Category: Rotational grazing

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.