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The Fast Farmer: Grazing

Grazing management is an incredibly powerful way to increase the profitability of your farm business. In fact, a study using data from the AgriProfit Business Analysis & Research Program compared the profit per acre of growing grass to the profit of growing spring wheat, barley and canola, and grazing had the highest profit per acre every single time, over a 10 year period. As a bonus, grazing management also offers your farm the following benefits:

• Improving the land’s ability to withstand drought
• Reduction of soil erosion
• Promotion of biodiversity
• Enhancement of water quality and quantity
• Production of healthy food products
• Providing habitat for wildlife and insects that pollinate crops
• Assistance in carbon sequestration, mitigating climate change

However, it’s also a tool that can be intimidating to learn about if you’re new to it. If you’re like us, you’ve probably seen and heard just enough about grazing that you’re intimidated to give it a try and unsure where to start.
Working with the Alberta Forages Industry Network, we designed this series of workshops specifically to give you only the critical starting steps you’ll need to create a basic plan and install a simple fencing and water system. It will also walk you through the 4 essential principles of grazing and give powerful examples of how those principles have been used by successful producers in various climates, ranging from large operations to very small farms starting from scratch.
This page is set up so that you can go through the series in a linear flow from top to bottom, or you can jump ahead and click on any of the workshop links that interest you. As this grazing series is the initial “pilot” of FarmOn’s new Fast Farmer program, we would love to know what you think of the content and this format of learning. You can get in touch with Sarah or Ben any time to let us know what you think, or send an email to info@farmon.com

 

Grazing Stories

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We’ve found that there’s something people have in common who are good at rotational grazing. They have a huge passion for growing grass, caring for livestock, restoring land and soil, protecting water and habitats, and finding innovative ways to produce a healthy profit. And we thought the best way to get that across was with a few short videos. Click the photo above to check them out.

 

The Four Principles of Grazing
There are 4 basic principles that apply to all successful grazing operations, regardless of location, size or climate. They work in South Africa and they work in northern Alberta. This workshop will explain what each of the 4 principles are, and how you can get started in implementing them in your operation.

The 4 Principles of Grazing Management

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The 4 Principles of Grazing are:
1) Overgrazing – What is it and how can you tell if you’re doing it?
2) Rest – What is it and how can you tell when your pasture has had enough rest?
3) Stocking Density – How can you tell if you’re stocking density is too heavy or too light?
4) Monitoring – How to track changes in your pasture and its productivity.

 

Planning

The best place to set up your grazing system isn’t anywhere on your pasture, it’s in your office. Do yourself a massive favour and before you go setting anything up, spend a bit of time planning it out. Are you going to use permanent cross fencing or portable wire? How are you getting water out to each area of your pasture? What’s the best route to get animals back to a processing location for treating a sick animal? Are there riparian or wooded areas that you’ll need to fence off or graze differently? Figuring it out ahead of time on paper, as much as possible, will save you time, money, and headaches.
The following two workshops will walk you through a simple process to get some of the basic elements of a grazing system down on paper. We’ve created one for designing a plan using portable cross fencing, and one using permanent cross fencing with an alley system. Feel free to check them both out and see which one is the best fit for your operation.

How To Design a Grazing Plan Using Portable Cross Fencing

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How To Design a Grazing Plan Using an Alley System

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With either of the above systems, a good plan always starts with getting a good aerial or satellite view of your land. If you don’t have one yet and aren’t familiar with using Google Earth, check out How To Print a Satellite Photo of Your Farm from Google Earth

 

Fencing

Grazing is nothing new, in fact farmers have been grazing cattle since the beginning of the agricultural revolution thousands of years ago. But “intensive grazing management” is relatively new. By using lectric fencing you can control stocking density on your pasture by setting up small paddocks, at a low cost. Without electric fence it just wouldn’t be feasible or economical.
We recommend setting up a permanent perimeter fence, which is actually pretty easy to do if you already have an existing barbed wire fence, by using offset insulators and high tensile wire. This workshop lays out the steps, tools and materials needed to get it done.

Installing Permanent Electric Fence

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How To Set Up Portable Electric Fence

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How To Brace a Corner Fence Post, Underground

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How To Splice High Tensile Fencing Wire

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If you’re fairly new to using electric fencing, here’s a great fact sheet that outlines how it works, with some useful tips and important safety considerations.

 

Water Systems

I think every grazer would agree that the ideal watering system is the one that requires the least amount of maintenance, and has the least number of things that can fail. We came across some brilliant ideas from some of the best grazers around, and the workshops below will walk you through how to set up something similar for your own operation.

How To Set Up a Gravity Feed Watering System

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How To Set Up a Pasture Pipeline Watering System

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Case Studies

We’ve spoken to several of the most successful grazers in Alberta, and it’s amazing how different their backgrounds are, as well as their experiences and even the types of business models they use to create profitable operations. We picked a few of their stories and created these 3 powerful case studies for you to learn from. We take a look at how each of them got started in grazing, how they adapted the 4 Priciples of Grazing, and how they turned it into a successful business.

Key points:
• Be adaptable/flexible: in land, in resources and in your mindset
• Anyone can develop a profitable grazing enterprise
• Simple, yet planned changes result in big results both for the land and for your business
• Looking after the land – will look after your profits
• Anyone can start today with small steps

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Further Resources

If you have any questions about the Fast Farmer Grazing Edition we would love to hear from you. You can Tweet us a comment or question to @FarmOn with the hash tag #FastFarmer, or email us directly at sarah.wray@farmon.com. Below are a few extra resources that we also thought you might find useful. Good luck!

Here’s a great Podcast from Permaculture Voices, interviewing a successful rancher in California who uses rotational grazing.

ForageBeef.ca offers a lot of information and fact sheets on everything from cow/calf economics to feed testing and drought management.

Thank You
The Fast Farmer: Grazing Series is the result of a lot of great people, experienced grazers and innovative farmers providing FarmOn with information and connecting us with great resources. We’d like to thank the Alberta Forages Industry Network, the Grey Wooded Forage Association, and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency in particular, for their amazing support.

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Dropping the Ball in the Beef Industry

Brenda Schoepp takes a look at where the beef industry has missed opportunities in the market over the years, and how each link in the chain has dropped the ball.

First, Brenda looks at where different sectors in the industry have moved to in the last 30 years and how they got there.

And then she talks about problems in the beef industry and how to solve them.

Cost of Shrinkage in the Beef Industry

Shrinkage is the expression of stress in cattle and can be detrimental to your business. Shrinkage is caused by many things including stress from being transported, having a change in diet or not having adequate amounts of food and water. Brenda Schoepp discusses how best to avoid this stress, cattle should be transported at their own pace and always have acces to food and water.

 

Beef Marketing Part 1

 

 What is Pencil Shrinkage 

 

What’s the Best Way to Consolidate?

Have you considered consolidating cattle? There’s more to it than you think. Brenda Schoepp has lots of great tips on how to get the best price on your cattle by consolidating in ways you may never have thought about.

 

 

The Value of Beef Data

Brenda Schoepp explains that the real value in the commodity beefmarket is in the data!

 

 

Q&A: Tracking Beef Data 

 

Moving Up the Value Triangle

The value triangle illustrates cattle management practices that generate various levels of profitability, ranging from low margins and high volume, to higher margins and lower volume.

Brenda Schoepp explains what each stage of the triangle looks like and how you can ascend the value triangle in terms of your cattle practices and your net return in profit.

Q&A Moving up the Value Triangle 

Expected Progeny Differences Explained

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.
Bull buying season is upon us.  If your house is anything like my family’s, most available surfaces are now piled high with catalogues advertising the next great herdsire. There are many factors that play a role in choosing a new bull for your operation (visual observation, breed, pedigree, actual birth weight, residual feed intake (RFI), weaning weights, breeding soundness evaluation, etc.), but one tool that can aid in herdsire selection has led to a lot of confusion since its first use over 40 years ago. Let’s decipher this valuable tool so you can expertly evaluate potential herdsires as you flip through those sale catalogues.


Expected Progeny Differencess defined

Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are estimates of an animal’s genetic merit as a parent. EPDs are the difference between the predicted average performance of an animal’s future progeny and the average progeny performance of another animal whose EPD is zero, assuming that the bulls are mated to similar cows, or vice versa. For example, if Bull A has a birthweight EPD of +9.0 lbs and Bull B has a birthweight EPD of +3.0 lbs, this means that Bull A’s calves will have birthweights that are 6 lbs heavier than whatever the birthweight of  Bull B’s calves are, on average.

To compensate for differences in environment and management, contemporary groupings are used. Contemporary groups are animals of the same age and sex raised under the same management conditions. Once these factors are accounted for, the genetic component is the part that remains, and that is what EPDs predict. Information used in computing EPDs includes pedigree and performance of the individual animal, all relatives, and progeny. It is often assumed that EPDs are calculated in much the same way as 205 day adjusted weights, but this is not the case. To correctly calculate EPDs, millions of equations must be solved simultaneously.

Many different EPDs exist, from calving ease and weaning weight, to ribeye area and marbling, to cow weight and stayability. EPDs are generally reported in the same units as the traits they measure (pounds for weight traits, square inches for ribeye, etc.).

Continue reading the rest of the article and more about EPD’s at Beef Cattle Research Council

Link Photo courtesy of Chema Concellon

Do you use EPD’s in selecting bulls for your herd? What other information is important to you when selecting your herd sires?

Cattle Need More Water During the Warmer Months

From Farms.com

By Dr. Justin Rhinehart

As the days start to get longer and warmer, cattle will need more water

It is easy to forget that something as common as water is a vitally important nutrient for cattle. “We often take it for granted because it is more abundant here in the southeast than it is in some other parts of the country,” says University of Tennessee Extension animal scientist Justin Rhinehart. “But, in recent years, we have seen times when water was in short supply and the water that was available was poor quality.”

Many factors should be considered when calculating how much water your cattle will need per day. According to Rhinehart, the most important of those factors is the temperature. A 1,000-pound beef cow, for example, requires about 11 gallons of water on a 60-degree day. That same cow would require almost 21 gallons of water—almost double—on a 90-degree day.

Lactating and pregnant cows need special consideration when it comes to rising temperatures. Rhinehart suggests that a mature lactating cow consumes approximately 11.5 gallons of water on a 40-degree day. For each 10-degree increase in temperature, that cow would need to consume about 10 percent more water.

It is important to note that not all, or even a majority, of cattle’s water needs to come directly from drinking. When calculating the water needs of your cattle, be sure to consider their diet. “Pasture forages, green chop, and silage generally contain lower amounts of water.” Elaborates Rhinehart, “Lush forage may consist of approximately 75 percent water, while forage in the form of hay may contain closer to 10 percent water.”

Warming weather can also have an impact on many sources of cattle drinking water. Ponds, springs and streams are far more susceptible to chemical runoff, bacterial contamination and algae blooms during warmer weather. Rhinehart warns that these hazards may stunt the growth of the cattle.

“Water is the most important nutrient for cattle,” Rhinehart reiterates. “Providing adequate and high quality water supplies to cattle at all times is essential for beef cattle operations.”

Link photo by Stux, Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication

The Farm Virgin Ep.2 Frozen Wonders

Thousands of human mothers every year make use of “assisted reproductive technology” to help them get pregnant, or to carry a child as a surrogate mother. But did you know that farmers use very similar practices to improve the genetics of their cattle herd through selective breeding, artificial insemination and embryo transfer? That’s no bull!

On Ben’s first farm visit you’ll learn about how purebred black Angus cattle are bred using some highly advanced yet surprisingly simple techniques. In this episode of The Farm Virgin we visit the Miller-Wilson Angus farm, located in central Alberta, where Lee Wilson is breeding some recipient Angus cows with fertilized frozen embryos.

The Farm Virgin – Episode 2: Frozen Wonders

 

Fly Control for Beef Cattle

Article by Paul Gonzalez, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

My position allows me to work with a variety of producers.  All of them have their own philosophy on how to raise cattle.  No matter how different these may, be they all ask some of the same questions.  One of these is, “What is the best thing for flies?”  I have had this question quite a bit this year, as the flies seem to be worse than normal.  There isn’t really a “best thing” for flies.  What works in one herd may not in another.  The producer with 20 cows may have more time to devote to the herd than a producer with 200.  There are many control programs and all can be effective.  Each producer should consider the options and choose the one that is best for his individual situation.

Horn flies are probably the most important economic fly pest on the list.  They are called horn flies because they tend to congregate at the base of the horns on horned cattle.  In this area we typically find them on the shoulders, down the backs, and on either side of the tail head on cattle.  As the population gets larger, they will spread down the sides onto the legs. Horn flies feed on blood and tend to feed continuously while on the animal.  Five hundred horn flies will remove a pint of blood each day from the host animal.  While a cow is a large animal with a fairly large blood supply, it won’t take many days to become anemic losing this much blood each day.  In the middle of summer, it is not uncommon to find as many as 2,000 flies on an untreated cow and 4,000 to 5,000 on untreated bulls.  Horn flies remain on the host animal all the time.  This fact aids in our efforts to control them.

Face flies, houseflies, and lesser house flies do not feed on blood but cause problems by pestering the cattle and spreading certain diseases.  These flies feed on the secretions from the eyes and nose of the host animal.  Obviously, this would be a source of constant irritation to the animal.  There is also evidence that these flies help spread pinkeye in the herd.  All three of these fly species tend to move from animal to animal, never spending much time on any individual, which makes controlling them more of a challenge.

Stable flies are blood feeders like horn flies but their feeding pattern is like that of the face and houseflies.  They tend to move from animal to animal feeding on each as they go.  Stable flies have been implicated in the transmission of anaplasmosis in cattle.  Anaplasmosis is a blood disorder in cattle that is on the rise in southern herds.  These flies can be effectively controlled by cleaning up old hay piles around feeding sites so that they have no place to lay eggs.

So what can we do to control these pests?  Two insecticides are on the market that can be fed to the animals through various carriers, the most common being a mineral supplement, which are then excreted in the manure.  The flies lay eggs in the manure for the developing larvae to feed on.  The insecticide in the manure stops the larval development and therefore eliminates the emergence of adult flies.  These insecticides have no affect on adult flies.  Since the adults only live for 2 to 3 weeks, control is achieved after this first generation dies.  However, if a neighboring herd (within 2 to 4 miles) is not under a fly control program, there can still be large numbers of adult flies present.  This would dictate using an additional control method or a completely different strategy.

Other control methods include insecticide ear tags, back rubs, dust bags, and hand-applied sprays, dusts, and pour-ons.  The insecticide ear tags, also called fly tags, offer very effective control by killing flies present on the animal and repelling flies that may come at a later date.  Fly tags should not be applied until there are approximately 200 flies per animal present and should be removed in the fall to help prevent pesticide resistance in the fly population.  To further prevent the pesticide resistance, producers should rotate tags used, by active ingredient.  Use an organophosphate tag for two years followed by a pyrethroid tag for one year.  Most fly tags on the market offer protection for 4 to 5 months.  Back rubs and dust bags charged with pesticide are very effective in controlling flies if placed where animals will use them.  Many older cattle will voluntarily use these but others must be forced to use them.  Placing them so that cattle must go under them when accessing water or minerals or from one pasture to another can do this.  The drawback to these devices is that they must be recharged every week or two.  Many times we put them up and then forget to service them during the summer.   The sprays, dusts, and pour-ons work well in most cases.  The biggest problem associated with these is their need to be re-applied every 2 to 3 weeks.  This becomes very labor intensive.  Most of the pour-ons on the market now will provide longer control but still won’t last all season.  One product now claims to have nine-week effectiveness, indicating that you can treat cattle twice during a year and have season long control.

Failure to implement a fly control program for your herd causes reduced performance and lost income.  It is generally thought that every $1 spent on fly control returns $5 to $10.  Some producers think they can’t afford to control flies.  Truth is, they can’t afford not to

 

Article courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Link Photo courtesy of Andy Carter

Want to learn to make your own fly spray? Check out our article DIY fly spray for Horses

How do you handle flies on your cattle? Share with us the method that works best for you.