More about moving to Mob Grazing from conventional farming

Posted: October 11, 2009 by Thrivelearning in Grass Fed Beef Cattle
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Haven’t talked about my Missouri grass-fed beef cattle in awhile, so I stacked up some ideas meanwhile – and so I blog now:

We’re still on how to make more profit raising beef cattle, which is the first reason I’m researching mob grazing. There are other apparent benefits (such as being more environmentally responsible), but that will come later.

Milo as standing winter feed instead or hay or stockpiled grass

This year’s experiment in lowering input costs has been to raise milo (the idea from a local farmer, Harry Cope) so the cattle would eat it instead of having to feed hay this winter. I got it into the ground a bit too late, so I’m now just hoping for a very long fall before the first killing frost (3 nights of below 22 degrees) and so allow it to make seed heads. Now, a recent post over at Yahoo Groups – GrassFed Beef gave me pause, but a later post there gave me more ideas.

First, if you’re feeding grain to animals, it messes with their digestion and throws off their Omega3/6 ratios. So it’s fine to feed corn as a grass, but not the seed heads (corn cobs) it produces. (That’s from a purist standpoint. Factually, they love corn like candy. So IMHO, corn-cob chunks are a good training treat, but not good as a diet.) So trying to grow milo and feed them the grain head in winter is counter productive to making high quality beef.

Second, it still cost me to put that milo in – but probably a fifth what the same ground would produce in terms of the cost of putting hay up. So it’s still cheaper – and the experiment hasn’t run its course yet. If seeding it so late that it doesn’t really get properly developed seed head still leaves a lot of stalks standing above the ice and snow, it’s probably a decent investment and cost-saving production.

You either have to stockpile grass, or feed hay. Growing milo as as a stockpiled grass source is cheaper than hay, but not as cheap as stockpiled perennial grass.

Now, I started a couple years ago putting hay out on a field, staggered, so I didn’t have manure accumulating in one spot (as well as the mess and expense of firing up the tractor and driving through mud to deliver bales. Last winter, I got the tractor out once – and that was to pick up bales that weren’t going to be eaten that winter.

My approach with this was to put those bales on a nearby crop ground (right next door, across the fence) and put that on the poorest soil, where big sections of the topsoil had essentially been removed by earlier farming (erosion). The trick was that with all that manure and old hay left there, it was either feast or famine. Didn’t disk up very well and didn’t take planting well, either. It took most of the next summer to really digest, and when I did get something planted in it, it took off like all thunder – lots higher than anything around. Or it just sat there, waterlogged. Got the original idea from one old boy who fed round bales without bale rings to his Auxvasse Missouri Longhorns for several years on the top of one worn-out hillock and wound up with a very lush pasture out of it.

But really, that area isn’t a high producing section anyway, so I’m not losing much, I figure.

Hay as fertilizer for worn out crop ground

There was a thread on that forum lately about buying hay as fertilizer, which got me thinking. Yes, it’s cheaper to buy hay than make it. The trick is in how you feed it. Setting it up as big round bales isn’t all that efficient, as you still wind up with concentrated circles of manure, and a center with old hay. (Now the cows and calves love to lie on this when they’re eating the next bale over, so it gets some layers mixed…) But overall, it’s not all that efficient.

I did unroll a bale once down a hill and saw how they went through it. Since it was on a pasture, they ate most all of it and it wasn’t showing the next spring.The trick, with feeding anything in winter, is that the ice and snow cover it. That is where the big bales (or even small square bales thrown out on top of the snow) are easier for cattle to feed.

Some people actually advise growing your fall pastures up tall and then cutting and winnowing that grass so that it is in long, high rows so the cattle can then be strip-grazed on it (they’d waste it by tromping and laying on it if you feed too much at once).

For that poor crops ground above, here’s the next idea: Unroll that hay in contours across the land, so it will catch runoff. But use the rake to pile it back up in windrows. Then feed it that way to the cattle, with the electric fence running perpendicular to the rows, which keeps them eating only as much as they need. No more moving frozen-down hay rings or cold-to-start tractors. Plus, the ground is in better shape to try to crop it next spring. At least that’s the theory.

I’ll try this theory on the milo ground which didn’t produce well (same areas that don’t have any real topsoil.)

Just another idea until I can perfect my managed grazing to the point where I have the nice electric fences all over and can easily move my cattle every day.

Meanwhile, you farm with what you got.

Research on mob grazing continues – to make profitable grass-fed beef cattle.

Next up is to figure how to do the transition from conventional grazing over to managed grazing and then to mob grazing. First situation is both existing fences and water supply. Existing fences are built for rotating pastures when they eat everything off – conventional grazing. They aren’t set so that I can partition them easily with portable electric fences. So I’ve got some engineering to do.

My approach is as I’d been advised, to start partitioning pastures for a few years and see where you are using the temporary fences – and then put a permanent electric fence there so you can set up temporary ones which use that as a power source. So you aren’t hooking up and taking down a battery and charger every time you move the fence (current arrangement.) Means the cows don’t get moved as much as they should. (You can get around this by pivoting off a corner and giving a new pie slice each time, but there’s no back-fence which some prefer for mob grazing so what was just grazed gets to rest and re-grow.)

So I’m studying my existing fences and how I use them to see ways I could set up something that allows more mobile set up and breakdown. (Plus rig the permanent fences so the cattle will keep them cleaned up with no brush growing over them.)

This winter, at least, I’ve got a sizable set of stockpiled grass from our too-wet summer – so I can see how this does over winter.

Plenty to do with what I’ve got to work with. Always got to like having options…

The goal is to knock out cost of winter feeding and to increase the quality of forage I already have. Both will increase my profits for finishing beef cattle on pasture only.

– – – –

Update: While I was doing further research on mob grazing and grass fed beef, I found this story from Eat, Drink, Better. Seems that some of these big packers haven’t been able to keep their beef clean enough from the manure they raise it in. That’s the problem with grain-fed beef, that they simply raise these cattle in their own manure. And keeping the meat from being infected becomes a real problem. Because bacteria is native to manure. Plus that particular strain of e coli is more prevalent in feedlots than pastures.

More later – my research on this is  continuing…

  1. […] More about moving to Mob Grazing from conventional farming Still working to improve the profits on my grass fed beef cattle. Here’s a post about moving to mob grazing from conventional practices, some tips and results… […]

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