By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
Part of my job is to attend meetings where experts, including farmers, talk about livestock. This year those meetings included the Maine Agricultural Trades show, which had a session for the Maine Grass Farmers Network, the Common Ground Country Fair, and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) meeting.
Tips from the Trades Show
Pat Bates of Norwest Angus Farm in Turner said he is using equipment and beef cows to clear land for new pastures. To make cleanup easier, he cuts pine in warm weather so that few branches are lost. (In winter, branches are more brittle.) Then he puts a bale of hay on the weeds, and by the time the cows eat the hay, the weeds are gone.
Jeff Maddocks from Fertrell Co. spoke about mineral supplementation for livestock on pasture. He thinks spreading minerals on pasture costs as much as including them in animals’ feed and having them pass through the animal and be deposited with the manure, so it does it not matter whether you feed minerals to animals directly or to the soil.
Maddocks said that for up to two days after a rain, significant mineral loss occurs in pastures, because rain dilutes available nutrients. Also, when the soil temperature is less than 50 F, less phosphorus is released. Have hay and minerals available, he said, so that animals can keep a balanced diet.
The better the mineral balance is in the soil, the better Brix (sugar) levels in the forage or pasture will be.
When deciding how to mineralize soils, said Maddocks, the species of plant and the species and breed of animal are both important. Different plants need different nutrients. In a mixed pasture with excess nitrogen, for example, clover will not grow as well as grasses. Different species of plants and animals are also suited to different management techniques, such as mowing or grazing height.
Maddocks said that National Organic Program rules allow use of chicken manure from any source, but you need to know the source. Be aware that chicken manure may contain arsenic (from non-organic feed), and because arsenic binds with selenium, using chicken manure could reduce the availability of selenium to pasture plants and then to grazing animals. Also, try not to use more than 1 ton per acre of chicken manure on any pasture or during any seeding, because you will end up with too many weeds due to high nitrogen levels.
Using “salad bar minerals” (having different minerals available so that animals can choose what they want) works well for beef animals because they have enough time to balance their nutrients, Maddocks continued. Dairy animals need to be started with this method at an early age, because if you change when they are producing, they take so long to balance their mineral intake that their production will be reduced seriously.
Any animal that has dull, dusty hair that is standing up is not doing well, added Maddocks.
Kelp is a great nitrate buffer. If you're feeding animals during drought conditions, when nitrates can accumulate in plants, consider adding kelp to reduce the impact of nitrates.
To start providing balanced minerals for your animals, offering free choice kelp, Redmond Salt and Redmond Conditioner (www.redmondnatural.com) is good, said Maddocks.
Lessons from MOFGA
This year at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center, our farmers-in-residence, Angie and Ben of Mackie Family Farm, raised the chickens we used for a poultry slaughtering class. The Cornish Cross and Red Bros birds that we got from Myers hatchery in Pennsylvania were quite similar in behavior – both were very active as foragers! This illustrates that the strain of Cornish cross you raise makes a big difference: The Ross variety is much better at grazing then the Cob variety. So when ordering, ask the hatchery what kind of birds it is raising. This will help guide your management decisions and your expectations. If you want to keep birds in a very confined setting, get Cobs; for good grazers, get Rosses.
I took pullorum testing training this year and can now test for Salmonella pullorum and S. gallinarium (fowl typhoid). These types of salmonella affect poultry but rarely cause food poisoning in humans. For chickens 2 to 4 weeks old, Salmonella is often fatal. The bacteria cause pasty butt, in which white diarrhea sticks to the chicken’s anus, so the birds get plugged up. Pullorum passes from hen-to-hen and from the hen through the egg to the chick. Infected hens’ eggs have poor hatchability, the hens drink a lot and they have very swollen joints. To have your birds pullorum-tested, give me a call.
News from NODPA
Cheyenne Christianson of Grazing Acres Farm in Chetek, Wisconsin, has been raising his milking herd without feeding grain for many years, and his Holsteins maintain an average 40-pound production level. To make up for the lack of grain, he feeds quality forages. For 12 years, to supplement and extend the grazing season, he has been planting pastures with annuals selected for high energy and yield.
Christianson grows oats, turnip and rye or triticale for fall pasture (when he can plant early enough); rye, triticale and oats for spring pasture; Japanese millet and sorghum-sudangrass for summer. Triticale does not like competition, so he plants it in a field without a lot of weed pressure.
When feeding rye or turnips, take cows off that pasture at least two hours before milking, or the milk will be off-flavor. For more, see Christianson’s NODPA News article at www.nodpa.com/production_grazing_annual_grazing_071612.shtml.
Another NODPA News article about Grazing Acres Farm (www.nodpa.com/ff_may_2012.shtml) says, “Pastures are grazed when the clover blossoms are showing and the grasses are just starting to head out. Cheyenne runs four grazing groups on their farm; milk cows, nurse cows & calves, heifers, and bulls. The groups are moved twice a day, usually checking the cows and heifers in the middle of the day to be sure they have enough feed.”
Grazing Acres uses nurse cows, with two to three calves per cow on pasture. To wean them, they put the calves on the other side of a two-wire fence, where they seem to have few problems with being upset, because they can see their mothers.
Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Vermont spoke about fertility management using Advancing Eco Agriculture Products from Middlefield, Ohio (www.growbetterfood.com). He thinks the products are making subtle differences in the quality of his crops.
Lazor also said that dandelions benefit soil because they are biennials, dying in their second year and leaving channels where their roots grew, making nice earthworm homes.
Top Ten Grazing Mistakes
Sarah Flack, a Vermont grazing consultant, Dr. Cindy Daley of Chico State University in California and Kathy Soder of USDA’s Agricultural Research Station in Pennsylvania gave a thorough presentations on the challenges and easily made mistakes when working with pasture.
- Badly designed grazing system and infrastructure
- Poor grazing management
- Pasture plants being damaged by overgrazing
- Low dry matter intake (DMI) from pasture
- Poor plant species selection or diversity
- Overfeeding protein
- Poor forage quality due to wrong species, low diversity or over-mature plants (low digestibility)
- Poor soil fertility
- Inadequate records to keep the certifier happy
- Overgrazing damage!
Pasture management depends partially on your objectives. Always try to maximize intake by having very full, quality bites mostly from the top of the plant (when the plant is, on average, 9 inches tall).
When managing to maximize animal production, graze the tops of plants and leave the lower part. The residual will have to be mown or, if animals are concentrated in the pasture area, pushed into the soil by their feet – which will help increase organic matter in the soil.
When managing to maximize pasture production, leave animals on the paddock longer so that they eat closer to the ground.
Feeding protein (e.g., 16 percent grain) in the barn reduces pasture consumption, as the animals have been sated before they even head out.
For more on this subject, see www.nodpa.com/fielddays_2012_resource_page_112412.shtml.
Common Ground Fair Speakers
Dr. Hue Karreman of Penn Dutch Cow Care spoke at the 2012 Common Ground Country Fair on “cow signals” and encouraged cow owners to observe their animals to determine their needs.
Karreman said a cow takes 20 to 30 minutes to calm down after it's been scared – after seeing a reflection or shadow or something else it's not used to. Also, animals are more likely to move into light than into dark, so consider that when setting up your barn.
When a cow’s tail switches, when its eyes roll or get white on the edges, when it puts its head up and its ears are in a pinched-back position, it is afraid.
Hand-reared bulls cause more human fatalities than those raised in a herd or group of calves. They think they're a man and perceive you as competition for those lovely cows. Try, instead, to have them grow up in the herd, said Karreman; and make an orphaned bull a steer rather than raising him for the herd bull.
An animal’s calmness is determined partially by its genetics, which affects its flight zone – how close you can get to it before it runs off. Also, genetically calm animals will gain more weight.
Always be careful with young calves that you intend to keep, Karreman continued. If they are scared early in life, it is harder to train them not to be afraid.
When moving cows, if the animals begin to crowd the gate, don’t open it; wait until they back off so that they learn not to crowd the gate.
Dan Leiterman of Crystal Creek, which supplies livestock products (www.crystalcreeknatural.com/intro.php), spoke on raising calves. He believes calves should get about 1 gallon of milk daily until they’re eight weeks of age and then can be weaned.
Crystal Creek carries a product called Calf Shield that supplies some minerals, such as selenium, iron and zinc, that are not highly concentrated in cows’ milk. If you use Calf Shield, stop at six weeks if you are giving grain. The calf should be getting about 2 pounds of grain per day when it is ready to be weaned. Weaning a calf at 12 weeks does not result in a healthier or larger calf than weaning at eight weeks, if the animal is in good shape and is eating well.
Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can contact her with your questions at 568-4142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.