Tag: grazing

Grazing, Shade and Health

Shade Haven mobile shade systems can increase profitability for livestock graziers through better pasture management and healthier, more productive livestock. Grazing is not only healthier for the cattle, it also results in a healthier product for consumers – both beef and dairy. We caught up with Dr. Guy Jodarski, lead veterinarian for Organic Valley, to get his expert insight on how grazing and shade impact animal health.

Q: Studies indicate grass-fed cattle are healthier and produce more milk. Why is grazing healthier?
A: Grazing itself is a natural behavior for cattle, they prefer to do that. The exercise is good for them, the fresh air, being out in the sunshine and the nutrition of the fresh forage – it’s higher in vitamin content. There are a lot more benefits of grazing to the farmer and to the land. The key is managed grazing, where you’re rotating the cattle. Don’t keep them in one place or let them just run all over. You put them in a smaller area and keep moving them and then resting those areas.

Q: How important is plant diversity to the health of grazing cattle?
A: Diversity is something we’ve been thinking about a lot more in the last few years. Diversity is what is found in nature. You don’t see just one plant; you get a lot of plant species working together. So you have a healthier system that resists challenges in weather, resists disease problems. And it provides the animal with choices of what to eat. Cows are really good at picking out the most nutritious and highest energy level feed. When you put them into a new area, and you look at the plants they are eating and do a little analysis, you’ll find that those are the highest sugar, the highest energy plants. They taste the best, but also have the highest energy content. The idea of diversity from a nutrition standpoint has to do with minerals. Because every plant has a different root structure, and some of the roots go quite deep – especially in perennial plants that come back year after year. So they bring up trace minerals that the animals need and have them in the leaves and stems.

Q: How do you know what should be in your pasture?
A: The best thing is to go to local pasture walks. There are different grazing groups, as well as Extension and Organic Valley that sponsor pasture walks. If you are in a place where there are other farmers that are grazing, there will generally be pasture walks fairly close. Look at what other farmers are doing, what works—especially farmers that are close to where you are. Every region is a little different. There is an organization called GrassWorks that does a nice job of educating people about grazing. There are also different seed vendors with different pasture mixes. Even if you have an older pasture, you don’t have to tear it up. You can do no-till drill into the pasture or do what is called frost seeding early on in the spring to put more clover in your pasture. What you really want is a balance between grasses and legumes and forbs.

Q: What are your thoughts about the importance of shade on animal health?
A: It is nice to see cows out grazing on pasture, but it comes with challenges. Weather is one of those challenges. In grazing season, we have a lot of hot weather, and shade is really important to preventing heat stress in cattle. The two most important things are access to water and access to shade. Shade can be natural with trees, but many people don’t have trees in their pastures. So providing artificial shade is very beneficial. If it is artificial shade, it is important that it is movable, because the cattle will make a lot of manure and foot action that will compact the ground.

Q: Is shade important to better milk production?
A: Yes, but not only for production, it helps milk quality too. It’s also important to keep dry cows cool, because they are carrying a calf. A cow’s body temperature will go up if they are out in the sun, and then at night they will radiate that heat out. The problem with dry cows, if they get up to 105 degrees body temperature and stay at that temperature very long, they could abort the calf.

Q: With mobile shade you can move the shade to create clean lie down area daily, how does that impact the health of dairy cows? It is important to keep the area where cows are congregating clean. If they don’t have shade, they will bunch up and really muck up a spot. Then if they lay down in that spot, mastitis is an issue. In the summertime, in particular, if cows get in mud and manure and they lay in it, they are very susceptible of catching mastitis. With coliform mastitis, E. coli is one of the things that can be involved and that can be deadly. That can kill cows. Even if they don’t get the toxic coliform mastitis, they can get other mastitis that will cause cell counts to go up. So milk quality is a big issue. Foot health is another thing. If they stay in an area and get it mudded up, they can get foot rot and hairy heel wart which can be transferred in those conditions. Keeping the rest area clean and dry is very important, and mobile shade will help that.

Q: Your specialty is dairy, but can you comment on the effects of heat stress on beef and how mobile shade might impact health and productivity beef as well?
A:
It is very similar. In the case of beef – if it is a cow-calf operation, the cows aren’t going to produce as much milk if they are uncomfortable and their body temperature is high, so the calves aren’t going to grow as fast. With steers or stockers that you are looking to put weight on, if they overheat, their appetite goes down. They pant. And if they are just standing around panting, they are not going to gain weight.

Q: Anything other thoughts on the benefits of grazing?
A: It is the most profitable production system for both beef and dairy, because the costs are very low for feed and other inputs. The cattle feed themselves and distribute their wastes – saving time, labor and machine use. Also, with managed grazing the number of tons per acre of grass or hay you grow per year is also going to go up. You can produce two to three times more forage on the same land with managed grazing (compared to a set-stock system). Grazing makes meat and milk more nutritious for people. Good pasture rotation also prevents parasite problems in cattle, which can be an issue for younger animals.


About Guy Jodarski
Guy Jodarski, DVM, based in Neillsville, Wisconsin, is the Lead Veterinarian for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley. He works in organic and sustainable livestock practice with an emphasis in dairy cattle herd health. Dr. Jodarski has been in practice for 31 years. He enjoys teaching how to keep cattle, swine and poultry healthy without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones and chemicals. Dr. Jodarski serves on the One Health Committee of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association and is a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the National Mastitis Council.

 

Mark Your Calendar

September 19-21, 2018 – Organic Farmers Veterinary Workshop, Viroqua, WI
Want to learn more about keeping your livestock productive and healthy? Plan to attend this informative, hands-on event. Dr. Jodarski will be part of this three-day workshop focused on teaching farmers techniques and tools to diagnose and treat cattle. Includes time on a nearby grazing farm.
Plan now! This workshop is offered just once every two years.

Event Contact: Farmer Hotline, farmerhotline@organicvalley.coop or 888-809-9297

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? 
Contact us today
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.

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.”