On-Farm Grazing Systems Research and Development of Intensive Grazing Software

Project Overview

FNC94-067
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1994: $4,993.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,602.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, goats
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Education and Training: extension

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    I purchased my ranch in 1974 after leaving NASA where I did computer data analysis and research on instrumentation systems. My ranch consist of 320 acres of rolling hills and creek bottom land in Howard County MO. Approximately 280 acres are in grass/legumes with the rest in scattered woods. It has bee a cow/calf operation using continuous grazing for 20 years. Five ears ago I learned of intensive grazing management and have experimented with it for four years on 55 acres with good results. Two years ago I developed a software program that does that calculations for intensive grazing, average forage production, total stock live weight, daily feed required, acres/day required, acres/paddock, and number of paddocks.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTIONAND RESULTS
    With Intensive Grazing, I am proving that Missouri cattlemen can realize extra income and have a more sustainable livestock production by retained ownership of their calves at least through the stocker phase without buying or leasing additional pasture or cutting back on the number of cows. I am adding financial data inputs so that extension personnel or Ag agents will have an excellent tool to teach other farmers and ranchers about the advantages of intensive grazing with cattle. This software is tailored toward cattle at his time, but could be modified for different kinds of livestock, for example sheep, in the future.

    I divided a 41 acre cell into eight paddocks (18 acres were improved with matua brome and ladino clover) with gravity-fed water to each paddock, divided another cell of 30 acres (fescue and ladino) into five paddocks with electric pump supplied water to each paddock and divided the third cell of 50 acres (fescue, bluegrass, and clover) into 10 paddocks with an alleyway to water. A total of 42 acres were set aside for hay production. I produced 15% less hay in 1994 due to the dry weather. Another 126 acres (bluegrass and fescue) was used as a continuous grazed field with 28 cows and their calves.

    In installing the gravity flow system, the pipe was trenched 5 feet deep for a length of 200 feet before the energy free drinker. This has proven very effective in keeping the drinker ice free even with very few animals in Missouri’s cold winters. After spending many hours of labor gluing 20 ft. sections of pipe together and having it fall apart, I learned I had the wrong type of coupler and not the wrong glue. I have plenty of pressure in the gravity flow system to provide the necessary water for my livestock. I use full-flow quick connect couplers and full-flow Jobe valves in my portable 25 gallon tanks.

    Last fall I fertilized and stockpiled the 50 acre cell of fescue and clover, but due to a dry summer and fall, didn’t get the normal amount of growth in 1994. It was 30-35% less. I retained 20 stockers and used them in a leader-follower system with 55 cows and 13 smaller calves on that stockpiled grass. The stockers were weaned October 24, 1994 with an average weight of 469.5# and fed stocker starter feed and hay for two weeks. Then were rotated on the stockpiled fescue-ladino clover every two to three days depending upon the paddock size from November 7, 1994 to December 13, 1994 and gained 1.43#/head/day. I sold one stocker due to the fact she kept jumping my corral fence each time we tried to weight her. To utilize all of the stockpiled grass left after the stockers grazed it and before it deteriorated to much, I rotated my whole herd (55 cows and 13 calves) through the paddocks from December 8, 1994 to January 3, 1995. From January 4, 1995 to turn out on grass, the cows were fed 2 big round bales of hay and supplemented with six 250# Supplix tubs. Had to buy 10 big round bales of hay to get me through April 1, 1995.

    The stockers were maintained during the winter with high quality hay and 2.5# of gain until 13 January, 1995. The weather had turned cold and they were only gaining o.6#/head/day, so I increased the feed to 4.0#/head/day. They were also consuming 12# of reed canary grass hay each day. The weather warmed up enough to make the grass grow in late February so I cut back the chopped corn to 2.5#/head/day. This was the first time I had retained this many stockers. Due to the lack of experience in feeding, I did not realize the effect my decision would have on my animals. Instead of continuing to gain weight, they lost 23#/head during this period.

    In 1995 we had plenty of rainfall, which in turn, provided good grazing. Once back on grass, the stockers rate of gain was excellent and was as expected. The 19 stockers were grazed with 27 cows and their calves in a leader-follower system on the intensively grazed paddocks in the spring and summer of 1995. I produced 45 big round bails of hay on 10 acres of the matua grass I planted and 13 more on a fescue paddock that was getting ahead of my grazing program. So I not only grazed 19 additional head, but was able to produce 33 extra tons of hay. I kept 7 female stockers for replacements, sold seven stockers at approximately 750-850# in august, 1995, and kept five more to fatten out to sell in December 1995.

    The following people assisted me with my project:
    – Missouri University extension personnel – Melvin Brees, Dale Watson, Kelvin Moore al assisted in planning and carrying out my research
    – Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District – Steve Mauzey and Kevin Monckton assisted in obtaining cost share for fencing and field day planning and execution. Marilyn Gann assisted in providing fliers and mailings and field day.
    – Glasgow Coop at Fayette, MO provided cost share on soil and hay testing
    – Zeitlow Distributing Company in Boonville MO provided discounts on my cattle drinkers, scale, and cattle panels.
    – Missouri Cattleman’s Association assisted on field day and provided part of the meal.

    To obtain the data for this research, Melvin Brees helped me weight my stockers each month. The Tru-Test scale I purchased has worked flawlessly. I mount the load bars and indicator in my cattle chute on two short railroad ties underneath the platform I built. The starter panels tailgate and frame and corral panels has greatly helped in working my cattle, but my working facilities still need improvement. When we weighed my stockers, we entered an ID number based on color tag and the number on the tag. Once the animal is on the platform, it takes only a few seconds for the scale to stabilize and to record the data. It took approximately three minutes to weight each calf when every thing was running smoothly. The 702 model has record memory for 3500 ID number on 99 separate files. Once the ID and weight information is stored in the indicator, I return to the house and download it to my computer. With this data, a producer can track rates of gain and feed efficiency, vaccinate more accurately and market more economically. See table 1 for the weight data on each animal on the different dates they were weighed. Table 2 provides the rate of gain/day in pounds for each period. Table 3 shows interpolated weights for each animal to the first of each month. Chart 1 shows weight gain for the seven heifers I retained for herd addition. Chart 2 shows weight gain of the 5 stockers up to the point that I started them on grain to fatten out. Chart 3 shows the weight gain of the seven stockers that I sold on August 18, 1995. Chart 4 shows the average weight gain of all stockers. Melvin also helped me weight my cows last fall. There weights ranged form 876# for a bred heifer to 1450# for a big ChiAngus cow for a herd average of 1154 pounds. This has showed me that I need to cull my herd more and try to obtain a more uniform weight for my cows which in turn would give me a more uniform calf crop. My larger cows produce bigger calves, but do eat a lot more winter feed. It also cost more to maintain and get them into shape to breed back in the spring.

    The following data includes production, feeding periods, cost and return information:

    Production:
    Steer calves sold fall ’94: 18 head, 375# ,$329.00/head

    Project calves (19 head), Total wt., Total $ , Ave wt., $/head
    7 sold , 5150, 2948.87 ,736 , 421.27,
    7 heifers kept , 5662 , 3454.50 ,809 , 493.50,
    5 fed out, 3782 , 2381.25, 756 , 476.25

    19 total , 14594 , 8784.62
    Average , 768 , 462.35

    19 Head 471# , $76.00 , $357.96/head, $6801 Total
    Beginning Value

    Ending wt.: 14594
    Beginning wt: 8949 ,471# Average
    Total beef produced (19 head): 4790

    Lbs. gain on stockpiled fescue: 1349
    Lbs. gain on spring/summer pasture: 3441
    Total lbs. beef produced on pasture: 4790

    Feeding and Pasture Periods:
    10-24-94 to 11-7-94 14 days Stocker Starter Feed, Free Choice Hay
    11-7-94 to 12-13-94 36 days Stocker fescue, bluegrass, clover, Free choice mineral
    12-13-94 to 1-13-95 31 days Hay on pasture, 2.5# chopped corn, Free choice mineral
    1-13-95 to 2-25-95 43 days 4# chopped corn, .75# 36% protein, Free choice mineral, 12# hay
    2-25-95 to 3-24-95 27 days 2.5# chopped corn, .75# 36% protein, Free choice mineral, lower quality hay
    3-24-95 to 5-5-95 42 days pasture, free choice mineral, some hay early
    5-5-95 to 6-5-95 31 days pasture, free choice mineral.

    Cost and Return Information:

    # Head , Weight , Value ,Value/Head
    Calves sold (736#) , 7 , 5150 , $2948.87, $421.27
    Heifers Kept (809#) , 7, 5662 , $3454.50, $493.50
    Fed Out (756#) , 5 , 3782 , $2381.25 ,$476.25
    19, 14594, $8784.62 ,$462.35

    Returns:
    Weight , Value
    Average ending per head ,768 , $462.35
    Beginning per head , 471 , $357.96
    Average gain , 297 , $104.39

    Cost:

    Feed: Stocker starter , $2.45
    Chopped Corn (317#), $18.07
    Protein (52.5#) , $6.25
    Mineral , $12.90
    Total purchased feed, $39.67

    Veterinary: $11.40
    Total purchased feed and veterinary ,$51.07

    Hay:
    63 ton @ $35 per ton , $21.95
    Purchased feed, vet, hay total , $73.02

    Cost per lb. of gain , 297# average , $0.25

    Return per head , $31.37
    (Above purchased feed, vet, hay)
    This return is positive in spite of steeply declining prices between fall of 1994 and spring of 1995.

    The Intensive Grazing software program that I am reprogramming and adding financial inputs to can be used by extension personnel, educators, producers or by any one interested in sustainable agriculture for educational purposes. Producers can compare profitability on continuous grazing versus different intensive grazing systems. If producers purchase the program, they can maintain records on cattle and forage production and profitability.

    Appendix A contains the data for all my water and fencing cost that I can input to my software for comparison.

    [Editor’s note: Appendix A could not be posted on line if you would like to see this please email us at ncrsare@umn.edu or call us at 800-529-1342. Thanks]

    This grant has taught me that it is possible to carry additional livestock on my ranch by using an intensive grazing program. This should allow for additional income in most years. This year, in steep declining cattle prices, it was almost a break even situation.

    In this part of Missouri where there are many hills, hollows and wood patches, the greatest challenge is to design one’s fencing and water system. In this area, the gravity flow water system should be the most economical if one already has good ponds in the right locations with a 1 ½ to 2 inch water pipe already through the pond dam. The one disadvantage is the initial cost of running water to each paddock, but should pay back very quickly as cattle prices begin to rise in a couple of years.

    The electronic scale I purchased has been the biggest asset to my operation. By weighting my animals, it has taught me what weight gain is possible grazing stockpiled fescue during the fall and summer grazing of pastures with legumes. It ahs also taught me how to properly feed my stockers during the winter just to maintain frame growth without over or under feeding them. I have had many inquires about my operation sense my field day. I recommend to any one who will listen that to have a profitable cattle operation in the future, they will have to adopt sustainable practices; which intensive grazing principals would be a major part. I am willing to show my operation to any producer and try to instill in him the advantages of intensive grazing. My software program would be an ideal tool for extension personnel to educate additional producers.

    The economic and social impacts could be tremendous for Missouri if only the cattle producers would carry the 1,530,000 calves through the stocker phase that they normally send out of state. If only 300# of gain per calf at $.70 were realized, that would be an additional $321,300.00 income in Missouri producers. The environment would also benefit because much less chemical fertilizer would have to be spread on our Missouri soils. When pastures are maintained in healthy, vigorous condition, soil erosion is virtually eliminated. The extra grass left after each rotation serves to break the impact of rainfall and allows the water to infiltrate the soil. Ground water contamination is almost eliminated because very few pesticides of any sort are used in intensive grazing. Weed control is done by the grazing animal. By fencing off my stream that runs through my farm, I prevented the degradation of the stream corridor. Intensively grazing livestock greatly improves the soil’s carrying capacity over a three or four year period.

    OUTREACH
    I had three different field days this fall:
    1) Howard County Grazing Group on Saturday July 15, 1995. 30 people attended and we had meals provided. A flier was produced by Marilyn Gann (NRCS) and sent to cattle producers on their mailing list.
    2) North Carolina Dairy Farmers tour on Monday July 17, 1995. 49 people attended and drinks were provided. Don Day of Extension called to arrange a tour of my operation. There was a lot of interest in intensive grazing by the group.
    3) Howard County Farm Tour on August 9, 1995. 120 people attended. This yearly farm tour is advertised in the local paper a couple of times before the tour and the media coverage is very good after the tour.

    I received a Missouri Sustainable Agriculture grant in June 1995 to do solar-power water pumping research. I used this system to get water to my paddocks where I had my alleyway in the later grazing rotation. This helped to bring additional people to my field trips to learn about sustainable agriculture and the SARE program. The VHS tape of the first field trip shows me conveying my results and problems I incurred during my research for both grants I had received.

    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.