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Old 05-02-2009, 07:37 AM
 
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Chock it up to experience I guess. I feel kind of silly about this one, but as many of you know, grass fed livestock is all the rage these days, and with it is this idea that rotational grazing is the way to go. By limiting foraging to certain areas of your farm, you can better control production; both on the hoof and in the fields themselves. I tried it, but it was utter failure for me.

The sheep naturally want to go where the grass is greener and they were willing to run through just about any fence to get the grass they wanted. I managed to spend a small fortune on interior fencing supplies by subdividing my fields into paddocks, but the other day after chasing sheep out of paddocks I wanted to grow a dozen times I decided I had better things to do with my time and money. I can see the value of rotational grazing, but it would take such good fences that the investment would be pretty substantial for me and really not worth it. (Page wire fence with strands of barb-wire top and bottom=75 cents a foot @ 112 acres to fence in).

So I am pulling wire today and going back to set-stocking. For those of you thinking about getting into livestock I encourage you to look into rotational grazing and set-stocking both. They have their pros and cons. Often times proponents of one system or the other fail to state some of the down-sides to their system. For those on here that are thinking about rotational grazing, really do the math on fencing, and try some test plots to see if the livestock will remain inside the fenced areas before committing to one system or the other. If I had stayed with my gut instinct and past traditions on this farm instead of listening to new livestock management hype, I would have saved myself a lot of money and a lot of stress. Since returning to set-stocking my stress levels has gone down considerably. This was the way sheep farming should be.

PS: Just hoping some people can learn from my expensive mistake!
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Old 05-02-2009, 08:23 AM
 
Location: Central Texas
20,487 posts, read 38,404,041 times
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I know people that do rotational grazing that use electric fencing quite successfully. (Amazing what a little strand of wire that the critters will NOT cross, even if they could step over it, when they'll go right through something theoretically much more substantial.

Plus, it's easier to move around when you want to. And cheaper (says she who has 55 acres of her own to fence and knows how expensive that can be!).

How many sheep do you have? Our across-the-road neighbor has about 20 that he moves around the place, and the most beautiful grass that they live on!
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:11 AM
 
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My small dairy farm is 75 acres and has 55 acres of rotational grazed seeded grass and clover. Today I will finish up checking the fences and we plam to start grazing in about a week --------50 milk cows.

The cows get a new field of grass twice a day ( after they are done being milked) and milk production is very good with only grain being fed at milking time.

All electric!

I use the step-in white fiberglas posts and the aluminum electric wire cuz that wire is light and less posts are needed.

Steel T posts are only needed on the corner ends.
Works great !

I realize BT is talking about sheep, and I have no experience with sheep regarding electric fences, but I did have good luck with hogs and electric fences about 30 years ago.

I am passionate about rotational grazing, have been doing it for 16 years.
It is the best way to MAXIMIZE milk production on dairy cattle and weight gain on beef.

I will be happy to answer any questions regarding rotational grazing ( how to set it up, what to look for, how to manage it)

I learned from reading and " trial and error" and am willing to share what I found out works best, and what I tried that did not work.

Again, my experience has been with cattle, but some of the same principals apply to other livestock as well.
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Old 05-03-2009, 01:30 PM
 
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There are some real compelling reasons to use rotational grazing on a farm, but likewise there are some compelling reasons not to as well. The biggest issue is maximizing forage. If you want to get the most livestock per acre, then rotational grazing can do that, but its going to be either at the cost of labor (moving fencing) or buying lots of additional fence.

I think the biggest issue is farm size. For myself and others, if we need more acreage in which to graze, we can simple fence in more acreage and be done with it. Once the posts are in and the wire strung up, then we are looking at a capital expense that will last 40 years or more. That is time well spent rather then constantly moving fences.

Another good thing about set-stocking is the fact that fences can be located out of the way if mechanical clipping or forage harvesting takes place. Simply open a gate (or drive over a cattle guard) and you are off to harvesting forage....no need to move fences first, or drive around small paddocks.

The livestock species has a lot to do with the difference too. With cattle it is so...so...so much easier. The biggest thing is how cows graze at the 4-6 inch height. They will actually let grass grow before eating it. Sheep can grub right down to the roots, so if they think the grass is a bit higher, or a bit greener on the other side of the fence, they will go through anything but a prohibatively expensive fence.

The other issue with sheep is their fleeces. Mine have 4 inches of wool on them, so until they are shown, they are pretty immune to the whack of the electric shock. They get poked if it touches their nose, but upon their backs they are pretty insulated. For this reason a cow with only hide protecting it, it needs a single or double strand fence, while a sheep needs at least 3 and as many as 7. That is a lot of additional placing and moving fences.

There is nothing wrong with rotational grazing, but at the same time there is nothing wrong with set-stocking either. With the right techniques and a farmers particular management style, both can contribute highly to the farm.

PS: Some rotational costs ARE covered by the NRCS under the Equip...Pasture Program. Some farms do qualify for fence funding even if they set-stock, but the rules are much, much more restrictive.
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Old 06-10-2009, 10:13 AM
 
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This post is a bit old, but since the last post I made I have been adding fences and working on and off trying to make the rotational grazing work. It just starts to be working and then the sheep think the feed is too dismal and start busting through fences to go elsewhere. It is extremely frustrating because the graze-down is nowhere near where I want it to be.

So yesterday I was in my local USDA office for another thing entirely and I told them I was set-stocking and that if one more boundary fence was busted through I was going to put up a fence along the roadway and free range the rest of the @#$%^& farm. Yeah I was a bit frustrated.

The guys laughed but said they would come out in a few weeks and do a grazing plan for me and get me enrolled in some programs to get some decent fencing. It is pretty clear that the type of fencing I need has got to be pretty substantial and will probably consist of page wire fencing, barb wire along the bottom and maybe a few off-set wires. In other words...expensive. I am not sure if I can come in under the $2.07 linear foot cost share amount or not, but maybe if I make my own fence posts and do all the labor I can break even???

In better news I did receive funding on that access road I wanted built, and my experiment with bats as organic insecticide around livestock looks promising as far as funding goes at this point. So all in all things are progressing even if it is at 2 steps forward and one step back.
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Old 06-10-2009, 08:01 PM
 
Location: Nebraska
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OK, guys, can I ask you some questions?

First let me set the scenario for you, please.
I have 60 acres in an area (called the Sandhills, for good reason) that has natural prairie grass, as well as cactus (sandy soil) and has never been seeded, never had to be. The property is basically in two sections; one with 40 acres (which includes 2 pole barns, corral, and a hydrant with water tank) and the other section, abt 20 acres, that is separated by a gate from the first, and which has another hydrant and water tank. All of the property is fully fenced with 3 strands of barbed wire. In the middle, between the two properties, is a 10-acre strip not owned by me where the local garage owner kept his junk cars for parts. It is completely fenced off from my property; only access is by the road that runs in front of all of our properties. The area here is primarily ranchland that utilizes the natural grasses for grass-fed Angus for market - hundreds and hundreds of them on thousand-acre ranches.

I want to run several dairy cows - the smaller Dexter breed - in a rotational grazing pattern; using the far pasture in opposition to the near pasture for this purpose. Dexters because they eat practically anything, and produce fine-grained, dark red, meat on their forage diet, but also provide a high butterfat content in the milk (I don't like milk but adore my own cheese and butter, have made both on a very small scale). I want to start with 2 cows. My brother wants to put one or two steers with them to fatten them forhis own use. Naturally cows don't magically produce milk, so I will probably buy straws and AI the cows. With these things in mind - and seeing how badly overgrazed the property was previously (previous owners leased the property in open grazing to 40-60 head) I am currently working with the pasture; seeding sections of it with silage mixes and clover to help increase the future productivity. I don't want to run more than 8 animals at any one time, and most of those will be calves or steers waiting to be sold/butchered, or replacement heifers. Because Dexters are (erroneously) called "miniature" cows, and are shorter than "normal" cattle, I am assuming that I will have to run an electrical wire between the bottom and middle barbed wire lines.

My questions are: Since the property is already fenced off in those section sizes, do I need to fence in (movable or not) smaller areas inside of them? Or are two of such size enough? How do you determine when a piece of property has been grazed 'enough' to move them? Or too much? Is there a way to avoid the 'path syndrome' of animals going back and forth to stationary water supplies and gates? At what point do you determine - "that's enough" or "that's too much - reduce that herd!" by ingestion and consumption rates of both grasses and water? Again I make the point that there is only one water tank in each of the pastures, and water here is very strictly regulated, so I can't tap into the aquifer elsewhere (although I did find an old well on the back of the property, that keeps a 10 foot stick in the pipe wet for two feet up from the bottom year round that I MIGHT be able to restart if necessary). Also, due to distance from the original power source at the barns, what do you use to get the power to your far-flung electrical fencing? Have you seen/used the solar chargers; and are they any good - or how do you get it out on the furthest reaches of your property, or move it around, without losing integrity?

As for the USDA guys coming out and doing a grazing plan - the local guy here has made it clear that he is educated basically only in cattle AI and breeding standards, and doesn't understand soil in the area or rotational grazing - so I am pretty much on my own. All he offers me is very general brochures.

Please understand that while I know 60 acres sounds like a lot, it isn't; the soil here is light and sandy, and 'blowouts' - where the land has no grass to keep the soil stationary literally blows out in huge cravasses or three-sided holes - are a frequent occurance in badly managed properties. So far I am trying to prevent that on the overgrazed hills, but it is hard and kind of scary. So I don't want to overgraze any section of it. I feel like I am walking a tightrope here! We are not planning to get cows for another two years, to give the land a chance to reseed and rest - and to give me a chance to get rid of the start of a leafy spurge infestation. (Thanks, BTW, for the Hydrogen Peroxide idea on another thread, BT!)

I know you guys don't think much of homesteaders' starry eyed ideas, and frankly neither do I! But I know exactly what I want, and don't want to make a move until I have as much info as possible. And I surely don't want to futher damage this property, but to heal it and then make it work for me. Is there a formula that you use - such as weight gain and number of cattle, etc - that determines your limits and how big your rotational grazing sections should be, as well as how often they should be moved?

Last edited by SCGranny; 06-10-2009 at 08:27 PM..
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Old 06-11-2009, 07:19 AM
 
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If you send me a PM on where you live I could help you out more. You can actually do a lot of the research yourself (or I could) by utilizing the NRCS Web Soil Survey. 85% of the land base in the US is documented with this, so thanks to satellite photos and mapping, you can figure out exactly what you have for soil in your area and what the organic matter is and how much capacity the land soil can handle.

As for the USDA guy...there are good ones and there are bad ones and it seems you got a lazy one. It really does not matter if you have Black Angus, Dexters or even sheep...the common denominator for figuring out this stuff is called ANIMAL UNITS.

An animal unit is the basis for everything in livestock. Basically it is 1000 pounds of animal. A Holstein tips the scales at 1200 pounds so it is 1.2 animal units. A Black Angus might be 2000 pounds on the hoof so it is 2 animal units, and those cute woolly lambs I have...yep those 100 pound ovine are .1 animal units. Or put another way, it takes 10 lambs to make 1 animal unit. In the case of a Dexter, I think it would equate to roughly 2 animals to make 1 animal units.

Everything has a animal unit rate. Everything from rabbits, to ducks to brahma bulls. So the easiest way for you to determine what the carrying capacity of your land is, you simply need to find a rancher near you and find out how many acres it takes to raise 1 animal unit. Lets say it takes him (or her) 10 acres to raise 1 2000 pound Black Angus cow. That is 2 animal units per 10 acres.

Now simply do the math. You know you can maintain 2 animal units, so that means you could have 10 lambs and 2 Dexters. Or you could have 5 lambs, 3 grown sheep, and 1 dexter. Or 1 Black Angus cow. You get the idea...

Rotational grazing is a lot better for the soil, and a lot better for the grass that is growing too boot. That is why the NRCS has a lot of federal money available to promote this. You can also get more yield from rotational grazing then set-stocking as well. The down side is, you must move livestock around more, and invest in a lot more fences since sections are subdivided.
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Old 06-11-2009, 07:29 AM
 
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Although we have different land conditions, we have 52 acres of rotational grazed pasture and run close to 50 milk cows on it . ( they get a new paddock twice a day)

Since I am retired, I take care of moving the fence twice a day, hauking and filling the water wagon once a day, and clipping the strips with a tractor and haybine to get rid of weeds or grass already headed out that the milk cows didn't eat.

WATER-----I have tried many things and what works best for me is a water wagon parked in the strip they are grazing in. When I had my 35 Jersey herd, I had a 550 gallon tank. Now that the son has 50+ Holsteins, he bought a 1050 gallon tank.

We park the water wagon next to the grazing strip ,have a few elbows of short plastic pipe, and a Ritchie waterer float.

The electric fence is then set a couple inches above the water tank ( crossways) to prevent the cattle from interfering with the float that keeps filling the 150 gallon stock tank.

With a smaller amount of cattle like you are having, a 550 gallon water tank should last several days before having to fill it.

In your case, maybe you wouldn't move the fence twice a day, but every few days.

Last edited by marmac; 06-11-2009 at 07:39 AM..
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Old 06-11-2009, 07:35 AM
 
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It actually is not that expensive fencing for cattle, BT.

I use step-in fiberglass posts and have them 15 yards apart.
I also use aluminum wire ( on the cross fences )cuz it is lightwieght, thus fewer posts are needed.

If using electric fence for cattle, I use one strand.

In fencing and cross fencing 52 acres,------- I do not have a lot of money inversted.

Also, "experts" can tell you everything. It is up to you to decide what works and what doesn't on your farm.

Every farm is different.
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Old 06-11-2009, 08:49 AM
 
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marmac ... I suspect that you're in an area of the country where the weather, soils, and winds are quite different than the sandhills of Nebraska.

Those little step-in fiberglass posts 15 YARDS apart wouldn't last 10 seconds in the wind gusts in this area. I wouldn't trust them to hold a wire at 8 FOOT spacing with every fifth post a T-post solidly in the ground.

As you've asserted, "every farm is different". The NE sandhills have some of the highest wind energy density in the USA ... the winds blow constantly and they are strong. What would be considered dangerous storm strength winds in much of the country is just another day out here. With the light sandy soil in many places, there's not a lot of strength in poking a little post in the ground.

IMO, a fence in the area needs T-posts on 8' or 10' centers, with heavier timbers every 400-500' or so, cross-braced, and every corner needs timbers to anchor a fence securely. Even an electric fence ....
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