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July 2012 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.

Prepair for fall planting

Jul 30, 2012

Alfalfa Hay Field Preparation, Seed Selection and Planting Recommendations.


It’s almost August, and that means it’s time to prep your fields for fall planting, right?

Well if your going to be planting Alfalfa or a nice mixed legume hay crop for harvest next spring it is!


In my opinion, sunken crown alfalfa is the best way to go in the northeast region of the country if your looking to sell your hay or graze your animals on it.  The sunken crown characteristic gives alfalfa outstanding winter-hardiness, and superior re-growth capabilities when being grazed or mowed because the "heart" or crown of the plant is protected below the ground surface.  


When grazing alfalfa, you will need a companion crop to avoid bloat,

especially in Horses.


If you don’t plan to graze it, your main concern should be, is there enough of a market to sustain a successful hay business?


Question #1


Who are you going to be selling to?

- Dairies

- Cattle Producers

- Sheep, Goat or Alpaca Farms

- or at a weekly livestock/hay Auction


Each has their own special needs when it comes to what they'll feed their livestock.


Question #2


Can you create a niche market in your area? 

Do your homework.

- Soil fertility (pH should be 6.5 - 7.0)

- Fertilizer needed? ( manure, lime, phosphorus, potassium, calcium)

- Correct equipment for seed bed preparation  (plow, disc, harrow, seeder)


Planting Guide


Alfalfa Seed/Acre.

Direct seeding = 15-18 lbs.

With a single companion crop = 12-15 lbs. (such as clover)

With FULL Irrigation = 18-20 lbs.

** We use 6-8/lbs. in our pasture mix (which equates to approx. 15% of the total seed mix),  which also includes Orchard grass, Red & White Clover & Timothy.  However as the season continues and you mow these fields or pastures for winter hay stockpiles, you’ll generally only see Timothy in your 1st cutting.


Stand Age & Plants per Sq. Foot


Alfalfa should be re-evaluated each year to measure deterioration.

Stands less than the levels shown below probably justify a new seeding.

On the seeding year there should be 20-30 plants/stands per sq. ft.

Second year = 12-20

Third year = 8-12

And on the fourth and subsequent years = 6-8


Planting recommendations:


All alfalfa seed has to be "inoculated", which provides beneficial living, nitrogen-fixing bacteria to the seed.  With this type of seed treatment, some planting adjustments may be required.   To obtain your desired seeding rate, it is recommended that you increase your manufacturer's suggested drill setting.  The recommendation does not imply that more seed is needed. Rather, it infers that you should recalibrate your equipment to adjust for seed coatings.

Seeding rate:

Seeding rates can range from 5-30+ pounds per acre depending on your location.

Method of seeding, seedbed prep., soil type & fertility, and purpose of seeding are factors which determine proper seeding rate. There approx. 220,000 alfalfa seeds per pound.   Each pound of seed planted per acre provides about 5 seeds per square foot.  

The number of seedlings surviving the first year of planting is likely to be about 10-50% due to competition, disease, insects, winter injury and other causes.

When no companion crop is used (red & white clover), it is important to have 20-30 plants per square foot during the seeding year for maximum yields and for protection against weed competition. Plant 12-25 pounds of seed per acre to attain this goal.


Time to plant?

Most farmers plant in late summer-early fall. Some plant in early spring. Some do both. And some do Feb. planting, otherwise known as "Frost Seeding".

If planting in late summer like we do, make sure you seed at least 6 weeks prior to a hard frost so seedlings can develop adequately to withstand winter conditions.


Even if your seedlings survive the winter when not given the proper establishment time, their spring growth is likely to be poor, resulting in low yields and severe weed infestation.

Your best bet is to prepare the seedbed in mid-summer, and than seed when soil moisture is available.

Over fertilizing not only can be costly but also may contribute to pollution of surface water supplies. In an ongoing pasture liming and fertilizing program, retest every 4 to 5 years to determine whether your fertilization strategy is on track.

Be Careful What You Pray For

Jul 14, 2012

Preserving your Pastures


Think of your fields and pastures like they're an extension of your lawn. Avoid watering/irrigating them during the hottest parts of the day and irrigate them only when your forages need it. 

In a perfect world, alfalfa should receive moisture within 10 to 15 days following harvesting to help promote root growth and plant regrowth for additional hay cuttings or grazing. This is obviously not happening this season, nor did it happen last year in many parts of the country. So if you can afford to, irrigate your alfalfa within that 10- to 15-day window. If you can't, keep the faith and keep praying for rain.

My wife teases me about how obsessed with the weather forecasts I am. In the spring of 2011, we experienced one of the wettest springs ever. I was literally praying for dry weather. It happened! We had an eight-week drought last July and August. Then I, along with most every other producer, started praying for rain. My wife told me to be careful what I ask for. She was right, as always. We experienced the worst flooding last September in almost 40 years! Needless to say, this season I’m laying off the weather prayers. Our pastor was right, too. He told us to pray always with all expectation of receiving what you ask for. Last season was proof that prayer works, and that the Lord has a sense of humor.

Forage selection. If you live in an area where drought is common, such as everywhere in the U.S. but Hawaii this season, select "tame" or native species that display some drought resistance. For example, due to its vast root system, alfalfa is one of the most drought-resistant forages available. When water is not available, it actually stops growing and goes dormant. This helps maintain its presence in the stand through long periods of drought. It is also important to note that all varieties of forages are not created equal. Some, including alfalfa, crested wheatgrass, orchardgrass, wheatgrass and smooth bromegrass, are more drought-resistant than others. The variety of alfalfa we plant is a sunken crown with a huge taproot. We chose the sunken crown variety because we seeded our pastures with it. The crown, or heart, of the plant is below the surface of the soil so hoof traffic won’t be likely to damage the plant. The massive, deep taproot establishes quickly and will go far below the soil surface to find moisture, especially in a drought year.

Reduce expectations. If you’re forced to cut back on the amount you irrigate during the active growing season, concentrate water usage on your best-producing and newest hay fields. Also, lower your cattle, pig, sheep, etc., stocking rates to reduce overgrazing and excessive hoof traffic on the drought-stressed forages. 

Turn out. If possible, delay turning out your livestock on pastures. If you graze your plants too early during a drought, you will stress them further and increase the amount of rest needed before they can replenish their energy reserves. If possible, turn out first onto pastures with native species from your area. They will be more resilient during a drought than pastures or fields that you planted from scratch or that are not well established yet.

Grazing systems. In order to maintain healthy plant communities, avoid or defer grazing pastures that were heavily grazed in the previous grazing season. In other words, graze pastures that were rested or lightly grazed the previous season. Rotational grazing systems are more effective during drought than continuous grazing systems since periodic rests help plants maintain strength for regrowth. If you have a rotational grazing system, shorten your grazing periods by moving animals more frequently.

A good rule of thumb is to maintain 4"-5" of stubble after every harvest, either by your livestock or mechanically and at the end of the growing/grazing season. This stubble assists the plants in surviving the droughty conditions by encouraging root growth and maintaining their competitive advantage while assisting in capturing the fall rains and winter snow, both of which will give your pasture a head start next year. Stubble or residue also eventually turns into litter, which in turn increases the moisture retention and fertility of your pastures and hay fields.

Rest. Do not return to a pasture until plants appear vigorous and growth has resumed. Don’t overgraze your pastures with the expectation that the drought will end next year. As is painfully obvious for most of us, drought cycles often persist for several years. Overgrazing will result in the loss of important forage species, increased bare ground, and noxious weed invasions like thistle and multi-floral rose -- both of which are darn near impossible to eradicate once established.

Use everything. Stockpile forages throughout the grazing season whether you are expecting or having a drought. In other words, reserve pastures and fields. Keep livestock off of certain pastures throughout the entire season as an insurance policy. If you don’t experience a drought, you can use those stockpiled pastures to extend your grazing season and save yourself from having to feed hay too early in the fall and risk coming up short in the spring before your pastures are ready for your livestock to be turned out onto them. Always assume that a drought will continue year after year, and maybe you’ll luck out and have a perfect growing season instead! Don’t count on it, but it could happen. Maybe. Someday. In a galaxy far, far away.


Rotational Pasture Planning

Jul 02, 2012

Rotational Pasture Planning

An effective rotational  grazing system can be an affordable way to provide forage to your cattle, pigs, sheep, etc., and reduce herd nutrition costs year-round. Most dairy producers in our area have cattle that never leave their milking stalls, not to mention see growing grass. They say it’s easier for them if they don’t have to round up their milkers 2-3 times a day. In my opinion, those types of producers should get out of farming, because if you don’t respect animals, you don’t deserve the right to own them! Cattle as well as pigs, chickens, lambs, etc., are meant to be outside, on grass. Not inside, on concrete all their lives, with artificial light, timed feeding and no real sense of "living." But that’s just my opinion.

The first step in setting up your rotational grazing system is to determine the number of animals, type of forages you have and the time of year they are growing or dormant, and number of paddocks/pastures needed for the forages to have ample rest periods during rotation of your livestock. Many effective fencing options are available to livestock producers. Whether used as permanent or temporary confinements, fences should be carefully planned and constructed for long life and ease of use when moving your livestock.

Permanent resources, such as soil type, water supply and slope of your pastures, will affect your fencing layout plan. Pastures should have similar soil type, slope to provide uniform forage production and grazing distribution throughout the entire season or even year-round.

Semi-permanent resources

Semi-permanent resources, including water and shade, are critical for livestock productivity, but can be modified to accommodate the fencing layout.

Water – A continuous supply of clean water is essential for all livestock. Water is a critical nutrient required for a wide variety of body functions in cattle. Adequate clean water is a key part of rotational grazing systems. When possible, supply clean water in each paddock within a reasonable walking distance. Any fencing design should allow for flexibility of water trough placement within paddocks to control manure distribution and avoid mud around the water source. If a single water source is used in a particular paddock, make sure that that it can provide the volume of water needed during peak demand.

Shade is a major factor to consider when building fences. Shade does not decrease air temperature, but it does reduce animal exposure to the sun’s radiant energy. Adequate shade can reduce respiration rate and body temperature in livestock during the hottest times of the day. Shade also alters the grazing habits of cattle. Cattle with access to shade have shown a 3% increase in feed efficiency and a 6% increase in weight gain during hot weather.

If you don’t have natural shade structures such as woods or a tree line, portable shade structures made from galvanized pipe frames can be sturdy enough to withstand most livestock activity. Shades can be moved with cattle as needed or moved to various locations within paddocks to avoid mud and manure buildup. Cattle require shades at least 10 ft. tall. Cover shade with shade cloth to allow adequate air movement. At minimum, 400-lb. calves require around 18 sq. ft. of shade per head, and 800-lb. yearlings require approximately 25 sq. ft. of shade per head.

Recommended forages

A combination of cool- and warm-season grasses such as orchardgrass and endophyte-free fescue, along with compatible legumes such as alfalfa and white clovers, can provide the perfect forage supply throughout the grazing season. And they also work well for stockpiling forages for winter grazing or even making a first cutting of hay early in the grazing season prior to turning out your cattle. If you're raising pastured pigs or sheep/lambs, white clover is the legume of choice to interseed with your native grasses.

Use temporary fences to divide pastures into rotational paddocks, such as those used in creep grazing or mob grazing. Temporary fences are often more economical than permanent fences when small paddocks are needed. If you're using tape style fencing, it is advised to use only solar fence chargers. The "plug-in" type are too powerful and will eventually fry the very small wire that runs through the tape. Plug-in type fence chargers are best utilized with high-tensile style wire.

Locations of water, shade and handling facilities such as corrals and squeeze chutes are critical to your fencing layout. Effective lane systems and gate placement make livestock movement to animal handling facilities and rotation to other pastures much easier. Be sure to place gates and passageways for livestock and equipment in the corner of each field closest to the central water source. When designing fencing layout, consider legal rights and responsibilities to avoid potential disputes with adjacent landowners. As the old saying goes, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Fence placement and layout

Fencing is a major investment. Therefore, plan your fencing layout carefully to save your operation money now and in the future. One of the benefits of a well-designed fencing system is that it can improve grazing efficiency. When your animals are allowed to just free-graze, they tend to graze the most palatable plants first and leave mature plants until last. Forage selectivity by livestock often leads to concentrated and non-uniform manure distribution in the pasture/paddock.

One of the first management considerations in designing or upgrading your rotational grazing systems is selection and installation of the proper fencing system. That means you must know what you will need to keep your livestock in and predators out. The main priority is a well built perimeter fence, whether along roads or other areas from which livestock must be excluded, such as hay fields, cropland, swales, creeks, ponds, etc. The ideal number of fenced paddocks depends on forage species, grazing pressure, rate of plant recovery (which depends greatly on weather and time of year), livestock breed, overall herd size, animal ages and weights, and production levels.

Paddock size

Size paddocks to provide consistent days of grazing. A minimal 30-day rotation is recommended if cattle are moved at least once a week. Four paddocks in a 30-day rotation means moving animals every 6-7 days. On the other hand, during slow winter growth or drought conditions, shorter periods between grazing rotations will be necessary to prohibit overgrazing and forage stand damage. During a drought, it may be necessary to divide your operation up into as many as eight paddocks. With this number of paddocks, gates can be opened or animals moved more often during a quick rotation, temporary electric fencing can further split paddocks during a faster rotation, or paddocks can be cut out of the rotation to allow ample regrowth or even irrigation.

The shape of the fenced pasture makes a big difference in the length of fence needed to enclose the pasture. Paddocks should be fairly square, minimizing soil variation and following landscape changes. A perfect square is not always possible, as access to water, shade, livestock handling facilities and the natural lay of the land must be considered. Square paddocks usually require the minimum amount of fencing and reduce distance to water sources. Rectangular paddocks should be no more than four times as long as they are wide. Pie-shaped fencing designs with a central water source can lead to mud holes where livestock congregate at water sources. In the case of sheep/lambs, a muddy or not so well drained area that is caused by high concentrations of animals, or just a low-lying area that doesn’t drain well, will cause your operation an unnecessary amount of hardship due to hoof rot. If this is allowed to happen, that pasture will never be able to be grazed again, because the bacteria that causes hoof rot is almost impossible to eradicate once it is in the soil.

On our farm, we can graze 30 100% grass-fed beefalo for a week on 2.5 acres. Therefore, we utilize four rotational paddocks throughout the grazing season and use 3.5 acres to stockpile forages (untouched), throughout the season in case there is a drought, and we need to pull them off of their regular paddocks so the forages have a chance to rest until we hopefully get some moisture. We have had times such as last summer when we needed to feed dry hay in July and August because our pastures burned up from lack of moisture.

The long and short of it is, plan ahead for the worst weather conditions, and be happy when they don't happen!


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