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Small plot, intense summer heat

 
Kevin Young
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Julius, thanks for stopping by!

I have only one acre in southwestern Arizona. It is flood irrigated from a canal and the grass is thick, tall, and green. I would love to get one cow and see if I can provide for its needs with careful grazing management. I presume a beef cow would be best--if I am running out of forage I can always decide it is time for the butcher. Do you have breed recommendations for dealing with Arizona heat? Are there small breeds better suited to grass than others? Would love any tips from the community.
 
Julius Ruechel
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Hi Kevin,

I've discussed breed choice in this thread. You may also want to read through my article about selecting the best beef cattle breed for your grazing program.

You mentioned the intense heat in your area - so you may want to consider a tropical breed or a breed combination that includes a tropical breed to help with the heat tolerance - however these tend to be much larger framed breeds which also will take longer to finish. If your acre does not have shade, then you may also want to consider lighter-colored breeds simply because they will absorb less heat from the sun and will therefore suffer less from the heat. By the same token, pick a breed that has dark pigmentation around the eyes to help reduce eye strain from the intense solar glare - this will help reduce their vulnerability to eye infections.

You also mentioned that "If I am running out of forage, I can always decide it is time to butcher". Yes, but ... If you want to be happy with the beef you produce, you need to know in advance what target weight your animal must be before you slaughter - and don't slaughter until it reaches that weight. If you slaughter too light for its frame size (bone structure), then your beef will be under-finished, and consequently tough and lacking in flavor. Furthermore, if you run out of pasture and then slaughter, your animal will have already stopped gaining weight. That will also make the meat tough, even if it has reached its target weight. Cattle should gain weight consistently throughout the grass-finishing process and be gaining weight right up to the time of slaughter. Have a look through the grass-finishing articles on my website and memorize the Seven Unbreakable Rules of Producing Great Beef posted there to help you set up a program for finishing your beef animal.
 
R Scott
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Make shade if you have to. One of those shade tents people put up for their cars work just as well for a couple cattle.
 
Kevin Young
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Thanks so much for the detailed and helpful reply! With the links to those additional resources I may be able to ask a less-naive question next time. The property does have good shade--I think I could include a shade tree with every patch that I might divide it into. In the meantime, it looks like I have my work cut out for me in reading those links and considering what I need to do next.
 
Josh Ritchey
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Wow, I had no idea the meat would be effected that much by harvesting before the cow has reached that magic weight. I assumed the meat quality was based solely on the forage and cow's health.

Thanks for the info. I've read that a shade tree can encourage parasites from the build up of manure under them. Just something to be aware of, though chickens or pigs may also assist in mitigating that potential problem.
 
Julius Ruechel
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Hi Kevin,

I think I could include a shade tree with every patch that I might divide it into.

RE: Shade Shade is a double-edged sword in a pasture. If the entire pasture is wooded, no worries, but as soon as there are only scarce trees within an otherwise open pasture, those trees become manure magnets because the cows go back every day to rest in the shade. And that is a big problem - not just because concentrated manure is a fly breeding ground - but equally or even more important because this creates the situation where all your soil nutrients are being harvested from the pasture by the grazing cattle and then deposited in one spot - under the tree - instead of being spread out all over the pasture. The consequence is that you are slowly depleting your pasture soils of nutrients, or you have to spend more on fertilizer inputs to maintain soil fertility.

What many farmers do to avoid this is to fence wooded and open pastures separately to prevent access to shade trees from open grazing areas. Some will even go as far as cutting down all the sparse shade trees within a pasture for the same reason. And they put fences far enough away from hedges and forest edges so that the cattle can't clump up against fence to benefit from the shade while they are grazing open pastures. This causes the cattle to stay out on pasture and leave the manure in the same areas where the grass was grazed.

Furthermore, giving cattle prolonged access to any tree will eventually kill the tree - they use them as scratching posts, which eventually polishes all the bark off the tree - causing the tree to die.

However, this is where those DAILY pasture rotations come in - if you can set up an electric fence grid that can easily provide fresh grass every day, along with a back fence to block access to previously-grazed slices, then this blocks the cattle from reusing the same tree day after day after day. With this type of pasture rotation, you are limiting cattle exposure to any individual tree to 1 day per rotation - in dry climates that might mean once per year, in wetter climates your rotation might to 2 to 4 loops. This limits manure transfer to favorite shade trees and reduces parasite breeding grounds, as well as saving the trees.

RE: Permanent pasture divisions versus using portable temporary electric cross-fences between permanent electric fence corridors.
I am assuming from the way you worded your question that you are planning a series of permanent paddocks. You might want to consider planning an electric fence rotational grazing strategy that employs temporary electric cross fences, moved daily, to create daily grazing slices between the broad permanent electric fence corridors. This gives you maximum flexibility for managing your pastures, and even allows you to exclude certain areas of your pastures from grazing at certain points in your grazing management.

In addition to the countless management benefits to setting up this type of system, it is also SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to build, which will save you a lot of money. Once you set it up, even with a herd of a few hundred cattle, it will only take you 10-20 minutes per day to let the cows into the next grazing slice, move yesterday's back-fence to become tomorrows front-fence, and reset access to your cattle water system. It is VERY slick, it provides your cattle with optimal nutrition every day, and it doesn't clog up your land with countless fences that tie you into an inflexible management strategy.

Here is a very simplified schematic diagram of the basic concept - broad permanent electric fence corridors, that get subdivided daily using portable electric fencing. Everything done using single-wire fencing, except property boundary fences which require 3 strand so that they provide some kind of physical barrier to the neighboring property in case the power ever goes off while you are not there. It is like creating a ladder with movable rungs.



Here are some links to help you if you decide to use electric fencing to create a daily pasture rotation:
This link explains the basic concept of this type of electric fence grid: Creating a Herd Migration in your own Backyard

This link provides an overview of using psychological fences instead of physical barriers - including how to train your cattle to electric fencing - a must-read for anyone planning to use electric fencing: Livestock Fencing Psychology

This is a link to my article series explaining how to build it, including how to get water to all of grazing slices: The Smart Electric Fence Grid

A summary of the core grazing management rules for when you operate your daily pasture rotation: Grazing Management Summary

And you can learn more about how to manage shade areas in your rotational grazing program in the Electric Fences and Rotational Grazing chapter of my book.

I wish you all the best for developing your property,

Julius
 
Julius Ruechel
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Hi Josh

I had no idea the meat would be effected that much by harvesting before the cow has reached that magic weight. I assumed the meat quality was based solely on the forage and cow's health.

Thanks for your comments - I'm pleased that we get a chance to discuss the art of grass finishing in more detail!

Grass finishing really is all about reaching that magic weight corresponding to the frame size of the animal, as well as ensuring that the animal is gaining at the time of slaughter, had a consistent diet from day to day, and that you eliminated stresses both on pasture and on the way to the slaughterhouse (these stresses include health, nutrition, handling stress, transport stress, and so on - those seven unbreakable rules of producing good beef that I've mentioned elsewhere in the forum threads.

In a broad sense (10,000 ft view from above) forage actually only matters in that the lower the quality of the forage, the slower the cattle gain weight, which means you have to wait longer for them to reach their target slaughter weight.

That is not to say that what the animal eats is not important. Forage type absolutely affects the types of fats in the meat (i.e. omega3's and omega6's on a grass vs grain rich diet). And to some extent, what the animal eats influences the flavor of the meat (for example, I quite like the taste of beef that uses kelp as part of the mineral mix). By taking care of these nutrients in the cattle's diet either through the smorgasbord of plants in your pasture and/or through nutritional supplements and soil fertility management, you are also positively affecting the flavor and tenderness of the beef. But forage is only a small part of the overall details that need to be addressed in a grass finishing program.

Many people obsess about how to create the perfect mix of plant species in their pastures for grass-finishing program - yet of all the many details that need to be addressed in designing the grass-finishing program, finding the perfect balance of plants is among the least important concerns. Let's face it - beef finished by grazing a timothy hayfield is going to be every bit as tasty as beef finished on a carefully constructed smorgasbord of 55 different pasture grasses, if all the other details have been properly addressed in the grass finishing program. Even having access to an alfalfa field or clover patch for grass finishing is not going to make a shred of difference if the pasture rotation, target weights, supplements, handling strategy, transport, and so on are not polished to perfection first. It's about starting with the items that make the biggest difference first.

There is a lot of beef that gets marketed as grass-fed simply because the cattle are on a grass diet and the cattle look fat, and it's autumn so the owners decide it is time to slaughter. But that is no guarantee that the beef is actually finished - it needs to reach that target weight associated with its frame size. If you buy grass fed beef that is tough or flavorless, the problem is not that it is grass fed, the problem is that the animal was slaughtered too early, or was stressed in some way prior to slaughtering. Which means you simply need to find a different grass fed beef producer that understands the art of grass finishing.

There is a lot that grass fed beef producers can learn by studying all the little details that the competition (by that I mean the feedlot industry) pays attention to when they finish cattle. Yes, the diet and the husbandry are very different, but the lessons are still very relevant. What makes the majority of grain-fed beef properly finished (tender and flavorful) is not the grain diet, but rather because these people are pros at paying attention to the little details - waiting to slaughter at the right weight corresponding to frame size, minimizing stress, preventing disease, calm handling, consistent routine and consistent diet every single day. These are all lessons that are just as important to grass-finishing, and when they are addressed in the grass finishing program, then grass fed beef turns out every bit as tender and flavorful and delicious as the beef produced by feedlots, perhaps even more so!

If you've found this helpful, make sure you sign up for email updates on my website (or get notified via RSS, Facebook, or Google+) so I can notify you when I put out new articles about pasture-raising and grass-finishing beef cattle. And, please feel free to contact me directly through my website to ask questions or make requests for specific topics in future articles so I can prioritize articles based on your most pressing questions.

All the best,

Julius
 
Kevin Young
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It is wonderful to have such open access to expert guidance. Thank you again for your replies and all the rich hints. I will definitely buy your book before I get my first cow!
 
Julius Ruechel
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It is wonderful to have such open access to expert guidance. Thank you again for your replies and all the rich hints. I will definitely buy your book before I get my first cow!

Thanks Kevin!

...
I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of interacting with everyone here in the Permies forums - the 3-day forum experience has been a wonderful venue to dig a little deeper into what's under the hood of creating a grass-fed cattle farming business. It's a pleasure to pass on what I have learned.

I was extremely fortunate during my own learning process because I had the unique experience of being given free rein to experiment with countless different grazing management strategies, try different calving dates, test all sorts of different crops, and explore different feeding strategies while I was managing my parent's cattle farm. Having access to such a large herd of cattle (which at that time was a commercial cattle herd of around 400 cow/calf pairs) and such a passionate team of people with whom to learn, in real time, how to translate theory into practice was a truly remarkable and extremely intense learning experience that stands out head and shoulders above all my other experiences in the cattle industry. And seeing first-hand the domino effect that even minor changes could make to the sustainability, manageability, and financial viability of the cattle farming system was humbling.

Every day was like waking up to a fresh chapter of a detective novel, with me in the hot-seat...

  • How do you realistically continue a DAILY pasture rotation with 400 cows that are giving birth in the middle of the pasture rotation? (Hint - daily moves with a back fence)
  • How is it that two calves, born on the same farm, around the same date, raised in the exact same management system, with identically calm demeanors, fattened on the exact same pasture in preparation for slaughter, and slaughtered on the same date, can turn out so different - one completely tender and flavorful, the other dry and tough? (Hint - frame size).
  • How can a grazing season be extended into the winter months through crusted snow or 3 foot deep snow drifts? (Hint - summer preparation, solar wicking, creating 'bread crumbs')
  • How do you keep your electric fence system working effectively for winter grazing in snow and dry sub-zero temperatures? (Hint - grounding system)
  • How do you practically deal with gates and cattle water when creating an infinite number of constantly-changing grazing slices in a DAILY pasture rotation? (Hint - swivel lock electric fence insulators, a mobile water tube and/or cattle water alleys)
  • How do you deal with calf processing when new-born calves are born on warm sunny lush pastures and hit the ground running at 50 miles an hour? (Hint - stop tagging and castrating at birth)
  • How do you train cattle to electric fences so they don't miss the fact that a single psychological electric wire is supposed to keep them from running hog-wild through the hayfield on the other side of the fence? (Hint - peanut butter)
  • How do you train cattle to follow an ATV through a mile of knee-deep alfalfa that they are not supposed to graze, without the assistance of fences or anyone pushing the cattle herd from behind? (Hint - come-cow 'follow-me' training - and you'll have to read the Electric Fencing and Rotational Grazing chapter of my book, and the Case-In-Point on page 81, to learn about this one )


  • Honestly, I don't think even Sherlock Holmes had as much fun as I did.

    I hope you enjoy my book, and that it will prove useful to you both as you design your strategy for raising cattle and as you set out to find answers to some of your own mysteries when you begin the day-to-day operation of your cattle farming adventure.

    If you would like to be notified when I write fresh cattle farming and grass-finishing articles, make sure that you sign up for email updates or RSS on my website or follow me on Google+ or Facebook.

    Thanks again for inviting me to the Permies cattle forum - and thanks to everyone on the forums for such a warm and positive three days.

    All the best,

    Julius
     
    Josh Ritchey
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    Julius,

    I have one last question, regarding your book because I notice you stating grass "finishing" a lot. Do you concentrate on grain as a daily or seasonal feed and grass as a snack throughout the day and warm months. Or is that just a term that will make more sense as you get into more detail in the book?

    Or do you leave the information open to the point that it can be applied to grain supplementation, full grain with grass option or straight grass?

    My hope is to be grass only, with hay in the snowy, winter months.

    Thanks for all the time, have a great weekend!
     
    Julius Ruechel
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    Hi Josh,

    I notice you stating grass "finishing" a lot. Do you concentrate on grain as a daily or seasonal feed and grass as a snack throughout the day and warm months. Or is that just a term that will make more sense as you get into more detail in the book?

    "Finishing" is simply the last stage of raising cattle in preparation for slaughter - when an animal has reached its mature bone size and is filling out (fattening up) to reach the ideal target weight for slaughter. The term "finishing" does not specify what kind of feed is used - rather just the stage in preparation for slaughter. In the correct use of the term, unless the feed source is also mentioned, you have no idea whether the animal has been finished/fattened on grass, grain, potatoes, sugar beets, corn, hay, silage, or doughnuts .

    Just to confuse things, in everyday conversation when someone says they are finishing cattle, often it is assumed or implied that the cattle are being fattened on a grain-rich diet simply because that is the most common way of finishing cattle for the commodity markets, although this is assumption is technically incorrect - it is jumping to conclusions.

    When I refer to "finishing" in my articles and in my book, I am simply referring to the fattening stage prior to slaughter, without reference to feed source. When the term "grass-finishing" is used, then this specifically means they were finished on a grass-rich diet WITHOUT the use of grains. When the term "grain-finishing" is used, then this specifically means that the cattle are finished on a grain-rich diet (meaning that grain (wheat, corn, etc) will be a large proportion of the calories, though there will always still be some sort of hay or silage included in a grain-finishing diet to provide roughage)

    If you sell grass fed beef in the USA, by law the animal cannot have consumed grain in its diet at any point in its life - including during the finishing process. This means that in the US, "grass fed" and "grass finished" are really the same thing. Here is the USDA marketing standard for GRASS FED. Some countries do not have a clear marketing standard for what it means to sell grass fed beef, so yes, this means producers and retailers can individually make up their own definition for what it means to be 'grass fed' and 'grass finished', which could be abused (though creating a law certainly is no guarantee that someone can't cheat anyway.)

    And just to throw another wrench into this alphabet soup of definitions - being "grass fed" does not automatically guarantee that the cattle were "pasture-raised" - it simply means they lived on a grass diet, whether they ate that grass standing knee-deep in pasture, or in a feedlot where hay, silage, or fresh grass was fed without grains. And just because something is "pasture-raised" does not mean that the farmer didn't feed grain on pasture - it can be grain finished on pasture!

    That is why it is important to dig beneath the marketing label and ask your grass fed beef supplier about their FINISHING program - what does it look like?

    This article explains the wide range of production strategies that can be used to produce grass fed beef: Grass Fed Beef: Market Label vs. Farming Strategies

    Here is an article explaining why cattle diet should matter to beef consumers from a nutritional point of view - Comparing Grainfed vs Grassfed - why it should matter to beef consumers

    And this article gives consumers some guidelines to help them when they are looking to buy grass fed beef: Grass Fed Beef Buying Tips

    ...
    Thanks for all your great questions this week. Have a great weekend,

    Julius
     
    Andie Shire
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    How big would a paddock be on an acre piece of land? Which shape is best suited for cattle?
     
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