Category: Customer interview

Casting Shade on Nutrient Management


For beef and dairy farms, crop fertility is ranked as a leading expense, second to the cost of the land. Rotational grazing practices address the pasture fertility issue, moving animals from paddock to paddock every three days. Through this practice, the animals return nutrients to the pasture by grazing, drinking water and depositing the nutrients back on the paddock. A blazing hot sun presents challenges to rotational grazing practices.

“The issue then is not the addition of nutrients, it’s the distribution of nutrients,” explains Wisconsin beef farmer and managed grazer Jim Munsch. “There are university studies that say without shade, most of the nutrients tend to gravitate toward the water source in the paddock. On a hot day, if you have no shade, the animals will either stand on the highest part of the paddock to get the breeze, or they will stand around the water point.”

If there are trees in a pasture, animals will congregate there and deposit minerals primarily in that area. Munsch adds that “true converts to rotational grazing” considered trees as weeds, for that very reason. On a hot day, animals migrate toward them, resulting in unequal distribution of nutrients in the paddock. The solution, eliminate the trees.

Yet, without shade, the animals suffer, and any farmer raising livestock is concerned about animal comfort. Dairy cows are especially susceptible to heat stress, which impacts production and ultimately the bottom line.

Enter Shade Haven

“This in my view is a movable tree,” says Munsch. “Wherever you need nutrients, wherever nutrients have negative migration…a way to get nutrients back into that place is to bring shade there on a sunny day. Shade Haven allows you to move nutrients where you want them. For instance, in my paddock I move cows every day. Here in Wisconsin you can occupy a paddock five or six times during the year. So you have five or six opportunities to move nutrients where you want them.”

The standard time animals stay in a paddock is three days. If all three of those days are sunny, Munsch moves the Shade Haven structure within the paddock daily. “It’s like parking your manure spreader in a place. So if you have a high concentration of animals under there for a good part of the day, you are going to want to move it.”

It’s also wise to move the structure after heavy rains that have saturated the soil. “If the ground is soft, after a couple inches of rain, they are going to beat that little piece of land up pretty bad.”

The nitrogen dilemma

Nitrogen is a typical add to soil by many conventional farmers. Purchasing nitrogen can be expensive. Munsch argues that nitrogen can be added to the soil by encouraging legumes to grow in your pasture. Legumes fix nitrogen from the air. “In fact there is a net positive on nitrogen simply by encouraging legumes to grow on your pasture,” Munsch says. “The economic trade off is legumes for nitrogen, so you don’t have to buy nitrogen, and animals take care of the distribution of nutrients within a paddock for phosphorus and potash and trace minerals, needed to maintain the health of the legumes.”

“On our farm, we have not applied purchased fertilizer to our grazing land in 25 years,” adds Munsch. “This is a product of managing animal distribution and selective out-wintering.”

With dairy cows, who are very susceptible to heat stress, Shade Haven is effective with the distribution of nutrients that keep the pasture healthy and fertile. “The thing that keeps them [dairy cows] in the barn is the shade,” notes Munsch. “By facilitating the animals to spend time in the paddock by providing shade you are moving nutrients out of the barn, out of the lanes, and onto the paddocks.”

Mobile shelter makes cool investment for cattle operation

Keeping cattle cool in the summer months can be a challenge. Especially with the record heat and humidity the Mid-Atlantic region has seen this month. For Calvert County farmer Jason Leavitt, a portable shade structure has been a huge help.

“For me, not providing shade isn’t really an option,” said Leavitt, owner of Wilson Dowell Farm in Owings, Md. “They can survive without shade, but in my opinion, this isn’t a survivability contest.”

Leavitt keeps the cattle on pasture year round. When his grandfather was raising cattle, they had access to streams and shade in the wooded areas. Now, as part of best management practices, Leavitt’s 300-acre farm is surrounded by extensive fencing systems. While the fences help to improve water quality and soil erosion, they also limit the cattle’s access to natural shade.

Edward Draper, the Wye Angus program manager at the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center said that in a grazing system, providing adequate shade and fresh water are key. Without it, the effects are diminished production.

“The more time they spend out on pasture, the better. If they’re in the shade instead of grazing, they’re not eating. This means they’re not producing as much milk which can prevent calves from growing,” Draper said.

Leavitt said he considered planting trees in the pasture, but they are slow to establish. He said he made attempts to create his own shade structures. They were either stationary, which destroyed the grass and concentrated nutrients in one spot, or they were too cumbersome to move. Ultimately, Leavitt found Shade Haven, a company out of Wisconsin that specializes in portable shade units. The initial investment was high, Leavitt said. The structure he bought cost about $18,000. He estimates it will pay for itself in four years, though.

“If I didn’t have it, I couldn’t do what we’re doing now,” Leavitt said.

In a rotational grazing system, Leavitt said he needs 25 to 50-percent more pasture, depending on the forage type, in the summer compared to the spring and fall. The shade structure reduces his need to feed hay because he can fully utilize his pastures. He said he’s saved about $5,000 in hay that he would have had to purchase this summer without the portable shade.

“We’re still feeding some hay, but not nearly as much. I’d rather have them eating live green plants all the time,” Leavitt said.

The structure looks like a helicopter with a round canopy that is just over 38 feet in diameter. It’s covered in 80-percent shade cloth that provides 1,200 square feet of shade at high noon.
Leavitt said the tiny holes in the cloth create convection, which generates airflow.

“It’s tends to be cooler under the shade structure than in natural shade. The cattle actually prefer it,” Leavitt said.

Draper said at the Wye they are fortunate to be able to provide shade with trees. For some producers, though, mobile shade can be effective.

“It would be important to move it every day or so, so that the cattle don’t make a mess in one spot,” Draper said.

Pasture quality is important to Leavitt’s operation. The continuous grazing is made easier with the portable shade structure. He said have multiple forage species is also critical.

“In the spring, grass could come back and be grazable in two weeks. This time of year, it could be a month. That’s why it’s important to not have a monoculture of forage species,” Leavitt explained.

His pastures are a mix of millet and fescue. This year, he also planted five acres of Sudan grass which has thrived in the heat and humidity. Leavitt went through the Maryland Grazer’s Network mentorship program last year and hopes to do more with annuals and seasonal grasses. Overall, Leavitt said he was pleased with his investment. He’s seen real value in improved efficiency, but said the intangible benefits are equally as important to him.

“If it ends up being more expensive or less efficient, I can live with that. I feel that it is the right thing to do,” Leavitt said.

By JAMIE CLARK TIRALLA, AFP Correspondent, Aug 20, 2016. See the story on Americanfarm.com.

 

Keep Your Cows Cool, Build Better Pasture, and Test New Grass Seeds All Under the Shade Haven.

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Hello, I am Lars Bergan, one of the owners here at Shade Haven and the recent buyer of my very own unit.

Like many of you, I did not jump up immediately and buy. I had to think about it. With only 12 beef cows, I didn’t think my farm was big enough, and I wasn’t sure I could justify it, should I buy a new manure spreader instead? But last winter I made the decision to buy. I have owned it for one season now and I can assure you firsthand that the SH1200 is a wonderful product.

Though it is wonderfully easy to move, I will confess that I did not move the Shade every day.  The longest I had the cows underneath it on one spot was three days, and if those days were hot ones, there was definitely perfectly round impression made on the landscape.

Turns out, these spots were a perfect place to start any sort of new grasses, kale, or legumes I wanted to add to the pasture. With the bare ground and manure, after one rain you have excellent germination.

The Shade works perfect. Really. More than just about any tool you’ll buy. It keeps my cows perfectly comfortable and gaining, no matter how long the hot, sunny day. Most days, I hook onto it with the tractor, and pull it into the next paddock fully open.

The other thing that helped convince me to but buy the SH1200 was the Wintertime Discount.  Selling shade in the dead of winter isn’t easy, so the team agreed to give me a $1000 discount if I bought one in December or January. If the price has been holding you back, give us a call and get a deal.  You won’t regret it.

Lars Bergan and Family

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Is the wind going to blow it over?

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The first question people ask about the Shade Haven is, “What happens when the wind blows?”

No wonder. The Shade Haven looks like something intended to fly or spin or send messages into deep space. But no, it was designed to be a portable shade for livestock and designed using 21st century technology. That means we did not just take a random stab at this and hope for the best. It is designed to handle wind. Here is a true story.

Bob Winkel was born on his farm near Waupun, Wisconsin 56 years ago. He and his wife Jeanette have been dairy farming together since 1982 when he took over from his Dad, and eventually son Caleb became part of the team. They started grazing in 2000 when they transitioned to organic. Like all good dairy farmers Bob and Jeanette struggled with keeping cows cool and comfortable while trying to rotationally graze their 80 cow herd. Although they have some trees and a dairy barn to return to on the hottest days, the ideal situation is to keep the cows on the grass all day, all summer.

In 2015 Bob, Jeanette and Caleb decided to purchase a SH12 Shade Haven to try and solve that problem. “It looked like such a well-made thing I was willing to try it.” In the last week in May they opened it up and put it to work and the cows quickly found out where to find shade and a cool breeze. So far so good.

Only three weeks later Bob had to make a morning trip to Fond Du Lac to do some business. While he was gone, a big, black, summer thunderstorm rolled over his farm and he hurried home  with serious concerns.

Sure enough, he was greeted by limbs all over the road, trees blown down, and a neighbor’s 5 year old heifer shed blown over.

“I was just sure my new Shade Haven, that I had just gotten to really like, would be wrapped around a tree somewhere.”

And?

“But there it was, standing exactly where I left it, wide open and looking like brand new! I was totally amazed…it was like a miracle.”

Bob went on to say a few more interesting things about his first year Shade Haven experience.

“When I bought it I thought the price was a little steep but I realize now you definitely get your moneys worth. It is really well built and well thought out and worth every penny.”

“And I guess I didn’t really expect it but we used it just about everyday all summer long. Now that I have used one I would NOT want to farm without it ever again. We move it every day into the next paddock and the cows have come to expect it.”

“It just makes grazing management so much easier. I used to try to graze off fence lines with trees when it was hot and try to plan way ahead. It would just drive you a little crazy. Now we have all this flexibility and I can graze wherever I want, when I want. Makes more milk and makes life a lot easier.”

The cows love it, the farmer loves it, and the wind does not have it’s way.

The SH12 Shade Haven is a brilliant new tool for rotational grazers and a lovely new feature on the landscape.

Author: Vince Hundt

Photo: From left: Bob Winkel, wife Jeannette, Caleb, wife Sheila, and sons Sully and Winslow

Serious about rotational grazing? Get serious about shade.

Shade Haven from Above

Earlier this year, the Agriculture Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $150 million in funding would be available to agricultural producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is one of our most popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water and enhancing wildlife habitat,” Tom Vilsack said.

One of the activities funded by the program is intensive rotational grazing. According to a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) activity sheet, intensive rotational grazing enhances the “harvest efficiency of grazing livestock to increase forage harvest, and to improve forage quality and livestock health.”

There are differences in methodology and infrastructural design on any farm implementing rotational grazing, but the shared trait is the rotation of cattle through a subdivided pasture. Subdividing pasture into paddocks forces cattle to graze more evenly, increases pasture rest periods, and prohibits habitual congregation around resources. Through rotational grazing, a farmer can maximize the health and productivity of two commodities: pasture and herd.

The three basic management tools are fencing, water, and shade. The use of the first two has been well documented, but the effect of shade access cannot be understated as an essential element of rotational grazing best practices. As more farmers and ranchers look to reap the benefits of rotational grazing, portable shade may be the tool that ensures return on investment.

Grass goes ‘mainstream’

Nick Wallace has been on the forefront of the grass-fed beef movement. He says rotational grazing has been an essential part of his operation.

Wallace’s family has been farming in Keystone, Iowa since 1894. His 160-acre farm raises grass-fed beef about 30 miles west of Cedar Rapids. Wallace Farms products — including his famous Nick’s Sticks, a staple of the Seattle Seahawks diet — are the result of his “back to the land” pursuit of better health for his family, his cattle, and his customers.

Wallace was diagnosed with cancer when he was 19. His dad, Steve Wallace, spent significant amounts of time researching potential causes and concluded his son’s poor health was the result of consuming low-quality food. What began as an effort to grow their own food quickly evolved into a family business.

“When we started, we were one of the few grass-fed beef companies really pushing it,” Nick said. “Now, flash forward 12 years, everybody knows. They look for the grass-fed beef logo on snack sticks. It’s very mainstream.”

Wallace said his rotational method has been a catalyst in enabling his family to raise healthy grass-fed beef. To him, the difference between rotational grazing and confinement grazing is like the difference between chess and checkers.

“With checkers, you know what the game is,” he said. “With chess, we come out every day, it is a chess-match; every day is different.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising cattle. Wallace’s “chess-match” approach to farming gives him the flexibility to optimize productivity and mitigate a wide range of weather conditions, pasture growth rates, and cattle behavior.

Shade ‘very valuable’

The Wallaces were not always raising grass-fed beef or practicing rotational grazing, though. Like their neighbors, the Wallace farm had been raising grain-fed beef for decades before the family decided to switch to grass in the early 2000s.

Eventually, the family settled on a method that worked for them and their land: A 40-acre pasture is divided into four 10-acre paddocks which are each subdivided into roughly 10-15 moves with movable high tensile electrified fencing on fiberglass posts. That gives the cattle 400-600 moves in a 40-acre field, or three-to-four daily moves. (Wallace estimates he’ll have about 75 head rotating in his pasture on the Keystone farm this summer.) If the cows aren’t keeping up with the growth of the grass, Wallace puts it up in hay.

Almost any pasture can be adapted to rotational grazing, Wallace said. He recommends farmers use what they already have before planning projects. In addition to movable fencing, Wallace had to figure out a way to move resources like water and shade through those hundreds of possible moves. For water, he uses 70-100 gallon water troughs. For shade, he uses a moveable Shade Haven unit.

The Shade Haven is a 1,200 square-foot portable shade structure designed and made in Viroqua, Wis. that can be deployed and closed by a single user in minutes. It is easily moved with a truck, tractor, or ATV. Shade Haven was designed for and by farmers to bring shade to all corners of the pasture to increase cattle productivity.

Wallace said his Shade Haven has been a “very valuable” management tool because his farm had no existing shade. He said he has seen direct benefits in his cattle in milking and calving, and weight gain. The Shade Haven has also helped him manage the pasture since it deters cattle concentration that creates pockets with a high density of urine and manure.

“When it gets hot, (the cattle) stand around the cattle tank and stand there for half a day, week after week, month after month,” Wallace said. “At the end of the season, that spot is toast. You can’t get anything to grow there.

“With the Shade Haven, you can put that in the middle of the pasture and they’ll go there and go to water and go back. It keeps them moving.”

Fundamental shade

Funding opportunities through the USDA and the NRCS signify a national growth in the popularity of rotational grazing. Whether rotational grazing is done out of concern for conservation or profit, the role of shade in maximizing pasture and herd productivity cannot be overstated. As more farmers and ranches look to implement forms of rotational grazing, portable shade will prove to be an essential management tool on any existing pasture.

Shade tools will be especially important this year as the National Weather Service is predicting above-average summer temperatures extending well into autumn. Access to shade during periods of high heat has been shown to increase cattle weight gain, milk production, and fertility rates.

A study by the University of Kentucky and the University of Arkansas found that milk production can drop by 20-50 percent when dairy cows are exposed to temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. Another study from Texas Tech University discovered shaded heifers had an increase of 17 pounds carcass weight compared to those in an unshaded feedlot.

The benefits of rotational grazing diminish without shade to protect cattle from heat. Whether driven by the pursuit of resource conservation, cattle health, or farm profitability, shade is an indispensable management tool that will allow farmers to meet their goals. If a farmer wants to get serious about rotational grazing, he needs to get serious about shade.

Author: Ryan Matthews, Freelance Journalist