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.

We are not talking about that fly in your house!  What about those bugs that live inside our cattle?

Prior to becoming Animal Welfare Approved, we didn’t think much about the bugs inside our cows.  We had heard about using a microscope to check for “worm eggs” in cow manure but as much as Doug likes looking at cow pies, this seemed a little bit odd.  Actually, we just didn’t know how to go about it.  Annual testing for internal parasites is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Approved process.

Brown stomach worm life cycle, image source: Beef Cattle Research Council (http://www.beefresearch.ca/).

Brown stomach worm life cycle, image source: Beef Cattle Research Council (http://www.beefresearch.ca/).

During our first Animal Welfare certification process, the inspector told us to just take a manure sample to a veterinarian.  How simple!  Fifteen dollars later we had a worm egg count.  With our animals on pasture all the time, we figured we were good.  The June 2016 report actually told us that at our egg count number of 1200 per gram was bad, we were losing production!

A toxic wormer was not an option for our herd.  Doug reviewed notes from previous training.  The solution we used this past year was a non toxic supplementation approach:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Diatomaceous Earth
  • Salt

We created a mix of equal parts of the above three items and fed it to the herd in a tub.  In addition, during the fall and early spring we added Cina homeopathic remedy to their water.

Results

The June 2017 egg count report came back at 200 eggs per gram.  The veterinarian told us to keep doing what we were doing as this is a very good – low egg count.

Is a non-toxic supplementation program a solution?

We are happy with our results from last years efforts, but it did take effort.

  • What if we managed grazing heights better?
  • What if we moved more often?

We believe we can lower worm eggs with just better grazing management.  Look again at the image above.  Apparently the larvae can only climb the vegetation so high.

  • Keeping grazing heights higher should reduce larvae ingestion.

As for more often moves.  In a recent Stockman Grass Farmer article, grazier Greg Judy does an excellent job explaining how he has reduced herd health issues with more frequent moves!

Our goal at DS Family Farm is to give a fresh section of pasture to the herd every day.  This past year we have implemented providing TWO moves to fresh pasture during a day on occasion.  We understand that even more moves (4 or more per day) would benefit both the animals and the grass even further.  Think of the roaming herds of buffalo with moves when they wanted.

Balance and How

It all comes back to balance.  There are only so many hours in a day.  We always remember our WHY we do what we do.  We provide clean meat for peace of mind.

  • HOW we produce clean meat is always a work in progress.

Feel free to join us on our journey of how we continue to improve our management in our attempts to mimic nature.

 Email us or give us a call if you would like to visit our in MOOOTION herd, the herd on the move.

Raising Pasture Grazed grassfed beef from conception to table is not an easy task.  We may have four different animal classes in our herd at any one time.  But it all starts with the COW, the factory on our farm!

Cow Factory

THE COW FACTORY – here she is milking this year’s calf (far left) while grooming her calf from two years ago. Her two-year old calf on the right will be harvested this fall.

We make our cows work, they must:

  1. Conceive and raise a calf each year
  2. Raise that calf providing milk for 8+ months
    1. Refer to Weaning Weight Post 2015
    2. Weaning at an older age fully develops the calf’s rumen for grass based production.
  3. While milking a calf for 8+ months, she is developing her next calf inside her.
  4. While milking this years calf, she will watch over her previous two calves in a low stress herd environment.
  5. Graze our pastures in nature’s pattern to improve our pastures soil and grasses!

WOW!

We ask a lot from our cows, but they love their job from what we can tell.  They are definitely a factory when you look at all they crank out.  The cows do all the above listed items and all we give them are:

If a cow cannot do all five functions listed above (calf every year while grazing every day) she is removed from the herd.  No slackers allowed.  There are very few cows that can do what we ask of our girls.  We are just trying to mimic how nature works here in our small pastures.  There is a movement underway across this country with more folks farming in natures image.  This movement is called Regenerative Agriculture.  We are not just “sustaining” our natural resources but IMPROVING our soils and grass while creating product!  If you would like to support the Regenerative Agriculture movement,  seek out products from these growers.  Will these products be higher priced?  Most likely yes.  For the higher price you will get a better quality product and your health will thank you for it.

Let’s just say it takes an amazing Factory to deliver a product while at the same time improving its environment to repeat the cycle in the future.  Take another look at what is happening in the photo.  This photo is a great way to display why we are “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Grassfed Certified”.  Farming in nature’s image, trying to work within God’s design (without messing it up too much).

Cow Factory

DS Family Farm – raising beef using God’s design.  Letting Cows be Cows!  The steer on the right will be harvested this fall after living two plus years in the same herd with its mother.  Always on pasture, never confined to a lot, never fed corn or other grains.  Come see and taste the difference.

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.