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More Grass Than Cattle – What Do You Do?

By   /  May 22, 2017  /  8 Comments

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This week we’re sharing some questions from readers that we think you, the On Pasture Community, will have some good answers for. One reader wants to know about grass finishing cows purchased at the sale barn. John Marble has provided one right answer, and we think you’ll have other thoughts. We’d also like you to share some advice with Zoltan Lengyel, a long-time On Pasture readers from Hungary. Here’s what he wrote to us:

I have a bit of a dilemma. I’m doing/want to do management intensive grazing, but I have way less cattle than land and can’t buy any more for a while. So as I see it I have a “few” options:

• Going for the every blade of grass is trampled/eaten effect, and
– do every cell [paddock], giving them a rest of around 1.5 years,
– do a chunk of the land, grazing each cell once a year and hay the rest,
– do a chunk of the land graze and come back immediately after “full rest”, and do hay on the rest

• Going for full utilization of the land,
– size the cells for once a year or full rest grazing regardless of herd size,
– mow after they’ve left the cell. Mowing can be real haymaking, or just topping thee forages, and I can also do some stockpiling, but I can’t leave it just standing for years, we have laws against that.

Here’s one of Zoltan’s pastures.

Some hay is needed for winter, we have laws against grazing in the winter mud. And some hay could be sold. I’m feeling a bit uneasy about selling the hay (because of the fertility that leaves with the hay), but this land was an alfalfa hay field for the last 20 years, so 1 more year couldn’t hurt that much, or could it? The money could be used to get more cattle.

Our climate is hot and dry summers, all the green is gone around mid July, rain starts around the end of October, and it’s muddy until March, every few years we have a good frost (-15C for a few weeks), but most of the time we have frozen nights and muddy days.

We have about 250 acres of land and I plan to buy/rent other 50 or so before the end of the year.

About 1/3rd of the land is in one big field, alfalfa and some native grasses/forbes. This was our worst field. It was hayed for 20 years without fertilization. It is currently about 1.2% organic matter, heavy clay lowland. Twenty acres of it is marshland (I use that for pigs). Here we graze 15 cows, 20 sheep and 500-1000 poultry.

Hungarian Grey Cattle are native to Hungary. From Wikipedia: “Hungarian Grey cattle are slender and tall. The bulls reach a height of 145 to 155 cm and a weight of 800 to 900 kg, the cows 135 to 140 cm and 500 to 600 kg. The color ranges from silvery-white to ash-grey. The calves are born wheat-colored, and become grey at about three months old. Hungarian Grey cattle are robust, unpretentious, easy-calving and long-lived. Their horns are directed upward and are long and curved.” They are known for early maturity, quality beef and are believed to be resistant to disease that affect other breeds.

The rest of our land is either alfalfa or some arable crop. We’re converting the farm to certified organic, and this is the reason I can’t buy more cows: I’m only allowed to add 10% in a year, from a non-organic breeder. We don’t have an affordable organic source of our chosen breed, Hungarian Grey, which originated in our area.

What’s your take on this?

Thanks,

Zoltan

Help us help an On Pasture Community member. Share some ideas with him about how he can get the most out of his grass as he grows his herd and soil fertility.

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  • Published: 5 months ago on May 22, 2017
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  • Last Modified: May 22, 2017 @ 11:04 am
  • Filed Under: The Scoop

About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

8 Comments

  1. Bruce Howlett says:

    You have several challenges. You are seriously understocked relative to forage production, you have summer drought, and you have wet winters when grazing is inadvisable or illegal. Your rules for Organic certification differ from those in the US, but under US rules you could graze other livestock, certified-Organic or not, without affecting the land certification. You could bring in other animals to custom graze. Or, you could produce hay for sale. I’d set aside your best alfalfa land for hay since you have so much extra, and harvest no more than 2 crops per year. You should be able to stockpile forage from July through October: leave the pasture to grow in the spring, then one pass across during the summer. Wetter fields may be ready last, spreading out the grazing through the season. If the residence time is short during the winter, you should be able to graze drier pastures well into the wet season, feeding hay only during the wettest months. Not a simple system!

  2. Bob Kinkead says:

    In the U.S. we say to manage for what you want not against what you don’t want. This is a way of saying think positive not negative or can in stood of can’t. Lease the land out lease more cows in. If all else fails use a cover crop terminator roller, that is as close to animal impacr as you can get.

  3. Patrick Tobola says:

    Check out what Jim Elizondo has recently done in Florida. He has found that management decisions also must be made based on the nutrient value of the grass throughout the year. He started out with primarily bahia grass on the ranch and found that it needed to be grazed very often during the growing season to maintain nutrient value and lost most of its value after 60 days. He calls it low octane grass. Long rest periods produced poor quality forage but lots of carbon that can be trampled to the ground. His solution was to cut the ranch in half, give one half a full years rest and manage the other half to optimize cattle production by supplementation as needed when the grass does not provide adequate nutrients, then swap sides the next year and repeat.

  4. Jess Jackson Jr says:

    You are asking good questions. You mention that organic cattle in your area are not affordable.

    My question would be if you can have some one else’s organic cattle graze on your land for a fee so that you get extra money. Or that you get a percentage of the calf crop for letting them graze as a faster way to build your herd.

    I don’t know your economic situation but charging for others to graze your land with their organic livestock could help pay for the fertilizer needed to rebuild the soils after years of haying if you have access to fish fertilizer or other organic sources.

    Otherwise rotating in a compact group during 1st and 2nd trimester to get the urine and manure evenly distributed across the land and then the long rest that you describe should help rebuild the soils and forage fairly rapidly.

    I am interested in how long it takes to get an increase in organic matter from the current 1.2% with good grazing management in your climate.

    Best Wishes

  5. tauna powell says:

    It’s difficult to have suggestions without being on your farm and understanding the laws you face in controlling what you can or cannot do. There are far more qualified persons on here than me to help you, but i do want to comment that your cattle are gorgeous! I do blog occasionally about what i’m doing on my farm. Most of us have challenges as well as advantages. https://tannachtonfarm.wordpress.com/

  6. mike wallace says:

    What is the average rainfall?

  7. Martin says:

    With an intensive farm like that , excess grass and the nutrient within , need to be utilized to get more Carbon into the soil .

    My suggestion would be to cut the excess grass with a forage harvester , cart it to a central area to the low carbon area of the farm , then compost it in windrows . Apply that to the low carbon paddock .

    Some of the grass could be turned into biochar/charcoal for adding to the compost ….

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