We all enjoy the beauty of trees in fall colors.  What does this season change mean for the land and animals?  What is nature doing?  How would large herbivores such as buffalo respond to the annual leaf drop?  These are the questions to think about when working with nature.

Elderberry leaves seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Elderberry leaves (bright greenish yellow) seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Grazer or Browser?

Cattle are primarily grazers, preferring grass over broad leaves.  Sheep will generally eat about half grass and half leaves.  Goats are primarily browsers, meaning they prefer leaves (broadleaf weeds and trees) over grass.  All three are ruminants, they have a special stomach called a rumen.  The rumen is full of bacteria that digests the incoming vegetation.  As vegetation is broken down by bacteria, nutrition is released and made available to the animal.

The broad wide mouth of a cow is obviously designed to grab swaths of forage, such as grasses swaying in the prairie and probably one main reason cattle prefer to graze.  Since the main incoming vegetation is grass, the bacteria that best thrive on grass will be dominant in a cow rumen.  It is best to feed the dominant bacteria population in their rumen what they want, and not sending down something the bacteria is not used to, resulting in an upset tummy.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing Leaves?

If a leaf drops on the ground before it is eaten, is that considered Grazing or Browsing?

Cattle aren’t much for climbing trees!  Goats are known to climb somewhat (warning don’t park your car where a goat can climb it).  The cattle herd will browse the lower branches of trees creating a “browse line”.  This time of year the leaves come to the cows!

So why eat leaves if you are a grazer?

  • Tannins
    • These somewhat toxic compounds, mainly found in tree leaves, can actually help animals balance digestive problems.
  • Nutrients
    • Leaves contain different nutrients than grasses.
  • Other
    • Reasons the cattle only know.

You will find warnings to not let cattle have access to this tree leaf or that weed leaf.  These warnings imply cattle are dumb?  Luckily we have smart cattle.  As long as the herd has adequate foraging opportunities, we do not worry about poisonous plants.

  • Our Momma cows teach their calves.
  • If someone gets an upset stomach from something, lesson learned!

We do avoid poison hemlock patches during the winter when hemlock leaves are green and everything else is pretty much brown.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is excluded from this section of stream that was grazed earlier this summer.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is fenced out from this section of stream grazed earlier this summer.

Annual Leaf Drop

With just a little planning we can MOVE the herd for the opportunity to take advantage of the leaf drop.  We let them choose how many and what leaves to graze.  Other things to consider during this graze:

  • Stream channel stability
  • Water quality
  • Wildlife needs

When leaves fall in the stream and dissolve, carbon dioxide is released.  Carbon dioxide plus water creates carbonic acid.  This weak acid breaks down rocks/minerals.  The changed mineral content of the water cycles new minerals through plants and animals.  The break down of rocks is also part of soil formation.

It is easy to see and understand the process described in the photo of the stream and leaves shown above.  But this is the exact same process the cattle herd encourages in our prairie!  When cattle stomp and manure a pasture, the dead grasses release carbon dioxide and moisture in the soil or from rain creates carbonic acid in the prairie soil creating more soil!  What a wonderful design.  Remember the bacteria described in the rumen of the cow?  The exact same process is also going on under our feet in the soil!  SOIL is one huge RUMEN full of all kinds of microbes.  Do you think it is an accident that these processes have a similar design repeated throughout nature?

Grazing and managing cattle in natures image results in:

  • SOIL CATTLE!

    • Nourished by the soil

    • Creating new healthy soil

    • Feeding healthy people

  • Not OIL Cattle!

    • Dependent on fossil fuels (OIL) for:

      • Fertilizer and pesticides

      • Machine planting, harvesting and hauling

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd of SOIL CATTLE always on the Mooooove.

Unfortunately, our beef is not normal.

Looking at a “normal distribution” of HOW all beef is raised in our country, we are definitely weird!

Normal is for the masses, we like being weird!  No status quo around here.  Actually, if you look at the pattern of nature and IF you consider nature normal, then yes we are normal.  That is why we say, “unfortunately, our beef is not normal”.  We hope in the future that pasture raised beef will be the norm, until then, we choose to be weird.

Fortunately our weird is some folks normal.  We are currently seeing great demand for our beef and are happy to spread the word and connect interested customers with other weird beef producers.

Weird vs Normal beef:

Weird vs Normal Beef

The problem with normal food.

Seth Godin points out that “Normal diets made it easier for mass food manufacturers to generate a profit.”  We have seen the results of the Standard American Diet (standard = normal).  Our society has reached a point where some of the masses are realizing that their diet is directly linked to their overall health and they are seeking out healthy/weird food.

“We are all on a diet, be on a healthy one!” – Dr. Joseph Mercola

Being weird is not easy, as Godin also points out, “Do the hard work – be real.”  For real health, you are going to have to do some work!  Raising REAL BEEF, in natures image requires some hard work and commitment.  Give us a call and come see some Weird Beef.  As Dave always says:

“Be Weird!” – Dave Ramsey

(If you have comments, please leave a message on the DS Family Farm FaceBook Page.)

Viewer discretion advised, cow pies ahead!

Healthy looking cow pie in a recently grazed paddock.

Healthy looking cow pie!  Early April on a grazed paddock (stockpile forage and hay).

We all know cows communicate by mooing.  Cows also communicate through their “back-end”.  Note the caption under the cow pie photo above.  A “healthy looking” cow pie means the cows are healthy!  We, I mean Doug, spends a lot of time looking down (at cow pies).  A cow pie will tell you how the cows are doing nutritionally.

Want to learn more about how to “read” a cow pie?

Here are two posts from The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation (Oklahoma):

Let’s talk quantity

A cow will poop and pee around 4 times every 24 hours.  The cow consumes about 3% of her body weight in grass every day.  Remember a cow cannot digest grass.  That’s around 30 pounds (every day) a cow grazes to feed the microbes living in her special stomach (called the rumen).  The trillions of microbes inside of her convert grass into nutrients she can use.  It is her job to manage the microbes in her rumen by selecting the best possible diet.  It is our job to give her the right size paddock to be able to select the right balance of forages for those little critters inside of her.  In the end or should I say OUT the END we gain lots of manure (about 80% what goes in comes out!).  Manure is fine when grazing on pasture, not so good for feedlots you drive by with cattle standing around in mud or on dirt.

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.

Nice manure distribution.  About 25 lbs of Nitrogen per acre.

After taking the photo above I marked out a 2000 square foot area and counted about 70 PIES.  That comes to about one pie every 30 square feet.  A quick estimate = 1,110 pounds of manure per acre!

Let’s talk quality (nutrient value)

Did you know you can have manure tested?  If you are interested in the process, visit the folks at Texas A&M University.  The Grazing Animal Nutrition Lab has the corner on the manure testing market with their Nutritional Balance Analyzer (NUTBAL) system (NUTBAL Facebook page).  Basically you take a scoop or two from a number of pies, put it in a plastic bag, freeze it and send it to the GANLAB.  At the lab, they slip some manure under a near infrared analysis machine and compare it to a database of known results.  Using the information they estimate the herds future condition based on a current cow pie test.  Based on the results, the herds diet can be adjusted to meet a limiting need such as energy or protein.  Let’s just say, sometimes the results don’t quite match what we see in our visual cow pie testing.  We are a little bit out of the norm for the database being used.

Collecting a sample for analysis.

Collecting a sample for analysis.

Total Output

Using the actual manure test results we find reported Nitrogen and Phosphorus values.  Running averages on our herd size and also checking against UN-L book values for feedlot manure, following are some estimates for our herd:

  • Cow herd was leaving behind ~1100 lbs. of manure per acre
    • (Refer to the distribution photo above)
  • Nutrient Value of Manure:
    • 15-20 lbs. of Nitrogen per acre
    • 2 to 4 lbs. of Phosphorus per acre
      • Note our Phosphorus value is low compared to UN-L book values
  • Urine Nitrogen (N consumed – N found in Manure – N in new animal growth)
    • 10-15 lbs of Nitrogen per acre
    • It takes 0.04 lbs of Nitrogen for 1 lbs of animal growth

Our overall estimate for Nitrogen per acre = 25 lbs based on our herd management and manure distribution.  Reading UN-L information, up to 25% of feed lot manure will be lost to the atmosphere depending on temperature and moisture.  For our pasture situation, we think our loss would be lower.

Summary

This post was mainly for Doug’s reference.  Thank you to the folks at the GANLAB for their guidance in running some of my calculations.  Feel free to scrutinize the estimates here and we will adjust this post as more information becomes available.  Our estimates are based on a specific herd size at a specific time and place using field and lab information.  To make some rough calculations for any herd size I would start with the following values:

For each 1000 lbs of animals in the herd:

  • 0.25 lbs of Nitrogen per day output
  • Subtract 0.04 lbs of Nitrogen for every pound of new animal growth per day
    • Consider a feed test to check total Nitrogen going into the herd/animal
    • Crude protein lbs intake / 6.25 = Nitrogen intake
  • Consider a percent loss to atmosphere
  • What is the distribution?
    • If manure is piling up in a lot, under a tree or next to a water source, we are not recycling nutrients properly.
    • We should always be looking at ways to improve animal impact.

How is our beef different from 99% of other beef?  We keep the herd in MOTION.  This requires planning, implementing and tracking.  Grazing guru Joel Salatin says it this way, “I’m just the orchestra conductor, making sure everybody’s in the right place at the right time.”  His way of saying we are practicing “precision agriculture” 3 R’s; right place, right time and right amount.

The high-tech “precision ag” tools we use every day:

  1. Braided poly/stainless steel/tinned copper wire
  2. Electric pulse fencer
  3. Grazing Schedule – digital maps

The poly wire (1) and electric fencer (2), keeps the herd IN the right place.  Our grazing schedule is the tool that keeps everything in MOTION (right time).  Folks have developed many different techniques to create and keep up a grazing schedule.  We do it with digital maps, very simply, in what is called a geographic information system (GIS).

DS Family Farm Grazing Schedule in a Geographic Information System (GIS).

DS Family Farm Grazing Schedule in a Geographic Information System (GIS).

The most important part of our Grazing Schedule are the principles behind our moves.  We use the GIS to help us follow these principles:

  • Provide a fresh pasture break nearly every day of the year.
  • Prevent re-bite on any fresh grass regrowth.
  • Graze, followed by plant rest AND recovery.
  • Rotate date of use each year.
  • Current animal needs, including wildlife.

Here is a simple example how our Grazing Schedule works:

Deciding where to move next using digital maps.

Deciding where to move next using digital maps.

  • View on left, today end of March 2017, the herd is near the large solid orange triangle.  The yellow lines outline the paddocks we have grazed this winter (no grass to graze in these small blocks).  The larger open areas with question [?] marks are where we could go next.
  • In the view on the right, I turned on black lines and “dates” that show our grazing during this time period from a year ago.  Last year at the orange triangle (where the herd is now) we grazed in June meeting our principle of not grazing at basically the same time of year.  I have placed a yellow [X] over areas that have a [?] mark in the left photo.  We want to avoid these areas based on the timing we grazed during the previous year and some other factors.
    • So the remaining open areas in the right view are options for where we will graze next.

If you look again at the right view map, note that our “moves” or “paddocks” are rarely the same (yellow lines versus black lines).  Most cattle grazing across the country is on permanent pasture areas getting grazed the same year after year.  At DS Family Farm our cow herd grazes different patterns across the landscape every year, creating chaos and diversity.  We feel this is better for the grass, animals, wildlife and overall ecosystem of our pasture.

We schedule cows to move! This is why we call our beef “Pasture Grazed” and not just “GRASSFED”.

Grazing paddocks 2014 - 2017, chaotic and on the move.

Some grazing paddocks, 2014 – 2017, chaotic and on the move.

 

Visit our farm if you are curious about how we care for the herd and pastures.  Public roads boarder two sides of the farm, so drive by inspections are possible any day of the year.  Please call ahead to make sure we are around if you would like to see the herd first hand.

Annual Farm Audit

If you are not able to visit the herd or wouldn’t know what to look for, we are glad to have an annual inspection to verify our beef herd as:

  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Grassfed
Who is inspecting who?

Who is inspecting who?
Kim Alexander recently visited the herd as part of our annual Animal Welfare/Certified Grassfed audit.

Auditor Kim Alexander visited the farm this year.  This was our second audit and a new auditor comes each year.  Kim walked the pasture and inspected the herd.  The audit is completed every 11 months.  This allows inspectors to view the operation during different portions of the year (growing season versus non-growing season).  Following the field review, we spent some time going over plans and records for our beef operation.

Auditors Know Their Stuff

Kim just doesn’t check boxes as an auditor, he practices what he reviews on his own farm.  What a great opportunity to have an experienced grazer like Kim come and look over our operation.  We shared some ideas and gained some insights to what we are doing and how we could improve.

Change Is Good

We have a few years of grazing under our belt now but every year is different.  What worked last year may not work this year.  When working with mother nature we need to be ready to adapt.  The factory where we produce beef for your table is not a climate controlled building with a consistent stream of incoming parts.

Change Is Required

That is what Kim was checking on.  Are we ready to provide for our herd when the unexpected happens?

  • Records document what happened.
  • Records help us compare from year to year.
  • Plans make us consider our pasture and our herd.
  • Plans make us prepare for emergency situations.

If you are curious about the different plans and records we keep, just drop us an email.  We would be happy to share with you what we are doing.