Head ’em up, Move ’em on – RAWHIDE!  I have to admit this brings back memories of the Blues Brothers more than it does of Clint Eastwood (Rowdy Yates).  To be clear, we are not much for Head ’em up around here.  No whips, yelling or any other commotion near our herd.  Low stress = high quality beef.  (music provided at end of post)

Move ’em ON!

Fresh grass – MOVE – fresh grass – MOVE, is the name of the game at DS Family Farm.  The way nature made the prairies is the method we use to restore and improve our pastures.  Cows have legs and we believe they aren’t made for standing in lots.  So what does Move ’em on look like?  Here is a recent example:

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would remain in place after about 3 days (dashed line).

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would stay in place after about 3 days (dashed line).  Tap photo for larger view.

In the above photo we start with the herd on November 26th near a water tank.  Temporary wire fences are put up moving away from the tank.  This photo on November 30th, shows the first 4 paddocks have been grazed, cattle have moved into the 5th paddock (most of the cows are just over the hill out of view).  ATV tracks are visible along the future paddock lines, smashed down grass so we can install the fences.  Small square bales are also visible in future paddocks.  This is our non-growing season and we are supplementing the stockpiled grass with hay.  If these moves were during the growing season we would prevent the herd from grazing previous paddocks after the third move (it takes grass about 3 days to start re-growing after being bitten off and we don’t want cows biting off new grass).

Sounds like work?

Paddock setup does take some time but in a few hours we are done with 3 days of moves.  Here’s how automatic Batt Latch gate openers and electric poly wire technology allows the cows to do most of the work:

moves_from_tank

This setup allows us three days off from herd moves.

In the example shown above the cows have just moved into the 11/30 paddock (as you can see they are busy working).  On November 30th we will setup two Batt Latch gate openers on the next two fence lines and a third fence line will stop the cattle from proceeding any further.  We don’t need to show up to work again until December 3rd!

Cows doing the work they love

Don’t get us wrong, we love working with the cows, but this technology gives us flexibility in our schedule.  This setup allows us to do a quick drive by to see if the cows have moved.  Fresh grass and move, fresh grass and move, this is the key to soil health, grassland health, cattle health and ultimately your health.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

We hope you have enjoyed this post and we invite you to stop by sometime to see our herd in MOTION.  Always pasture grazed, never in lots for your health and ours.  We leave you with some Move ’em on entertainment:

 

In our solar powered steer post we described how cattle will select the tips of plants first, grazing to capture the highest amount of energy available.  We call this grazing off the “ice cream”.  Here is a video link from this past weekend of the herd entering a new patch and grazing the tips off what some would call weeds (we call them forbs and our cattle love them) – Instagram Video – Grazing Plant Tips For Energy @dsfamilyfarm.

eastern gamagrass grazing

Cattle entering fresh paddock of eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides), aka the “ice cream grass”, early July 2015.  Steer on right side of photo tongue sticking out licking the ice cream!

Almost all plants have some part of “ice cream” (high energy) but one native plant has been nick named the “ice cream grass” – eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides).  I first became interested in eastern gama during the summer of 1985 while working in Falls City Nebraska for the Soil Conservation Service.  This area of the state still had small native stands of eastern gama.  The story goes that grazing ice cream grass by early settlers cattle almost wiped the grass out.   Since the 1990’s seed has become readily available and we have reintroduced this native grass in higher moisture soils that were previously invaded by non-native bromegrass and reeds canary grass.

grazing eastern gamagrass

Cattle have been in this patch of ice cream grass for about 24 hours late August 2015. Note tall giant ragweed stems stripped of leaves in front of closest steer in photo.

In the photo above the cattle are milling around waiting to move to a fresh patch.  Note this almost solid stand of eastern gamagrass has been evenly grazed to about cow shoulder height.  The herd has grazed the highest energy part of the leaves and left the rest.  We could “force” the herd to keep eating down the remaining leaves but if we move, two good things happen:

  1. The cattle move to fresh grass and eat the “ice cream” (high energy part) of the ice cream grass.
  2. The grass we leave behind as shown above, has good leaf area ready to capture photosynthesis and start regrowth.
Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

In the above photo we have let down the temporary poly fence to allow the cattle to move into a fresh paddock.  A win-win situation for the cattle and the grass.

Grazing Tall

Stringing temporary poly wire fence through eastern gamagrass is a challenge. Here the cattle have moved into a fresh patch on the far side of the wire.

Greg Judy of Missouri has a chapter devoted to eastern gamagrass in his book “Comeback Farms“, which is worth the read.  He describes using a mob of dry cows to graze eastern gamagrass down further than what we show here.  It just depends on your goals.  In our herd we have cows with calves, yearling steers and grass finishing beef (2-year-old steers).  So we are now grazing with animal condition in mind.  This winter after the grass finished beeves are harvested, we will graze a little more with the land in mind.

As we have stated before our herd is 100% pasture grass-fed, no grain feeding.  One unique note about eastern gamagrass is that it is believed to be related to maize (corn).  The root systems are not similar at all.  The leaves of eastern gama are wide like corn and take a look at the seed head in the photo below.  Note that above the seed, the male portion of the plant is similar to a corn tassel.  The seed is large but harder than a kernel of corn.  None the less I am sure our cattle consume some of these ice cream grass seeds:

  • It helps spread the plant around the pastures
  • It is the closest thing to corn our cattle will ever consume!

easterngama_seedhead

Weaning time can be stressful for cow, calf and cowboy.  Traditionally, weaning calves meant to separate the cows and calves by distance.  For example the herd was brought into a corral where calves would be separated from the cows.  The cows would then be sent out to pasture and leave the calves in a lot or ship the calves off to a pasture elsewhere.  The traditional process was stressful due to the handling and separation of calves from momma.

During our first year of weaning calves we tried a technique called fence line weaning.  Where we physically separated the cow and calves but placed them along a fence to remain near each other.  The cow and calf could still see and touch each other but the fence made nursing impossible.

Sorting calves.

Fence line wean step 1, cows and calves together feeding on hay, we gently sorted the calves and quickly put up a portable fence to separate the herd.

fenceline wean

Fence line wean step 2, lead the herds into a paddock with a permanent fence to keep the cows and claves separate. In this photo a permanent two wire electric fence with cows on left and calves on right.

We were happy with the low stress results of fence line weaning our 2013 born calves last spring.  The drawback to this system, you end up with two herds to move.  In the photo above we simply moved both herds along the fence line toward the camera position.  We kept the cows and calves in the two herds for about 40 days before combining them back into a single herd.  When calves returned to their mothers, a couple of calves tried to nurse but were quickly kicked away by the cow.  When the cows had their 2014 calves and the new calves started nursing, we had one cow that allowed her 2013 fence line weaned yearling to start nursing her again.  This was unacceptable as the new calf would not be getting enough milk and nutrition.  At that point we installed a weaning ring into the nose of the yearling to prevent it from stealing milk from its younger sibling.

As an alternative, this year we are trying weaning rings in all 2014 calves.  This did force us to bring the calves into our coral and run them through the catch gate to insert the rings.  It is a fairly easy process and the calves did not seem to annoyed.  Here is a 20 second video of Jacob inserting a weaning ring:

The result is a single herd with some temporarily frustrated calves that can no longer figure out how to nurse.  The rings in their nose prevent normal sucking.  Both the fence line and nose ring methods are fairly low stress on cows, calves and cowboy.  The weaning ring requires a little more labor up front but will save us time and hassle by allowing us to keep moving just one herd rather than two.  Plus we can leave the rings in long enough to make sure no new calves are having their milk stolen by their older sibling.

weaning rings

Calves just weaned with nose rings. The ring or paddle prevents the calf from normal nursing. Calves allowed to stay with mother. Low stress situation for the entire herd since there is not physical separation.

We will be weaning calves later this week.  Our grassfed cows work year round, but we do give the cows about two months off from providing milk to a calf.  The last calf crop was born mid-May 2014 and the calves have had momma’s milk for the past 10 months.  This allows adequate time for the calf rumen (special stomach for grass digesting) to become fully developed.  The calf is now ready to turn grass into nutrition and ultimately beef for the rest of its life.  Actually the amount of milk the cow has provided daily has probably dropped significantly over the past few months.  Yet the calf has been getting a nice dose of that all important drink to keep the calf growing through this important time of life.

sucking calf

This 10 month old calf is taking advantage of momma’s milk just before weaning day.

This photo is our smallest cow letting her calf suck just the other day.  We are not trying to wean heavy calves so we can brag about weaning weight.  I wish we did have a scale to weigh our animals but we just are not a big operation at this point.  From the looks of it, this cow, which probably weighs 950 lbs. will be weaning a calf that I estimate at 575 lbs. or greater.  She has accomplished raising this calf on an all grass diet of stockpiled forage with supplemental hay.  Lets take a look at the percentage of weight that the cow was able to wean.  Weaning a 575 lbs. calf / 950 lbs. cow = 60% of the cows weight weaned in the calf.  Not all of our cows are this small, but I think it is safe to say that most of our cows will wean a calf around 50% of her own weight.  Of course they will do it on an all forage diet.

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd.

Last July we posted a few photos of the first steers we will have available later this year as grassfed – grassfinished beef.  The steers have lost some of that summer time sickness and put on their winter coats.  Finishing these animals are a work in progress.  We are not feeding these steers any different from what is available to our cow/calf herd.

Will these steers finish and provide a quality eating experience later this year?  Time will tell.  For now we continue on our journey to producing an all pastured beef (no corn or corn stalk grazing allowed).

Born and raised right here.  This steer has lived his entire life with his mother near his side.

Born and raised right here. This steer has lived his entire life with his mother near his side.

Fresh stockpiled forage available every day, no standing in manured feedlots.

Fresh stockpiled forage available every day, no standing in manured feedlots.

Green hay helps keep the rumen (stomach) microbes functioning.

Green hay helps keep the rumen (stomach) microbes functioning.

18 month old steer grazing stockpiled forage January 2015.

18 month old steer grazing stockpiled forage January 2015. In background, neighbors cows graze corn stalks.

This 2015 grassfed beef progress report 1 will be followed up with additional updates until these steers are harvested.  Feel free to post a comment or email any questions you may have.