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Tricks of the Trade

The first job of the grazier is to make his animals as happy as possible. Remember that livestock; cattle, sheep, goats, deer are herd animals and most comfortable when they are members of a structured herd. Learn to work the herd rather than individual animals.

Building a roofed sled to hold salt and mineral makes it easy to keep the feeder with the herd. If moved often, it can be used to encourage grazing of under utilized areas and also prevent stomp outs around the feeder. The sled can be pulled into thickets of plum, sumac, shinnery, and etc. or weed patches so that cattle damage these plants and improve the soil with stock density.

A fresh break of pasture always stimulates animals to graze so when feasible, move stock to new pasture in the afternoon. In very hot weather, move late in the afternoon after it begins to cool down. The energy content of forage is highest after the sun has been shining on it for several hours so the animals receive more nutrition with every bite. Research has shown that changing to an afternoon shift from a morning shift can increase stocker gains by a significant amount. For the same reason, hay should be cut in the afternoon.

Square paddocks require fewer feet of fence and are more uniformly grazed with long graze periods but rectangles are much faster to subdivide with temporary fencing.

Clover seed such as white, ball and arrowleaf may be added at very low amounts to mineral mix at times when conditions are right for growth. Switchgrass and possibly eastern Gama grass can also be spread in this manner. Dr. Elaine Ingham suggests inoculating hay bales with compost tea and letting stock spread the organisms in their manure.

Establish “sweet spots” for seed sources by broadcasting mixtures of desirable plant seed in an area before feeding hay or other supplements. A simple auger type seed dispenser can be used to dribble seed from a truck that is feeding hay or cubes.

Never feed hay or other supplement twice in the same place. This assures the stock a “clean plate” and also spreads manure, waste feed and any seed present over a larger area. Unroll large round bales so that all animals can eat at the same time, reduce waste and to do a better job of scattering nutrients and seed. If the whole roll is more than one days ration for the animals present, unroll what they need and take the rest of the roll back.

If you make hay, do so in your pasture rather than in “hay meadows” and try to not hay the same area two years in a row. A good way to maintain stands of winter annuals like clover and rye grass is to make hay from mixed swards of warm and cool season plants. Let some areas set hard seed on the annuals before haying and use the hay to reseed with. By selecting areas with good mixtures you can have enough warm season plants cut at the proper stage to have good quality hay even with the presence of overly mature annuals. Do not sell hay; when you sell hay you are exporting your fertility. If you have extra forage, stock pile it for the dormant season or add more stock; forage that goes back to the ground is not waste but fertilizer.

You should make every effort to reduce the amount of hay fed by setting realistic stocking rates, timing forage demand to coincide with forage growth and by rationing out stock piled forage. Do not try to feed a little hay to supplement stock piled grass; cattle will stop grazing and wait for the hay truck. Feeding dry hay to animals on lush green pasture is a different situation and often helpful. Most producers would be better off most years to buy what hay they need rather than cutting hay on their own property. When you buy hay, you are moving nutrients from the seller's land to your own.

Make every effort to furnish consistently clean water. Where possible, fence off ponds and water stock from drink tanks below the dam. Use a copper screen and suspend the intake 4-5 feet below surface. Where this is not possible limit access to the pond with a floating fence and gravel pad. Piping water in buried pipes from a well or reservoir provides clean, temperature moderated water and is usually cheaper than building multiple ponds. Low water consumption due to cold or hot water hurts animal performance. Water development is the expensive part of the subdivision; plan your water before doing any fencing.

For cattle, a single high tensile hot wire at 30” is all that is required for paddock divisions; you may want to add a second wire at 20” for a ground wire in very dry areas. If graze periods are short and the amount of forage on offer fits the demand for forage, the second wire is usually not needed. Do not rely on gates to carry electricity; route the main line either under or preferably over the gate. It is also possible to do away with gates and raise the wire with an insulated pole to create gates wherever needed. Adding ground rods at the charger can often solve low line voltage. Use switches to divide fencing into sections so that fence faults can more easily be found. Float switches can be used to automatically cut power to an electric water gap. Properly designed, the switch will cut power when the water rises and restore power when the water goes down.

Permanent multiple wire electric fences in humid areas require some sort of vegetation control to prevent shorting.

Supplement cubes strung along an electric fence are less likely to be trampled and wasted. This also assures that all animals have access to the feed and cleans vegetation out of the fencerow.

Separating cows from calves and turning the cows out on one side and the calves out on the other side of a multiple wire electric fence can accomplish stress free weaning. The fence between the two groups should be straight with no corners to trap calves and cause them to try to crawl through the fence. This works only if cattle are trained to electric fence and a few dry cows or heifers should be left with the calves to be a steadying influence. If possible, plan to have quality forage in the weaning paddocks. After a few days the cows can be moved away from the calves and the calves can began their own rotation.

If you have more calves than can be worked in one day, the herd can be gate cut into two groups without regard to pairing. The single wire fence separating the two herds is then raised just high enough that the calves can go under but not the cows. Both herds will mother up over night and can be worked one herd at a time.

A cheap but effective fence wire roller can be made from an old car differential. Modify the driveline to take a PTO shaft connection and make brackets so the unit can be mounted on a three-point hitch. One wheel is locked from turning so that the other winds up wire on a wheel rim. The rims may be fitted with “wings” so that they hold more wire and stored inside until needed. Unlocking the other wheel allows the unit to be used to unroll wire that has been stored.

A very effective way to control horn flies is to simply move away from them. If feasible, plan during bad fly time to make longer moves to leave the manure in which flies hatch farther behind. Plan not to move into adjacent paddocks when you know flies will be bad and if feasible move downwind since flies locate cattle by scent. Generation time for horn flies is 10 – 14 days so take this into account when planning moves.

Leaving at least a two-inch stubble on any grazing can reduce internal parasites. Only ten percent of parasite larva will climb higher than two inches from the ground. Also useful is reducing the amount of common area that is under constant use. Multi species grazing can be very useful in reducing parasitism for those species that are host specific. Sheep are not affected by cattle parasites and visa versa so that grazing an area with one species reduces the load of parasites for the other species. Sheep and goats suffer from the same parasites.

Use dry cows or other animals with a low nutrient requirement to utilize the aftermath of lax grazing by high nutrient requirement animals. Nothing is wasted and the quality of the pasture will be improved for the next grazing cycle. As with any leader-follower program care must be taken to base recovery periods on the time since the last herd moved and to graze the residual before it makes significant re-growth.

As long as forage is actively growing the length and timing of recovery periods should be determined by the rate of forage growth. When growth stops due to frost or short days, all of the forage remaining, which is scheduled to be grazed, should be used in one graze period. Sub dividing paddocks with temporary electric fence into areas just large enough to supply the needs of the herd for one day will increase both the percentage of forage that gets into the animals and the performance of the animals. This technique also greatly improves soil health.

The stress, on man and beast, resulting from putting cattle through the working or loading chute can be greatly reduced if cattle routinely use these chutes to leave the pens. My Father-in-law, Jeff Christian, often worked Brahma type cattle by himself and made it a rule that the cattle always had to go through the chute to leave the pens. On occasion, Jeff would drive cattle to the pens, give them a treat of some sort and leave them to come out through the chute at their own pace. This same trick, plus maybe a ride in the trailer, can be used to lower stress and improve beef quality of fattening cattle. More than one beef has been spoiled because the animal became frightened and agitated when it was separated from its mates and hauled off to slaughter by itself. If only one animal is scheduled for slaughter, haul three in and bring two back.

Sheep and even more so goats are prone to abandoning their new offspring if the flock is moved shortly after they give birth. Plan to have a lambing/kidding pasture with enough forage to hold the flock for 20 – 30 days of lambing. This area should not be grazed with sheep or goats except at lambing but should be grazed with cattle.

Walt Davis 2000