Friday, August 14, 2009

Busting Anthills

A Ford 5000 ... a spring toothed harrow with sweeps ... and a drag harrow ... now we are in business busting anthills! Thanks to the help of (and shopping) of my uncle I am now able to bust up some anthills and try to get this pasture smoothed out a bit. And, I must say that this little rig is working great. Because of the size of some of the hills it will probably take a pass from each direction, but once it is all said and done I think we are going to do quite a number on the anthills on the farm.

The next step will be getting rid of all the brush and then over course deciding what to send into the grasses that are already there. On one hand I could just let it come back on it's own over time, but I think with a little investment we can get the pasture in shape a little more quickly and add in some cool season grasses to go along with the relatively thin stand of warm season grasses that are left in the fields.

I will admit that it is the brush clearing that will take the most amount of time though. For much of it I can attack it with my brush mower on the back of the tractor, but there are a few stands of locust trees that will need to be taken out with the chain saw because they are pretty thick and pretty plentiful. On top of that they are very thorny! Once we get that accomplished then we may drill in some seed.

I plan on talking with some farmers in the area for a good seed mixture to use, but I know for sure that I will be talking with the local grassfed beef farm that has hosted a couple PFI field days the past two years. It is nice to see things start to come together around the farm!


Rich said...

After reading about teaching cattle to eat weeds over a year ago at:

I have been simply clipping the tender growing tips of different weeds and tossing them in the mineral feeder. The clipped weeds are usually gone by the next day and the cattle seem to be eating more of the 'targeted' weeds.

This summer, since one pasture has a problem with black locusts, I tried the same thing with black locust and have actually seen cattle browsing black locusts of differing sizes (I stood and watched a bull carefully eat around some nasty thorns to get at the leaves on a bigger tree).

I haven't paid enough attention in the past to know how common browsing on black locust is, or if my 'training' actually trained any cattle, but it should be worth a try.

I have noticed that if you brush hog the locusts, the thorns are usually soft on the regrowth until the stem hardens, making it seem more likely that browsing could control them.

Steven said...

After grazing our cows in tight paddocks they now do a great job of eating weeds. They will eat all of the short tender stuff but on the taller pigtail and such, they will eat all the leaves and eat off the stem from the top down until it gets too thick.

Right now I'm needing more cows.... I think the mob grazing behavior would be alot better with more cows.

Rich said...

Steven, even if you are moving your cattle daily, it should be a simple matter to try to 'train' your cattle to eat the weeds.

To my way of thinking, it is better if they choose to eat the weed instead of being 'forced' due to high stocking densities.

But on the subject of 'mob' grazing, why would you need to get more cattle to get a mob effect? Isn't mob grazing basically just multiple moves in a 24 hour period?

As an example, if 1 acre met the needs for the herd for a 24 hour period, then the front fence would be moved ahead 1/3 of an acre 3 times during the day(with or without moving the backfence).

From what I have read about Greg Judy, sometimes the backfence isn't moved for a 3 day period, which would allow the cattle to trample, lay on, etc. the previously grazed areas instead of the ungrazed areas.

Steven said...

Salatin wrote about mob grazing and said that he thought you couldn't really get the mob effect unless you had about 200 head. You can do it with 1 move each day also. I'm doing what I can with my mini mob of only 14 animals total but I think I could have the same paddock sizes with another handful of cows and it would work better. I tried doing 24 hours on 1/2 a paddock and then opening up the other half for 24 hours but it was too hard on the paddock that had water access in it for 48 hours. There were too many dirt spots when they left it.... this was all just planted in 2008.

Rich said...

Steven said, " couldn't really get the mob effect unless you had about 200 head..."

Why would 200 head be the magical number? If an individual steer was on the edge of a 20,000 head herd, how far into the herd would he be able to see when he had his head down grazing? Would the average steer be able to tell the difference if his herd was only 24 head or 240 head?

If the herd was composed of stockers assembled from a few dozen different herds, I could understand needing higher numbers of cattle. But, wouldn't lower numbers of cattle be required if your herd was a cow/calf herd that had formed a cohesive herd unit?

JimGIdaho said...

I think there is a definite lower critical herd size to effectively gain the benefits of mob stocking. Wish I knew what it was for sure. In the research business, we used to use 6 to 8 head to graze off a 50ft x 50ft pasture area in 5-7 hours. We never got them to graze effectively along the fence lines and the manure distribution was lousy. I suspect the critcal herd size is at least 20. That's what it takes to just get the paddock to a size within which they will behave somewhat normally. From there on up it seems to work much better.

Rich, are those black locust or honey locust you have? Black locust have pretty small thorns and my experience has been cattle graze them really well.

We have some cows that seek out and graze musk thistle heads when they are let to a new pasture. We have no problem getting cattle to eat Canada thistle (before it blooms) as well as spotted knapweed (thru early bloom). We didn't do anything special to train them, just forced them at high stock densities (>100,000 lb/A) a few times.

Rich said...

"...Rich, are those black locust or honey locust you have?..."

After doing a little research online, I guess they might actually be honey locusts (large 'ruin your truck tire' thorns on the trunk, large thorns on the branches). I was always told that they were 'locusts' or 'black locusts'.

"...We didn't do anything special to train them, just forced them at high stock densities (>100,000 lb/A) a few times..."

Didn't the higher stock densities actually train them for you? Currently, I rotate our cattle (cow/calf) between pastures (5-6 pastures grazed for 7-14 days). They quickly rotate through a 2 acre weaning pen and I have noticed that they seem to move as a tighter herd after that rotation. I was thinking about trying a more frequent smaller 24 hour paddock to help them form a mob mentality, so that they would act as a small mob when they grazed a larger pasture. It wouldn't be ideal, but I thought it might be an improvement. Any thoughts?

JimGIdaho said...

Rich and others,

Anytime you can get your grazing period down to a single day, the benefits are substantial. I don't think it matters if you have 5, 50, or 500 head. Smaller groups are logistically more difficult to handle than larger herds, but the benefits are similar across a wide range of scale.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think about 20 head is where all of the benefits start to kick in. Consierably fewer than Joel Salatin's recommendation of at least 200.

Yes, grazing consistently at higher stock densities is a training process, for both grazers and graziers.

JimGIdaho said...

Rich & all,

Any time you can get your grazing period down to a single day, the benefits are substantial. Assuming the stock are going in at a proper growth stage and leaving appropriate residual (weasal words?).

I don't think it matters whether you're running 5, 50, or 500 head, the benefits are similar. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I think it takes about 20 hd for everything to start kicking in. That's far fewer than Joel Salatin's recommendation of 200 head.

We typically ran herds of 30 to 100 in Missouri and here in Idaho we're usually between 200 and 500 hd. The responses in the pasture are similar across that range. The smaller groups are logistically more challenging, That might be contrary to what people who haven't done this might initially believe. Once your grazing cell is set up, it is no more work to graze 500 head than 50.

JimGIdaho said...

Sorry for the double posting. I thought it had just kicked me out the first time as blogger said I wasn't logged in. Oh, well. They always say in teaching you need to say the same thing at least three times for people to pick up on the concept.

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