grazed three times
Summer pasture monitoring
One of the areas we have been working on is monitoring our pastures/riparian zones and grazing progress. Because we operate a grazing operation we record animal unit grazing days as our measure of production (number of days per acre we graze a 1,000-pound animal equivalent). Because most of our operation is based on native rangeland, this is not complex enough to measure whether we are moving towards or away from our landscape and land management goals. Enter co-operation again.
Through some connections garnered through an environmental goods and services project we are prototyping we have become acquainted with Alberta’s Cows and Fish program, and have been able to co-ordinate some work with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD). This has let us start to learn quite a bit about other aspects of our grazing system. Last fall we started a project to monitor litter accumulation and species composition in some of our more sensitive pastures. By monitoring the most sensitive spots and managing for them, the “regular” places should improve condition, but we will keep an eye on them as well. It has been great to learn alongside the resource people that are out there.
We do a lot of grazing here, both winter and summer, but I put landscape fencing in the summer category. In winter, we find if we have enough snow cover we can get very even grazing distribution on our prairie pastures as the cattle are eating snow and don’t have to head to the water source. Through strategic mineral placement we can target areas of concern such as buckbrush patches, and things work pretty well. In the summer, we are challenged by terrain and distances.
Through luck of the draw our operation is graced with at least one deep coulee in every quarter we own, rent or lease, and our water sources are often in the bottom of them. Many locations are inaccessible for standard fencing or watering solutions.
One thing we noticed over the years with the addition of a few new oil leases was how a short fence around the lease could dramatically shift the grazing patterns of our cattle, even in large open pastures. This has led us to some small experiments with what I term ‘landscape fencing.’ Cows are generally pretty lazy and we have found by directing short fences (electric) at strategic points we can often increase or decrease grazing pressure and intensity effectively on large open pastures. We are not necessarily fencing cattle into paddocks — rather we are putting up a short length of temporary fence (in some locations as little as 40 feet) to make the cattle work a little harder to go around. They will often choose the lazy option and direct pressure where we want it.
Last fall one short fence from a line fence to the edge of a coulee effectively removed grazing pressure from a sensitive hill slope. Interestingly enough as soon as we had three inches of snow, that same fence had the opposite effect, as cows could stay on that pleasant hillside and did not have to leave for water. The fence blocked easy exit from the very grazing site it kept them out of previously. This is part of the reason I am somewhat of a fan of temporary fencing in situations where grazing seasons and pressures are tremendously varied.
We continually experiment with watering setups here. Our latest is a converted sprayer that sat in our yard for several years. We dropped the wings off and added a 40-watt panel (Canadian Tire on sale) and charge controller. The mount is from an old satellite dish. The trough is mounted with a quick coupler on the hose and a ratchet strap to keep it tied to the sprayer body. This way it is fully portable, and this winter we dropped the trough off and used it to charge an electric fencer. It worked great for that job until we ran two weeks with no sunshine (even 10,000 watts worth of panel don’t work with no sun).
The waterer also has a small strip fencer on the front so we can use a polywire and keep cattle out of the batteries and wires. Everything is wired using regular three-prong electric plugs so I can extend the hoses just by using extension cords. The parts that go in/near the water are hardwired and protected with shrink tubing.
The pump is a low-cost bilge pump that draws very few amps. It does not have much lift, so it is not useful in all of our watering situations, but it is readily portable and works well for lifts of 10 feet or less.
Triticale fits into the summer since that’s when we grew it, but it is really about supplying our winter grazing needs. The first thing I will confess to diehard Grainews readers is that I am not much of a farmer. For example, last year after we seeded our swath grazing in late June I never physically checked the crop until sometime around the middle of September — luckily about three days before we had to start cutting. That is probably blasphemous to the more astute farmers who read this publication, but I generally take the attitude that grass wants to grow and it doesn’t need my help as I would just not worry about it.
That said, we have consistently had very good and very cheap production from our swath grazing and usually seed a rough mix of one bushel of barley, one bushel of oats and one-half bushel of fall rye in our mix. This gets us plenty of dry matter, pretty good energy content and some early spring grazing. If there is such a thing as an average year, we run right around 160 plus or minus animal unit-grazing days per acre. We do this consistently without fertilizer or spray inputs.
In the interest of mixing it up a bit we decided to try some winter triticale this year. What started as an experiment to replace the rye component of our mix on a couple of fields wound up as a pretty successful screw up. In our first experimental field we planned to replace the barley in the mix with triticale, so we seeded what was to be a 1:1 mixture of oats and triticale. Due to my superior technical farming skill, an old drill and a “don’t look, don’t tell” attitude in the tractor seat, it wound up being 1:2 oats:triticale.
We swathed the mix in October and the triticale was growing back so fast and thick that we baled the swaths and left them in the field so the swaths would not kill out the triticale underneath.
We have been bale grazing these bales where they sit so far this winter and have been pretty pleased. Pre-snow there was a significant amount of new forage and with over two feet of snow on the ground, the cattle were easily digging out the foot-high triticale. I think at this point it might turn out to be a three grazing event annual crop for us, which drives down the input costs (greenfeed/swath graze year No. 1, spring graze year No. 2, and greenfeed/swathgraze year No. 3).
We also successfully seeded some test strips with the triticale that was left (which was less than expected) in another field in our traditional mix in place of the rye. We had good production and will see if there is a spring grazing difference between our strips in hopefully just a few months.
I was surprised this fall at an Alberta Beef Producers meeting when the guest speaker was discussing triticale and the potential for the crop. He is significantly more knowledgeable than myself about anything crop related, but we learned of some very exciting results from the crop and also that it is a good disease break in a cereal rotation. We plan to continue working our way through some more triticale experimentation, as it has worked pretty well here so far. If you are interested in information on this crop that is far better than I can provide Google “Ropin’ the Web” and then search for triticale.
Visit: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/fcd10535 (December 20, 2012)
By the way, my accidental seeding rate was right in the range recommended by the production manual on the website. Sometimes even poor grain farmers get lucky. †