted gain a bit (I know this sounds counterintuitive but I have read where a lack of dry fiber will inhibit performance when cattle are grazing very lush forage)…we might have been money ahead to supplement some cheap hay as a fiber source. We plan on having these stockers for 20-30 days more and will see how they perform moving forward.

We have 502 home raised stockers running with the 309 purchased ones. They averaged around 530 lbs on March 5. We test weighed 50 of them today, June 21, and they averaged 647 lbs. This is a bit disappointing but I have to say that the 50 that we weighed were not a very representative sample. I’m hoping the overall average is a bit better than this. We’ll be keeping these as well and will see how they perform moving forward.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Allan Savory book critique

I've finished "Holisitic Management" by Allan Savory and I truly enjoyed it. It changed the way I look at everything I am doing and will hopefully help me better accomplish my goals. That said, as a "numbers" guy, I would have liked to have seen Allan more detail his results. I would have liked to have read where he "increased stocking capacity 230%" or "increased pounds produced per acre 140%" or some other statistical figure to gauge the results of his teachings. That info is nowhere in the book. In fact, it's unclear whether Allan's guidance actually helped his clients accomplish any of their goals. It is my hope that I will be able to document and convey specific, measurable results from our move to Mob Grazing and a more Holistic approach. Stay tuned.

Pictures of Forbs (ok, weeds)

Since moving to mob grazing I've come to refer to plants like these as forbs instead of weeds. As you can tell, they are mostly eaten. I'm not sure what most of the weeds are, but I can tell you that blackberries and musk thistle are just additional forage to my mob. I've seen a few "forbs" that the cattle won't eat but they are few and far between. Mature buckbrush is probably the one weed that they really won't consume...although I've seen them trample and pick at it. They will eat less mature plants. I'm not sure how the "weed" population will be effected by this mob grazing, but I will keep you informed. At the very least, at least the forbs are being utilized. I am using traditional rotational grazing with my cows on this same ranch (3-5 days per paddock) and they aren't touching either the tree sprouts or any of the weeds.

How to build 1/4 mile of fence in 6 minutes

I designed this fence building setup to fit our 4 wheeler (I have to give credit to my dad for actually manufacturing it). I can put up a 1/4 mile of fence in 6 minutes. Taking a fence down is even easier. We currently have 8 geared O'Brien reels and I try to build a minimum of 6 pastures at a seems easier to build several fences in a day than to just build one fence each day. This setup on the 4 wheeler makes it all very easy.

About our mob grazing program

We are currently utilizing mob grazing on only one piece of property, a 1700 acre ranch in SW Missouri that we have been leasing for a few years now. My land owner is a fantastic person that is dedicated to conservation practices and building habitat for quail, turkey and deer. That said, he has been very dubious about our move to mob grazing and on more than one occasion has expressed his (extreme)displeasure with the way a pasture looks (most notably the one in the picture) after a rain or excessive trampling by the stockers. I have preached patience. I got to see first hand early this spring when our 800 head of stockers got bunched in a corner during a spring squall and devestated a small patch of ground. Four weeks later you couldn't find the spot and the grass was dark green, thick and lush all over that particular actually looked a little better than other pastures that didn't get severely trampled during a storm. So I told him to give it a few weeks...sure enough, three weeks later that pasture looks can't see where the temporary fence was and the regrowth has been amazing.

Our current program involves stocking at around 65,000# of cattle per acre (approx 10 acre cells), moving daily, and rest of at least 60 days. We are planning on merchandising all of our cattle by the middle of July and allowing the entire ranch to rest until Feb of 2010. We will be weighing the cattle on Sunday (June 21st) to determine how they have gained in the first 100 days....I think we've done ok but would be lying if I didn't say that I'm a little worried about what the weights will look like. We've supplemented with 2.5 pounds of ddg per day and they've been grazing exceptional ladino/fescue/mixed grass pastures (it's been a fantastic year for clover, some pastures are 60-70 percent ladino clover...we planted 1.4# of Durana on the entire ranch between 2 years ago and last year). We'll know more Sunday.

More Pictures

Here are a few more pictures: one of the biggest problems on this ranch is oak, ash and various tree sprouts. For 40 years they have been controlled by bush hogging. I've been pleasantly surprised by the results of Mob Grazing on these sprouts. As you can see by the pictures, there's nothing left but sticks. I'm sure this won't kill the sprouts, but at least they are being utilized. The mob isn't being pressured to eat these sprouts, I've watched when I turn into a new pasture and the stockers will be standing in knee deep clover and grass and still take a few bites of leaves from a sprout. It's a community one calf is eating all the leaves...every calf seems to take a few bites as it moves by. I'm moving into a pasture of almost solid oak sprouts this week and will be interested to see what happens. More pictures to come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


These are pictures before and after Mob Grazing. This is poison hemlock that grows in large bunches, usually under trees and which is usually not eaten by cattle. As you can see from the pictures, one day in the cell and the stockers had completely wiped this group of hemlock. This is one of my first pictures as I began to realize just how powerful Mob Grazing can be. I will post more pictures later.

Holistic Management

After reading thru the first several chapters of Allan Savory's book, Holistic Management, I have decided that it is time I create a historical record of my experiences with Utra High Stock Density grazing, both for myself and for others interested in the concept. So this is where I plan to detail my experiences.