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.