This is David Lamm, here at
the East National Technology Support Center, in
sunny Greensboro. Greensboro had a big
ice storm last week, and disrupted
service quite a bit, and we’re just getting
through our big thaw here. So I want to welcome everybody. And I think today’s– I always
get excited about folks talking about soil health. And today’s presenter,
Doug Peterson, is going to be another one
in a fine line of presenters that we’ve had so far this year. Doug is the State
Soil Health Specialist for the state of Missouri. And he formerly was
their grazing specialist. And I think what makes
Doug unique is not only does he know what
we do as an agency, but he also practices
many of the principles about mob grazing
and high density grazing he’ll be speaking
on today on his own farming operation there in the
Bootheels of Missouri. So with that, Doug, I’ll
turn it over to you. Welcome. OK. And David, and Doug, just for
a second before we move on, I do want to express our thanks
to Southern Regional Extension Forestry for partnering
with us to host our events at the
ConservationWebinars.net Science and Technology
Training Library. So Doug, I’m getting ready
to give you the presentation. Thank you, ma’am. This technology
stuff is pretty cool. But it’s kind of
challenging once in a while. So Dave, my operation is not
in the Bootheel of Missouri, but I am today. I’ve actually got a place
up on the north Missouri line, next to Iowa. And so a lot of
the things that I’m going to talk about– a
lot of the experiences I’m going to talk about
are from my operation, but from other operations
around the country, as well. High density grazing
for soil health. A lot of our soils around
the country are degraded. We know that. We understand that. At least I think we do now. In many cases,
we’ve probably lost half of our soil organic
matter in the time that we’ve been using them
since European settlement. So purchased amendments–
fertilizer, lime, that kind of thing– I feel
should be a capital investment, not an annual expense. It shouldn’t be
something that we should have to purchase
year after year after year. So how can we improve our soils
without that annual expense? Here was a book that I read
several years ago, and met this gentleman, Allan Savory. He came up with a
topic– or a subject– that he believed animal impact
was a tool to heal the land. And he said that
the only known tool to heal the land
is animal impact. Now, I’m not sure
it’s the only tool. But I do believe that it is
a very, very economical tool. And it’s a very natural tool. And that’s kind of
what we’re going to talk about is the
tool of animal impact. And how we can use it
to improve the land. And what it does to
improve soil health. Animal impact is everything that
the livestock do to the land. It’s not just how much
of a plant they eat. It’s the hoof action. It’s the rubbing. It’s the salivating. It’s all the physical
things they do, besides just how much
grass do they eat. I believe it’s probably
the most powerful tool we have to manage our
grassland resources. And even, now, our cropland
resources, with cover crops. It does so many things. How did nature– how did
that animal impact work? How did it take place in nature? Here’s a picture
of a set of bison out in South Dakota
on Phil Jerde’s place. And you can see them. They’re pretty well
just standing there. They’re not stressed. They’re grazing their
way across this hillside. They’re at a fairly
high stock density. But you can imagine, as they’re
walking across there slowly, their footsteps are– they’re
placing their feet very carefully. They’re walking very slow. There’s not a lot
of soil disturbance. There’s not a lot of
trampling going on. They’re being fairly selective
in what they’re eating. They’re picking and
choosing what they want. So one thing that
these bison don’t have, that the native bison–
or all herbivores, for that matter– would have
had that would have impacted how they interacted with
their forage on the land was predators. Here’s a shot of a small
group of bison in Yellowstone. And if you think
back, OK– these predators– they’re not
actually harassing these bison, but look at how much closer
together the bison are. And think about the
impact that their feet are going to have on the land. They’re much closer
together, obviously. They’re nervous. They’re agitated. There’s a couple
tails in the air. So they’re going to trample
a lot more forage than the picture previously
here of Phil’s. OK? So here’s another picture. A lot more impact, isn’t there? You can actually physically see
the dust, the dirt flying up. So would this have happened
all the time over the prairie? No. It wouldn’t have. There’s a lot of accounts of
large herds of bison– hundreds of thousands– moving
across the plains. Either being chased
by predators, or not, just migrating. But they would trample
virtually everything– trample and eat virtually
everything in their path, not returning for months. There are other accounts of
family units of 50, 60 maybe 80 head of bison living
on a burned area. And even those small herds
would have occasionally been harassed by predators. And it’s that harassment
that would have achieved a certain level of impact to
the land, besides just grazing. It would have trampled
some of the plants down to speed mineralization–
to feed biology– and that’s what we’re
going to talk about today. How do we measure? As humans, we always have
to put a number to stuff. So how do we put a
number on animal impact? Let’s just say–
here in Missouri, our herd sizes are pretty small. But let’s just say we’ve got
40 head of 1,250-pound cows. That’s 50,000 pounds of animal
live weight on the hoof. And if we put that
50,000 pounds of animal live weight on these
three different-sized pastures– 10 acres, one
acre, or a quarter-acre. The math– If we do the
math on that 10-acre one, 50,000 spread out over 10
acres is only 5,000 pounds of live weight on
a per acre basis. Now, we know that
they’re not going to be spread uniformly
over that 10 acres. But that’s kind of what
the math tells us– that there’s approximately 5,000
pounds spread out over that. As you step on down to the
50,000 on a quarter of an acre, that’s the equivalent
of 200,000 pounds of animal live weight
on a per acre basis. There’s no doubt that
that difference in stock density– that the difference
in the size of the area that those animals are on– is
going to play a huge impact. On not only the plants they
eat– how much of those plants they eat. We’re not going to be able
to leave those animals on those three areas for
the same length of time. So the number of stock density–
the pounds of stock density really has nothing
to do with the time. It’s simply a way of
putting a numerical number on how compressed we have that
livestock on a given area. And we’re going to refer to that
number as we go through here. So I just wanted
to touch on that. What density is what? There’s a lot of names. Mob grazing, high stock
density, MIG, rotational. You can call any of
them what you want. And I’ve seen mob grazing at
that 10,000 stock density, and I’ve seen mob grazing
at a million pounds of stock density. So these are just kind
of three categories that I tend to lump stuff into. There’s no hard and fast rule. It’s just kind of
where I tend to. I know that– up to 50,000
pounds– I kind of know what impact the land is going
to have– that livestock are going to have to the land. And as we get over
250,000, then that’s a whole different type
of impact to the land. So those are just kind
of three categories that I lump stuff into. As we talk about the
high stock density, these are typically
some characteristics of high stock density. Typically, you could have an
infinite number of paddocks. Because as forages change–
people’s goals change throughout the
year– I know people that move six or eight times
a day part of the year, and once a day part of the year. So you can have an infinite
number of paddocks. The grazing period can
be anywhere from minutes to maybe up to a day. Typically, if you get
longer than a day, then your spot
densities are probably going to be down into the
less than 50,000 pounds, and then that’s probably
going to drop you into MIG– what I would consider
more of a MIG standpoint. The rest period can
be months to years. And we’ll talk a lot
more on rest periods. Stock density–
you can see there. Utilization varies
greatly depending on the goals of the specific
livestock operation. It does, most of the time, lower
selectivity of the animals. And we’ll talk about that. So just to give
you an idea of what we’re looking at from
a visual standpoint, here’s a set of cows at about
80,000 pounds of stock density. And just– you can look
at the spacing on them. They have been moved from
the foreground of the picture to the background
of the picture. The area that they’re on now
is about five or six acres, and there’s 200 pair there. So that’s just
visually– you can see that’s about 80,000
pounds of stock density. Here’s a set of cows at
about 240,000 pounds of stock density. The area that the cattle are on
is essentially the entire area that they have access to. So they are spread almost
perfectly uniformly across that field–
across that area. Here’s– as we step it
up in stock density, here’s a set of– two pictures
on a set of steers out of Texas. Obviously this is some
irrigated annuals. But, as you can see here,
pretty high stock density. Utilization is pretty
high on these annuals. It’s going to be a
once-over, obviously. And those two photos are on
about a 30-minute time delay. So from one photo to
the next is 30 minutes. Obviously, they were moving
multiple times a day. Then many people know
Neil Dennis in Canada. This a shot that Terry Gompert
took from Neil’s place. And it’s about a million
pounds of stock density. Again, very easy to
see the difference in spacing between the cattle. So what are we trying
to achieve with this? Well, we’re trying to
achieve some of the effects that the bison, when
they were harassed by the predators
on the prairie– the trampling– that’s
some of the things that we’re trying to mimic. But yet without the stress
from the predators, obviously. We don’t want that
physical stress, but yet we’re trying to
mimic the effects, somewhat. So how does high stock
density improve soil health? What exactly does it do? Here’s a shot. Many of you have seen something
similar to this before. It’s a little spot of clover
growing out in a field. What causes it? Well, you fed a
bale of hay there. What did feeding
that bale of hay do to that part
of the field that caused all of that
clover to grow? It added a little fertility. I’ll give you that. There was no clover seed
in the clover plant. But it did cover the soil. It added thatch to the soil. It probably changed
the pH at the surface of the soil a little bit. Organic matter has the
ability to raise a low pH and lower a high pH. So it probably changed the
pH right at the surface where that clover was. So if I wanted to do that on
a large scale, I could go out and I could spread hay
on an entire field, but boy, that would
be very expensive. So how can we get that
same soil health benefit without spreading
hay on everything? Here was a field that
we actually took over in our operation in ’07. This photo is from ’08. It had been continuously
grazed for 30 or 40 years. It was probably 30 or 40% bare
ground, and a tremendous number of annuals, as you can see. We came in and grazed it twice
in ’07, and then let it rest the entire growing
season of 2008. This photo’s from August. And we came in in August and
grazed it at fairly high stock density, on a
12-hour graze period. And trampled a large portion
of this material down. Again, this was the second
year we had done this. So we had done it
previously twice, and then we came in the
third time and did it. And now the next photo
that I’m going to show you is 10 days post-grazing. 10 days after we
grazed it and trampled a large portion of
those annuals down. You can see all the
trampled material for sure. But then what do you also see? You also see clover everywhere. No clover was spread. No lime was spread. No fertilizer was spread. The two years of
trampling altered the pH at the surface of this soil. I’m under no illusions. It did not change
the pH at depth. But it created a habitat. It created environment
right at that surface for biologic activity that
made more minerals available, that changed the pH slightly,
that allowed clover seed– that was in the soil– the
opportunity to germinate. So that succession taking
place through the use of animal impact. We went from annuals now here
to a nitrogen-fixing biennial. And then, as we moved
on down the line, we went to perennials. So we can have a huge
impact with the livestock, using them as a tool. And we’re going to
go on through that. So I want to touch on
the four principles. Everybody should
know and understand our four principles
of soil health. Less disturbance, keep a living
root to feed soil livestock, keep the soil covered, and
then add diversity as well. So I’m going to run
through these four things real quick as we talk about it. And I’d also say, if anybody’s
got a question at any time, jump in and send that in
right away, so we don’t get too far from
the subject you’re wanting to ask a question about. OK. Yeah, Doug, actually I did
have a couple questions. One, is there a minimum
amount of pounds per acre to achieve the benefits
that you kind of described there earlier, to
mimic those things? Is it 50,000? Is it 100,000? Dave, it really depends
on your environment. It depends on where you’re at. And it depends on what
you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to
trample down material like I showed right
there– in the East, typically, east of
the Mississippi River, and even in Missouri–
east of the Missouri River– in our environment,
the more humid environments, we can do a lot with 100,000
and 150,000 stock density. Which you’ll be– on
about two moves a day, typically, depending on
your forage availability, two moves a day will
probably put you in that 100,000 to 150,000,
160,000 stock density. And that will achieve a lot of
things in the more humid areas. As you get into
areas where maybe you have more woodies,
or farther west, you’re probably going to have
to have a little higher stock density. Which is harder
to do in the West, because obviously less forage. To achieve– if you’re not
getting the impact to the land that you want, then you have to
go to a higher stock density. If you have less forage
like they do in the West, then that means a
lot more moves a day to make sure that you get
enough intake on those animals. And I think we’ll have some
pictures will show that a little bit more. I was going to
ask, are you going to talk about how you
can judge whether you’re getting the impact– how you
can gauge whether you’re being successful with
the impact as you go through your presentation? Yeah a little bit,
as we go through. Just to run through disturbance. We’ve got chemical and
physical disturbances. We’re not going to touch much
on the chemical disturbances, other than to say that we
really need to understand those. And be careful on what we’re
doing, even on pastures. Most of us think of
physical disturbance as tillage, obviously. Fire is a disturbance as well. But what’s the biggest
disturbance in grassland? I believe that it’s haying. Haying is an incredibly,
incredibly harmful disturbance, and I think that
needs to be something that we really need to focus on. We’re going to really hit on
grazing as we go through here. So we’re going to skip
those a little bit. Grazing is a disturbance
that set succession back. There’s no doubt about that. As we lengthen our rest
periods, then it typically will mean less grazing
events per year. So we want to have succession–
in a forage environment– we want to have succession
advanced as far as possible away
from the annuals and toward the perennials. But yet have a system
that is maintained in a herbaceous vegetation. Or herbaceous with a few shrubs. We don’t want to
allow succession to advance so far that
it becomes totally woody. So lengthening those
rest periods out is going to mean less
grazing events per year. So that will allow succession
to mature slightly. And that’s what
we’re looking for. Many times in our
grazing systems, we keep succession too close
to the annual side of things. Too low serial. So how do we lengthen
rest periods? Everybody says,
well, you know, boy, but if I lengthen
my rest periods, it’s going to take
a lot more acres. So how do I lengthen
my rest period, but maintain my
same stocking rate? So one of the ways
that we do that is by utilizing plants
that are growing out there that, in a less-intensive
grazing system, the cows wouldn’t have eaten. So here’s a picture of
Mark Brownlee’s down in south Missouri. Where he went to
two-a-day moves. And he’s got some sumac. He had a lot of sumac,
and some other woodies. Some shrub-type woodies. Typically the cows
wouldn’t eat that. As he went to
two-a-day moves, he began to notice that the
cows were eating this sumac. At first, he was worried that he
was actually starving his cows, and they were eating it because
there was nothing else to eat. But then he realized
that– as he began watching– they
would go through the strip, and they would eat some sumac,
then they would walk on down, eat some grass,
and then they would come back and eat more sumac. So maybe initially–
maybe the first day or two– we were requiring those
cows to eat part of the forage sward that they
wouldn’t have eaten if they wouldn’t have
been required to. But as we get farther down the
road, we teach those cows, hey, you know, I can eat
anything out there. And so they begin to eat a
lot more of that– the plants that they wouldn’t
have eaten before. So that gives us, essentially,
more forage in a sward. That’s what it looks
like afterward. Here’s another example of
the same thing, basically, with ironweed. Ironweed was taking
over this field. So instead of ignoring it
and letting it take over, we begin to use it as a forage. Raised stock density
to a level that required them to
eat a portion of it. And we didn’t want
to hurt performance. There’s still plenty
of forage there. You can see a lot of green. It is grazed fairly
uniformly, that’s for sure. But we’ll talk about
performance more as we go. Living roots feed
soil livestock. How do we get more
roots in the soil? This is the picture that many
of you have seen many times, I’m sure. If we think of those
roots as a food source– those roots are the
primary food source for organisms in the soil. We have to think of those
roots as a feed trough. So how do we get a bigger
feed trough for our organisms in the soil? Well, obviously we have to
have a longer rest period. Longer rest periods
mean more roots. Now, how long is that going
to be in your environment? It’s hard to say. I realize we’ve got people
from all over the country here. In my environment,
where I’m really focusing on building
soil, if I’m going to make an error on
the length of my rest period, my error is going
to be too long. I can deal with a rest
period that’s too long. But I but if I
have a rest period that’s too short– a recovery
period that too short– that will hurt my soil health. Me again. So how long is that going to
be in your particular area? I can’t say. You’re going to have to
decide that and look at that. I know for us, we went to two to
three grazing events per year. And have seen some
tremendous benefits in diversity– tremendous
benefits in soil health. We have a thatch of material
on the surface of the soil. Litter that’s
approaching– decomposed litter that’s approaching
an inch thick. Makes a huge difference
on infiltration, on soil temperatures. And we’ll talk more
about that as we go. So those exudates that
those plants give off, that’s the food source. The plants really
are in control. And that’s why we
have to make sure that we have a lot of plant
material– a lot of roots- to feed those
organisms in the soil. This is not a slide meant to
say this is the perfect soil. But it’s a slide to show that
we have livestock in the soil. We have pounds of
livestock in the soil. We need to do– with
purpose and with thought, we need to feed
our soil livestock. We always have a plan for
our cows in the winter. We have to have a certain
number of hay bales. We have to have a certain
number of acres to feed our cows or our sheep every year. Do you, with purpose
and with thought, plan on feeding
your soil livestock? Do you plan on
giving them a mulch on the surface of the soil? Do you plan on giving them
a diverse mixture of roots? Do you plan on keeping a living
root in the soil all year long? Keeping the soil covered. And I guess I’d stop here. You got any more
questions, Dave? Yeah, I had a question. You were referring
to effect on pH. And they were just wondering
what the typical pH would be in your soil that you’re
dealing with in your area there. It can vary quite
a bit, depending on how eroded the area
is, and how much it’s been farmed historically. We’ve got some in the
mid fours, high fours. Typically that field–
that particular field that I showed with the
clover– was in the low fives. 5.1, 5.2, that was
pretty typical. We have a few others. And I’m not opposed
to putting on lime. I had not applied
any to that farm. That was the second year of a
rental farm– of a leased farm. I have applied some
lime on owned land. And I think that’s probably a
very cost-effective application of that tool. But I also know that–
in many situations– we can alter those
pHs significantly. At the surface, not throughout
this whole soil profile. But at that surface, which will
change the species composition quite a bit. Good question. Anything else? One more– well, one
more before you move on. You talked a little bit about
behavioral characteristics of the cattle. And they were wondering
if you’ve found any breed differences– that some
breeds tend to graze better than others in this
kind of a situation? I wouldn’t say that I’ve
found any breeds that graze different, because
the grazing is something that we really control. How much they eat,
what they eat, that’s what we really control. I will say that I’ve found
differences in the pressure– in the level of stock density
that animals can take. We take in contract
cows every year. And I got a set of
contract cows two years ago that came from Texas. And I would have to guess
they’d probably only seen humans about twice in their whole life. Because they would
not take the pressure. They could not– the
highest stock density we could get with them
was 80,000 or 90,000. Maybe 100,000. As we tried to confine
them into smaller areas, invariably, there’d just
be several of them out. And it wasn’t because
they weren’t trained to electric fence,
because they were. It was because they
physically couldn’t take being that close
to all their neighbors. So there are some things there. Generally, though, all it
takes is about a week or two to train virtually any type of
animal, any breed of animal. We get a different set of
cows in almost every year. Not quite, but–
and all it takes is a period of a
week or two weeks to train them to this
method of grazing. It’s not [INAUDIBLE]. So is that it? Yeah, why don’t we keep going. OK. The next thing here is
keep the soil covered. Obviously, that’s another one
of our basic soil health tenets. So how does the high density
grazing play into that? Well, the trampling that we’ve
talked about a couple of times is the biggest part of it. That trampling– In a very
low density grazing style, similar to what you
saw with the bison and on Phil Jerde’s, there
would be very little trampling that would occur. The animals we would
place their feet and select where
they were going. And there really wouldn’t
be much trampling. Here’s a picture. You can see quite
a bit of trampling, quite a bit of plant
material laid down. There’s still plenty
of green grass left upright to carry
on photosynthesis. But that mulch on the surface–
taking that plant material and putting it on
the surface just does a whole variety of things. For one thing, you know,
here’s a question for you. If I graze at a
light stock density, and I graze the parts
of the plants that meet my cows’
nutritional needs when I go through there, in
a fairly light stocking rate, if I take off
half of the plants, when I come back
around the next time– as I make my entire rotation,
and I come back to that field next time. The parts of the plant
that I left last time– when I come back the
next time, are they going to be better
quality, or are they going to be lower quality? In almost all
instances, if they’ve had that extra-long
period, they’re going to be lower quality. So why do I want to leave them? I want to leave
some of them there to carry on
photosynthesis, for sure. But if they’re not good
enough for my animals to eat the last time
they were there, there’s no way they’re
going to be good enough for my animals to
eat the next time. So let’s get a portion
of that trampled down so that the
organisms can begin the process of decomposition
and mineralization, and grow new plants
with that material. Instead of tying
it up, let’s start growing some new
material with it. And it does a variety of things. It keeps the soil cool so
that soil organisms can remain alive and working. It also provides a food
source for earthworms. It’s not necessarily a
food source for earthworms. The earthworms use
it more like bait. They use all that
mulch as an attractant. They drag it back to
their holes and use it as an attractant for
bacteria and fungi. And then they eat the
residues given off by them. So as we move on,
here, obviously, is another reason to keep a
thatch of material on the soil. Soil temperature is huge. Not only to biological activity,
but to moisture evaporation. Here’s a slide here. At 70 degrees, 100%
of that soil moisture is used for plant growth. As we move on up, 100 degrees,
only 15% is used for growth. So keeping that soil cool
makes more efficient use of our water. We have to keep that soil cool. It helps improve
water infiltration. Here’s a slide showing
a rainfall simulator. We’ve been doing these all
over the state of Missouri the last year or so. And I tell you what, the tray
with the very short canopy of grass– even if it
has a 100% ground cover, the tray with the shot canopy of
grass always gets a lot of oohs and aahs because of the
amount of runoff that occurs. Most of us in the grass world–
we’ve always thought, well, even if I’ve got
short grass, it’s going to be so much better
than that bare-tilled soil that the row crop guys
have– I’m going to be OK. But I think we’re
really beginning to see, with this
rainfall simulator, just incredibly how
much water runs off. Ground cover is important,
but, boy, canopy height is critical as well. Those front three jars
you can see are runoff. The back three are infiltration. So the canopy height– leaving
as much of my farm as tall as possible, as much of
the year as possible, is crucial to ensuring I get as
much infiltration as possible. It doesn’t matter if it
rains and rains and rains. If we don’t capture it, we’ve
lost a lot, right there. Well, Doug, is this a function
of just lack of canopy, or is there some action that
the hoof has, and sealing that off, much like you would
on a crusting in a crop field, or what is causing
that increased runoff? It’s a variety of things, Dave. One is the continuous
hoof action. The compaction that’s caused by
the livestock is a little bit. But compaction is not a function
of the pounds of animals on it. It’s a function of how
long they’re there. In that short canopy
situation, they’re going to be there all the time. It never gets a chance
for biologic activity, for earthworms to loosen
that soil back up, to help alleviate some
of that compaction. That tall canopy also gives
a– has a lot better root structure. So the more root
structure we have, the better that acts as
a suspension mechanism for those animals. High density also improves the
livestock mineral efficiency at which it’s spread. This is a study out of NU. They looked at one pasture of
a three-pasture rotation, one pasture of a
24-pasture rotation, and counted the manure piles
on every 500 square feet. The darker it is, the more
effectively the manure was spread out. So they took that data and
came up with this table. In a continuous
grazing situation, it’ll take 27 years to get one
manure pile every square yard. In a two-day
rotation, they’ll get manure pile every square
yard in two years. What about if we’re
moving once a day? What about if we’re moving
them multiple times a day? What’s that going to do
for manure distribution? Here’s a shot from one of ours. Look how close the
manure piles are. Effectively, they’re
probably one manure pile on every square yard. Now couple that with the fact
that for every manure pile, there’s five to
seven urine patches. How much of that field was
spread with manure and urine? You’d have to say
probably close to 100%. Diversity of plants. What does diversity do? And how’s it impacted
by high density? Well, we’ve got the
four plant types. Everybody understands that. Cool and warm,
grass and broadleaf. That’s our primary species. Soil organisms are
just like livestock, or you and me, for that matter. They require a balanced diet
to attain high performance. Here’s even a study that shows–
the more groups you have– the more functional
groups you have, the more potential you
have for plant biomass. Because you have cool season
plants that grow in the spring, and warm season plants
that grow in the summer. Deep tap-rooted plants and
shallow fibrous-rooted plants. Here’s a slide that
shows that very thing. So even those deep
tap-rooted plants– even if my cows
never graze them, they have a place in
that grazing ecosystem. They bring up
minerals and moisture that my shallow
fibrous-rooted plants– my grass plants–
you just can’t get. So we really have
to try to mimic the prairies from
that standpoint. And there’s great reasons to. We have a lot of
fertility at depth. Here’s some information
from a typical pedon of soil in Missouri. And it shows that we have a
tremendous amount of fertility at depth. If we don’t have roots
that will go down at depth, we’re given up $1,000
worth of fertility. Our grazing periods
and our rest periods really determine the
species composition. Here’s a pasture that has had
a fairly long recovery period every year. And you can see all
the broadleaves in it. Most people would say,
oh, those are weeds. But if you’ll notice on the
left side of the slide there, there’s no white flowers. But yet in the strip
where the cows are at, there’s a tremendous
number of white flowers. White heath aster is what it is. Those animals were selecting
for that very intensively. At this point in the fall,
when our cool season grasses are very high protein,
we need an energy source to go along with that. And that’s what those
flowers were providing. If we had a short rest
period all the time– if we only had a 30 or
40 day rest period– and maybe if we threw
a bush-hogging in there to clip all the plants
off, we would never have that much diversity
in a field like that. Tim Kelley, a friend
that is really focused on diversity– you saw
this picture just a minute ago. We’ve got big bluestem and
fescue over on the right there, clover in the middle,
some lespedeza on the left, warm season, cool
season, grass, and broadleaf– all from the same field. Just at different
times during the year. Average production
across north Missouri is about 8,000 pounds per acre. On that diverse field,
with high density, Tim has produced a measured
18,000 pounds of forage in a year. More than double the
average production. With no added fertility
in seven or eight years. So getting plant diversity, and
then using high stock density to effectively utilize
it, is the real key to improving our productivity–
and our profitability. And then the last thing I
want to talk about here– as we get ready to wrap
up– is animal performance. Because this is an issue. And I’ve seen problems
with this before. If it’s managed properly. It’s really good. Typically, in the
East, our pastures are very high protein, low
energy– our cool season grasses. An easy way to allow
our– to help improve that energy to protein ratio
is to allow our cool season grasses to get a
little bit more mature. That will really help
with that problem. The tricky part is allowing
enough livestock selectivity to maintain performance, but yet
at the same time, controlling livestock selectivity
to ensure that they eat the portions of the plant–
or the species of plants– that we want them to. So it’s a pretty fine line. The biggest mistake that
I see that people make is what I’m going to call
scorched earth grazing. When you put animals at a stock
density that is very high, you can make them do
anything you want. I can make them eat the thatch
off the ground if I want to. It’ll kill them, over time,
but I can make them do it. Because they become very,
very aggressive grazers. Here’s a shot that
has a mixed herd, obviously, cow-calf pairs. Multiple moves a day. The lack of residue
behind them– this is a very wet environment,
and the lack of residue behind doesn’t bother
me quite as much, because you can see
in the foreground– it it’s recovering very quickly. The problem in a
mixed herd like this, of cow-calf pairs– by the time
calves are about 90 days old, they’re getting more
of their nutrition from grazing than from milk. And in this situation,
there’s a lot of calves that are not grazing. Now maybe that’s because
on multiple moves, they already had their
fill, but I’m guessing not. I’m guessing in
this instance, he’s actually reducing
performance on the calves because they can’t get
in and fight these cows. So if you have a
mixed herd, you have to make sure that the weakest
animals in the mixed herd have the opportunity
to graze adequately. The goal should
only be to have them eat the parts of the plant that
meet their nutritional needs. Generally, that’s
going to probably be 60% or less utilization
by the livestock. There will be times when
you’ll want to take more of it. But a lot of times, we’ll only
take 30 or 40% utilization– intake by the livestock. Now, they’ll be
quite a bit trampled. But that’s to feed
the soil livestock. So we really have to
pay attention to that. And that’s something that I want
to make sure people understand, and be very aware of. The soil is the
basis of everything. I believe the soil is
the most important thing we have to take care of. However, we have to
consider the whole when making those
management decisions. We have to understand the
animal performance goals that our specific classes
of livestock have. We cannot expect a dairy cow
to be able to eat the same type of forage that a
dry beef cow can. We have to understand
our financial goals. As well as our personal goals. I know some people that
move cows twice a day and don’t want to do
it any more than that. I know other people
that are perfectly happy to go out and move cows
six or eight times a day. So everything has to
have consideration. Animal performance, finances,
the land, as well as our personal goals. So with that, I
will end and answer any final questions, Dave. OK, good. And then we have
several questions. I just want to
remind folks– if you have a question you wanted
to ask directly of Doug just type it in the notes section,
and I’ll read them off as we go along. But I had a couple here. I’m trying to catch up
there with you, Doug. Someone wants to know–
can you kind of explain the difference between,
maybe, high rotational grazing versus what you’ve
been talking about, which sounds to be a
little more intense, and its impact on this–
the rotational grazing’s impact on soil health,
versus the mob grazing or high intensity grazing that
you’ve been talking about? Well, it was kind
of like I showed. I typically consider anything
up to about 50,000 as MIG. And that’s not to say that
200,000 pounds of stock density management is not
management-intensive, because it’s very intensive. But generally, the
higher the stock density, the longer the recovery
periods are going to be. Not always. I’ve seen some people
on a fairly high density with a fairly quick
recovery period. It depends on how
much forage they take. Just because you’re at
high stock density– you could be at 100,000
pounds of stock density and only take 20% of the plant
and come back fairly quickly, or you can take 40
or 50% and extend that period a little bit. There’s really not
a lot of difference between a very high level
of what some people call management-intensive
grazing, or MIG grazing, and the lower end of
high density grazing. I tend not to hardly ever
use the term mob grazing because I just– I don’t
know what it means. It’s very subjective. OK, that’s excellent, Doug. And have you had any experience
with other livestock? Sheep, what have you– as
far as this type of approach to grazing– does it work? Sure. You know, sheep– I
know several folks that use sheep in a fairly
high density rotation. Obviously, they don’t have
quite as much weight as cows do, so if you have plants that
are a little more stemmy, they tend not to
trample quite as much. But their selectivity is
a lot different than cows. Some of the best situations
are mixed herds– or at least mixed operations–
of sheep and cattle. The cattle and
the sheep will eat a little bit different things. They have a little different
impact on the land as well. I’ve also seen operations
that had dairies, and then had a beef herd on the side. They would use the dairy cows to
really cream the quality grass, and then use beef
cows as a follow-up to manipulate that forage in
whatever manner they desired. Again, getting back to the
idea, Doug, of– you’ve gone out and you’re trying to evaluate
whether the grazing that we’re looking for has been achieved? What do you look for? Do you have two
or three tips you might give that would calibrate
their eyes, so to speak? It depends on your goals. In my case, the places that we
had taken over or purchased– boy, they were very
low in organic matter. We had very low plant diversity. So I wanted to– my goal
initially was to put as much thatch on the surface
of the soil as I could . So to do that– to put
plant material down– to put lignified plant material
down on the soil surface– man, I had to let those
plants get pretty mature. Because green
unlignified grass– boy, if you trample it
down, it’s just going to pop right back up. So for me, that meant
fairly long rest periods. Let those plants–
or the annuals, as you saw on that
one picture– let those annuals get pretty big. Let them get slightly lignified. And then use the
livestock to eat the part of that that met
the nutritional needs. But then trample
the rest of it down to begin that process
of healing– that’s putting a thatch on that
surface of the soil. Too many times I think
that’s the thing that we’re missing in many
of our pastures– is that thatch layer at
the surface of the soil. It’s a composite of roots
and dead and decaying plant material. If you can reach down
through your plants and feel solid soil before
you hit a thatch layer, you, we’ve got to solve
that right off the bat. So it depends on their goal–
what they’re trying to achieve. OK. A couple more questions. As far as productivity,
do you find that you can get
more pounds per acre on this type of a
more intense system than you can just a
loose rotational system? Early on, we can achieve
essentially the same number of grazing days,
generally, as a MIG system. The benefit comes from
the improvement long-term. There are times when we will–
if we have some yearlings, or if we have a
set of heifers that need a lot higher nutrition–
there are times when we’ll come back through in a
much quicker rotation, and take some of that fairly
lush vegetative material. I guess I kind of I think it’s
similar to the stock market. You hear them talk
about on the radio, when they’re talking
about it– well, today was a profit-taking day. They’d invested in
the stock market, and conditions are right. Now they took some
profit back out of it. And it’s very similar in
the way we handle the land. If we want to pull
that organic matter– If we want to pull that
profit back out of that land, with a very high-value animal–
yearlings, or dairy cows, or stockers, or
something– we’ve got to put that
profit into the land. We’ve got to put
organic matter into it. And the problem is–
for 100 years or more, most of our previous
management has been very extractive in how we
dealt with that organic matter. We grazed and grazed and grazed
and pulled that organic matter out. And so I think if we’re
really going to build it up, we have to put thatch down. And the only way
we’re going to do that is to have a lignified material. And the only way
we’re going to do that is to extend our rest periods. I hadn’t thought about that–
trampling not staying down without a more
lignified material. I’m getting several
questions related– are you on forested
soils, or have you seen a difference
between those that are– like in Indiana–
more forested-based, versus the farther west you go? We are in prairie and
transitional soils where we’re at in Missouri. But the principles– even if
you’re on a timbered soil– are you trying to– if
that’s in grass now– are you trying to manage
that as a timbered soil, or are you trying to manage
that as a prairie soil? If you’re trying to manage
it in a grazing situation, you’re going to try to
manage it as a prairie soil, even if it was historically
a timbered soil. So you follow the
same exact principles that we do on our prairie soils. Recovery periods
adequate to ensure that you get enough
material to trample down. Recovery periods
long enough to ensure that you get plant diversity. And high enough stock
density to impact the land in whatever manner
you’re attempting to, or what your goals are for. What about fire? Does that play a role? Have you seen that
utilized at all? And what’s your
thoughts on that? Fire– that’s a
really good question. Fire is a tool that I think
can be used at some point. It was part of the
prairie ecosystem, although I believe it probably
was not as big of a component as we’ve been led to believe. But right now, I think
a lot of times people are using fire in place
of what we can do, or what would have happened
with animal impact. I can take out almost
any woody plant, as long as it’s short enough that
the cows can reach it. I can control woodies– in a
lot of cases– with livestock. And that’s the big reason
that a lot of people use fire. There are some other
cases to use that. But I guess my
question would be– what’s your reason
for using fire? If it’s to remove
the woodies– are you going to– why
are the woodies there? You had bare soil, so you got
some seedling development. If you’re going to burn
them to eliminate them, then you’re going to have
to change your management so that they don’t come back. Or you’re just going to
have to burn them again. Which burning too often–
thatch is our– that’s the thing we need, and fire is not going
to be friendly to maintaining that thatch on the
surface of the soil. So fire may have a place in our
operation, or in our prairie, but boy, it’s going to be
a long time down the road. Quick question again–
you get to spring, you get this tremendous amount
of growth in all your pastures. Do you go in and hay any
of that, or what do you do? It seems like you’d
have– everything’s going to be three foot
tall at the same time. How do you control
that kind of situation? A couple of
different ways, Dave. We have to have a
flexible stocking rate. There’s no doubt about it. If you have– that’s the problem
with too many operations. They say, well,
I’ve got 100 cows, and that’s what I’m going
to have all the time. Boy, in a really good year,
you can grow a lot of grass. Our growing season
is about six months, and our dormant season
is about six months. So if I’m going to
graze most of the year– and we try to–
there’s no way I’m going to keep up with
my grass in the spring if I have a set number of cows. So we use cows. We bring in contract cows
to help deal with that. And then the other
side of it is– no, we don’t do any haying. We hay nothing of our own. If it gets tall, it gets tall. I’ve always laughed at this. People will say, well,
that grass is too tall. It’s too rank. It’s too blown up. I can’t graze it. So I’ve got to go in and hay it. So let me ask this. It’s not good enough
quality to graze, but yet it’s good enough quality
to go mow it off, and bale it up, and then feed it back
to my cows next winter? That thought process just
never made sense to me. So what we’ll do with
really tall forage is– there’s going to be a
percentage of that forage that is going to meet the
needs of my cows. Maybe it’s only 20%. If I’ve got some big,
tall, rank material, I’ll flash my cows through
there at fairly high density, let them graze that 20 or 30%
that meets their nutritional needs, and trample the
vast majority of it down. That’s the perfect opportunity
to feed that soil livestock with all that tall
lignified material that most people
would bale and hay. That’s the best opportunity. That’s the best use of it. So instead of feeding your
cows that lignified material, you’re feeding your
biology in the soil, which would improve your
next-time grazing period– the forage quality
at that point in time? That’s the thought. You bet. One quick question
again about stockpiling. Do you have any kind
of stockpiling forage in your rotational? And you maybe explain
what that is a little bit? If it grows, we stockpile it. We try to graze
virtually year-round. We feed about a bale per cow. Our 10-year average is about
one bale per cow per winter. And that’s pretty
much in the deep snow. Other than that, we’re grazing
for the other 11 months, typically. We will stockpile anything. I try to rotate the areas
that we stockpile around. To give a– I’m big believer
in those rest periods at different times of year. I don’t ever want to get
into the habit of grazing a certain field at the
same time every year. Because that will really
impact my diversity. And so– it will simplify it. If I graze a field in the
exact same way year after year after year, it will simplify
that plant community in that field. Because it’s going
to favor whatever likes that specific
management regime. And so we try to
manage different fields different every year. So we try to stockpile
different fields every year. Occasionally I will–
almost every year, we will take at least
one field and stockpile it the entire growing season. Give it a full year’s rest. And then we’ll come in
in the spring, whenever the green grass is
growing up through it. Boy, you want some
cows that will really improve in the spring, and come
out of winter looking good, you give them some grass that’s
had a full year’s recovery. And then it’s got a
six or eight inches of green grass
growing up through it. That’s just about a perfect
mix of a protein and energy and dry matter ratio. They will just
absolutely perform. OK. Well, listen, Doug, I’m going
to let you end on that note. And again, I appreciate
your insights and appreciate– this is
the second presentation you made today. I understand you had
a field day earlier, and we appreciate the
work you’re doing again. And I just thank
you for your time. And it’s always enjoyable. And I learn something every
time I hear you speak. And with that, I
just want to say– thanks everybody
for participating. And remind you folks that
are interested in getting the continuing education
credits that you need to go back and follow
step two, as Holli described in her introductory comments. And with that,
we’ll call it a day.