Category: Rotational grazing

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.”

 

Grass-Fed Galloways Love Shade at Weil Family Farm

Geoffrey Weil and Galloway calf, Weil Family Farm, Greensboro, NC

When Geoffrey and Tess Weil first encountered their 111-acre farm in Greensboro, North Carolina, they saw lush green rolling hills and a property they could restore to a working farm. They also envisioned an opportunity to raise cattle on grass without growth hormones or antibiotics.

The Weil Family Farm raises a hardy breed of Galloway cattle. The couple discovered the breed while on vacation in the Scottish Highlands. “When we came back, we did some research and discovered that not only are the Galloways a heritage breed, they are also on the conservancy watch list as a threatened breed,” notes Geoffrey Weil. “So, we’re also helping a threatened species establish its numbers.”

Thirty-two Galloway cattle, both black and white, graze the farm’s four 15-acre paddocks. Committed to sustainability and rotational grazing, the Weils use a Shade Haven mobile shade structure to get maximum impact from their pasture. “There are trees on the east side of the pasture, and no trees toward the west,” Weil explains. “In the morning the cows, luxuriate in the shadows created by the trees on the eastern part, and then in the afternoon they gravitate to the Shade Haven on the western part of the pasture.”

To prevent distress of land under the Shade Haven, Weil moves it sometimes two or three times daily. “It is very easy to re-deploy. In fact, the cows like it so much that when we move it to another area, they follow it as if it were a bucket of feed.”

The ease of moving the Shade Haven allows Weil to control the distribution of nutrients throughout the pasture. “I would recommend the Shade Haven to anyone interested in rotational grazing,” notes Weil. “At the same time, I’d recommend the Shade Haven to anyone who is trying to spread manure around the pasture and control where the cattle are eating.”

Weil disagrees with feeding grain to fatten cattle and hasten their time to market. “Integral to our vision of raising cows is that cows are not supposed to eat grain. We raise our cows on pastures of clover, fescue, and ryegrass.”

Galloway beef has won awards for its superior flavor. Ultimately the Weil Family Farm will sell its high-quality, grass-fed Galloway beef to individuals and local restaurants. “Since our cows can only eat grass and supplements that conform to AGBA standards, our cattle will take an extra year to get to market,” says Weil. “But it will be worth the wait.”

While grass is a must on Weil Family Farm, so is the Shade Haven.

“It’s funny the way our cows tend to gravitate toward the Shade Haven,” says Weil. “We leave it out all the time – unless we are expecting severe storms. Even when it’s cloudy, you find our cattle under the Shade Haven. It’s a comfort zone for them.”

Shade Makes Big Impact on Ohio Farm

Drausin Wulsin is in the midst of his first season with a Shade Haven on his farm, Red Stone Farm, in Cynthiana, Ohio. And he already wants another one.

“This is one of the tools that can lead to sustainability on a farm,” says Wulsin. “It gives one the ability to micromanage the land. It is a very effective tool.”

Farming for about 20 years, Wulsin left a career in the financial industry to farm full time. Today 150 bovine units, a couple hundred sheep, some hogs and laying hens graze the fertile lands of Red Stone Farm. Certified organic since 2013, the farm added organic dairy to the mix two years ago.

Wulsin and his wife Susan operate their farm, about 85 miles east of Cincinnati, and a business, Grassroots Farm & Foods, that sells their grass-fed meats and milks to restaurants and people in southern Ohio. They also sell their meats and Susan’s hand-prepared foods on the Grassroots Farm & Foods website.

Wulsin adheres to grass-based, sustainable farm practices, including rotational grazing. “We are constantly moving the animals to fresh pasture and fresh grass,” he says. “We have long rest periods of 30 to 90 days. We move them slowly when the grass is growing slowly.”

He says one of his biggest challenges as a livestock farmer is winter feed. “There are a number of ways to address that. One of which is building organic matter in the soil, so that you grow more feed and have a longer grazing season.”

The Shade Haven is an effective tool for building organic matter. “The beauty of the structure is that it allows you to surgically address issues of shade and issues of infertility,” says Wulsin. “You can place the structure where you want in order to get the greatest impact. It gives me ultimate mobility and flexibility to focus on a small scale on a piece of land. That eventually is going to build organic matter. We move manure away from the trees and into the pastures, that is going to help our pastures and help our organic matter, and ultimately help our bottom line.”

Pleased with the performance of his first Shade Haven, Wulsin anticipates ordering another. “I think it is very well-designed, good looking, mobile and durable. We have had some high winds and it is not affected.”

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.”

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

If portable shade for livestock is such a great idea, why don’t we see portable shade in every pasture?

Copy of Cattle Shade 5_

Question:

“If portable shade for livestock is such a great idea, why don’t we see portable shade in every pasture?”

Answer:
“Because up until the invention of the Shade Haven in 2013, a portable livestock shade did not exist.”

And that is a fact.

If in 2012 you Googled portable livestock shade, you would have found exactly nothing. That is, if you wanted a portable shade that was actually portable, and big enough to provide protection for at least a modest sized herd, and didn’t self destruct the first time the wind decided to blow.

You found nothing because nothing existed.

What you did find was a lot of concerned discussion on the effects of too much sun and too much heat on livestock performance, especially on rotational grazing farms and ranches. And you found lots of ideas about planting trees and building buildings with misters and fans, and lots of discussion of breeding animals to tolerate more sun and more heat. And you found lots of sketchy plans for homemade shades and a few things that were kind of portable–if you owned a bulldozer.

If you sat back and looked, you realized there were a lot of arrows all pointing in the same direction: The world needs a good portable shade.

And then the sun came out!

And the Shade Haven was conceived, designed, built, tested and perfected by an old farmer and two young engineers. Using state-of-the-art computer design and drafting tools, Guthrie and Peter took a 3500 year old concept and created a thing of grace and beauty for 21st century livestock grazing.
The Shade Haven is it friends, and it is here to stay.

It solves a problem as old as Moses wandering in the desert and as contemporary as your animals being punished by the heat and looking desperately to hide from the blazing sun.

Question:
Why didn’t people carry smart phones 10 years ago?

Answer:
Because they did not exist.
How about poly-wire electric fencing?
4-wheelers?
Zero-turn lawn mowers?
Bale wrappers?
Skid-steer loaders?

Good ideas happen and the world changes for the better.
The Shade Haven, portable livestock shade that really works, is one of those ideas whose time has come.

Author: Vince Hundt, St.Brigid Meadows, WI.

Rotational grazing, done right, is a brilliant farming system.

Copy of Cattle Shade 6_

The picture above has a lot to say.

This particular farm is in the hilly “Driftless” region of Western Wisconsin. On the top of the hill, on the leveler ground, this farmer is rotating, corn, oats, and alfalfa in 60’ contoured strips. This proven crop rotation practice will build soils, produce good yields, limit erosion, limit required inputs, produce grain for sale and forage for winter feeding of livestock.

The steeper land below the perimeter electric fence is in permanent pasture and being rotationally grazed. Each day this farmer moves polywire electric fencing to create a new paddock big enough to feed his animals for 24 hours. He also moves a small water tank and a Shade Haven portable shade structure.

By moving the cattle off the grazed paddock each day and letting it rest for 30+days he gets powerful regrowth, keeps the animals on clean fresh grass, eliminates erosion and—because the animals spent all day on that paddock—leaves behind a well fertilized soil.

It is crucially important that the animals have water and shade in each paddock, each day. An above ground water line along the perimeter fence makes it simple to move a 20 gallon plastic tank everyday and a Shade Haven portable shade can be moved with a 4 wheeler in minutes. With those two animal essentials taken care of, the herd will spent the entire day comfortably grazing, resting, growing and manuring. Animals will congregate wherever they can find shade and because the portable shade is put in a different spot with each successive rotation, over time, you get perfect, even distribution of nutrients.

One of the most common problems of rotational grazers is to require animals to leave a paddock for water or always go to the same tree or trees for shade. Without shade of any kind, confining animals to a small paddock can result in poor performance and even death. But to let animals graze the pasture and then retire to the same trees or fence line to get out the sun will effectively mine-out nutrients and dump them under a tree that does not want them and gradually weaken pastures and dramatically reduce yields.

A farmer who is willing to move the fence, move the water and move the shade-—everyday—-will be rewarded by seeing a dramatic increase in animal growth rates and the fertility, organic matter and water holding capacity of his soils. Having shade available in each paddock is more humane and better for your soil health. His animals will be healthier and he will totally eliminate erosion, never spend another dime on fertilizer or seed, and, believe it or not,
DOUBLE the carrying capacity of his land.

TWICE as many cattle on the same amount of land!

Rotational grazing, done right, is a brilliant farming system.

Rotational grazing done right by you and enough farmers, will change the world.

 

Author: Vince G. Hundt, Saint Bridgid’s Meadows, WI.