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May 2011 Archive for 100% Grass-Fed

RSS By: Randy Kuhn, Beef Today

Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.

Managed Grazing

May 20, 2011

Managed Grazing


   With all of the weather challenges everyone is suffering through this spring, don’t let your pastures be last on your list of management priorities.  I have noticed a lot of pastures that have cattle on them and there is still standing water on them.  Not only are they severely overgrazed, but they weren’t allowed to mature before being grazed. This seems wrong because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income. While working with beginning grazers (Farmers not the cattle), I often suggest that they consider having more paddocks and a smaller number of cattle than what they think "they need" to start their grazing plan.  It’s often easier to add cattle to pastures if needed, than it is to buy hay to supplement a cattle herd that is too large for the forages available. This is based on three grazing management principles: allow the plants rest/rejuvenate in between grazing periods, keep grazing times short and use a high enough stocking density to harvest all the forages.  BEEFALO are perfect for consistent grazing.  They aren’t as selective as "traditional" cattle. Once turned out of a paddock they leave it a consistent height.


Allow Adequate rest periods!


   Grazing or removing leaves from forage plants is stressful on the plants. It eliminates photosynthesis, stops nutrient uptake from soil, and in legumes such as Alfalfa and clovers it stops nitrogen fixation in your soils. We allow our pastures rest by removing our cattle for at least 4 weeks.  By providing an ample rest period, we allow the forages to recover. Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods, but many times it is misunderstood.  Most producers think that having too many animals in a pasture causes overgrazing. Overgrazing is not having too many animals in a pasture, it is having animals in the pasture for too long.  In the short term it can slow plant recovery.  Long term it can lead to the loss of some plant species in the pasture and the loss of forage yield.  Rest periods will differ throughout the season.  In spring the rest period needed may be less than half of the rest period needed for summer primarily due to rainfall.


Shorten your grazing periods

   Along with rest periods, keeping the time animals are grazing a particular paddock or pasture short is important. Growth rates change during the year, so the length of time before plants re-grow also changes. The longer animals stay in a paddock the poorer the quality of forage.  As forage quality goes down animal intake declines. If intake goes down, performance drops.  Studies have continually shown that short grazing periods known as MOB Grazing increase the quality and quantity of grazed forages and improve animal performance.


Stocking density

   Stocking density is the number of animals in an area at any one time.  MOB Grazing otherwise known as high stocking density increases the uniformity of gazing.  Most cattle selectively graze. They eat the best plants first. They also ruin part of the pasture with manure, urine and trampling forage.  Grazing management is typically focused on increasing stocking density to graze a given area in a quicker amount of time.  Obviously this type of management will increase your time spent with your cattle but is that a bad thing?  Increasing stocking density frequently improves grazing distribution and harvest efficiency.  When MOB Grazing is practiced more forage is consumed by livestock and less is lost to such things as trampling, spoilage by animal wastes, and plant maturation and leaf death.  It’s a win, win, win situation!!!

Scientifically Understanding your Pastures

May 13, 2011



The feeding value of pasture

The feeding value of a forage can be defined as the product of available nutrients contained in the forage times the amount of forage consumed (voluntary intake). Leafiness and stage of growth are factors that will affect the feeding value of plants. High leaf content is associated with a low proportion of cell wall constituents and a high proportion of cell contents. The main effect of advancing maturity in grasses is an increased proportion of cell wall and a reduction of cell contents.

Feeding value will also vary within the same grazing season and among forage species. Among the climatic variables, light and temperature are the most important, followed by moisture, which most of us have more of than we need at this critical planting time of the year! God bless all of you South of the Mason-Dixon line.

Normally, animal production depends on the ability of the herbage to provide energy, provided that protein, minerals, vitamins and water are consumed in sufficient amounts to sustain the type of production sought.


The chemical makeup of your pastures

From a nutritional standpoint, your pastures/forages can be divided into organic acids, soluble carbohydrates, crude protein, fats, and soluble ash and hemicellulose, cellulose, lignin, cutin, and silica.

The cell contents are usually highly digestible and readily available in your cattle’s rumen. On the other hand, the availability of plant cell walls varies greatly depending on their composition and structure. Maturity or stage of growth, species and environmental factors can affect the chemical composition of your forages.

As plants mature, the proportion of their cell’s wall’s and their constituent fractions increase and the cell content fraction decreases. Don’t ask, I just tell you what I read. I had to read that and reread it a couple of times before I understood it too. An exception is nonstructural carbohydrates, which increase in stem, stem base and inflorescens. Cool season grasses will normally have a higher cell wall concentration than legumes, especially in leaves, but a lower cell wall concentration compared to warm season grasses.


Digestibility of pastures

Measurement of digestibility is one of the first important steps in evaluation of forage quality.

Digestibility is the proportion of food consumed which disappears in the digestive tract and defines the nutrient availability per unit of feed intake. Plant cell contents are almost 100% digestible.

In general, legumes are typically more digestible than grasses.

Digestibility is relatively easy to measure but is probably not the most useful measure for predicting intake. This is because some "feeds" may be poorly digested but pass through the digestive tract relatively quickly, thereby occupying space for less time than a more digestible forage with a slower rate of passage.

During periods of scarce pasture availability, such as when seasonal pastures are dormant or "recovering" from grazing, supplementing cows with good quality haylage will tend to increase total DMI. Supplementing your cattle with good quality haylage in addition to dry hay is also a great way to wean your cattle off of dry hay onto pastures before turning them out on lush spring forages and risking bloat!



Cattle have a distinct grazing pattern, which includes a major meal beginning at sunrise, and again at sunset.

They do graze overnight, but nighttime grazing represents a small percentage of the total daily grazing time and contributes minimally to the daily forage intake. Almost 85% of their total grazing time is spent during daylight and only 15% overnight. This pattern of grazing is a foraging response to an increase of digestible nutrients in the forage at this time of day/night due to the photosynthesis process in plant leaves which occurred during the day and not at night. Another important factor that can affect grazing behavior is air temperature.


Intensive Rotational Grazing Plan

May 06, 2011

Planning an intensive rotational grazing system


   When planning an intensive rotational grazing system there are some basic concepts to keep in mind. Most importantly forages need sufficient rest periods before animals are allowed access to them following a grazing event/period.  These rest periods are specific to the forage species being grown and they will change with time of year. 


   Regrowth in forage plants under normal growing conditions usually occurs after about 7 days.

For this reason, animals should not have access to any one paddock for more than 7 days.  Grazing animals select their diet that they eat, from what is available in the pastures or paddocks.  If animals are given the choice they will usually eat fresh re-growth instead of the more mature forages in a pasture. If animals are not fenced out of areas that have been previously grazed they will consume the young tender re-growth and weaken the forage stand.  If this happens repeatedly forage stands will thin out, forages species will shift to species more adapted to close grazing and many times forage quality will decrease.

In times of drought it is especially important to not allow re-growth to be re-grazed.


   When rotationally grazing, a pasture should be left with a stubble height of 2-3 inches (in most cases).  The reason for leaving this stubble behind is to protect the plant’s energy reserves which are used to produce regrowth for later in the grazing season.  In grass plants the energy reserves are found in the bottom 2-3 inches of the stem base.  In plants like clovers, alfalfa, and birdsfoot trefoil the energy reserves are found in above ground steams, crown buds at the base of the plant, or in the tap root.  All paddocks should be clipped as soon after removing livestock as possible to control weeds and to spur on vegetative growth.


   In prescribed grazing systems, fencing both temporary and permanent are extremely important for controlling animals and allowing the whole grazing system to function. There are many types of fencing systems on the market and which one you choose is not so much of an issue as choosing a quality fence that will work in your system. The first step is to install a good exterior fence to keep animals on the farm, refer to NRCS PA Tech Guide IV Fencing Spec. 382 for specifications on fencing. The interior fencing should be constructed using temporary fencing components so that the grazing system may be as flexible as possible until the system is perfected. Temporary fencing allows you to change your set up many times based on forage growth, management style changes, animal types and numbers changes, etc.


   Paddock layout and design depends on your production system and goals. If pastures are going to be rotated frequently (daily) or animals need to come back to the barn daily stabilized laneways will be necessary. Once a rough estimate of acres and number of paddocks required are calculated, a paddock layout can take shape.  Many times it is convenient to layout a couple (6-10) large paddocks that can be subdivided later using polywire or polytape. (*Hint remember an acre is a square approx. 208 feet X 208 feet square, so if you make major subdivisions 208 feet wide it makes if much simpler to size paddocks.) Here are some things to keep in mind when building paddocks. You can fence the same amount of area (square feet) in a square or a rectangle, however, you will use less fencing materials in the square paddock so make paddocks as square as possible to keep costs lower.


Gates to enter and exit paddocks should always be placed in the corner of the paddock closest to

the barn to avoid the fence being knocked by the animals.


   Shade for cattle may be important depending where your farm is located and what breed of animals you are raising. For instance many times the dark breeds such as Black Angus and Holstein are more susceptible to heat stress. To minimize heat stresses in a grazing system, identify paddocks that have shade in them for the extremely hot days or portions of the day that are too hot for livestock. Many times paddocks along a tree line will have shade in them and the cows can be placed in those paddocks during the mid afternoon to avoid the heat. Another important component to reducing a heat stress is to an ample supply of quality water in the paddock where the livestock are grazing. In dairy herds milking times may be altered so that the cattle are in the barn during the hottest part of the day.


   Water placement, source, and quantity play a significant role in the success and profitability of a successful grazing system.  Fresh, clean water from springs or a well make the best water sources for animals. When grazing animals have water in every paddock in the grazing system forage will be used more efficiently. Water in every paddock also has some other benefits, such as better manure (nutrient) distribution throughout the pastures, less erosion potential in laneways, animals will spend more time grazing each day (as compared to not having water in each paddock), and reduced heat stress in the summer. For more information about water sources, water quality, water system design, etc, see your local NRCS staff or Cooperative Extension.


   Pasture fertility, health, and productivity are all interrelated.  Pasture is a crop just like corn, soybeans, hay, or silage and therefore needs to be managed like a crop. Soil fertility is extremely important and soils tests should be taken at least once every 3 years in order to effectively manage pastures. Grass pastures require a nitrogen (N) source to maximize their yield potential. The nitrogen source may come from many different sources such as inorganic fertilizers, manures, legumes (clovers, alfalfa, trefoil), composts, etc.  If a grass pasture’s nitrogen source is a legume the pasture should include at least 30% legumes.  Refer to the current Penn State Agronomy Guide for soil fertility recommendations.  Legumes unlike grasses fix there own nitrogen from the air if they are properly inoculated, refer the current Penn State Agronomy Guide for seeding rates and inoculation procedures for legumes.  Pastures (forages) also require a certain amount of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) usually forages require much more potassium and nitrogen then phosphorous. Depending on soil test levels and manure application, much of the required phosphorus and potassium may come from manure. To effectively manage and account for manure produced on the farm a nutrient management plan would be of benefit in order to incorporate soil test information, manure production and utilization, as well as best management practices that would help control runoff and minimize nutrient transport to water sources. For help in developing a nutrient management plan contact your local NRCS staff or Conservation District Staff.


   Forage species in pastures should be chosen based on several factors such as there adaptations to your soil types, rainfall and climate conditions, growing season length, cost, animal performance goals, management style, etc. Refer to the current Penn State Agronomy Guide for pasture and forage seeding recommendations or contact your local NRCS Staff or Cooperative Extension.


   The laneways for animal travel from grazing paddocks to the barn are an important an essential component of a dairy grazing system where animals are moved frequently, however in a beef cattle, or sheep system they may not be as critical. If water is supplied to animals in each paddock this will reduce the amount of traffic on the laneways, therefore reducing the erosion as well as manure deposition on the laneways. On well drained soils with moderate slopes grass laneways may work.  However, for areas of heavy traffic (main laneway) a heavy use area protection treatment is recommended. Typically a laneway is built using geotextile as a base, then different layers and sizes of rock are applied, all of which are compacted to create a durable and comfortable surfaces for cattle to travel on.  Other alternatives to heavy use area protection may be to install diversions across the laneway to divert water from the lane into the pasture sod.


   Supplemental feeding should be managed so as not to degrade the pastures. In times of drought and in the winter; hay, mineral, and other supplements may be fed. If feeding in a pasture the feeding location should be moved often in order to avoid degrading the pasture. If animals are contained and fed at one central location a heavy use area protection (stabilized feeding area) should be installed to control manure and surface water runoff.  Consult with an animal nutritionist to develop a supplemental feed program that fits the needs of your herd.


   Parasite control is extremely important in a grazing livestock operation. Consult with your veterinarian about a parasite control plan that works for your operation.  Most parasites can be found at the base of forage plants where the livestock are susceptible to ingesting them.  If left untreated, internal parasites can cause problems with nutrient digestion and adsorption resulting in decreased livestock growth and productivity. For more information refer to the USDA-ARS "Graziers Notebook"


Again, I would like to stress that every grazing plan is different an is designed as just a guideline and will need to be adjusted not only to growing conditions but also your management style.

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