Oct 2, 2014
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March 2014 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.

What the Hay!?

Mar 30, 2014

 The cost of hay


The cost of producing hay will be weighing heavy on the minds of most producers heavier this coming season than probably ever before.  Especially if you live in Pennsylvania & New York States.  With the cost of diesel hovering around $4.50 gal. for the last 3-4 months, one can only brace for the undoubtedly higher prices as we near the Memorial Day (1st cutting) & 4th of July (2nd cutting) holiday’s.  It happens every year folks, and I doubt it will be any different this coming year.  Diesel will most likely be the largest input cost for all of us, so lets try and figure out now what we’ll be spending to put up quality hay in the coming months so we’re not surprised in the fall when we start selling whatever surplus hay we will hopefully have.


Lets start at the "ground level".  According to the 2008 Penn State Agronomy Guide, each ton of grass hay removes 50 pounds of nitrogen, 15 pounds of phosphate (P2O5) and 50 pounds of potash (K2O). Using average bulk fertilizer prices, urea (46-0-0) $750 per ton; DAP (18-46-0) was quoted at $1,150 per ton and potash (0-0-60) $700 per ton. Using these antiquated prices to replace the nitrogen, phosphate and potash removed in a ton of hay resulted in a cost of $84 per ton!  Besides the fertilizer cost, there should be something figured in for spreading the fertilizer. Using the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Custom Rates, the average cost for spreading dry bulk fertilizer will be $10.60 - $10.70 per acre.


However, hay can be produced without fertilizing.  We’ve been doing it for over 15 years!

So, should fertilizer cost be part of determining the cost of hay?   That all depends on how you maintain you fields and pastures.  If you have a good balance of grasses with legumes like red clover and alfalfa, the legumes will feed the grasses and replace the nitrogen that the grasses will normally deplete from the soil if grown alone.  The same goes for your pastures.  If you don’t rotate your animals and allow your forages ample rest/re-growth periods your "replenishers"  such as the Clovers and Alfalfa will die out and your pastures will suffer greatly in a matter of 2-3 years.  If maintained properly, you might only have to "Over-seed" legumes into your hay fields and pastures every 6-8 years, and with Alfalfa costing $300.00 a bag that only covers 3-4 acres, that cost will mount quickly.


Every year I hear producers say they will fertilize in the future, or they are waiting for fertilizer to get cheaper because it is too expensive.  Seriously!?  Do you really think any input costs like fertilizer are going to decrease?  That would mean the chemical companies would be willing to make less money.  Funny huh?

I’m just happy we don’t need to fertilize any of our 150 hay acres.  A little extra time spent planning now will save you thousands of un-necessary costs in the very near future.  Don’t be in such a hurry to do what the neighbors are doing or what a Chemical company tells you that you "need" to do.


The next part of calculating the cost of hay production is machinery or equipment expense. I used average cost figures from the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Custom Rates. (These rates are based on survey responses of Pennsylvania farmers).  Your own equipment costs will vary based on your local diesel fuel costs, and if you know what they are, plug those in. For those who don’t know, this is a good place to start. Mowing/conditioning is valued at $18.10 per acre, raking at $11.00 per acre and large round bales are $8.40 per bale.  Wrapping is an additional $6.90 per bale in addition to the $8.40.  If you still feed small square bales, it’ll cost $2.10 per bale.  Than you have to figure in your delivery costs if your customers can’t haul your hay themselves.  And the BIGGEST cost will be your time.  What is your time worth?  Yes, there are A LOT of variables to coming up with a fair price that will attract customers and at the same time help you make a living or at least help supplement your main income.


You can get exact prices for your area and additional costs for other custom work by visiting farmprogress.com and going to the USDA 2014 Machinery Custom Rates.

Exploding Cattle

Mar 09, 2014

 She’s gonna Blow!!


   Most, if not all of us Cattleman are looking forward to warmer temperatures and green grass. As temperatures begin to warm, (Yes believe I or not it will eventually happen), cool-season grasses and legumes begin a rapid growth phase resulting in the production of large amounts of lush, palatable, green pasture.


   Unfortunately, early in the growing season, these forages are very high in moisture content and nutrients are diluted. The result is that it is difficult for animals to eat enough dry matter to meet all of their nutrient requirements even if you provide dry/baled free-choice hay. Two important problems are commonly seen early in the grazing season, grass tetany and bloat.   And until Gas-X produces a really big tongue strip for cattle, you’ll need to wean your cattle onto fresh grass so they don’t blow up!


Grass Tetany

   Grass tetany, sometimes called "grass staggers", is a metabolic disorder in cattle related to a deficiency of magnesium (Mg). Early lactation cows are the most susceptible, with older cows considered more susceptible than heifers with their first or second calves.


   Grass tetany usually occurs when animals are grazing lush pastures in the spring, but it can occur during the fall and winter too. Grass tetany is typically seen in early lactation cows grazing fresh, green, early/cool-season grasses after having been accustomed to eating dry hay all winter.  Rapidly growing, lush grasses create the greatest problem.   But this condition isn’t only limited to grazing legumes in early spring, it has been documented that it has occurred on Orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, tall fescue, crested wheatgrass,

Bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass and small grain (wheat, oats, barley, triticale

and rye) pastures too.  The risk of grass tetany decreases on pastures that contain over 30% legumes

(examples: clovers, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil) or animals wintered on grass-legume hay.


Risk Factors

   The greatest risk for grass tetany is when pastures soils are low in available magnesium, high in available potassium and high in nitrogen.  Pastures where a significant amount of manure has been applied often have this mineral imbalance and are considered more vulnerable.  That alone is a good enough reason to not spread manure on your pastures and hay fields.  I have always discouraged other producers from this practice because it just doesn’t seem logical to "infect" especially your hay fields with manure.  Its bad enough that we can’t potty train our cattle to go in one localized area of their pastures so they aren’t "contaminating" the entire pasture.  Obviously I’m kidding about the potty training.  Nobody has time to train their cattle to do that, even if it were possible.


Signs & Symptoms

   Unfortunately in many cases of grass tetany, symptoms are not immediately noticed and the only evidence is a dead cow.  In mild cases, milk yield of dairy cattle is decreased, and the animal appears nervous. These signs

indicate the need for preventive measures.  Animals affected by acute grass tetany may suddenly stop grazing, appear uncomfortable, and show unusual signs of alertness, such as staring and keeping their heads and ears in an erect position.  Cattle may also have a staggered walk, have twitching skin, especially on the face, ears, and flanks, and lie down and get up frequently. Once cows get to this point, they are easily excited and any stimulation may lead to startling reactions, such as continuous bellowing or running.  A staggered gait pattern typically develops followed by collapse, stiffening of muscles and violent jerking convulsions with the head pulled back.  And the most obvious sign is they look really pregnant when their not.  Like their gonna blow!!


   Animals often lie flat on one side with periodic foreleg paddling, twitching of the eyes and ears, and a chewing motion that produces froth around the mouth.  Between convulsions, the animal may appear relaxed. During this phase, any sound or touching of the animal, such as when administering treatment, may result in violent reactions. Animals usually die during or after a convulsion unless treatment is given.


   This info. Isn’t meant to scare you beginning farmers & ranchers from grazing your cattle, but just be mindful of conditions before just turning your cattle out on fresh, green, spring pastures for the first time this coming season.  There is actually a lot of thought and planning that should come first.

Stop Being LAZY!

Mar 03, 2014

 Don’t Wait for Spring!


   During all of the weather challenges this winter I was reminded that pastures are often last on the list of management priorities on many farms.   In our area I have noticed a lot of pastures that were overgrazed late into last season and still others that were allowed to "stockpile" before winter hit in November.  And these pastures were a common combination on many farms.  This is due to a poor grazing plan and or laziness on the part of the producer because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income especially in the winter months.


   Plan now on how your going to manage grazing late in the 2014 season (August-October),  this can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of rotational pasture management. While working with beginning grazers I often find myself suggesting that they consider having more, smaller paddocks, rather than one BIG pasture that allows their stock to be too selective and in return allows their pasture to become "WILD" with invasive weeds and an explosion of un-favorable/un-palatable grasses that will quickly take over the entire pasture.


   Set aside a few pastures in mid-August and don’t mow or graze them.  Let them grow as long as they can into the fall/winter and use them as your winter pastures.  This is commonly referred to as "Stockpiling Forages".  One stockpiling advantage is it assures grasses will be replenishing and storing carbohydrate root reserves during the critical fall period, which will build stronger root systems.  If the grass to be stockpiled is Tall fescue, this may be the best use for it.  Cattle that reluctantly graze fescue in August and September find fescue in November & December to be very palatable.  In addition, fescue will maintain its forage quality and tonnage better than other cool-season pasture grasses throughout the winter.


Grazing management principles:

  1. Allow the plants rest at least 30 days after grazing.
  2. Keep grazing times short (MOB Graze).  Move, Move, Move!!
  3. Use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forage.


   Grazing/removing leaves from forage plants is stressful. It eliminates photosynthesis, stops nutrient uptake from soil and in legumes it stops nitrogen fixation.  Plants need rest to recover from this stress and to re-grow. We give the forages rest by removing the animals before all the leaves are eaten off the plants.  No leaves, no photosynthesis, no regrowth.  And those three negatives in your grazing program equal bigger input costs for the following season, and with Alfalfa seed hovering around $300 a bag that only re-seeds approx. 2.5 acres, that should be enough sticker shock to give you the kick in the pants to move your cattle more often and keep a better eye on the grazing height of your rotational pastures!


Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods. Most 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.


What causes overgrazing?

   Allowing animals to re-graze plants before they are able to replace root reserves used for re-growth.

When most animals are turned into a new pasture they will select the plants they prefer. If kept in the same field long enough the plants grazed first will re-grow.   New growth is always preferred to old growth.  But remember that these recovering plants with new growth must be protected. Overgrazing keeps these plants stressed.  In the short term it can slow plant recovery/re-growth.  Long term it can lead to the loss of some plant species in the pasture and the loss of forage yield.  As stated before, this is simply due to a combination of poor pasture rotation planning and laziness.  And laziness equals un-necessary $$$$.


Stocking density

   If we keep the grazing times short then we need enough animals to harvest all the forage we want in a paddock. Stocking density is the number of animals in an area at a particular moment. High stocking density increases the uniformity of gazing.  Grazing management typically increases stocking density. Livestock are no longer spread over one large pasture but consolidated, for a point in time, into a smaller paddock. Increasing stocking density frequently improves grazing distribution and harvest efficiency.  There is greater competition for the available forage. With heavy grazing pressure 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.

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