An interest in grazing

barnI like to watch the ESPN television series “30 for 30.” It is a series of interesting stories and in-depth reporting on sports and athletes. It is unique as the stories are interesting enough that you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy the series. I mean, I truly enjoyed a “30 for 30” on soccer and I don’t know anything about soccer.

The point of which I am circling around is this; I have a subject that may not interest you but I hope I can present it to you in an interesting way, like on “30 for 30.” I want to talk about cattle, pasture and results.

First off, my small rotational system of cattle pasture is really more suited to feeder cattle as it is very high quality. In past years, I have focused on putting enough weight on feeder cattle that they marble and gain enough subcutaneous fat so that are good eating. I am custom grazing cow/calf pairs this year. The pairs require less high-quality fodder so I am keeping them on each paddock for five days instead of three days as was typical with feeders. The difference is that the longer the cattle stay on each paddock, the closer they eat to the ground. The top part of each plant is the ice cream while the lower part of each plant is the ice cream box. When I raise feeders I let them eat the ice cream and then move them to another paddock when then get even close to the box. With cow/calf pairs, they get a little more box however I don’t want them to eat all of the plant as it will not grow back well. You need the green part of each plant to absorb sunlight and create more energy for the grass to re-grow.

I noticed this year that two of my paddocks have less grass on them than last year. I try to keep about 70 percent grass and 30 percent legumes on each paddock. You probably know what grass it but legumes are: clover, alfalfa, trefoil, etc. The legumes create nitrogen in the root zone which helps feed the roots of the grass plants. The legumes also are more productive even as July temperatures slow the cool season grasses to a halt. I think next year I will try to frost-seed a little rye grass into the paddocks that need more grass to restore the balance. I also believe the ryegrass will give me some more carbohydrates.

I have briefly mentioned that I want to build a seed drill for my Brutus ATV. I thought perhaps I would make it a no tillage machine however I did not want to re-invent the wheel. Through conversations with my brother Dave, and some couch/internet research I have decided to mine recent history for an answer. Some of the first no-tillage planting efforts were done right on the farm. In one case, a disc would till the land and then be trailed by a cultipacker which prepared the tilled ground. A small Case Pony drill would be pulled behind the packer and place the seed in the rows created by the packer. Press wheels on the drill or a harrow would complete the job. It was basically a little parade of most of the equipment that was owned by the farmer but it worked. I have slowly collected an old John Deere disc, a cultipacker and this week, a Case Pony drill. After I do some cutting and welding this winter, I do believe I will have my own no-till drill. For sure, I will have my own little parade of every bit of equipment I own. I may even use the drill to plant one paddock to plant corn or sorghum for fall grazing.

Finally, my soil tests showed some need for fertilizer but not a lot considering it has been four to five years since I spread even a little commercial fertilizer. Cows only use about ten percent of the food that they eat so the rest of the grass passes through them after having been broken down in their four stomachs. Even if I have not been spreading fertilizer, the cows sure have been spreading it. Anyway, my pasture is nice and thick and the cattle look good; rotational grazing has worked well for me.

I wanted to share what I have learned on the farm. It’s good information but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. This probably wasn’t as good as ESPN’s “30 for 30” however it couldn’t have been too bad. I mean, you’re still here-aren’t you?


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