Julius Ruechel

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Recent posts by Julius Ruechel

Hi Andie,

Do you include references to other excellent educational materials?


There is a list of other educational materials at the back of my book, and I will add to these references via my website over the coming months. There are a bunch of excellent authors, like Alan Savory, Greg Judy and Joel Salatin, that I have seen mentioned in the forum threads over the past few days, each approaching things from different perspectives and different farming strategies, so I will simply add some that I have not seen mentioned yet.

Depending on where you are in your education journey, there is a wealth of great information on Dr. Temple Grandin's webpage about livestock handling systems, which are invaluable when you are ready to begin building your handling systems.

My absolute favorite book about low-stress cattle handling is Moving 'Em -get that book once you get your first animals on the farm and have fun experimenting - your cows will teach you so much as you read this book.

Neil Kinsey's Hand's On Agronomy is fantastic for understanding more about soil fertility in both crop and pasture soils. His firm Kinsey Agricultural Services, of which I have been a very satisfied customer, does soil fertility analyses and fertilizer recommendation for both conventional and organic farms.

Stockman Grass Farmer is a monthly publication for the grass-fed industry (both organic and non-organic), and includes topics on a wide range of species - cattle, dairy, goats, etc. It's owner/editor Allan Nation has a wide range of excellent books addressing different aspects of grass farming.

And if you can find an edition of Stan Parson's book If You Want To Be A Cowboy, Get A Job, it's a great, short, humorous, and very on-point read.

Attend the farm tours put on by your local agricultural extension - which can range from the most conventional feedlot operations to the completely pasture-based grass-fed operations, sometimes all on the same tour. There will be important lessons to be learned from all of them, even if their production models are vastly different from the plan you are putting together for yourself. In the end they are all solving similar challenges of soil fertility, cattle watering systems, fencing, etc, - farm tours tend to focus on the practical solutions so politics take a back seat and even the most diametrically-opposite farming strategies can learn from another. The most useful hydraulic ram pump I have ever come across for rotational grazing came from one of these local farm tours.

And make sure you go some of the big agricultural fairs - I've always loved going to the Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, Saskatchewan - The price-tag on the jaw-droppingly huge farm equipment that your kids can climb on provides a strong incentive to learn low-cost pasture-based cattle farming strategies to keep your precious capital tied up in land and cattle, not equipment. But between all the big equipment you will find tons of innovative electric fencing tools, solar-powered water pumps, and various other pasture technologies that will help you translate your cattle farming plan into tangible reality. And with a staggering variety of cattle breeders displaying their cattle (from the most rare to the most common breeds) you'll have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and start developing a good idea which breeds would be a good match for your grass fed cattle farming strategy.

I wish you lots of enjoyment along your journey,

Julius
4 years ago
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
4 years ago

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
    4 years ago
    Hi Andie,

    what is, in your opinion, the single best piece of advice for people considering raising beef cattle?


    Great question - basically, where to start to turn all this information into something tangible and get some hooves out onto pasture.

    #1, before doing anything else, spend some time soul-searching to very very clearly identify the goals you have for raising beef cattle. - there are so many options -
    Is it meant as a hobby or as profitable business enterprise? Is it meant to be a full-time career or part-time venture? What part appeals to you - cow/calf, stocker, grass-finishing, purebred breedstock, or some combination? Is it going to be a mixed farm or a farm specializing in cattle only? Figure out what you want to specialize in - this will determine the path you take for your education and planning.

    Do not be in hurry to get your first cow - and be even less in a hurry if it is meant to be a business. There is a huge amount of planning and preparation that separates owning a couple of cattle as a hobby and owning a profitable cattle business. Planning and preparation is cheap - cattle and land are not. You can change your mind dozens of times about calving dates, fence location, marketing plan, breed choice, etc, etc, but making changes becomes much more difficult and very expensive once the cattle arrive on site.

    #2 Once you've identified your goals for why you want to raise cattle, start the education process - read, go to conferences, make connections with other farmers in your area that are raising cattle in the way that you also want to raise them. This is the stage where you build up your background knowledge foundation. And this is a good time to expose yourself to a broad range of cattle farming strategies. If it is meant as a full time career, you might even want to take a couple of years to work for someone that does exactly what you want to do ... or go apprentice with a pasture-based cattle farming operation in NewZealand for a few months.

    #3 But even during the planning stage, you need to start putting pen to paper and begin designing YOUR strategy. Listening to others, reading, attending workshops - all that cannot make you a cattle farmer - the real learning begins when you start boiling all the knowledge down onto a plan of your own. Thinking about your plan is not enough - our minds are susceptible to glossing over important details. You actually have to put together a step-by-step plan ON PAPER because that is what will start showing you what questions you still need to ask and what gaps you still need to fill in your knowledge. Here's what an example cattle farming plan looks like - as a series of farm maps - bearing in mind that this is only part of the overall business plan as the financial calculations that went into this cattle farming plan are not shown. Don't worry too much about where to begin with your plan, just start anywhere. Put pen to paper.

    There is a point where you also need to STOP reading new information and stop attending conferences and workshops for a while, and focus everything on just developing your plan. It is very easy to fall into the trap of searching for the holy grail of cattle farming - that the next expert, or the next one after that, will tell you just the right combination of grass species, stocking density, calving date and breed choice so it all just works out and your work is done. But it doesn't work like that. The secret is that there is no holy grail - YOU have to become the expert of YOUR FARMING STRATEGY. And that means letting go of educating for a while so you can put all your time and energy into building the plan for your cattle farming strategy. It is a way of saying to yourself - "okay, I take 100% responsibility for my business, the outcome depends on my knowledge, my skill, and my planning."

    By applying yourself to developing your plan, you will discover those areas in your plan that are still hazy (those hundreds of extremely subtle details that make the difference between success and failure) - at which point it is easy to go back and read a book or attend a workshop that specifically addresses those knowledge gaps. But the difference will be that you will have shifted from being a knowledge-absorbing sponge to being very very targeted about what pieces of information you are looking for to put YOUR plan into action, while being able to filter out and ignore the avalanche of other information out there. You'll have shifted to operating from the perspective of being the expert of your plan, seeking out information from other people who are knowledgeable in their own areas of expertise, which may or may not have tidbits of wisdom that you can adapt in order to plug holes in your strategy.

    #4 Once you have your plan ready - build your infrastructure before getting your cattle. Put together your electric fencing, cattle water system, corrals, etc, etc. Then and ONLY then, when your system is built, go out and get the cattle you need to put your plan into action. Rushing out and getting cattle before everything else is ready may be emotionally satisfying, but in reality you are putting a huge obstacle in your path by denying yourself the freedom to really focus all your energy into building your infrastructure first. Believe me, there will be more than enough tweaking and adjustments and fine-tuning needed in your system to keep you fully occupied for a while once your cattle arrive to start using your system ... Ask any cattle farmer who has shifted a calving season or converted a paddock system into a daily pasture rotation when they already had cattle on the place - making big changes once your system is up and running is HARD. Delaying cattle purchase until your infrastructure is ready gives you a HUGE advantage.

    Planning takes the most time. Once you start building, things will happen quite quickly. Setting up a Smart Electric Fence and Water Grid is not hard. The slowest part is tearing down old barb-wire fencing to make room for your new system.

    I hope this give you a good blueprint to get you started; and have a look at the Frequently Asked Questions section of my website where you can find more tips on getting started in grass fed cattle farming.

    And then for existing ranchers?


    The three most powerful changes you can make to your cattle farming strategy are:

    1. Create a DAILY pasture rotation. The key word is DAILY, not every two or three or 5 days.
    2. If you have a cow/calf herd, shift your calving season to start AFTER the beginning of the growing season, timed approximately the same time as the deer and moose and other grazing species give birth in your region.
    3. Learn how to start extending your grazing season into the winter months. This is the biggest secret to reducing your production costs - but is only possible after you implement the other two changes.

    Transitioning an existing cattle business to a new or different production system is a lot of work because you'll constantly be stumbling over the old system until you complete the changes. There is bound to be some chaos during the interim. Here is an article to help you plan changes to your existing cattle farming strategy and there is an entire chapter in my book called Planning for Change specifically for existing cattle farms that are considering making changes to their beef production strategy.


    All the best for your cattle farming journey!
    4 years ago
    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
    4 years ago
    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
    4 years ago
    Hi Justin,

    at first glance it all seems so complicated but it seems simple principles can eliminate much of the bewilderment.


    Agreed - like so many things in life, in order to create something really simple and effective, it takes that much more time and planning beforehand to make it that simple.

    Start putting your plan together on paper throughout the learning process - plan, plan, plan, without doing ANYTHING on your land, and only when the plan is complete, then execute the plan - step-by-step. A large part of the learning happens simply by starting to put pen to paper, because it focuses the mind on the right questions to ask.

    Once you understand all these different building blocks (grazing, health, nutrition, calving, grass finishing, breeding, soil management, etc, etc), it becomes possible to weave them together into a really simple cattle farming strategy - a pasture assembly line.

    At first glance it would seem simpler to focus only on individual building blocks of cattle farming - "do this for fly control", "use that product when you have disease," "here's how you help a cow when she has calving problems" - but it is actually a huge amount of work to farm this way as you rush from emergency to emergency and your production costs pile up - and teaching from that perspective doesn't actually help anyone learn how to build a comprehensive farm strategy.

    Real success is in designing a comprehensive strategy that ELIMINATES many of these issues and automatically addresses many others without having to actually think about them on a day-to-day basis, and without having to use tractors, sweat, diesel fuel and your credit card. You are replacing effort (and expenses) with pre-planning.

    You've designed a good system when your grazing rotation eliminates the need for a fly control method, when your combination of genetic selection, calving date, and pasture management eliminates your calving problems even as you are released of the need to check your cows every night during calving season, and by shifting your calving date and learning how to continue your daily pasture rotation right through the entire calving season, you suddenly find that you've stopped seeing any scours, pneumonia, and other newborn calf diseases on your farm, which are so common elsewhere.

    This holistic approach to planning a cattle production system very much fits with the permaculture philosophy of doing things - but it can also be a little overwhelming at first when you realize just how many hats you have to wear during the planning phase in order to design a robust and truly ecologically and financially sustainable system.

    There is a moment that stands out from the time when I was managing my parent's cattle ranch when all our planning and experimenting and trial-and-error started to fall into place - we had finally shifted the calving season to start on pasture, starting about a month into the growing season around the second week of June. For the first time we were calving in an ongoing pasture rotation with nearly daily pasture moves so the cattle were constantly on fresh grass. We'd reached the point where we no longer needed to tag/process calves at birth, nor treat for any post-calving disease outbreaks - and we had finally succeeding in reducing our calving herd checks to ONCE per day (on a herd of around 400 cows/calf pairs), yet our calving death losses had virtually evaporated and no more calf pulling either! It was one of those moments where all the planning and fine-tuning come together and magic starts to happen. If you can spend your calving season on the golf course instead of staring at cows' behinds at 2:00am in the morning with a flashlight, then your hard work is starting to pay off.

    Take your time - make sure your system is EXTREMELY simple to operate - if there are a million rules that need to be followed on a day-to-day basis, it is too complicated and won't work. It would be lovely if the strategy could just be boiled down to a simple recipe that would work on every farm, for every farmer - do this, then this, then that - the francise idea. But even though in many ways you are creating a pasture assembly line, there are so many variables (environmental, climatic, financial, personal, etc) and so many vagaries of nature to account for, that in reality, no matter how similar two people's strategies may look, each needs a skillful orchestra conductor to plan and oversee it.

    Design your plan on paper and then give your maps/plan to someone else, who has no idea about farming, and see if he or she can follow it. If they can, you've done a good job, if not, you've over-complicated it and probably you won't be able to follow it either.

    Take a look at my three part example farm plan - Summer Plan - Winter Plan - Special Considerations - it's pretty simple, yet addresses all those complicated fundamental bits through a single seamless strategy.
    4 years ago
    Hi Amos,

    What food items (plant varieties, seeds, etc) should I consider to maximize the cattles health and growth?


    It depends on what your goals are for your pasture rotation - essentially you want to put together a mix of plants that will spread out growth and nutrient quality through the entire time that you would like to be grazing. Every plant species has different times of the year when it grows strongly, or goes dormant because of heat or cold. Additionally, some plants are more resistant to nutrient leaching than others during the dormant/winter season.

    Once you know exactly what your ideal grazing season is, go to your seed supplier and/or local agricultural extension agent and get them to help you put together a complete package - often they already have a pasture mix available of both regular and wild species for exactly that purpose (if you are reseeding from scratch) - which you can tweak with a few additions. They will also take account of your soil type and moisture conditions when you put together your mix.

    So, include early spring growth varieties, varieties that grow aggressively in summer, varieties that grow late in the fall - all so you can spread growth over the full growing season, instead of creating a single big growth flush in the middle. This is directly the opposite of choosing plants for a hayfield, in which you want maximum growth all at once so you can maximize your hay harvest. That is why hayfields are harder to manage with grazing - late start, big volume in middle of growing season which often goes to seed because the cattle can't keep up, and then poor regrowth in the fall right when you most need extra growth to extend your grazing season as long as possible.

    Furthermore, if you plan on trying to extend your grazing season into the winter, then you want to include a few plant varieties that are tall and strong to stand up through the snow, AND that are fairly resistant to nutrient leaching through rain and snow and frost. For example, Altai Wild Rye is one that is included in many pasture mixes for this purpose in SOME regions, but it may or may not be the best choice for your region - again that is why it is important to discuss this with your local agronomists rather than going with a recommendation off the internet which may or may not thrive in your climate and soil type. If, however, you do not plan on setting up a winter grazing program, then you don't need to include these. Again, using Altai Wild Rye as an example, the cattle tend to ignore and leave behind this grass species during the summer months - too coarse and not as palatable, but then seek it out in the winter because it retains its nutrients well, and because the inclement winter weather helps soften it up a bit.

    What are the nutrients that I should be concerned with?


    The only reliable way to get a sense of your nutrient profile in your soils is to get a soil analysis done - and then fertilize according to the recommendations. This in turn will increase the nutrient content of your pasture grasses - which you should be able to see in your monthly pasture forage analyses (one of the prerequisites to prepare your cattle and your pastures for winter grazing. ).

    Hope that helps,
    4 years ago
    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for the feedback! I'm so happy that I've been able to help explain a few things - it's a pleasure getting a chance to interact with everyone here at the forums.

    Does your book go from John Q to up and running Farmer Dan or do you focus on more specifics in the middle and end of that process.


    I set it up so that whether you are entirely new to cattle farming or an established cattle farmer wanting to transition to grass-fed production you will have a framework to follow - from education to planning to setup and finally to the day-to-day operation of your business. My goal is to show how to tie all the diverse aspects of raising cattle as a business - (pasture production, genetics, health, nutrition, soil fertility, finishing, slaughter, marketing, etc) - into a single cohesive cattle farming strategy - essentially how to weave all the threads together.

    can you reasonably get them to butchering weight from birth in 1 year or are they 2 years


    The time it takes from birth to finished varies by the frame size - bigger boned animals simply need extra time to put on the extra pounds. For example, a smaller framed breed like Angus might take as little at 16-18 months to reach their ideal slaughter weight or around 1060 lbs, whereas a larger-framed breed like Simmental would need some extra months to put on the extra 300+ pounds to reach their ideal slaughter weight of 1400 lbs. Tropical breeds take even longer because they are even bigger boned.

    It's WEIGHT, not age, that matters. The time it takes simply depends on how long it takes to put on that weight. So, in a seasonal climate, calves born about a month after the start of the growing season (i.e. mid June), will be weaned sometime during their first winter, and spend the next summer on grass. If the grazing strategy is efficiently-designed, smaller-framed breeds like Angus may be ready to slaughter by mid- to late-fall (before their second winter) if the fall pasture quality is good enough. But those that do not reach their ideal slaughter weight before the pasture quality drops off in winter will have to be overwintered again and can then be grass-finished the following growing season.

    So, the time it takes to finish depends on the frame size of the cattle you choose AND how efficient you are at creating high quality pastures for both summer AND winter grazing - which is why I put so much emphasis on learning how to extend the length of your grazing season AFTER the growing season ends - it is the key to speeding up the time it takes to reach slaughter-readiness in a pasture-based cattle farming program while minimizing production costs.


    I'm curious if all breeds then require a similar amount of time or is there a large gap between certain breeds finish weight, say a year difference?


    There is up to a year's difference between the smallest-framed breeds and the largest-framed breeds - which is a function of how much longer it takes to put on all the extra pounds to sufficiently cover all those bigger bones.

    In other words, the time from birth to finish depends on differences in frame (bone) size, not genetically-predetermined differences in growth rates. (caveat - some breeds do have a reputation for being slower growing, although I have personally seen examples from some of these supposed 'slow-growing' breeds being raised commercially and performing just as efficiently as other breeds.)
    4 years ago
    Hi Justin - great set of questions!

    Do you look for pasture with good mix of grass with seed heads, or in other words do you look for grasses for the cattle to graze the top third( energy ) of plant to pack the pounds? When do you need energy of plant and when do you need lower parts of the plant (which I think is higher in protein)?


    Ideally you want to graze plants BEFORE they go to seed - because once the plant starts forming a seedhead, it begins drawing nutrients out of the stalk and leaves in order to start creating seeds. Notice in the diagram what happens to the plant nutritiousness once grass goes to seed:
    Obviously the nutrients are not completely lost - they have just been redirected into the seed head, but seeds do very little for the cattle's nutrition as they just pass straight through and out the other end. That is why when farmers feed grains, they have to roll, crush, or crack them so that the digestive enzymes in the cow's stomach can make use of them.

    When grazing pasture - your most efficient pasture use comes from grazing just before the grass begins going to seed - but NOT grazing it right down, but rather leaving at least 6" to 10" of residual behind (or more - see below) so that the roots don't die back too much and so a nice protective shade remains to reduce soil moisture evaporation. This keeps grass growing at its fastest - thus maximizing pasture productivity. Notice the grass growth rate curve in the image below - maximizing pasture production means keeping grass growth rates in the steepest part of the curve - anywhere taller than 6-10 inches up to the start of seed formation.


    At times you will leave considerably more residue behind in order to speed up the pasture rotation to keep up with the grass maturing further down the line of the grazing rotation. Have a look at the pasture rotation article, which explains this concept in detail, and contrast it with the winter grazing strategy, which is very different once the growing season is over.

    With this strategy, in combination with DAILY pasture moves, the cattle get fresh grass every day, and that grass ideally has not gone to head so you are maximizing nutritional quality from the grass - this maximizes your pasture gains.

    The goal is simple - use the cattle as the tool to keep grass going to seed, and always leave behind a tall grazing residual so growth can resume quickly and the soil is protected.

    When grazing cattle and towards the finishing phase, what kind of pasture do you gravitate towards?


    The strategy described above is equally relevant to grazing any age-group of cattle, including grass finishing. In reality, the exact same pasture rotation can continue for the grass finishing process - you just have to be aware of more details to make sure that the nutrition is consistent from day to day and that you slaughter at the correct time - see my grass finishing article list for on all the little details that you watch out for as you operate your pasture rotation during the grass-finishing phase.

    Also do you open the stock density so the cattle can really choose all the ice cream plants they want to get poundage or is it better to graze the pasture in higher density in order to make the pasture better or ready for the next grazing.


    There are other strategies - like the low stock density strategy you describe - that can theoretically maximize nutrition per animal even more than simply continuing the daily grazing rotation, but at the cost of disrupting your high density pasture rotation.

    These alternate strategies are just not worth all the extra time, effort, and management complexity. For one thing they will immediately reduce the overall productivity of the land because you can no longer keep grass growth within those ideal curves shown in the diagram above.

    Furthermore, over time the uneven grazing impact of low-density grazing means that choice plants will be overgrazed, lousy plants will be undergrazed / ignored by the grass finishing group, and over time your pasture productivity will decrease still further - it is not sustainable and will require mechanical intervention to rejuvenate pastures. In dry extensive rangelands where mechanical intervention is not possible, this strategy will slowly turn your land to desert, whereas if you had just stuck to your daily pasture rotation, you land would have continued to improve and grow more productive.

    And, what is also not accounted for by these alternate grazing strategies is that as soon as the high-density cattle grazing is disrupted, the cattle stop grazing as a mob, - they stop competing with each other - and so they stop overeating. Competition at the dinner table (just like at thanksgiving) is completely subconscious, but causes cattle to eat more when grazing as a mob - thus making up for any theoretical short-term benefit of using low-density grass-finishing strategies.

    Number one rule - keep it simple! There are a lot of details that go into planning a daily pasture rotation, but once it is up and running, it is EXTREMELY simple to operate.

    A simple pasture rotation makes farm management much easier - the consistency of the pasture rotation routine makes it MUCH easier to gauge how much grass you have left for your cattle (other techniques make this a nightmare).

    Furthermore, in a daily pasture rotation, all animals can continue to be grazed as a single large group - by contrast, separating grass finishing animals from the rest of the cow herd becomes very complicated, requires more fences, more water sites, and more labor.

    And by continuing to use the daily pasture rotation for the grass finishing phase, the cattle don't experience any stress from disrupting their grazing routine (which keeps them gaining efficiently, and keeps their meat tender).

    And when it comes time to sort cattle out of the herd for slaughter, the cattle are so accustomed to daily pasture moves that it is much easier for even a single lone farmer to do all the cattle moving (low stock density methods mean the cattle rapidly spread out all over so it take MUCH more time, effort, and stress to round up and sort out cattle).

    Have a look at the farm plan example (summer plan, winter plan, special considerations (including grass finishing)) on my website to see how all this translates into a very simple grazing strategy on a map.
    4 years ago