Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Good news...and bad

Well I think I can safely say that we are finally finished treating for scours. I'm sure we may have one or two moving forward but we haven't treated anything for a few weeks and the bulk of the calves are getting to the age where they are past the major threat. The bad news is that we have lost around 10 head of calves to very quick, severe respiratory issues (6 this week alone). I have no idea if the stress from the mob grazing is contributing to this outbreak or not but would imagine it is playing some role. I do know that others in the area (non-mob grazers) are having some respiratory issues. It's been unseasonably hot here, well into the 90's the past few weeks.

After speaking with Hal, he's comfortable saying that he feels we had scour "issues" with 80% of the calves this year (yellow squirts, not all bad enough to treat). All told we've treated 117 calves, the bulk of those were the Charolais cross calves out of our older cows which number around 320 head. That said, he's not ready to give up on calving in the mob and points to a stretch of a week or so where we had no issues. It was when we were quietly taking down fences (instead of calling), leaving the 2 prior paddocks open and simply moving the mob up a few paddocks behind. I'm not convinced this is the cure. I really think we will move to a hybrid Sandhills System next year during calving. Both Hal and I feel introducing the pairs a week before we started calving was probably a big factor. We are hesitant to blame the mob grazing for all of our problems but we are both pretty hard headed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Waving the White Flag....kind of

We continue to lose calves at an alarming rate. I'm guessing we've treated over 30% and have probably lost around 15% of our calf crop. I'm convinced the stress caused by the daily moves has significantly contributed to our losses. We've absolutely worked our asses off (and by "we" I mean Hal) to identify and treat sick calves. He's done a fantastic job. Three years ago we used the Sandhills System and weaned a 97% calf crop. I think we will move back to something like that next year, at least during our 45 day calving season. It will mean no mob grazing during a critical time of the year (May and June) but I just don't see any choice. We made a valiant effort to calve in the mob but I simply think that the drawbacks outweigh the advantages. I'm very disappointed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Savory Institute

The Savory Institute has a front page article and link to a 15 minute clip "We Are What We Eat" by Aaron Lucich. Here is my forum post to the Institute:

"I am relatively new to Holistic Management and the teachings of the Savory Institute, so please forgive my ignorance. After watching the 15 minute clip (linked on the home page) "We Are What We Eat" by Aaron Lucich, I am starting to have serious reservations about associating with the Holistic Management movement. Is the Savory Institutes agenda to destroy all forms of beef production that are not "grass fed"? The inflammatory comments by persons interviewed in the clip were exactly the types of comments generally reserved for the Humane Society of the United States. It's a shame that "grass fed" supporters have to denigrate and disparage other forms of production to promote their products and further their agenda. It's not enough to have to counter the attacks of the vegan radicals, but we also must counter the attacks of other beef producers as the"grass fed" group simply stokes the fires of the "anti-meat" crowd by claiming that a person is essentially committing suicide by eating grain fed beef. "They would spit out the bite of meat they have in their mouth if they could see what I see as a veterinarian." That quote could have come directly from the HSUS, but is instead found in the 15 minute Lucich clip. Is this truly productive? Is this the the true agenda of the Savory Institute? Would love to know the Institutes stance on "Food Inc.". As much as I respect Allan Savory and his grazing and management methods, I have to question the wisdom of aligning the Institute with this type of thinking."

I am awaiting their response. It's sad that the "Grass Fed" crowd stoops to such lows.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Additional Benefit of Mob Grazing

Even though the current mob contains twice the number of cows that we were running just 3 short years ago, we have only grazed about half of the ranch this year. So I have partnered with a local seed cutter to cut fescue seed off of the half that we haven't gotten to yet. The seed is pretty heavy and I'm hopeful it will produce well. A huge advantage to us is that we can get the seed heads off the grass. Fescue seed causes all sorts of eye problems and is the primary location of the endophyte that produces all sorts of problems in cattle. This is clearly a win-win situation. We will likely have over 700 acres of ungrazed pasture cut for seed in the next couple of weeks. This is clearly an advantage of mob grazing...we would likely not have this opportunity with any other grazing system.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Forage update in one word..."Incredible"

The grass/forage that we have this year is simply unbelievable. We have never had the quantity and quality of growth that we have this year, and it has nothing to do with weather (it's actually been a little dry). The incredible improvement can only be attributed to the mob grazing we've done, beginning last year. If I used the word "miraculous" it would be an understatement. We have pastures that look to be pushing 2.5-3 tons per acre production of the most beautiful, dark green forage you could imagine (fescue, orchard grass, various legumes and grasses I've never even seen before). It's actually difficult to drive the four wheeler through some areas the grass is so thick and heavy. The only places that could use improvement are the side hills. Many of the side hills look like the entire ranch looked a few years ago, thin, light green grass with little undergrowth. Overall, I couldn't be happier with the results we've seen from a forage standpoint. Even the pastures we grazed in late April and May have grown up to the point that the grass is so thick and heavy that it's laying over...and it will be 3-4 more months before we get back to graze it. Simply phenomenal.

Moving pairs vs moving stockers

For the past few months, moving the 600 pairs every day (or twice a day) has involved a brief run through the group to check for sickness, calling the cattle, opening the gate and then rounding up all of the stragglers and calves that did not call through. The process generally takes several hours and many times, getting all of the cattle to move to the next paddock is sometimes simply impossible. Compare this to last year when moving the 800 head of stockers took 10 minutes and most of the time could be completed in less than 5 minutes...I NEVER had a stocker animal that would not immediately move to the next paddock. Even the very sick and lame ones would move, trailing the main group (making them easy to spot and treat) but never failing to move. I am hoping that as the calves get a little older, moving them becomes easier. For now, we routinely spend an hour or more rounding up stragglers with the four wheeler, pushing them to the next paddock. It's been very frustrating and time consuming.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Temple Grandin - Humane Livestock Handling

I am providing an excerpt from Temple's book for review. It discusses the specifics of moving cattle to a new pasture:

“Moving cattle on pasture works on a continuum of behaviors, from hardwired instinctual behaviors to completely trained cattle that can be led by a handler. On smaller farms and on ranches using intensive grazing, mother cows and ewes can be taught to come when called and be led by a person or a vehicle to new pastures. Animals can be trained to respond to a specific call or horn and not just to the sight of a vehicle or person. This completely voluntary movement is not stressful to the animals when done correctly. Animals should always be moved at a walk.

Nothing is worse than babies being left behind while the mothers are hungrily chasing your truck around a pasture while you are fixing fences. This is very stressful for the calves and the lambs and can slow down necessary weight gain. If you blow the horn for a few seconds before putting out feed, the animals will learn to associate the horn with being fed instead of the sight of the vehicle. This keeps the cows from following the truck when you are trying to do other chores.

Livestock movement to a new location should always be controlled. The animals must never be allowed to run into a new pasture or out of the old one. The handler should drive or walk close to areas where the animals are grazing before calling them. A vehicle or a person should stay in front and lead the animals through the gate or park at the gate to control movement. Remember: Don’t let cows or ewes get in the habit of running or those babies will be left behind.”

I will provide my thoughts and recent experiences in my next post.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cows leaving their calves behind...

If you are reading this blog, you are acutely aware of the issues we've had with cows leaving their calves behind when they move to a new pasture. It's created significant stress on both the calves and us...there's not much worse than observing a hundred baby calves walking around an empty pasture, completely lost, bawling and trying to find mom! I'm confident this stress has been an integral part of some of the sickness (and death) issues we've been dealing with. We've actually had cows walk away from calves that are still wet when they have a chance to go to new grass. This can't be good and it's been probably our biggest challenge. I've just finished reading Temple Grandin's "Humane Livestock Handling" and Temple addresses this exact problem. Unfortunately she doesn't provide a step by step guide of how to eliminate this behavior, but she does offer some advice. We will be attempting to implement some new "moving" procedures that I hope will curb some of the issues we have with the cows leaving their calves behind and hopefully reduce the amount of stress experienced by the calves (and us!) Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More death...

Just an update. We've lost 4 more calves to what we think is BRD (certainly respiratory related), the weather went from one of the cooler May's on record May 1-18 to 90+ degree days. It's been a challenging spring. We also lost another calf that got stomped to death under the shade...this has to be a death that's directly attributable to the "mob" and it's our second death due to "stomping". We've treated over 80 head of calves and lost (guessing) around 30 (out of about 350...we've got 600 cows but some of those were purchased pairs with bigger calves and we haven't treated any of those calves). Actually the overwhelming majority of calves we've treated and/or lost have been Charolais cross calves out of our 7-8 year old northern sourced Angus cows. The numbers are ugly.