The Efficiency of Grazing Cattle

Working on time management skills? You might just learn a thing or two from a cow. In the 1940's Cornell University studied cattle to see how they spent their time each day.  Andre' Voisin's book, Grass Productivity  has the detailed study on the efficiency of grazing cattle.

The university studied cow-calf pairs on pasture. Observers learned that cattle graze for a little less than eight hours per day. No over-time for bovine. They never exceed eight hours of grazing time.

Spend time Wisely

The cattle spent about seven hour per day ruminating (chewing their cud). The time differed slightly depending on the fiber content of the forage. Some ruminating is done lying down and part standing up.

Cattle lie down for slightly less than twelve hours per day. Cows divided these 12 hours into nine rest periods of varying length.

The cattle in the study didn't deviate in their daily routine. When they replicated the study in other countries the cattle showed the same results. In areas with hotter daytime temperatures the cattle spent no more than eight hours grazing, but they did it at night. The slight variances  by breed or heredity weren't much different, they didn't change the study's results.

Quality is Everything

Here's where the efficiency of grazing cattle matters.; If cattle spend eight hours grazing each day quality is everything. If they're grazing poor pastures without nutrient dense forage they're basically spending eight hours eating junk food. Eight hours of quality forage, either pasture or hay, boost the cattle’s health. Feeding quality produces quality results.And how they're grazing matters, too. MIG grazing improves soil quality and prevents erosion.

If you're spending eight hours at something be sure to get the greatest return from those hours. Junk in - junk out. Quality counts. With organic production It's about quality not quantity.

The Efficiency of Grazing Cattle

 

 

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New calves, kid goats and lambs

When there are new calves, kids or lambs the entire herd likes to check out the newest members. The bull calves and 'freemartin' heifers are wearing red tags this year, the heifer calves have yellow tags.

Here's the Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update.  A few years ago one of our calves broke his hind leg,  you can read about it here

This is calving season on many farms so and we get quite a few questions about how to make a Schroeder -Thomas Splint.

The splint that Keith welded worked great for our calf. However, I recently got an email from Tracie asking for more information on the splint. I was happy to share more pictures along with a few other details.

Tracie was kind enough to send an email with a picture of their Schroeder-Thomas Splint.  I think that Tracie may have improved on the design. Using a cable to make the upper ring that supports the frame at the hip is a great idea. The cable is flexible which makes it easier to  adjust and customize to fit to the animal better.

Tracie also added a can Koozie to hold the foot inside the frame. We had used a block of wood to support the foot and held it in place with Vet Wrap and duct tape. With the foot inside the Koozie it can be help in place with Vet Wrap or tape, too.

The key to making the splint is fitting it to the animal. Careful measurements are needed for the length and the circumference at the hip.

As a side note; all the surfaces of the frame that come in contact with skin should be padded to prevent sores from forming. This is especially important during fly season.

The spring weather is too erratic here in Iowa. Some years there's been snow on the ground late into April. Spring weather is too cold and the grass too sparse for grazing so now calving is schedule to begin in May.

Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update
Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update Tracie's updated design

Update: April 11, 2016

Recently I've been emailing with Summer from North Dakota. They have a calf with a high, rear leg fracture. The frame they designed has an adjustable base with clamps to make the foot platform slide up or down.  Summer was kind enough to share several pictures of their splint. They did a remarkable job with their calf named, Superman. He's fortunate for their loving care.

Thanks for sharing, Summer!

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Hope floats in her Heifer Hot tub

floating a calf
calf is floated to relieve a back injury

One of our late season calves got stepped on. She has a large area on her spine that's swollen and very sore. Keith took her to the vet and they started her on a protocol of anti-inflammatory medication. She can stand with help but isn't steady on her feet yet. One of the problems with cattle is the blood pressure in their legs builds up the longer they're down. In order to keep her circulation strong , without added pressure, we've made a floating tank for her.

The University Of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine uses tanks to float cattle after surgery.

We're using a stock tank with an old beach towel as a sling to cradle her and keep her upright. The tank gets filled half way with hot water and topped off with cool water until it's the perfect temperature. Cold water would shock her, the water has to be warm. She floats for about 45 minutes a couple of times each day. Everyday she's getting stronger. Time will tell if she'll fully recover but for now Hope Floats.

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Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.comBulls

Typically, the bulls get turned out with the cows on the 4th of July. For the bulls, it's celebration day.  This year we're thinking of holding them back for a couple extra weeks to make sure we calve when the grass is growing again. Last winter was too harsh. Spring came so late that some calves were born with snow covering the ground.   We'll have two angry bulls, but the cows will appreciate calving later in the spring when the grass is abundant.

Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.com
Noooooo!

 The younger bull will run with the heifers, the older one with the cows. Using this gestation table for cattle breeding we can schedule delivery with the forage cycle of our pasture.  If the bulls service date is July 4, then the calving date is April 12. Heifers sometimes deliver up to ten days early, cows up to ten days late. Our target date for 2015 is May 1. The bulls will have to wait until July 23, Sorry, bulls!

Our boys have been raised with certain expectations. They haven't always willingly followed the rules or program, we've laid out for them, but the consequences have been made clear. Sometimes there's a painful shock to them when they realize they're off track. At one time, one of our son's was cutting corners and not living up to his obligations. He was twelve at the time and earned money helping around the farm. He also had his own farm related side business and was earning a nice income from it. Despite clear guidelines he decided to slack off, thinking we wouldn't notice. We noticed. He was given one warning, didn't heed it, and was fired. Eventually he earned our trust and was re-hired and there hasn't been an issue since. Last week we were asked if we'd take a thirteen year old into our home for the summer to teach him responsibility. I'm not sure I know how to teach responsibility to a teenager. We didn't teach our boys, they learned by example. They've worked side by side with us for seventeen years and twenty years, respectively. They've been given responsibility. When they accomplished the small tasks they were given larger ones. The rewards started small and grew larger, as well. Truth be told, we never believed we were raising four year old boys, fourteen year old boys, or even eighteen year old boys, we were raising men. That was our goal, so that's  how we treated them; like men. Being given instruction, responsibility, and compensation they've gained independence. They're capable of helping friends and neighbors without any concern that they're unprepared for the job. They can earn their own money, set their own goals, and accomplish great things, not because we've taught them, but because we've worked with them. This particular thirteen year old is welcome at the farm. We're willing to work with him, too, but at some time he's going to go back home. If at home there isn't an expectation of responsibility, then the time spent here will have been for nothing. He just won't get it. He'll forever  be an adolescent with no direction and when he's out on his own he'll be in for a shock, a painful jolt of reality. He just won't get it.

“A brat is a child that acts like yours – but belongs to your neighbor.”

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The cows are trained to respect the electric fence. The sheep are respectful of it, too. Every now and again we raise a few bottle lambs who aren't loyal to the flock of sheep, instead they bond with the goats who are independent and refuse to follow the grazing plan we've laid out for them. They scoot over, under and through the fence, going wherever they want. They aren't protected by the herd, which makes them vulnerable to predators, so they're kept in a separate pasture and rotated on a more limited basis. The cows get it. The sheep get it. The goats don't, and they never will. I'm talking about our MIG grazing program.

Every now and again we'll have other farmer's cows here for breeding to our bulls. There's always a learning curve with the visiting cows, especially if they have calves at their side. These calves aren't trained to the electric fence and run through before they realize there's a consequence waiting for them; a painful shock. The guest cows follow the herd, learning to wait patiently at the electric fence's gate handle for one of us to move it aside so they can advance into the next paddock. They're moved daily, which makes learning the routine a quick process.

 

Every summer the same few cows return for breeding. As soon as they step out of the trailer they remember the grazing system and follow the herd. They don't challenge the system, they get it, they just get it.

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

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This morning there was a cow off by herself. She wasn't far from the herd, just distant enough to be on her own. She's been on the watch list. Every morning Keith checks the list of cows with their potential calving dates. This morning he said, "Number 105 should have her calf today." 

Our cattle are fed in the evening which means they'll calve during daylight hours.

From a distance we kept an eye on her. After she had her new calf they were moved into the barn where they'll stay for a few days. Then she'll move into a small pasture with the other cows and their calves. They'll have access to the shed, which is bedded down and dry. With luck the pastures will be ready for grazing by mid-April. It's been a long winter.

Life on a farm isn't all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it's tough, but not often, only occasionally. This week we had a heifer who laid on her calf and smothered it. Because she's a heifer with years of healthy calving ahead of her and concern that she'd get mastitis, limiting her milk production or udder health in the future, we decided grafting a calf  was a good option. A neighbor who dairies had a newborn bull calf the same age as the one we'd lost.  Keith cut the hide from the lost calf and tied it onto the new calf.  A cow initially identifies their calf by smell, maintaining the scent of the lost calf greatly aides in the grafting process. The heifer was haltered and tied until the bull calf nursed. This was repeated several times each day for several days. In about one week the heifer accepted the calf as her own and the hide was removed. 

Here are the steps to grafting a calf:

  • Find a calf close in age to the lost calf
  • Let the cow or heifer get a good scent of her calf before removing it from her
  • Skin the lost calf
  • Tie the hide to calf being grafted
  • Drizzle molasses onto the new calf to encourage the cow to lick it. The more you can encourage her to smell and touch the new calf the faster the grafting process.
  • Halter the cow/heifer or if necessary hobble her so she can't kick at the new calf
  • Encourage the calf to nurse safely
  • When the cow/heifer begins to accept the calf, allow at least 3 days, remove the hide
  • The new calf will be accepted, it's just a matter of time. Heifers are easier than a cow, but eventually even a cow will give in.
Grafting a calf
Grafting a calf

 

DSCN1695 (3)Keith brought a sprig of alfalfa into the kitchen. “The cows were pretty happy with their breakfast this morning.”

 “That looks nice. The leaves are still soft and it's not too stemmy.” Keith's very proud of the hay he makes.

 A few heifers are in the barnyard as they get near calving time. Three have calved already. Despite the cold weather the calves still come. The thought process last spring was to put the bull in with the heifers early, never figuring that they would cycle right away, or that the bull would catch them immediately. We were wrong. So, we have a few new calves and the cows are enjoying the best hay from last summer.

 

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This morning it was -19 below zero when we went out to do chores. In the eastern sky the sun had just risen, a beautiful sun dog greeted us. It was spectacular!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday afternoon, just before sunset Keith was checking on the cattle. He called up to the house asking for some help. A calf was stuck between two small trees.DSCN1584

 

 

 

 

DSCN1583 Garrett tried pushing the trees apart, it didn't work. Keith and Garrett tried lifting and pushing the calf to free her, but that didn't work either. Garrett and I held her still, keeping her legs and head away from the saw while Keith cut down the tree. That's how to free stuck calves.

 

 

 

 

DSCN1582We've had to free  stuck calves  before. It was simply a matter of waving our arms and walking straight at him until he stepped back on his own. This case was different. Everyday brings something new.