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June 2010 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.

Changing Grazing Habits

Jun 27, 2010

Fencing

   Fencing is the best way to alter grazing habits of your cattle, sheep, goats etc..  Fences can separate areas that need different grazing management such as riparian buffers around pond’s and along streams, irrigated pastures, or seasonal use areas.  Fences can also be used to subdivide large pastures into more manageable paddocks.  When starting to build your fencing, make the best use of existing or proposed watering areas.  Permanent water facilities should serve more than one pasture.  Make sure that each fenced area has enough watering points. Consider the grazing site and potential forage production where possible.   However, it is usually impractical to fence individual plant communities because of their small size and random distribution across the landscape.   If multiple livestock species are to be grazed such as sheep, goats & donkeys, use the appropriate fencing materials for the species.

 

Supplemental Feeding

   Because livestock tend to go from water to grazing to salt or mineral tubs, it is not necessary to place salt and/or minerals at watering points.   Salt consumption tends to stimulate the appetite of grazing animals. To encourage grazing in areas where livestock need to be drawn, place mineral tubs where it is accessible within those areas.  Purposely locate salt, minerals, and/or other supplements not less than 1/3 mile from water on pastures of 640 acres or more. On smaller pastures/paddocks, place them no less than about 350 yards from water.   Because bedding grounds are already being used, locate salt and other supplements away from them. Move salt and supplements frequently except during birthing seasons.   Reports vary concerning whether salt is an effective tool for altering grazing distribution.  It does not appear to overcome the influence of water, favored forages, favorable terrain, protective cover, or in weather like we’re experiencing today in the North/East (93 degrees!) SHADE!!   Protein and energy supplements or salt-meal mixes are more likely to be effective in influencing grazing patterns than salt alone.  Grazing behavior and distribution are also affected by the feeding interval for supplements.  

 

Kind of Livestock

   Match your livestock species to the vegetation.  Place your cattle in a habitat where grass is readily available. Consider using goats in areas that have a high proportion of woody (browse) plants.  Some classes of livestock fit the terrain better than others.   For example, yearling cattle are more agile and tend to travel farther than cows with calves, and, therefore, make better use of rugged terrain.   Animals may have difficulty adjusting to new foraging environments even if the new location has abundant forage.

TOXIC PLANTS

   New locations with toxic plants are potentially dangerous. Naive animals tend to spend more time grazing but eat less, walk greater distances, suffer more weight loss, and are more likely to eat toxic plants.  Although animals can make the transition to new locations, it usually takes about a year to adjust. This transition can be eased if the food and terrain in the new location are similar to what the animals already know.

Shade

   Shade influences grazing distribution on hot summer days.   Livestock have been observed to travel considerable distances to reach shade on hot days.   Cattle and sheep routinely seek shade around midday on summer days when temperatures exceed 85 degrees F.    Brahman and similar breeds of cattle are less likely to seek shade during the hot midday and more likely to rest in open areas.  Cattle with dark hair coats tend to seek shade earlier and for longer periods.   Cattle are more likely to stay around water if shade is available.   In comparison, sheep are less likely to rest and loaf near water.  Providing shade has been shown to increase summer-long weight gain in yearling steers.

Improving Palatability

   Some treatments can improve the palatability of forages and/or increase the length of the green period. These treatments act by removing unpalatable species or old growth or stimulating palatable growth. The theory is that improving palatability could attract grazing animals into previously unused or underused areas. For example, nitrogen fertilization is known to lengthen the green period.  Nitrogen can also improve the palatability of some species.  

   Prescribed burning can be used to improve palatability.  Burning improves palatability by removing old growth, thus making new growth more accessible.  However, be careful to avoid too much grazing pressure by removing less than 50 percent of the new growth.  Probably the best approach is flash grazing, which is grazing for a short period in the spring after a winter burn and then allowing the burned areas 3 to 6 months or longer to recover to a point where normal grazing is feasible without damaging the plants.

Grazing Memory Part 2

Jun 18, 2010

Let’s continue with the second part of our current discussion we started last week, discussing animal behavior and grazing memory.  This week we’ll cover Topography, Weather and start looking at “Distribution Tools”.

Topography

   The second most important cause of poor grazing distribution is topography.  Cattle seldom use areas with  greater than 10 percent slope.  On the other hand, sheep make good use of areas with up to 45 percent slope.   Topography is more important on the hilly or mountainous parts of your farm. The effect of topography varies with the kind of grazing animal.  For example, cattle prefer easily accessible areas that are flat and gently rolling.

   The fact that cattle, horses, and bison will graze on slopes during some seasons of the year suggests that they may be more unwilling than unable to graze steeper slopes. Cattle will cross steeper slopes if they have easy access to the slope and contours that cross the slopes.  Sheep and goats, which are smaller, more agile, and more surefooted, can make more use of steeper and rougher topography. Yearling cattle are also more agile than mature cows and will travel further and use more rugged areas.

However, because even smaller, more agile livestock have their limitations, rugged terrain can still limit use.   For example, our neighbors sheep & goats have used slopes up to 45 percent fairly evenly, but reduce use by as much as 75 percent on steeper areas.   Think of topography this way, if rocky ground makes walking difficult for you, it will also be difficult for your cattle.  

Forage Preferences

Forage preferences of different livestock species have a strong influence on grazing patterns.  For example, cattle, with their strong preference for grasses, tend to avoid dense brushy areas.  As brush becomes more dense, cattle grazing decreases.   Forage species play a major role in grazing distribution.  Plants may differ in palatability or in the amount of leaf material available.  These differences greatly influence where animals choose to graze.   Hypothetically, even in a single species grass pasture (good luck finding one of those), the entire pasture use may not be uniform.  Plants often produce succulent new growth once given the opportunity to “rest”,  (after the grazing animals have been moved on to new pastures).   Because grazing animals prefer this new growth, when given the opportunity to re-graze these pastures before given the recommended resting period, the animals sometimes revisit these area’s and avoid plants and patches with older growth not previously grazed or areas where feces have been deposited.

 

Weather

   Grazing will also be limited by temperature changes, snow, and excessive rainfall.  Even in the North/East, high temperatures are the most consistent weather factor affecting grazing distribution.   When temperatures exceed 85 degrees F, our cattle and pig’s seek shade, and if not given shade in close proximity to where their grazing, may walk far to find it.

 

Distribution tools and recommendations

Water

 

   To improve grazing distribution, water sources can be developed in a number of ways, including drilling wells and building drinking troughs, earthen reservoirs, or pipelines to transport water to new locations.   An effective way to draw animals to desired areas without additional fencing is to control and change their access to watering points.  As a last resort or temporary measure, water can be hauled to poorly used locations.

   In general, do not require cattle to travel more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile from forage to water (1/2 to 1 mile between watering points) in steep, rough terrain; or more than 1 mile (2 miles between watering points) on level or gently rolling ground.  Spacing for sheep and horses can be wider.  Generally, plan for no more than 50 cattle and 300 sheep, or 50 to 75 animal units, per watering facility.

Grazing Memory

Jun 10, 2010

Grazing Memory

 

   Livestock do not graze randomly, they prefer some grazing sites over others. This tendency can cause grazing distribution to be uneven throughout your pastures/paddocks.  If uncorrected, grazing distribution problems increase grazing pressure on areas that are used.  When managing grazing cattle, you should aim for the greatest utilization of all forages over as much of a pasture, paddock or ranch as possible.  Livestock preference for some sites over others is influenced by a number of factors we will cover today and in the coming weeks.

 

   A few factors that influence grazing preferences include plant types (grasses, legumes, weed’s etc.), plant species, forage quantity, forage quality and/or palatability, weather, soil, topography, water sources or the distance between them, and fencing.  The greater the differences among these specifically considering vegetation, topography, etc., the more likely your Cattle, Pig’s, Sheep/Lambs etc. are to concentrate on some areas and avoid others.   Although it may be easy to identify water distribution problems, those problems may be difficult to correct because of cost associated with burying freeze proof lines or simply water availability.   Causes of other distribution problems may be harder to identify.  For example, distribution problems may be harder to pinpoint if they are associated with forage preferences or human activities.

 

When making decisions about grazing distribution, there are several factors to consider:

2 of them being animal behavior & distance to water.

 

Animal Behavior

   Animals decide where to graze based on their perceptions of what’s available.  When we turn out or cattle into "New" paddocks every week, they quickly explore the "New" offerings and develop map-like representations of the locations of different areas within that pasture.  Even though they’ve been on these pastures as recently as 4 weeks earlier, some of the forages and the abundance or lack of them will vary throughout the growing season.   Based on their long-term memory, animals may return to areas previously grazed to search for forage.  Their expectations of an area based on long term memory change more slowly than changes in forage quality and quantity.   Animals may revisit areas where forage has been exhausted, but where they have found forage in the past, until they learn that forage is no longer available.   Grazing animals appear to use their short-term memory to recall which areas they have recently visited.   They will use this memory in the near future to avoid or return to these areas.  For periods of up to 8 hours, cattle can vividly remember areas where they have recently foraged.

 

Be consistent with your forage offerings.

 

Introducing animals from one type of vegetation and/or topography to a very different type of range can reduce animal performance until the animals learn the new environment, which can take up to a year.

 

Distance to Water

   In the lush North/East, livestock need free-choice access to water and dry hay.  When their water intake is restricted, milk production drops, feed intake is lowered, and gain in offspring is reduced.  More water is needed as increases occur in live weight, lactation, physical activity, and dry matter intake.  Less water is required when the forage has a high water content and for animal species and breeds that use water more efficiently.   When animals are forced to travel great distances between forage and water, they use more energy.    Animals that haven’t been weaned yet are most susceptible to lack of water availability because they are affected by the reduced milk production of the mother, and they are less likely to travel all the way to water with their mothers on hot days.   Water availability is a major cause of poor grazing distribution. Water is the central point of grazing activities. Near water, plants are often used heavily and forage production drops.  The location and number of waterers are the main factors in determining movement, distribution of manure, and concentration of grazing animals.  Watering location should be placed based on vegetation type, topography of your area being grazed, the season of the year, the kind of animals being grazed, and the age of the grazing animals.

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