Friday, April 25, 2008

High Winter Gains

It seems like a weird time to be thinking about winter gains for cattle, but that was the subject of an article titled, "A Good Winter of High Gains Next Year Starts Now," in this months issue of the "The Stockman Grassfarmer". The article is written by William Winter who is a herd health consultant for the producers of the Thousand Hills Cattle Company. The thing that really caught my attention was that this guy was from Minnesota and he was talking about folks in Wisconsin getting high gains in the winter. Anything about getting high gains in the winter snow is worth checking out in my book! They are even capable of having year-round Average Daily Gains (ADGs) of 2 pounds.

The advice of one of their best producers is to "fix the soil". Before Karl Dallefeld even puts cattle out on to new ground he has the soil tested and adds some lime and other minerals (the article doesn't mention what the other minerals are). The idea is that with soil that is in great shape you will be able to produce stored forages that are great, and with brix indexes of at least 10-12%. In addition to quality stored forages Mr. Dallefeld also, "supplements with kelp, Char-Cal (from MBA), a Gerald Fry-style mineral mix, a bit of dried molasses, and the direct-fed microbials from Bio-Vet.

Another key mentioned in the article is keeping the herd grazing as long as you can. Some forages mentioned were sorghum sudan, hybrid sudan, and grazing corn before it tassels (I want access to tropical corn!). I realize that bison are different than cattle, but the article mentions a bison herd in Wisconsin that only supplemented feed for 45 days last winter. And, don't forget how much snow we had!

The last thing mentioned in the article is that the top producers of Thousand Hills wean their calves at 10 months and still have good looking cows. This idea is pretty foreign to me and I wish they would have written more about it, but the basic idea is that their soils and forages are so good that the cows stay in condition even with the long amount of time lactating. Interesting stuff...


JRG said...

Hi Ethan,

I don't remember where in Iowa your farm is located so this may not apply. When we were in norhtern MO, we grazed annual ryegrass and oats into February some years. This was with fall-calving cows and we had calves gain over 2 1/2 lb/day for 100+/- days while the cows gained about 1 1/2 lb. This is lactating cows in the winter! We were about 50 miles below the IA:MO state line. I know some guys have used annual ryegrass up to the I-80 corridor with good success.

We never ran yearlings in that situation but I'm confident we would've gotten at least 1.5 lb/day gain.

Most of the outfits that leave calves on the cows for 10 months are summer calving. Calves will typically get weaned either just ahead of green grass in the spring on onto green grass and then the cows will have 30-40 days of good grass to recover before they calve again. It works well if you have heat tolerant cows.

Glad to hear you're getting the farm up and running.

Rich said...

On the surface, the superiority of a higher brix index reading makes sense. "Sweet" smelling hay seems to last longer in storage, so sweeter smelling forage would seem like it would last longer if stockpiled. But I haven't really found a concrete answer to how brix levels can be elevated, besides advice like adding lime.

Any information about what actually produces a higher brix index reading? Is it related to the soil pH or the minerals (such as salts) present in the soil?

JRG - When you say you grazed annual ryegrass and oats, are you talking about overseeding your pastures or are you talking about planting into a prepared seedbed?

Isn't there a certain amount of winterkill when planting oats in areas where the temperature drops below about 15-20 degrees? Or was the winterkill damage minimized due to the combination of ryegrass and oats?

Ethan Book said...

jrg - I would also be interested in hearing more about your annual ryegrass and oats plantings.

Rich - As far as raising the brix level goes I'm sorry they didn't have much to say in detail. Just that good soil helps and adding minerals (like lime as you mentioned).

Thanks for the good information!

Rich said...

Ethan - "...and grazing corn before it tassels (I want access to tropical corn!)..."

Wouldn't broadcast planting or drill planting an ordinary open-pollinated corn variety result in a high quality forage similar to any tropical corn variety?

You could grow your own seed (on a different conventionally spaced planting of seed corn), feed the "cull" ears of seed corn planting to some pigs or chickens, finish steers on the broadcast planting in the summer, and possibly have a stockpile of forage for the winter.

Tropical corn would probably require buying the seed from an outside source.

Ethan Book said...

Rich - The thing about the tropical corn is that it doesn't go to seed (no corn) because the growing season difference. But, it does get REALLY tall.

With our grass finished system I suppose I could go and pick the ears by hand, and it would be nice to be able to provide my own seed. We are actually planning on trying some open pollinated corn this year (if the ground drys enough ever).

JRG said...

I'll try to answer several questions here.

We no-till drilled the oats-ryegrass into pastures that were predominantly crabgrass in the summer. We would graze those pastures very short in mid-August with high stock density and drill behind the cattle. We found if we tried to no-till into a perennial cool-season pasture it didn't matter how short we grazed it in August, we couldn't get a decent stand of annual crops. We would get ok ryegrass, but that was about it.

Yes, the oats winterkilled and that was part of the plan. We had started out doing cereal rye and ryegrass as a mix but the rye survived the winter and matured very quickly in the spring and lowered the overall quality of the pasture. Oats establish quicker in the fall than any other annual cereal so we got good production from them early. We used them, then they died in winter, and in the spring we just had high quality annual ryegrass.

There were a couple times we did it on prepared seedbed but found that let it get too muddy to graze at all some winters. No-tilling left the ground much solider.

I would think open pollinated corn should work as well as tropical corn. As Rich said, then you could save your seed. I've never actually done corn grazing, but I've been on a few pasture walks where they were doing it. I never really decided what I thought about it.

Rich said...

"...I suppose I could go and pick the ears by hand, and it would be nice to be able to provide my own seed...."

From what I've read, it only takes about 40 ears to provide enough seed to plant an acre of conventional corn (it would take many more to drill or broadcast plant it), you could probably select next year's seed in less time than it would take to order seed from an outside source.

I thought the extra height of tropical corn would only be an advantage if you were making silage or something similar. Direct grazing would need a "bushier" corn plant that was more leafy.

I would think that a plot of corn drilled into 7-8" rows would be best used as a final finishing forage, grazing would keep it relatively short and also keep it from tasseling (but I am unsure if it would produce the higher levels of CLA that is desired in grass-fed beef)

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