Category: Farm practices

Dr. Allen Williams on 5 Ways to Boost Dry Matter Intake

Optimal Dry Matter Intake (DMI) results in optimal production for grazing livestock. If you’re a grazier, that impacts your bottom line. But how do you achieve optimal DMI? Grass Fed Beef, LLC founder and grazing expert Dr. Allen Williams outlines five ways to boost DMI to maximize production and profits.

#1 Graze at Mid-Stage
For ideal grazing, make sure the forages are at mid-stage maturity when you put cattle on the paddock. “That is when you will have the most optimal balance of protein to energy in those forages, and they are going to be richly mineralized,” says Williams. “That is going to give you the greatest level of performance from the livestock grazing those pastures at any given point in time.”

#2 Provide Shade for Comfort and Production
Cattle suffering from heat stress will consume 50 to 70% less dry matter, depending on the degree of heat stress. “No matter what class of livestock you are grazing that will result in significant reduction in body condition, and at some point you have to put that body condition back on them,” notes Williams. “When they are losing body condition they are not productive, they are going backwards. It costs a lot more money to put lost body condition back on than it would have to simply maintain that body condition to begin with.”

You get your biggest bang for your buck with mobile shade, such as a Shade Haven. “When you can provide shade where it’s needed and therefore optimize your grazing, that makes it an investment rather than a cost,” says Williams, who notes the same applies to money spent on water systems and movable fencing.

“Shade is an investment not a cost, because it allows your cattle to perform better and it allows you to have a much more optimal grazing program,” Williams adds. “I’ve seen people that have pastures that their cattle rarely graze even though they have access to them, because they don’t have shade or adequate water access.”

By waiting to graze until forages reach mid-stage maturity, you’ll have cooler, moister soil, which also reduces risks of heat stress. “Those soils provide more comfort to the cattle as they are grazing,” notes Williams. “What we have found through our research is that when you are grazing cattle in the heat of the summer, the closer you crop down those forages, the more soil moisture you lose and the greater that soil heats up.”

Williams’ research found as much as a 50-degree difference in soil temperature in a well-managed pasture versus a poorly managed pasture.  “In well-managed pastures, you typically have soil temperatures in the 70s and 80s on hot summer days,” he explains. “But where they are more closely cropped down and the cattle are allowed to graze them too tightly, those temps can be 140 degrees or more on the exact same day. Which pasture would you be more comfortable standing in?”

The answer is obvious. When cattle lie down on the cool, moist soil it has a beneficial impact on comfort, says Williams. “And when they can do that under shade as well, you are doubling that very positive impact.”

#3 – Allow Easy Access to Water
The third thing that influences the ability of cattle to consume ample dry matter is water. “You have to have water resources located in a reasonable distance of the paddocks you are grazing each day. For dairy cattle we like that water to be no more than 800 feet away at the farthest point,” says Williams. “That will give you the most optimal performance and allow them to be able to utilize water if they need to.”

#4 – Make Mid-Day Moves
The time of day you move your cattle from one paddock to another impacts DMI. Williams advises a mid-afternoon move. “The reason being is the Brix content—which is the measure of nutrient density and sugars in plants—is at its highest point every day in the afternoon due to photosynthetic activity.”

Plants are at their lowest Brix point in the early morning. “The cattle are going to be consuming a lower nutrient-dense forage, which means they have to take more bites to get the amount of dry matter they need to support themselves to perform,” says Williams. “If you make that same move on the same pasture with the same cattle in the afternoon rather than the morning, you can get significantly higher performance out of the cattle.”

#5 – Prioritize Plant Diversity
For maximum DMI, you want abundant pasture forage, and the best way to achieve that is through plant diversity. “We have done study after study comparing diverse mixes in pastures versus monocultures, and in every study the diverse mixes far out perform the monocultures to the tune of producing anywhere from 3 to 4.5 times more forage biomass out of the exact same pastures, simply going from a single species to five, eight or more plant species in that pasture.”

By implementing these five steps, you can improve DMI and maximize production and profits. “We found that if you have cattle you are finishing, you can increase your Average Daily Gain at least another half-pound a day,” says Williams. “On the dairy side… you can increase your fluid milk production 20 to 30% — in many cases more than that—on a daily basis. Maybe even more importantly, you increase milk components 20% or greater on a daily basis. And you increase longevity of those cows. For dairy herds that is important.”

Need mobile shade to improve dry matter intake in your pasture? 
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Check it out for yourself. We’ll put you in touch with a Shade Haven user at a farm near you.

About Dr. Allen Williams
Dr. Allen Williams is a champion of the grass-fed beef industry and an expert in grazing methodology and regenerative agriculture. He is a 6th generation farmer and founding partner of Grass Fed Beef, LLC, Grass Fed Insights, LLC. He serves on the board for Grassfed Exchange and has written articles for Graze, The Stockman Grassfarmer and other publications. Williams has consulted with thousands of farmers and ranchers throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South America. He is a partner in Joyce Farms, Inc. where he is the leader of the
regenerative agriculture program.

Are You Ready to Graze?

Sarah Flack

Pasture management tips for successful grazing

Farms that practice smart pasture management spend less on feed and realize greater production from their herd. We caught up with dairy pasture management expert Sarah Flack for some tips on getting the most out of your pasture.

Spring is finally here, time to get grazing. But when do you turn the cows out on pasture? “From the plant’s perspective it is best if the animals don’t graze the plants too short, too early,” notes Flack. “But from the animal’s perspective, you’ve got to turn them out to pasture early enough so that you can set the different stages of regrowth, so the pasture quality can be managed consistently through the rapid spring growth state.”

Flack recommends using a multi-faceted approach for determining if pasture plants are graze ready. “I don’t think pre-grazing height by itself is sufficient,” she says. “It depends on the plant species in the pasture and the farmer’s goals. Because we are dealing with cool-season perennial grasses which lignify and grow really tall at certain times of the year and become less digestible, while at other times of the year become very digestible.”

Graziers should be strategic about where they kick off the grazing season. “If you choose an area on your farm where say your orchard grass has gotten really tall and rank in the last couple of years, your plant density has gotten sort of low – and you choose that to be where you graze the cows or sheep first thing in the spring, you can actually stimulate tillering to increase plant density and stimulate the spreading of the white clover.”

Increasing the quality and density of forages in your pasture helps cows maximize dry matter intake, which positively impacts milk production. “You are increasing the amount of dry matter they can easily get per bite, and you are improving the digestibility of each bite,” explains Flack. “So, they don’t have to chew it as much, they don’t have to work as much to digest it, and they can actually physically eat more of it, because of the high digestibility.”

While each pasture is unique, Flack focuses on three things when evaluating a grazing system: amount of time animals are on the paddock, how short plants are grazed, and length of the regrowth / recovery period.

Time on and time away from each paddock are fundamental to good grazing management. Flack advises using variable recovery periods rather than fixed recovery periods. “Variable means the farmer has to be out there on a regular basis observing how fast the plants are growing in the pasture,” says Flack. “And they are changing the speed of the rotation based on how fast those plants are growing.”

“The slower the plants grow, the longer the recovery period gets to be,” she adds. “So you are always making sure the plants in the paddock are sufficiently regrown and recovered so they are ready to be grazed again.”

Beat the heat stress
Since cow comfort and production go hand in hand, good pasture management includes looking out for animal welfare. Flack recommends farmers consult a heat stress chart for their class of animals to know the heat and humidity at which their animals can experience heat stress. Farmers should also know the signs of heat stress and monitor animals for those early signs.

“Good grazing management by itself will actually help prevent heat stress at the lower temperatures,” adds Flack.

A well-managed pasture is filled with lush green pasture plants. “Right up to their eyeballs if it is the correct pre-grazing height,” notes Flack. “The temperature is going to be lower at the soil surface because of the tall shading plant material and that is where the cows muzzle is going to be. They are getting a lot of extra oxygen from those plants photosynthesizing. There is this really beneficial effect of the pasture canopy keeping things cool.”

Make sure there is plenty of water available and have a shade strategy. Shade needs are unique to a farm’s location, climate and landscape. A pasture with trees widely spaced with plenty of undergrowth for grazing is one ideal situation, notes Flack. Since not all farms have natural growing shade, fixed or mobile shade structures are an alternative.

“The problem with fixed non-portable shade is that you get a trampling effect underneath, and it is being focused in the same place all the time,” says Flack.  “I’m more inclined to use a portable shade or move cows back to a barnyard, where you can manage the manure, the feed waste and the trampling impact.”

“Portable shade – if it is not going to blow away – is ideal, because the farmer can actually use the trampling impact under the shade strategically,” adds Flack. “You could do a trample seeding, intentionally trample a problematic weed area…You spread seed, then you put the animals in, they trample the seed in, then you pull them out for a couple months, and you get fantastic germination and establishment of new perennial pasture plants—if the soil moisture conditions and temperatures are right.”

Your mobile shade solution

Shade Haven mobile shade structures can sustain winds up to 40 mph and are easily collapsed in case inclement weather. A Shade Haven can be transported with a truck, tractor or ATV. Three models provide up to 1200 square feet of shade to maximize animal comfort and productivity. Get more out of your pasture with portable shade.

Contact us today for more information or to arrange a demo.

 

Sarah Flack is an author and consultant specializing in pasture management for grass-based livestock farmers. Her books, workshops and videos empower farmers to create grazing and pasture management systems that work successfully for their unique situations. More information on upcoming workshops, books, videos and consulting services at sarahflackconsulting.com.

Upcoming Events
May 2-3 – Grazing Workshops in Chenango and Steuben County, NY
June 4-5 – Grazing Workshop at Green Mountain College, Poultney, VT
Aug. 9 – Grazing Workshop at Sweet Rowan Farm, VT
Aug. 16 – Full Day Grazing School, Stone Barns Center, Pocantico Hills, NY

Shade Haven: Your Instant Savanna

 

A grass-based farmer is an ecologist. He is concerned with the whole world he is creating, the interplay of plants and animals, microorganisms and weather. He strives for a system that is balanced on its own, without any need for purchased inputs, able to tolerate extremes of rain and drought.

The ultimate grass farm is the savanna. The savanna is grass and trees together, sustained by and helping to sustain herds of herbivores who in turn support a network of large predators. Grass feeds the large animals, who then fertilize and revive the plains that they traverse. The savanna is a highly productive grassland ecosystem that permits the coexistence of the largest number and variety of species. Yet, through human error or ecological catastrophe, savanna can become desert.

In her book “Cows Save the Planet,” author Judith Schwartz writes, “…attend to the needs of the soil, and the ecological cycles will begin to get back in sync.”

The book, which Schwartz deems a “call to action on behalf of the soil,” sheds hope on what seems to be a dire environmental predicament. That hope is in the form of managed grazing “as a tool for preventing or reversing the desertification process.”

Judith D. Schwartz

In the chapter “The Making And Unmaking Of Deserts – The Grazing Paradox” Schwartz reports that worldwide roughly 30 million acres of “productive land are lost to desertification” annually.

“Today 1.5 billion people depend for their food and livelihoods on land that is losing its capacity to sustain vegetation,” she writes. The cause is largely man-made and “driven by actions that disturb the lifecycles of many plants and animal species…poor irrigation design, poor livestock management and the use of technology ill-suited to the landscape.”

By cutting down trees, over-grazing, or improperly tilling the soil, humans can cause topsoil built over thousands of years to disappear in a generation.  A grass farmer keeps his land and animals thriving by keeping the land covered with mother earth’s loving blanket of living, heavy sod. His main tool in doing this is moving his cattle, moving throughout the seasons, like the prehistoric herds.

Desertification, climate change and biodiversity share similar outcomes and must all be part of the discussion when considering the fate of the soil and its ability to sustain life. Schwartz points out that desertification is not just a problem in Africa and the southern hemisphere. She notes that North America is the continent with the “highest portion of its dryland areas classified as severe or moderately desertified.”

Schwartz praises Allen Savory’s Holistic Management approach of using livestock to restore the land. She writes, “So if domestic herbivores can be managed such that their behavior mimics that of their wild counterparts, the grasslands – the African savanna or the U.S. prairies and plains, terrain that represents about 45 percent of all the land worldwide – will regain the state of wild land: healthy, diverse, and resilient.”

The mobile shade solution

Shade Haven mobile shade structures can help farmers mimic that behavior to create their own savanna, providing shade wherever the impact of cattle is most needed –keeping the cattle moving and improving soil health, while also improving profitability and animal comfort.

“You are kind of creating microclimates, which makes a lot of sense,” says Schwartz, who notes that her primary focus of research was soil. And while every system and ecological place is unique, farmers “figure out what works with what they have.”

“Nature has figured out what the soil needs and what the plants need. Let’s learn from that,” adds Schwartz. “Part of that system of moving nutrients around are the animals.”

While there are different ways to graze cattle, one fact remains consistent. “In the areas of the world where there are grasslands with deep rich soil, those soils have been created by animals,” notes Schwartz. “We can’t expect to have those rich soils without a system that includes grazing animals.”

Read it!
For more information on Judith Schwartz or to purchase “Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth” visit her website. Also check out Schwartz’s newest book “Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World,” which includes stories of innovators who thrive by working with the water cycle.

Contact us today to add mobile shade to your grazing system.

Weathering Climate Change Through Rotational Grazing

Regardless of which side you are on in the climate change debate, there’s no denying that weather is becoming more and more unpredictable. Extreme rain, heat and drought in the Midwest and throughout the country present new challenges for farmers. Rotational grazing is a solution that can enhance a farm’s ability to withstand the effects of these weather extremes.

Improving soil health and building organic matter through rotational grazing both reduces erosion and increases the moisture-retaining capacity of the soil.

Jim Munsch

“If you are doing rotational grazing correctly there is always something growing on the soil, and it is abundant,” says Jim Munsch, a Wisconsin beef farmer and rotational grazing expert. “If you have a vibrant plant growth covering the soil, you dramatically reduce the incidents of erosion in high-rain events.”

After 30 years of rotational grazing on his farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Munsch boasts zero predicted erosion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil erosion prediction calculations. NRCS measures the soil loss tolerance rate, or T, to determine the maximum soil loss allowed without damage to crop productivity.

“If you lost T every year, nature could not keep up and eventually there would be no top soil,” explains Munsch.

The cover resulting from rotational grazing drastically reduces that loss, even with heavy rainfall. Additionally, the process of intensive grazing–moving the animals daily–and allowing time for regrowth builds organic matter, which increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture.

“When we used to have crops on the land at our farm, we had organic matter of about 1.8%,” notes Munsch. “Through 30 years of rotational grazing, we now have fields that are, on average, around 4% and some with 4.5% organic matter.”

For every 1% of organic matter, the soil can hold 20,000 gallons of water. That’s about ¾ of an inch of rain. On a farm such as Munsch’s with 4% organic matter, moisture from a 3-inch rain will be absorbed. A farm without that level of organic matter will experience runoff and erosion.

“From an environmental stand point, it is important for the soil to be able to hold a lot of water as a shock absorber for these large rain events,” notes Munsch. “Climate change also brings periods of drought. And if your soil is holding 20,000 gallons of moisture per 1% of organic matter, you are building up a reservoir of moisture in the soil to help you ride through a drought.”

Additionally, rotational grazing creates a canopy of standing grass throughout the pasture, which shades the soil, keeping it cool and reducing evaporation.

Carbon-building through grazing

Building organic matter in the soil takes time. Munsch estimates that it took about 15 years of rotational grazing on his farm to build significant organic matter. Rotational grazier, Vince Hundt experienced a measurable difference in organic matter within five years at his farm in Coon Valley, Wisconsin.

Vince Hundt

“We soil tested 35 acres that we transitioned from crop land to rotational grazing in 2008 and then again in 2013. I was astonished that all the tests came back having moved from the 2-3% organic matter category to the 3-4% category in just five years of managed grazing,” notes Hundt.

Building organic matter through managed grazing is the simple process of plants using the sun’s energy to pull carbon-dioxide out of the air, then hanging on to the carbon and releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere. The carbon-collecting capability of rotational grazing has many scientists calculating it as a possible key to reversing climate change. While that calculation remains open to debate, there’s no debate on the ability of rotational grazing to build healthy, profitable pastures.

“With rotational grazing a cow walks along, eats the grass, leaves most of the carbon behind in the form of manure, and moves on to the next paddock. With the cow gone for the next 30 days or so, the fertilized plant now has even more vigor and a rest period to regrow and build an even larger root system that is made up of even more carbon.” explains Hundt.

Underground, the pasture plant community is building a monster root system and a powerhouse of diverse biological activity.  “It all starts with carbon,” adds Hundt. “It’s the key to the kingdom. If you want the soil on your farm to be resilient and able to handle any weather, you need to elevate the carbon content, biological diversity and organic matter, and the best possible technique to do that is rotational grazing.”

The importance of mobile shade

With an increasing number of days with high temperatures, the ability to put shade where you need it is becoming more and more valuable. Mobile shade allows for uninterrupted grazing, even on the hottest days, even in managed grazing systems that include paddocks with no trees. Utilizing movable shade structures such as the Shade Haven results in even distribution of nutrients throughout a paddock, while also minimizing production losses associated with heat stress.

“A lot of us in the past have used trees. If we knew it would be really hot, we would put the animals where they have access to the shade of those trees,” explains Munsch. “But with more and more hot days, it restricts where you can put animals. With the Shade Haven you are actually moving shade onto a pasture that may not have natural shade, so you can now use that pasture or paddock.”

That sentiment is echoed by other leaders in the rotational grazing realm. In the December 2017 issue of The Stockman Grass Farmer, grazing expert Joel Salatin calls mobile shade “far superior to shade trees because we can place the urine and manure on precisely the spot where it’s most needed.” In that same article Salatin discusses the profitability of mobile shade and predicts, “I’m looking for the day when shademobiles dot the countryside with every herd of cattle.”

As weather challenges the agriculture industry, Shade Haven is happy to be part of the solution for farmers throughout the U.S. and the world.

Kiko Family Farm Goes All Grass

Ohio farmers transition from grain farming to year-round grazing

Peter Kiko’s farm in Dalton, Ohio, consists of 190 acres of grasslands that sustain his herd of registered black Angus year-round. And while Kiko’s farm today is a chemical-free oasis surrounded by conventional dairy and grain farms, it wasn’t always that way.

“Up until about six years ago we were conventional grain farmers. We did everything by the book the modern way, with all the chemicals, the GMO seed, all that kind of stuff,” says Kiko. “But it just didn’t feel right.”

A pivotal moment occurred when Kiko told his daughter to shut her windows to avoid exposure to the toxic chemicals he would be spraying on the soybean field behind her house. She asked, “Why would you put that on your farm, Dad?”

Soon after, he converted his grain fields to grass, purchased some beef cattle and started intensive grazing.  “We applied for a USDA label for all-natural grass-fed beef with no antibiotics and no chemicals, and we’ve been selling all-natural grass-fed beef ever since.”

Year-round grazing

Currently Kiko grazes about 70 brood cows. All female calves stay on the farm to be raised with the herd and bull calves are sold. Each year the open heifers are sold and processed for beef. “So either we will get a bred heifer that gives us a calf, or we will have a nice fat female that we sell for beef,” says Kiko. “And if we have a brood cow that comes up open, that’s what we sell for hamburger.”

Kiko says he is still trying to figure how many animal units the farm can handle. “We haven’t hit the max yet.”

The farm follows a mob grazing model—intensive grazing with multiple moves daily within a paddock—for optimal forage quality and production. “We only give the cows exactly the amount of grass they need,” notes Kiko.

A perimeter fence encloses the entire 190 acres. Using a single strand of wire and fiber glass posts, the cows are kept in a paddock with three-days’ worth of grass. The cattle are then moved twice a day within that section.

“After three days the cattle are completely removed from that paddock,” adds Kiko. “Then that grass gets to completely heal and there are no cattle on it for several months.”

Moving the cattle twice a day takes time, but it ultimately adds to the farm’s profits. “It’s like you are going out there and feeding hay, but instead you’re going out there and feeding them standing grass.”

Allowing an extended healing time before turning cows back on a section promotes healthy regrowth. That enables year-round grazing, even after the snow flies.  “That grass is up past your knees, and it’s real bushy,” says Kiko. “So if it snows, the grass will hold the snow up off the ground. And the cattle will get their nose up underneath and lift the snow up and eat grass.”

Though drought conditions forced Kiko to purchase hay a couple years ago, that’s not typically the case. “If we can go year-round without hay, that makes it profitable, and the cows are healthier because they are eating the grass. It gets a little wilted in the winter, but the nutrient value is as good or better than dry hay in the barn.”

Mobile shade in 2018

For Kiko the one thing that interrupted the movement of cattle across the farm was the summer sun. On hot humid days, he had to move the cattle where they had access to shade – either near trees or under a permanent shade structure.

“It messed up our system,” notes Kiko. “And all the manure was ending up in the woods or underneath the shade by the water and that would create mud and fly problems…We actually lost a couple cows over the years because of heat.”

After researching Shade Haven mobile shade structures, Kiko purchased an SH1200 in fall 2017.  And though he hasn’t used it yet, he considers it a wise investment. “We’re paying for one whether we have one or not, because we’re losing performance in the cattle. We might as well have one and get the benefits.”

Kiko plans to use the Shade Haven in the hottest part of the summer. “We’re hoping it helps us keep the flies down, keep the manure and urine spread across the farm, because we’ll move it across the farm, take some stress off the cattle. The breeding season is August 1 to October 1, so we catch the heat in August. We are hoping we notice it in our conception rate.”

Bringing the farm back to life

Three generations of Kikos – five children and five grandchildren – work the farm and help with the family’s auctioneer business. The youngest son Jake is the farm’s herdsman and Kiko’s wife Joni and daughter Lana handle the beef sales. “The grandkids are all involved with the cattle and the calving. It’s kind of a family affair,” notes Kiko, who does not regret his decision to convert the farm to natural grasses.

The farm is getting healthier, says Kiko. As the soil builds up organic matter, it becomes increasingly more drought resistant. The grasslands now provide habitat for numerous rare bird species, which has made the farm a popular stop for area birders.

“As you’re out there walking on the soil, you can feel it,” says Kiko. “It’s like the farm can breathe again. We went from mining the soil to building top soil. It’s a good feeling.”

The Kiko Family. Peter Kiko in middle with grand daughter on shoulders.

 

Mobile Shade Builds Pasture Health in Iowa

Eighty happy Jersey cows graze the pastures of Francis Thicke’s 730-acre Radiance Dairy organic farm in Fairfield, Iowa. The cows produce the key ingredient for the bottled milk, yogurt and cheese processed right on the farm and sold to nearby grocery stores and restaurants.

Thicke practices rotational grazing in 60 paddocks. “We have three groups that move around—the milking cows, the dry cows and bred heifers, and the third group is yearlings,” he says.

A Shade Haven mobile shade structure moves with the milking cows. The addition of the Shade Haven gives Thicke more control over which paddocks he uses regardless of the weather. It also allows him to control nutrient distribution.

“I have quite a few paddocks with trees. Before the Shade Haven, I would always give the cows the paddocks with the trees on the hot summer days, and at night I put them on paddocks with no trees,” says Thicke. “Now with the shade I reverse that.”

“I can move the shade to a different place every time,” he adds. “The key thing is that I put them where there are no trees in the daytime and use the shade to manage my nutrients. That’s the reason I bought it.”

Pasture management is something Thicke knows a lot about. Raised on a farm in La Crescent, Minn., he has a Ph.D. in soil science and worked as National Program Leader for Soil Science at the USDA Extension Service in Washington D.C. “Then 25 years ago I came back to farming here in Iowa,” he explains.

Thicke runs Radiance Dairy with his wife Susan. He has been a long-time advocate of organic farming practices since the 1970s when he and his brothers converted the family’s dairy farm to organic. He serves on the National Organic Standards Board and is active in numerous organic organizations.

Thicke’s focus on soil health extends to the cover crops that he uses for field crops and for grazing. The cover crops control weeds and build the soil.

Building a healthy pasture is made easier thanks to the Shade Haven. Thicke appreciates the ease of collapsing the shade and redeploying it. “Although most of the time I move it from paddock to paddock without folding it up,” he says. “It is easy to hook up and pull the Shade Haven through paddock gates and down lanes with an ATV, without folding it up.”

As a mobile shade structure owner for less than one year, Thicke is among the many rotational graziers throughout the U.S. discovering the benefits of portable shade in their grazing systems. We at Shade Haven look forward to learning about additional impacts of shade at Radiance Dairy.

See photos and more information at Radiance Dairy’s Facebook page.

Tennessee Farm Creates Cool, Clean Environment with Shade

If you look out across the 480 acres that make up Powell Farms in Limestone, Tennessee, you’ll likely spot at least one of the farm’s nine Shade Haven mobile shade structures, probably at the highest point in the pasture.

“Anytime you have cattle, you need shade and you need fresh air,” notes farm owner Jim Powell. “The advantage of the Shade Haven is you can put the shade on the top of a knoll where most of the air flows. Even when it is not very windy, you still get fresh air moving across, and if you move the shades daily, you are on fresh ground and fresh lie down area every day.”

The Shade Haven mobile shade structures on Powell Farms provide comfort for the farm’s 500+ Angus calves, yearlings and mature cows. Powell especially appreciates the fresh ground for the young stock.  “Because the calves need a cleaner environment than a mature cow does,” he says.

About 200 calves are born each year on Powell Farms, most of them through embryonic transfer. “We do mostly IVF to produce our embryos,” explains Powell, who says the farm only raises heifers. “We sort the semen before it is put in the dish in the IVF process, which gives us about 93% females.”

A graduate of the University of Tennessee agriculture school in the 1950s, Powell has worked off and on in the ag industry over the last 60+ years. He has worked closely with the university on a number of projects, including a new genomics center set to launch in 2018.

Earlier this year, Powell donated two Shade Haven structures to his alma mater, after university representatives were impressed with the shades they saw on a visit to Powell Farms.

“They are using them for a heifer program,” adds Powell. “They feel the same way; the cross flow of air is a huge advantage.”

Sharing his time between the farm and his business, Powell Construction, Powell appreciates the ease with which the shade units can be moved and redeployed. “It takes 15 or 20 minutes, but it is a one-person job and I think that is an advantage.”

Powell notes the slip tongue feature on the dolly tongue makes it easy for one person to hook up and move the unit. “The Shade Haven is very simple to use,” he adds. “They are easy to move, and they withstand wind. We have never had any damage to a single one because of wind.”

Practicing rotational grazing and feeding primarily forage-based product, Powell Farms adheres to the highest standards in its Angus program. Shade Haven is proud to part of that program. Discover more about Powell Farm’s superior Angus cattle at powellfarms.net.

Rules and Tools for Rotational Grazing

“At the heart of rotational grazing is a replication of the way nature has formed an interaction between ruminants and plants – mainly grassland plants,” notes longtime Wisconsin beef farmer and rotational grazier Jim Munsch.

Munsch likens managed grazing of modern day cattle to the movement of their predecessors, the buffalo on the Great Plains or ruminants in Africa. “That structure involved a ruminant eating a plant off in one area and then moving on to another area where the plants were delicious and plentiful, allowing time for the initial plant that was eaten off to regrow.”

The movement and herding behavior was driven primarily by predators. Today electric fences replicate that effect. “We put animals in a herd on a small piece of land, have them eat the plants down so there is still leaf left, and then have them eat another piece, so the original piece can regrow.”

Allowing for regrowth is key to rotational grazing. In the spring in the upper Midwest, where Munsch grazes his beef, regrowth typically happens in about three weeks. In fall, it takes up to five weeks depending on moisture and length of daylight.

“With some grass and legume species, regrowth starts in 24 hours; therefore, it is best to move the cattle out of the eaten area, so they cannot graze on the immediate regrowth,” advises Munsch.

He aims for his animals to eat half of what is available and leave half to generate new growth and keep plants healthy. Manure distribution and hoof action also contribute to pasture health. Stock density for a healthy pasture on Munsch’s farm is approximately a pound of animal per square foot.

Tools for successful grazing

“Everything we do in terms of tools—fencing, water, shade— is to enhance that biological relationship between the plant and the animal,” notes Munsch.

Fencing – Managed grazing starts with a sturdy perimeter fence consisting of four to six strands of high-tensile or barbed wire. Next single-strand electric wire is used to form large paddocks within that area. Within those large paddocks, one to three days of grazing is enclosed with temporary fencing or polywire.

The size of those areas is determined by the number of animals and the amount of dry matter on the paddock. “A ruminant consumes about 2 ½ to 3% of their body weight daily in dry matter of the plants they consume,” explains Munsch. “You can estimate in a moderately thick stand, there are a couple hundred pounds of dry matter per acre of the sward eaten.”

Water – Providing access to water within each paddock differs for beef and dairy. While most dairy graziers rely on the cows drinking sufficient water in the barnyard, with beef, it’s a different story. “If you are a beef grazier, there is a large return on investment from animal gain if you can put water in each paddock,” says Munsch.

“Additionally, if you have water on the paddock, all of the nutrients the animals eat during the day will then be distributed there. So you have a better nutrient balance on the paddock.”

Shade – The Shade Haven mobile shade structure is a valuable tool for managed grazing. Before Shade Haven, graziers kept animals on paddocks that included trees on the hottest days.That put a restraint on our ability to match animals to where the grass was best for them that day,” notes Munsch, who appreciates his ability to move the shade.

“With Shade Haven, on those blistering hot days, I can put shade on the paddock with the best grass for those animals for that day.”

Rotational grazing vs. continuous grazing

“When plants are eaten off in a managed system, they are eaten off when there is as much plant material below the ground as there is above the ground,” explains Munsch.

Roots draw nutrients and moisture from the soil, while above ground photosynthesis takes place. “When those solar panels—the leaves—are eaten off, there is a huge energy store in the root system, so the plant can regrow,” says Munsch.

With continuous grazing, the animals eat the tender regrowth almost immediately. “The plant’s defense mechanism is to reduce the amount of roots it has, because it wants a balance between the ability of the plant to get energy from the sun and the ability of the plant to get nutrients and moisture from the soil.”

Eventually those plants die and all that remains on the pasture are plant species that grow very close to the ground. “From a production standpoint, you dramatically reduce the yield of dry matter when you continually graze, because you are reducing the ability of the plant to grow,” says Munsch. “And it is dramatic. A managed pasture system, where you allow the plant to regrow, can yield twice as much dry matter.”

The increased yield allows twice as many animals to graze on higher quality forage, resulting in more rapid weight gain. “I joke with people that if a seed corn salesman came onto your farm and said, ‘I can teach you to grow twice as much corn as you grow now,’ you would think he was crazy,” says Munsch. “But with pasture management, you can say that.”

 

Bring on the Shade for Stress-Free Cows

It’s summer. For humans that means time outdoors, vacations and lower stress. For dairy cows, it’s another story. When temperatures rise above 72 degrees, dairy cows are susceptible to heat stress, especially with full sun and high humidity. As we enter the hottest months of summer, water and shade are critical to reducing heat stress and keeping cows healthy and productive.

Heat stress raises a cow’s body temperature, which leads to less dry matter intake, resulting in weight loss and decreased milk production. The more productive the cow, the higher the risk of heat stress. A study by the University of Florida states, “Heat stress has been shown to reduce milk production by 25% by reducing feed intake and increasing health problems such as mastitis, lameness and reproductive delay.”

Less milk in the tank means less money in your pocket. Calculating just a 15% reduction with a 50-cow herd that averages 2,500 pounds of milk daily, equals a potential daily loss of 375 pounds of milk. Multiply that by 100 days – the average days in a year over 80 degrees – and you take a significant economic hit.

Provide the shade

Providing shade with Shade Haven mobile structures is an economical solution to reduce heat stress and boost productivity. Multiple studies confirm that providing shade for lactating cows increases their dry matter intake, leading to increased milk production.

“In Florida studies, shade alone improved milk productivity by 10% in two consecutive years,” notes another University of Florida IFAS Extension study, titled Feeding and Managing Cows in Warm Weather.

The same study states, “The maintenance needs for a 1,400-lb. cow producing 60 lbs. of milk is about 20% higher when the temperature is 95 degrees F as compared to 68 degrees F. This being true, it is easy to understand the impact of heat stress on high-producing cows in early lactation when energy intake is critical to her performance.”

The University of Wisconsin -Extension estimates Wisconsin dairies lose as much as $200 per cow annually because of heat stress. Dry cows and even calves can benefit from shade, too, with better weight gain, improved immune function and better production once they join the milking herd.

Shade Haven mobile shade structures are available in sizes up to 40 feet wide. They can be easily moved to provide shade where you need it, when you need it, for a stress-free summer for your cows.

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.”