Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rotational vs Mob Grazing

I posted these pics to show the difference between rotational and mob grazing. The cows escaped and we were able to get them back into a 30 acre paddock where they stayed for 3 days. You can clearly see how they spot grazed the pasture (left side of fence), picking some places into the ground and leaving others barely touched. Compare that to the right side of the fence that was mob grazed, 1 day on 10 acres. It's amazing how much better utilization you can get moving each day versus even every 3 days.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Maternal Instinct is Critical when Calving in a Mob

As you know, I was very apprehensive about trying to calve out 600 head of cows while running them as a mob. Well I've learned a TON the past month, and one of the most important things I've learned is that maternal instinct is critical when calving in a mob. And I will be the first to admit that my northern sourced Angus cows just don't have it. It's been interesting to see the difference between the northern cows (they're all 7-8 years old) and my newly purchased Arkansas heifers. One of my heifers had a dead calf and wouldn't leave it for 2 days...and nothing touched that dead calf! (note: I adopted a calf onto her and she's been a fantastic mother.) Several times I've had northern cows walk away from calves that were alive! I had to drive one cow back to her calf 3 separate times! The maternal instinct just isn't there and it has certainly caused some problems. We have several calves that rob from other cows (I'm assuming they've been abandoned) and moving the mob the past few weeks has been exceedingly difficult as the cows will move and leave the calves behind. The calves start balling and it's chaos. It's stressful not only to the calves, but to me. The Arkansas heifers are always with their calves and when they move, they take their calf. Most of the Arkansas heifers have a touch of Brahman in them and that may be helping. I'm sure they were raised differently than my northern cows. The calves are getting older and consequently moving the mob is starting to get easier. The last move I made took 5 minutes...that's the way it's supposed to work. Needless to say I will be culling the majority of my northern sourced cows this year and replacing them with southern sourced cows with some Brahman influence.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pictures are fun

I know people love pictures and trust me, I take hundreds. The problem is that pictures just really don't do justice to the unbelievable progress we are making on our pastures. The results are just incredible. I think one of the biggest advantages of mob grazing is the utilization of forbs (weeds) that cattle will normally not touch. The question has been asked "do you think this grazing will kill these weeds?" and my answer is always "who cares?" The nutritional value of most forbs equals or exceeds even the best grasses so as long as the cattle will eat them, why do I want to get rid of them? I have pictures of so many different types of eaten weeds that I could never post them all. It's always fun to turn cattle into a paddock that's full of brush and weeds and go back the next day to see the's very rewarding.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It takes forage to make forage.

I'm sure you've heard the saying "it takes money to make money". Well that's not entirely true, the saying should be "it's easier to make money when you have money." The same is true with forage. One of the principles in mob grazing is animal density. Density is the lbs of animals per acre. We are currently around 70,000 lbs per acre (600 pairs stocked each day on 10 acres...we double the density when we move twice a day, 5 acres each move). Well it's very difficult to get your densities high if you don't have forage to support it....or you have to move your cattle multiple times per day. If you are thinking about mob grazing, I think it would be a wise move to fertilize your entire ranch prior to beginning (I'd use chicken litter if available). Here's why: If you can get your forage quantity high, your stock densities can be much higher, your manure deposition/distribution will be much better, and your overall results will be improved. It's like getting a head start in a race. It's not that you can't do it with poor forage quantity, it's just going to take longer.

Another Scours Update

Here are the numbers: lost 3 calves early, lost 6 calves over 3 days when the cows all got out during a storm, lost 5 calves in 2 days when it rained 4 inches in 2 days and was 50 degrees, and currently have a few calves that don't look too good...all in all, not too bad. The weather is what killed the 11 calves we lost last week. We had a very cold rain with no sunshine for around 10 days. I really don't think the mob situation had any impact on losing the calves...if anything, it might have helped. The 6 calves we lost over 3 days happened when all the cows broke out into a 200 acre pasture and we simply couldn't find the sick calves to treat them.

We have very few cows left to calve and it looks like we might be past this scours episode and into the clear. The weather is warm and sunny and the calves are looking good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scours Update

The past week has been near perfect conditions for a scours outbreak. After a warm, sunny beginning of spring, last week we had rain everyday with several days highs in the 50's. Very cool and damp for the past 8-10 days. After only losing a few calves and feeling pretty confident, we've lost 6 calves in the past 4 days, 4 of which we had treated either once or twice. So I think that makes 9 total calves (maybe 10) to date that we've lost due to scours.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plenty of moisture....and an interesting observation

Well we have had 7 inches of rain in the last 6 days but I'm not complaining. Here is the crazy observation: We've had a very nice spring, warm early, long stretches of cool weather and some moisture. I say "some" moisture because while we haven't been dry, it certainly hasn't been overly wet. But here's what's interesting, the ponds in the pastures are 2-3 feet below normal levels. I don't feel that they would be low if not for the tremendous amount of material that is laying on top of the ground, absorbing water that would normally be running off, filling up the ponds. I can't say for sure that that is the cause, but it makes sense to me. Needless to say, I'm sure the ponds are no longer low after the past 6 days of torrential rains.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Intensive Grazing

Just watched a grazing management segment on RFD and 3 seperate times the host referred to "intensive grazing" without mentioning the "management" part. I rest my case. We need to remove "intensive" from our grazing vocabulary.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More Scours Update

I am happy to report that we continue to see a low incidence of scours. We likely only have 100 or so head left to calve (out of 600) and thus far have treated less than 30 head of calves. We've lost 3 calves due to scours. We lost a calf yesterday whose momma wouldn't take care of it (is this a mob issue??) and we've lost a few other calves for various reasons. All in all, I think things have gone pretty well but we most likely aren't entirely out of the woods just yet.

On some side notes, I have to admit I'm pretty jazzed that we appear to be 75% through calving after only 3 weeks...that's pretty impressive. We had a 94% conception rate last year and it appears the bulk of them got pregnant upon first estrus. Not too shabby.

We have made a slight adjustment to moving the mob. We had been leaving the gates open or simply taking the entire fence down when we moved the mob...that allowed the cows to get back to their calves. This seemed to work very well, especially with the newborns that didn't want to move or were hid out. Now that the bulk of the calves are getting a bit older, we are rounding up all of the calves that don't stay with the cows and pushing them thru the gates (there are maybe 40 or so that we have to round up versus a few hundred a week ago). We then lock the gate to the pasture, keeping the mob in the new paddock. We are going back a few hours later and letting the few head of cows back that don't have their calf...they can then go back and get their calf and return to the mob. The problem we were having was that with the fence down, the mob would return to the already grazed pastures to hang out...not what we were wanting. We hope this continues to work. Obviously as the calves get a little older, this should get easier. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Time for a name change

With all due respect to Jim Gerrish, a true grazing pioneer and the person who coined the phrase, I would like to suggest a name change from MiG (Management Intensive Grazing) to simply Managed Grazing. Here's the problem: whenever I tell people about what type of grazing I do and mention "management intensive grazing", all they inevitably hear is the "intensive grazing" part. I've lost leases because my potential landlords weren't sure about that "intensive grazing stuff". Or when explaining "mob grazing" I hear "so you're doing REALLY intensive grazing". I think leaving out the word "intensive" might make things go a little smoother with those who don't understand the concept.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Big Thanks to Greg Judy

I want to extend a hearty THANK YOU to Greg Judy. We stopped into Greg's place looking straight out of city slickers (loafers and all) and Greg was as generous as he could be with his time, loading us into his truck and taking the time to show us several pastures and his mob in action. We spent over 2 hours talking mob grazing! I hope I get the opportunity to return the favor. Thanks Greg!

Scours Update

Well calving in the mob is certainly not easy and creates a lot of mental anguish. All things considered however, things are going pretty well. We're a few weeks into calving and have a few hundred calves on the ground. We've treated maybe 20 calves for scours and have lost 3 (only one of which we treated). We've also had 2 calves born dead, one calf stomped down in a ravine, one calf died with what appeared to be bvd, one calf out of a heifer we pulled was dead, and 2 calves that died as the second born in 2 sets of twins. We've been leaving the back fences open so that the cows can go back and get their calves. Some cows go back and regraze and sometimes it's difficult to keep the mob together to move them to the next pasture, but I think that closing that back fence creates problems....calves just won't go to the cows, especially the very young ones. The cow needs to be able to get back to it's calf, and leaving that back fence open seems to be the best way to go.

As an aside, following the advice of Ian Mitchell-Innes, we have begun offering free choice Zinc Sulfate and Zinc Oxide to the cattle in an attempt to reduce incidents of scours. I'll keep you posted on the efficacy we observe.

Weed Patch Before, During, After

I snapped a photo of a weed patch (blackberry and buck brush)in the Across the Road pasture just before we turned the mob in. I took another pic while the mob was grazing and a final pick after I moved them to the next pasture. Notice how the mob opened up this patch to allow light to get to the ground and allow grasses to start to grow. The mob has done a fantastic job of clearing brush and eating weeds, something I could not get the cows to do while rotationally grazing them last year. They wouldn't touch any weeds, now they are devouring them. I have literally hundreds of pictures of eaten weeds including buck brush, musk thistle, blackberry, dew berry, hedge trees, oak sprouts, sumac, various woody sprouts, poison hemlock etc. I couldn't be happier with the way the mob is cleaning up the pastures.