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Chris: C4 and C2 grazing and finishing/ no hay in VT and similar short season- long winter climes

 
niko horster
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Hi Chris,

I am on your list and listen to a fair amount of the interviews you post. Some really great stuff in there.
I have a small herd of cattle (cow/calf through finish) in Vt (23 head) and would like to hear your take on finishing with planted annuals (corn and oats) to extend the finish season out of the spring flush time window. I would also like to hear a bit about winter feeding in our climate, cold and snowy, lots of ice crusting some years. long winter 200 days on average. Wrapped bales vs hay vs stockpile etc.
all I have heard is from people in much milder climes doing the no hay thing, is anyone doing it here?

Best,

niko
 
Chris Stelzer
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niko horster wrote:Hi Chris,

I am on your list and listen to a fair amount of the interviews you post. Some really great stuff in there.
I have a small herd of cattle (cow/calf through finish) in Vt (23 head) and would like to hear your take on finishing with planted annuals (corn and oats) to extend the finish season out of the spring flush time window. I would also like to hear a bit about winter feeding in our climate, cold and snowy, lots of ice crusting some years. long winter 200 days on average. Wrapped bales vs hay vs stockpile etc.
all I have heard is from people in much milder climes doing the no hay thing, is anyone doing it here?

Best,

niko


Hey Niko,

Thanks for listening to my interviews!

To answer your first question about finishing. Basically, it comes down to the energy vs protein ratio of the diet. How do you determine that ratio? Monitor the urine pH of the animals you are trying to finish. An ideal pH for finishing (or anytime of the year) is 7. A pH of 8 or 9 means the diet is too high in protein. This means you need more energy. How do you get more energy? You can let the animals graze more selectively (give them more area to graze) or you can supplement with something that has a lot of energy in it like Molasses or a product like Cornerpost. Be very careful about supplementing, it's expensive and you can run into problems if you over do it. So, in simplest terms, give them more area to graze which allows them to select the very best diet.

The no hay issue. That might be tough for you up north where you are. I've never ranched there so I can't say what it's like. However, you can still plan to have stockpiled forage, and if conditions are correct, your animals can graze that forage. As a backup plan, you can put large round bales out in the pastures where you stockpile is and use electric fence to prevent or grant access to the livestock. So in a bad situation, you just take down some electric fence and your livestock can eat the hay. In an ideal situation, the livestock can graze the stockpiled forage, and you can save the bales for another year. This is called "Bale Grazing" meaning you don't unroll or break up the hay at all, just take the netting off the large bales and let the livestock eat the hay where it stands. Move them to a new area frequently to prevent excess trampling and all the other things associated with keeping livestock in one place for a prolonged period of time.

However, I would contact some locals who are trying to do what you are doing and ask them if it would be possible to graze most winters. I know in the upper midwest it's almost impossible to graze most winters because of a thick sheet of ice preventing access to stockpiled forage. So, people just bale graze. But, historically, I don't think wild herbivores/grazers would have been up in those areas during the winter.

Hope that helps!
 
niko horster
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hmm, thanks for your reply. the urine test is interesting, i will try that. Do pool water test strips work for that? I would think that there is a broad spectrum the cows can eat without changing ph a lot and not gaining a lot either. That is why I was thinking of adding more energy by using corn forage and oats at milk stage forage. Supplements are out of the question financially, I agree.

I have not met anyone up our way who is totally no hay, a few good managers can do about 50% no hay, which is probably where the sweet spot is. Feeding whole bales is probably not a great idea either here, too wet, the hay will definitely not be edible the 2nd season. maybe not even the 1st after sitting out more than 30 days.

I have distributed wrapped bales on snow and moved the cattle around like that. works well.

Thanks again for taking time to answer questions here.

As an aside:
i have established the beginnigs of a swale and berm system on my pasture land, don't see how it works on hay land, and the results are great. Works.

Niko
 
Chris Stelzer
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niko horster wrote:hmm, thanks for your reply. the urine test is interesting, i will try that. Do pool water test strips work for that? I would think that there is a broad spectrum the cows can eat without changing ph a lot and not gaining a lot either. That is why I was thinking of adding more energy by using corn forage and oats at milk stage forage. Supplements are out of the question financially, I agree.

I have not met anyone up our way who is totally no hay, a few good managers can do about 50% no hay, which is probably where the sweet spot is. Feeding whole bales is probably not a great idea either here, too wet, the hay will definitely not be edible the 2nd season. maybe not even the 1st after sitting out more than 30 days.

I have distributed wrapped bales on snow and moved the cattle around like that. works well.

Thanks again for taking time to answer questions here.

As an aside:
i have established the beginnigs of a swale and berm system on my pasture land, don't see how it works on hay land, and the results are great. Works.

Niko


Niko, yes you'll want pH strips with a range from 5-10. You want the pH to be 7 ideally. Do you have any pics of the swales/berms? I would love to see them and possibly interview you for my podcast if you are interested. I think thats AWESOME!
 
Lm McWilliams
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Chris & Niko,

Appreciate the exchange of info here!

Niko, like you, we live in northern New England and get to deal with varying amounts of snow and ice
each winter - yeah!

Bale grazing has worked so well for us that we wonder what took us so long to start doing it. Our
experience is that the loss from unwrapped round bales is quite high, as you said, due to rainfall and
humidity, but that could still work well for people with access to affordably priced dry rounds - especially
where the 'waste' hay can help build or improve soils that have been damaged (by row cropping,
overgrazing in the past, compaction, etc or over the top of 'ledge').

Wrapped round bales, both baleage and dry, have worked great, as long as the baleage is well made
and the wrapped dry bales were sufficiently dry before wrapping, they will last a long time, but we have
never tried to hold them over from one year to the next. We have found that the silage/balage that is
lower in moisture keeps better than the really wet bales.

The major downside, in our view, to wrapped bales is all that plastic. Not very eco-friendly, but we have
not figured out a better way to get our livestock through the winter that we can afford.

Jim Gerrish, author of 'Kick the Hay Habit' says that one horse will open up enough grazing for a number
of cattle. He also says that sheep will paw through the snow and open it up for cattle. Chris, do you
have experience with this? What is the snow cover like in northern Missouri where Greg Judy lives? Do
they tend to get the ice crusting on top of the snow that Yankee grazers have to contend with?

Deer, elk, and moose all get through New England winters by browsing, right? And stored fat. But I still
keep thinking that there has to be an ideal forage that will maintain quality when allowed to grow tall, so
it is more accessible in deeper snows.

But, Niko, if we keep working toward zero hay feeding, we can certainly extend our grazing season over
what it would be if we just did the set-stocking approach all summer, right?

Best regards!
 
Chris Stelzer
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Lm McWilliams wrote:Chris & Niko,

Appreciate the exchange of info here!

Niko, like you, we live in northern New England and get to deal with varying amounts of snow and ice
each winter - yeah!

Bale grazing has worked so well for us that we wonder what took us so long to start doing it. Our
experience is that the loss from unwrapped round bales is quite high, as you said, due to rainfall and
humidity, but that could still work well for people with access to affordably priced dry rounds - especially
where the 'waste' hay can help build or improve soils that have been damaged (by row cropping,
overgrazing in the past, compaction, etc or over the top of 'ledge').

Wrapped round bales, both baleage and dry, have worked great, as long as the baleage is well made
and the wrapped dry bales were sufficiently dry before wrapping, they will last a long time, but we have
never tried to hold them over from one year to the next. We have found that the silage/balage that is
lower in moisture keeps better than the really wet bales.

The major downside, in our view, to wrapped bales is all that plastic. Not very eco-friendly, but we have
not figured out a better way to get our livestock through the winter that we can afford.

Jim Gerrish, author of 'Kick the Hay Habit' says that one horse will open up enough grazing for a number
of cattle. He also says that sheep will paw through the snow and open it up for cattle. Chris, do you
have experience with this? What is the snow cover like in northern Missouri where Greg Judy lives? Do
they tend to get the ice crusting on top of the snow that Yankee grazers have to contend with?

Deer, elk, and moose all get through New England winters by browsing, right? And stored fat. But I still
keep thinking that there has to be an ideal forage that will maintain quality when allowed to grow tall, so
it is more accessible in deeper snows.

But, Niko, if we keep working toward zero hay feeding, we can certainly extend our grazing season over
what it would be if we just did the set-stocking approach all summer, right?

Best regards!



Lm,

I don't have any experience with integrating horses or sheep to break up snow for cattle. I think most times it's not necessary. Unless of course you already have a horse or some sheep but I wouldn't advise anyone to get those livestock only to possibly break up snow. Greg Judy lives in central Missouri and we never had to worry about the cattle not grazing through snow while I was there. It only snowed maybe 6 inches at one time, so it was no problem. I've also seen videos of cattle in Utah grazing through 10-12 inches of snow. Like I said, it would be great to stockpile some grass, if the cows can graze it than great, but also keep some large round bales out there in case you need to bale graze them if things get crazy (like 3 feet of snow). You can always not use the bales you don't graze. When I refer to bales I mean net-wrapped round bales. They will keep for a few years. Hope that helps!
 
Lm McWilliams
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Thanks for the response, Chris.

From a permculture perspective, the more species we can incorporate, the stronger the
overall system becomes, via the synergies between them (not always known or documented).
One example that comes readily to mind is that cattle & sheep share few parasites. That said,
of course there are other considerations regarding meeting the needs for each species to thrive,
taking into account the goals of landowner, etc. I just wondered if you'd had experience with
mult-species grazing, and how that technique might affect the scenario in deep snow country.

With stockpiled grass we have had horses, cattle, and sheep successfully graze in winter in
fairly deep snows, (we always called it 'standing hay'), but that was in areas where an ice
crust on top was rare, unlike northern New England, where that is an issue for most of the
winter. In northern New England, 6" of snow is called 'flurries'. <grin!>

Net wrapped round bales, as Niko pointed out, will quickly spoil in this climate. In this region,
4X4 bales are the norm (small fields) and between rain, humidity, moisture from the ground,
etc the loss even through one winter is probably half the bale. I've never seen a net wrapped
bale have any feedable forage left into the next summer in this region, much less being able to
save it for another year. Even under cover, we find it useful to put round bales up on pallets to
minimize losses from wicking ground moisture. Tarp covers w/out an airspace is almost useless,
for the same reason- moisture condenses and the bales rot.

(We also find it a hassle to remove all the plastic netting from the bales.)

For us, so far, the plastic wrapped, or tube wrapped (with open ends) bales have worked the best-
as the wrapping preserves the quality of the forage until it is fed (even then we have found losses
significantly reduced by placing the bales on pallets out in the pasture, as the bales will absorb
moisture from the ground, forage cover, rain, and melting snow as our winters have many freze-
thaw cycles.

BUT we are always looking for a better way. Appreciate your perspective!





 
niko horster
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Chris, LM, thanks for the follow up. LM, it sounds like we do things pretty similar. I have fed bales last winter over marginal ground and was thrilled to see the effect on fertility it had this year. Some of my best grass there now. I frost seeded clover as well after dragging the area to distribute the left overs more evenly.
I agree that moisture management is key in our climate. Like the idea of using a pallet under the bale, will give that a try. how many pallets do you have in the field frozen to the ground by the time spring comes around? I would expect to loose a few.
The ice crusting is the real issue and also the density of the snow. 3' of Idaho or Utah! (love the exclamation mark on the license plates) is a completely different thing than 3' of March snow in NE.
The horse pawing effect is new to me. Might be worth trying, more likely to try sheep, how about Icelandic of some other hardy breed.
the browse idea is good and had in the past been used by oldtimers, cut down saplings in the fall before leaves turn and hang them in the barn rafters to dry, then feed out with the hay, great source of minerals and roughage to balance the balage.
i agree that plastic is the worst part of it. Maybe we will get the biodegradable plastic sometime. We have started using it for veggies crops, and it works well, but is much thinner than the usual black plastic and tears easy.

Chris: I would love to talk about my limited experience of using Berm and Swale and grazing.

Best,

Niko
 
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