Winter/spring grazing of Brassicas and winter rye

Final Report for FNE12-767

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,858.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Carole Soule
Miles Smith Farm
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Project Information

Summary:

This project demonstrated that it is possible to increase the grazing season for beef cattle by providing grazing crops that have a high energy density. We rotationally grazed 10 cattle on four acres of grass and turnips. Two acres were mechanically plowed and harrowed; the other two were “plowed” by hoof action using MIG grazing. Animal density should be increased in MIG plots to achieve better seeding success. During this project our cattle gained an average of 2.47 lbs per day versus .43lbs per day weight gain for our cattle on straight pasture (not rotationally grazed). With lower overhead costs in subsequent years weight gain of 2.47 lbs per day will result in a substantial increase in revenue of $2,754 less $680 for seeds for a profit of $2,068 over feeding hay. The results of this study encourage us to continue forward with this idea to extend the grazing season and lower costs involved with this.

Introduction:

Participants

Miles Smith Farm, Loudon, NH, is a 36 acre beef farm run by Carole Soule and Bruce Dawson. We currently have 60 head of Scottish Highlanders and Angus cross cows, calves, steers and heifers. The cattle are “summer pastured” on over 250 acres of leased land throughout the state. We sell retail cuts in our on-farm solar powered store and at farmers markets. We also sell wholesale to grocery stores and restaurants.

Carole Soule and Bruce Dawson were the major participants for this grant. The Vegetable Ranch was contracted to plow, harrow, and seed and fertilize the test sections. UNH Cooperative Extension, Dot Perkins was our adviser throughout the project.

Project Objectives:

This project was designed to demonstrate that it is possible to increase the grazing season for beef cattle by providing grazing crops that have a high energy density and not use a tractor to plant them. Whereby showing marginal land, not suitable for plowing could be brought into this type of production to grow pasture cattle in NH. MIG Grazing techniques could be manipulated to cultivate land and Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) practices were utilized and demonstrated. Economics were analyzed as well as cattle weight gain.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Bruce Dawson
  • Dorothy Perkins

Research

Materials and methods:

[See attached below Diagram_1_AudubonPasture]

The seeds we used were:
1. Appin Turnips which are a purple top seed bulb that will regrow after they are grazed if they are not grazed too short
2. Topper, a hybrid turnip
3. DUO Festulolium which is like a rye grass with the palatability of perennial tetraploid rye grass with the extra persistence and summer productivity of meadow fescue
4. T.A.R.A. Is a forage mix of timothy, alsike clover, red clover, alfalfa)

Our activities included:
We divided 6 acres of a 10 acre field into three 2 acre sections. Soil tests were done and it was determined that no lime was needed. The soil was slightly nitrogen deficient.

1. Section 1 practices
Plowed on April, 2012 and harrowed early June and again on on June 29, 2012
1 acre Topper/1 acre Appin Turnips Whole field in DUO
Seeder spread seed in top ¼ acre – very light seeding in the rest
750lbs of Cheap Cheap spread – nitrogen rich fertilizer

Dragged with a chain after seeding and fertilizer application

2. Section 2 practices
Plowed on April, 2012 and harrowed early June and again on on June 29, 2012
750lbs of Cheap Cheap spread – nitrogen rich fertilizer
Seeded with T.A.R.A. (grass fescue)
Dragged with a chain after seeding and fertilizer application
Aug 29 mowed Lambs quartersSection 2 practices (2 acres)

3. Section 3 practices
Used MIG grazing techniques to churn the soil
MIG plowed, 150,000lbs/acre on one acre ending June 29, 2012
Seeded Topper (5 lbs) on the MIG plowed one acre
10 hours of cattle hoof action used on the Topper seeded area.
MIG plowed, 150,000lbs/acre on the second acre to complete MIG grazing on entire 2 acre section
Seeded second acre with Appin (25 lbs) on July 6, 2012
No DUO was applied in this section
No Fertilizer was applied to this section

All fields were left to the elements to germinate and grow from Aug 29 and July 6 (1 acre in Section 3) to October 1.

Each animal in the project was weighed on an on-farm scale before and after the grazing period. We used an on-farm animal scale (Industrial Commercial Scales, LLC) and weighed each animal individually. All animals selected for the study were of similar weight and age.
We put some of the animals in the outer pasture on October 1, 2012 after they were weighed. We started rotational grazing on October 12, 2012 and completed it on November 20, 2012 – 40 days.

During the experimental grazing period we moved the cattle once or twice a day into a new paddock. (Grazing paddocks were estimated according to MIG practices and worked out to be about 1/10th of an acre with about 20 paddocks in each section).

On two days, animals were not moved because there was still adequate forage according to MIG grazing principles

Hurricane Sandy hit during the grazing period and to keep the cattle safe we let them out into the larger pasture where they could seek better shelter at the edges of the larger pasture.

Research results and discussion:

In Section 1 we planted one acre in Appin (purple top variety) with small bulbs and the second acre in Topper with large bulbs. The cattle ate many of the smaller bulbs but could only scrape the tops of the bigger bulbs. A frost might have caused the Topper turnips to soften and become sweeter, but we did not have a hard frost before the end of the project.

After 10 days on brassicas the cattle started to develop diarrhea so we switched them to Section 3 where there was grass for 22 days – one day per paddock and two days during Hurricane Sandy when we let the cattle into the bigger field for safety. They finished the grazing Section 3 and were then put back into Section 1 to continue grazing the turnips. No further adverse effects were observed for the remainder of the study.

We could have kept the cattle on the project longer if we did not have to mow the overabundance of lambsquarters in Section 2. Our adviser researched and recommended that we not let our cattle graze the mature, thick growth of lambsquarters plants. Grazing high volume mature lambsquarters in droughty conditions can result in nitrate poisoning which can be fatal. If we had access to this section we could have kept the cattle on the project longer. Apparently we planted T.A.R.A. (grass fescue) when the weather was too hot and dry. After we mowed the lambsquarters the T.A.R.A. did start to grow but was too short to include in this years study.

The cattle were mostly well behaved during the project. They moved willingly into each new paddock. Because a powerful fence charger we had used in this pasture was stolen before the rotational grazing started, we had to use a weaker, less effective charger so keeping cattle contained was sometimes a challenge as all were not used to MIG systems.

The cattle were mostly well behaved during the project. They moved willingly into each new paddock. Because a powerful fence charger we had used in this pasture was stolen before the rotational grazing started, we had to use a weaker, less effective charger so keeping cattle contained was sometimes a challenge as all were not used to MIG systems.

The plowed section (section 1) produced a good crop of turnips. The “hoof plowed” (Section 3) paddock only produced 8 or 10 turnips for the entire two acres . We later discovered at a Jim Gerrish Pasture Workshop on Sept 22-23 that we should have seeded BEFORE MIG grazing Section 3.

We had an average weight gain of 2.47 lbs per day on the brassica (sections 1 and 3) fed cattle over a .43lbs per day weight gain for our control cattle that were in a set stock system. This was a 200% improvement.

There were not enough paddocks to keep the cattle on the pasture well into December.

Small bulb turnips like Appin (purple top variety) seemed to be more palatable, and they are easier for the cattle to eat.

Research conclusions:

[See attached below]
Diagram_2_CattleWeights2012
Diagram_3_PercentGain
Diagram_4_ProjectProfitComparison

Since we had to hire a local farmer to plow, harrow and seed the paddocks our first year costs were high. In subsequent years we will attempt to use a better charger and the MIG grazing more effectively. Now that the land is opened up we should have a better success rate using hoof action of the cattle to prepare the ground for seeding. We also will not need fertilizer on any of the sections in the future.

We experienced a weight gain of 2.47 lbs per day on the brassica fed cattle over a .43lbs per day weight gain for our cattle on straight pasture (not rotationally grazed). Even with factoring in seeding and fertilizer costs we showed a 2.23% savings over feeding hay or traditional. In the second year, without fertilizer expenses, costs should just be $686 for seeds which should show a 83.35% savings over feeding hay or straight pasture. Our control group weight gain was very low but proves that cattle on straight pasture do not gain as fast rotationally grazed animals.

In the first year seeding and fertilizer costs were $2,283. Even so, with improved weight gain our income from weight gain was $2,754, showing a profit of $471 with a value of $1.50/lb live weight.

In subsequent years and later in the season we will rely on the churning hoof action facilitated by MIG grazing practices to cultivate the soil. In future plantings cattle hoof action will replace the plow and harrow reducing costs. With lower overhead costs in subsequent years weight gain of 2.47 lbs per day will result in a substantial increase in revenue of $2,754 less $680 for seeds resulting in a profit of $2,068 for 10 animals.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

[See attached below]
Article_1_FarmingMagazine
Flyer_1_RotationalGrazing

Kathleen Hatt from Farming Magazine visited the project and wrote an article which was published in the February edition of the magazine. Kathleen let me review the article for technical correctness and it accurately reflects the project activities and results. A scanned copy of the article is included with this report. We posted a link to the story on our Facebook Page and our Website. It is located here:

http://www.farmingmagazine.com/article-9067.aspx

We are also planning an outreach session at the Concord, NH Audubon Society on March 30th from 9:00-noon. The Audubon Society abuts this leased pasture and has shown an interest in how early spring and late fall grazing vs haying can help protect field bird habitats. We have permission from Farming Magazine to make the article available to all participants at this session.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Additional Information

Planting TARA just before a hot, dry spell stunted growth. Lambsquarters took over one test plot that resulted in a grazing health risk from nitrate poisoning. The lambsquarters in Section 2 were mowed and the T.A.R.A. took hold as soon as sufficient rain fell.

Because Topper coverage was just 1 lb/acre we hand spread the seed which resulted in inconsistent cover.

MIG grazing practices need to be modified to produce more “hoof” action of the cattle to churn the soil in Section 3 so that we would get better seeding success rate. We believe that MIG grazing to “churn” soil is best accomplished in early Spring when the soil is wetter and softer.

Another observation is that the cattle do not eat a lot in hot weather even with sufficient water. Weight gain will be better in cooler weather or evenings when cattle are more interested in eating. If shade could be provided, we expect more success in weight gain would have been noticed. Also, even though we did not have many escapees from the prescribed paddocks, there were some times when the cattle did escape from the temporary paddocks and graze elsewhere. A better charger would have solved this problem.

Using a standard MIG grazing number of 150,000lb per acre did not result in enough weight to turn soil sufficiently for seeding. Increased numbers of cattle would have required a good solid charger and possibly more strands of wire. We believe that more animals (a higher animal density rate) might have eaten the grass faster but would not have been successful in “churning” the soil. It is possible that MIG grazing earlier in the season when the soil was wetter might have given a better success rate. Also, if the paddock had been MIG grazed for several seasons it is possible that the soil would have been “looser” and more conducive to hoof action plowing. I do not believe that the type of animal, horned or not, made a difference in these findings.

In hot weather, the cattle became stressed when restricted to paddocks for a long period of time. The long haired highlanders, particularly the younger cattle, were more effected by the heat than the other, shorter haired cattle.

Cattle that are used to unrestricted grazing (Set Stock systems) need to get out periodically and “kick up their heals” literally. We gave our cattle time to acclimate and they did well grazing. Any livestock that have been on open pasture need time to acclimate to rotational grazing but if there is adequate forage they acclimate quickly. When forage got low, as it was when we tried to force the animals to “churn the soil”, they became agitated and were more inclined to pressure the temporary fences, especially when it became hot. We had an extremely hot spell in the summer and the cattle became restless when the were forced to stay in a paddock without forage when we tried to “require” them to “churn the soil” with their hoofs. Any normal cow would have acted the same way under the same conditions.

We definitely were fighting the heat when trying to “till the soil” with the cattle hoofs. Some days were very hot and in one case a new born calf died to a combination of an inattentive mother and the heat. This death happened so quickly that it would have been hard to avoid. The solution to these issues is to try to plan the “tilling” process/MIG in cooler weather for this pasture.

I believe that the animal density rate we provided was adequate (150,000/lb per acre) but I do believe that different timing, using MIG in the Spring on wet soil, and consistent use of MIG practices over a period of several years would have produced a better “churn” rate. A well tended MIG pasture will, over the years, cause an increase in earthworm activity which helps loosen the soil. This “loosening” more closely imitates the good aspects of plowing and harrowing without the negative impact of using mechanical methods.

The “hoof plowed” (Section 3) paddock only produced 8 or 10 turnips for the entire two acres . We later discovered at a Jim Gerrish Pasture Workshop on Sept 22-23 that we should have seeded BEFORE MIG grazing Section 3 for better germination.

Future Recommendations

We are definitely planning on expanding planting and rotationally grazing brassicas. The weight gain recorded from this project is impressive and worth the time and energy to recreate. Now that the fields have been opened up, the MIG grazing should be more successful in future years. We also plan on grazing this pasture in cooler, wetter weather.

Assesment

We did find that late season grazing can result in substantial weight gain.

We need to modify our methods to increase seeding success rate in the “hoof plowed” paddocks. Better results will be achieved by seeding BEFORE MIG grazing, MIG grazing over several years to better establish looser, denser top soil (including an increased earth worm population) and MIG grazing in cooler or wetter weather.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.