Are You Ready to Put Cows on Pasture?

I think we are all ready to see green grass and be done with winter. But are our pastures ready? Now before the ground thaws (unless sloped) is a good time to fertilize or apply soil correctives to the paddocks that didn’t get tended to last fall. It is time to check fences,  and as it warms and greens up, water lines, lane condition and pasture stand. Evaluate the stand, how did it come through the drought and winter? Are there bare spots? Are the species desirable with diversity of both cool and warm season grasses along with some legumes? Do we need to inter-seed into an existing stand or does it need a complete renovation? Maybe we need to consider putting in an annual crop that can give us some fast, high yielding forage.

Alfalfa hay fields also need to be evaluated; you should sample six random areas of each field.

The guidelines for stems per square foot are as follows:

1. More than 54 stems: no yield reduction.

2. 40 to 54 stems per square foot: keep the stand, but expect some yield reduction.

3. Less than 40 stems: consider replacing the stand because yield reduction will be significant.

It is also a good idea to dig up some plants and split the root lengthwise to evaluate the crown and tap root. You want to see a nice white or cream color. In a healthy stand you should have fewer than 30% of the plants showing discoloration or rot of the crown and taproot. Moving cows to pasture As with all feed changes, dairy cows especially high-producing cows, need to be adjusted to pasture slowly. Ideally this change in diet would take place gradually over a week’s time to reduce the chance of off feed problems, bloat and a decrease in milk production. Hungry cows should not be allowed to go on pasture. Feed cows first, turning them out to pasture full (include some dry hay in this). Start by allowing one hour of access to pasture the first day and increasing the time allowed on pasture each consecutive day.

Lush growing pastures are usually high in potassium and low in magnesium, so be sure that the diet you are feeding your cows is over 0.32 % magnesium to reduce the risk of grass tetany (magnesium deficiency). Early spring and well managed pastures are high in crude protein, and low in effective fiber, averaging well over 20% protein. Cows may even consume a higher level if they are selective grazers. High quality pasture provides too much degradable and soluble protein raising the blood urea levels which is reflected by a higher MUN level in the milk. So it is important to balance the cow’s diet with some starch from grain and or corn silage to optimize rumen fermentation. Based on trials and research that I have seen, I think that you should strongly consider feeding a 1:4 grain to milk ratio to support production over 60 lbs and maintain body condition.

 

“The farther the cows have to travel for water the less they will drink and milk production will suffer.”

 

Provide adequate Sulfur, plus RUP (bypass protein) along with highly digestible fiber by-products such as soy hulls or beet pulp to enhance rumen fermentation and maintain milk production and components. Grazing cows also have a higher maintenance need because of the added activity of grazing and moving from barn to paddock. Adding products like Generator Elite, Generator Ultra or PYK would be beneficial. Let’s not forget water which is an essential nutrient needed for all animals. The farther the cows have to travel for water the less they will drink and milk production will suffer. Ideally clean water (I stress CLEAN: i.e. cleaned daily) should be available within 200 – 300 feet at all times, with a maximum travel of 500 feet.

If providing free choice minerals on pasture, locate the mineral feeders between the water and feed supply A dairy cow generally grazes for 6 – 9 hours per day. Because of her need to ruminate and rest she seldom grazes over 9 hours per day. The number of bites per minute does not vary much, ranging from 55 – 65 bites per minute. Thus dry matter intake from pasture is controlled by the size  of the bite, which is directly related to the stand height and density being grazed. One study of forage intake on rye-grass showed that in the spring, when the growth was very lush, cows averaged 60 bites per minute over an 8 hour period and were able to consume 31.7 lbs of dry matter daily. In the fall, cows averaged 65 bites per minute over 9 hours of grazing and were only able to consume 19.6 pounds of dry matter.

During the hottest months, cows will not graze during the hottest times of the day (late morning and afternoon). You may have to consider changing your schedule to allow cows to graze during the early morning and late evening hours. Provide shade or keep the cows in and feed them TMR during the heat of the day along with providing fans and sprinklers to reduce heat stress.When to move animals can be a little tricky and you get better at it with time. You need to look at what is happening daily (a tape measure or  pasture measuring stick is helpful). How much are they eating? Look at the next paddock, look at the previous paddock and consider the weather and growing season. At some point you may have to skip a paddock (make hay on it) to get the animals back on more nutritious forage. As a general rule, do not graze below 4 inches. This protects the growing point of grass, and also leaves more leaf area to capture solar energy and increase photosynthesis. This allows faster recovery without depleting reserve carbohydrates.  With more canopy there is less drying out or baking of the soil. Another benefit with leaving a higher crop is that you have less parasite infestation possibly reducing the need for dewormers. The key to maximizing profitability in a grazing herd is the amount of high quality forage where intake is maximized along with supplemental concentrates being fed, and supplementing other forages when pasture quality or intake is limiting.

For help in feeding a well managed and balanced diet or planning your fertility needs, see your Midwestern BioAg Consultant.

Be Prepared for 2013

“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Anyone who has served in the military or emergency services (police, fire, EMS) understands the importance of this statement and how it influences their training and preparation. This philosophy breeds traits like resiliency, adaptability, and perseverance. The drought of 2012 taught us that our soil must be prepared for challenges, stress, and less than ideal growing conditions. A healthy, resilient soil can adapt to those stresses and help crops persevere until conditions improve. Let’s take a look at what you can expect for the 2013 growing season and how you can prepare your farm for it.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor still shows 65% of the United States remains abnormally dry or worse, with 51% of land being in an official drought stage. Recent reviews of historical weather data show that in the Upper Midwest, it’s rare for two consecutive years to have below normal rainfall. In fact, following previous droughts in 1988 and 2005, the following years resulted in average to above average yields. While conditions are predicted to see at least moderate improvement in the Midwest and Great Plains, producers must prepare and plan for a continuation of extreme weather events. Although drought status can influence yields, the amount of heat and rainfall received in-season along with planting progress, plays the largest role in determining crop yields according to Paul Wescott, an USDA ag economist who analyzed corn production for the last 25 years. If in-season rainfall and soil moisture are such critical factors in crop production, producers must ensure their soils can make rainfall available to crops. With depleted soil moisture reserves, this year’s crops will need every inch of rainfall falling at the right time. Even short periods of dry weather during June or July could reduce yields significantly. Soil structure and organic matter content are the most important factors that influence water infiltration and holding capacity.

 

“Improving soil structure and increasing organic matter provides more available moisture throughout the growing season.”

 

Arkansas researchers have shown that each 1% of organic matter in soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons/acre (or 0.60”) of rainfall above the soil’s natural capacity. Further, water held by organic matter is much more plant available that moisture “locked away” in soil particles, especially in high clay soils. Also, loose crumbly soils without compaction layers (hardpans) allow for better and deeper root growth. These roots can access moisture deep into the subsoil during times of water stress. Proper tillage, organic matter, balanced soil chemistry and biological activity all contribute to soil tilth and allow more abundant root growth. Although total rainfall for 2013 may be adequate, short dry spells can be better tolerated by soils with optimal organic matter levels.

As we proceed into the 2013 growing season, producers need to make sure they are addressing these key areas to promote good soil structure, water infiltration, and moisture holding capacity:

  • Avoid excessive tillage that may lead to compaction and a collapsed soil structure which limits water infiltration.
  • Provide adequate amounts of soluble calcium and sulfate sulfur for optimum root growth.
  • Avoid fertilizers that can harm soil biology and/or burn up soil organic matter.
  • Incorporate cover crops and green manure crops to increase organic matter, loosen the soil, and feed soil biology.
  • Use crop rotation to increase soil diversity, increase organic matter, and improve tilth.

Although nothing can completely protect your crops from extreme weather there are many things producers can do to improve the productivity and resiliency of their soil. Improving soil structure and increasing organic matter provides more available moisture throughout the growing season.

Contact your Midwestern BioAg consultant today to discuss how our products and programs can help you prepare for 2013’s uncertain weather conditions.

Here’s hoping for a great 2013!

New Nutrition Products from Midwestern BioAg

With the changes that have come due to the weather and agriculture economics, Midwestern BioAg wants to be proactive with product offerings that are put together with high quality ingredients that provide a positive economic value to your farm.

Three new milk replacers:

1. BioBaby 20/20 All Milk Non Medicated with Probiotics, MOS and botanicals that include aniseed, cinnamon, garlic, rosemary along with thyme.

2. BioBaby 20/20 All Milk Medicated with Bovatec and MOS

3. BioBaby 22/20 All Milk Medicated with Bovatec and MOS.

All three contain proteinate and sulfate trace minerals, selenium yeast and vitamin C to enhance immune function. We have increased the feeding rate of the powder, which raises energy and protein resulting in increased gains.

“O” BioBaby Premix has been changed to “O” BioBaby Base Pellet which contains the same high quality ingredients only in a pellet form to eliminate fines in calf feed. And it can be mixed on-farm with your own grains and roasted beans. It is also the product that supplies the minerals, vitamins and beneficial bacteria in our “O” BioBaby Calf Starter.

For those of you who don’t have your own protein source, we have two new offerings in a protein pellet:

1. “O” BioBaby Mixer Pellet

2. MBA 26 Mixer B180 Medicated with Bovatec for improved feed efficiency.

Both products are designed to be mixed at the rate of 1/3 pellet and 2/3 of your grain to make an on-farm calf feed utilizing your own grain.

On the heifer side, we have added MBA Heifer Mineral R1200 Medicated. This product contains Rumensin® for the control and prevention of coccidiosis along with improved rate of gain. This product is a complete mineral supplement containing elevated trace mineral levels derived from chelated and sulfate sources which help with immune system, hoof health and reproduction.

For the dry cows we have added MBA Dry Cow Mineral R1200 Medicated. This product also contains Rumensin,® which has been shown to increase milk production efficiency in lactating cows and enables more efficient use of feed to maintain body condition and fetal development in dry cows. Again we are sticking to our standards of using high quality trace minerals from chelates and sulfates along with selenium yeast, to help with immune function, calf health and colostrum quality, plus reduce fresh cow problems and improve reproduction.

Do Better on the Land You Have

I recently read a New York Times article on soaring farmland prices. An 80-acre Iowa farm sold on auction for $10,600/acre to the local John Deere dealer/owner. As he said, where else do you go with money? Farmers are not the only ones who make money as farmers do better; our economy will do better, too. We hate paying taxes and always keep investing in our businesses, the perfect plan for America.

So where is that Iowa family who sold that farm going with their money? Farmland, I guess, is a secure investment—but I’m glad here at Otter Creek Organic Farms we are not buying more.

Consider this: instead of buying expensive acreage, why not invest more in the land we have—get it healthier, working better? Organic corn selling at $15+/bushel and 50 extra bu/acre is a no-brainer! Seed costs the same, as does tillage, some cultivating, planting and harvesting. True, there’s a little more expense for hauling all that extra corn, but who is going to complain about that?

Yes, I am convinced that most farmers can produce 50 more bushels of corn, 10 additional bushels of beans, 2 tons more alfalfa/forage and of better quality, too. Some farmers are already there, and now they want 50 more. Is that achievable? Not if they continue doing only what they have been doing! To get the first 50 was easier—switching to BioAg fertilizers, making sure the ground wasn’t hard and that residues weren’t sitting atop the ground, not breaking down. For many it meant a little surface tillage, breaking the crust, putting residues into the top few inches of the soil and ripping/digging deep or farming in a zone where soil structure and fertility can be improved. A plant’s got to have a place not tightly compacted, where roots can grow and be able to get down to needed nutrients. With soils, the top is easier to fix than the lower levels.

I’ve read articles stating that the cracks in the soil from the drought have subsoiled it for you. I’m not sure about that. Dead, hard, tight soils do crack a lot in drought, but the next year they still seem to be hard and dead.

 

“Getting better now has huge rewards. And once you are there, healthy soils and high yield can be maintained.”

 

Calcium is a nutrient that has a huge impact on soil structure and plant health, that’s one reason for the 50 bu/acre increase. Fertilizers from Midwestern BioAg also address possible limiting nutrients. Our fertilizer is a manufactured blend of many minerals including natural sources, all carefully chosen. Carbon, food for soil biology, is blended into this low salt index, buffered fertilizer.

Make a few other farm changes, based on your limiting factors, and you’re on your way. We all know there is more production out there to be gained.

Droughts are eye-openers. We are planning on putting irrigation on our main farm and have applied for permits, so hopefully by next year, we will have water available if needed. My son says now that we have water, we can’t let soil fertility be our limiting factor. My comment was with the price of land and farming and with what the crop’s worth not only in tons but in quality, why let nutrients be your limiting factor on any land, any time? If it doesn’t rain now it will eventually, and the type of fertilizer we add will be available then. It’s not like it’s gone, unless your soil is eroding away. If so, do something about it.

What level of balanced fertilizers, manures/compost, cover crops and tillage with a purpose do I need to do? That is the recipe for where the next 50 bushels of corn, the next 10 bushels of beans, the next 2 tons of forage will come from. What a great time to be in agriculture! Getting better now has huge rewards. And once you are there, healthy soils and high yield can be maintained.

So instead of buying more land, now’s the time to do better on the land you have. Call or visit with your Midwestern BioAg consultant on how to get to that next level.

Focusing on Healthy Comfortable Cows

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Take, for example, the cull rate at the Hoewisch Dairy. At 28 percent, it’s higher than we’d like to see on a good biological farm—except that rate reflects the fact that this family farm culls for profit. With an excess of cattle, annual sales of up to 20 head that they don’t have the space to keep builds their bottom line with an added revenue stream.

And it means that they keep their production levels high.

Healthy, comfortable cows are the focus for brothers Jeff and Kevin (who combined their dairy herds on the home farm in 1999) and Kevin’s son, Jacob, who together work the Fremont, Wisconsin operation with an enthusiasm and optimism for the future of dairying.

According to Kevin, “nutrition is so good” with the Midwestern BioAg program. “Calves don’t get sick, cows don’t get sick,” says Kevin. Cows also get bred back; the Hoewisch’s veterinarian recently commented that their herd had one of the best pregnancy rates this past August—despite this summer’s high heat.

Calves are bright-eyed and energetic, reflecting good health. They get PectiLyte for the first two weeks of life, along with MBA’s Milk Replacer until weaned at 8-9 weeks. Cows stay on MBA minerals throughout their lifetime: as heifers, dry cows (Dry Cow Mineral), and lactating cows (TopCap, CharCal and Kelp in the TMR plus free choice offerings). The Hoewisches also like that the MBA minerals are “more natural and more available.”

Cow comfort is visible upon a visit to the free stall barn. There’s a cow resting in every sand-bedded stall—though Jake admits that currently the “barn is too full.” (It’s that pesky problem of too many healthy cows again!) A calf and heifer shed, added in 2008, provides a quality environment for raising young stock and, at the same time, it’s labor efficient.

Before starting on the MBA nutrition program, Jake recalled, “our protein bills were so high. We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.” Production also wasn’t consistent. “Now we’re getting 70-75 lbs. pretty consistently throughout the year,” he says, with a rolling herd average of over 23,700.

Quality milk is another emphasis for the Hoewisches. The walls of the farm office next to the milkhouse are lined with rows of milk quality awards. Last year’s SCC, for example, was a fairly typical 43,000, and this year they’re averaging about 50,000 each month. Attention to detail and knowing their cattle pay dividends. “You need to know every quarter of every cow,” says Kevin.

The Hoewisches note their ration is “high forage with more haylage than corn silage.” Jake says, “We have excellent quality feed this year” with protein over 20 percent.

 

“We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.”

 

“Years ago, we were lucky if we had 15 percent on first crop, rising to 17-18 percent on later crops,” recalls Kevin. In fact, they found that now they have to “tame that down a little” in the ration by adding wheat straw to the TMR along with feeding baled hay. Hay, mostly alfalfa with some fescue, clover or timothy, is fertilized with 250 lbs. of MBA’s 2-6-20 and gets BioCal:® “It keeps our calcium levels where they need to be.” Manure is spread on older stands that will be rotated to corn, as well as corn-on-corn fields.

A limiting factor for the farm is land. They currently work about 400 acres, owned and rented, supporting the 140-cow milking herd and young stock, plus about 35 bull calves grassfed for beef to age 24-30 months.

Their clay loam soils are high in fertility, but with a tendency toward being too wet and easily compacted. Tillage includes sub-soiling, rotary hoeing, cultivating which aerates the soil (and saves on herbicide costs), and growing green manure crops (oats following corn silage) to build organic matter. “We don’t add any N besides what’s in the 10-9-10 starter,” says Jake. “Manure goes on all our corn ground.”

They work with MBA Certified Consultant Clem Griesbach. “I trust Clem,” says Kevin. They appreciate the timely service, quality products and good, money-saving advice he provides. “He brightens our Monday mornings,” Kevin adds of Clem’s weekly visit.

Kevin says that going biological is an educational process and a different way of thinking—but one the Hoewisch family finds successful, profitable and fun. Hard work, family and faith are all important to this farm family. “God has blessed us and taken care of us, even this year,” says Kevin. And they consider Midwestern BioAg one of those blessings.

From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

We are glad to have gotten through the year with enough feed for the cattle. It was not a fun year. Where are we going to go after having experienced the summer of 2012? By July 20, I thought it was over. With no rain in sight, every promise fizzled. We obtained a temporary permit to pump water out of Otter Creek. By the time we got that paperwork done, found the equipment, realized the hassles and found that there were only small areas we could actually water, it was raining. Not a lot, but the irrigation did give us something to do—there sure was not much hay to make.

L-CBF Advantage on Corn

We just finished the corn harvest. It was a long ways from great, but we did average over 100 bu/acre—certainly nothing to brag about. We weighed some test plots with our new L-CBF molasses-based fertilizer and checked other areas. Our highest yielding corn was over 175 bu/acre and the L-CBF plots had an over 10 bu/ac advantage. The L-CBF corn got off to a better start and had better root systems.

Our high-yielding corn all followed alfalfa. With the warm and early spring we had there was a beautiful knee-high crop to work shallowly into the soils. These are our best, loamy type soils which have had lots of mineral inputs, green manure crops and a good rotation (alfalfa then corn, a green manure crop, corn and back to seeding with triticale and peas as a nurse crop and WinterKingII alfalfa with a grass/dry hay blend from MBA seeded at 5+ pounds).

This farm is a ways from the home farm, so stacked, aged, turned, bedding pack manure is applied at 2-4 tons/acre when it’s in forage crops. We also apply some pelleted chicken manure on corn ground at 1000 lbs./acre.  MBA’s OrganiCal is applied yearly to the forage crop along with 200-400 lbs. of a blended fertilizer.

Now that’s a recipe for good, high quality crops even without rain. The next question is how to repeat this over more of the farm.

Gary F. Zimmer