Better Grass?

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twabscs

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Hi All,

I'm starting my fifth year of raising cattle (cow/calf) and now have two farms that are 37 miles apart. The purpose of my post is get some opinions on an interesting observation. I've had one farm five years, and the other one approaching two years. For each of the past two years, it's very clear that one farm produces calves that are 50-75 pounds heavier than the other. Both farms have similar pasture makeups which is typical NW Missouri grass. Mostly fescue and some orchard grass with lots of clover. The last two years have been great for clover and most fields were 50% clover both years.

I know that fertility would make some difference (and I need to get the pastures checked), but I have a year-round mineral program, and the pastures on both farms have been very "lush" both of the last two years because of excess rain. Calves are from the same bulls and the momma cows have spent time at both farms as well.

Does this make sense? Common? Just a difference in the underlying ground? I thought it was the genetics that made a difference. :D

Thanks,

Tom
 

hillsdown

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Could be , but there are so many variable.
Age of cows , age of calves at weening breed of cattle etc. It may just be that you are overstocking your one parcel..

Many many things to consider.
 
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twabscs

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Thanks HD. Yes, there are many variables. I'd like to hear more on "overstocking." If there is ample grass through the season, would it make a difference? I agree that the one parcel that grows the big calves is slightly less stocked than the other, but not by much.

Here are more particulars:

320 acre parcel (low weight) has ~90 momma cows - (Approx 80 acres used for hay)
130 acre parcel (higher weight) has ~40 momma cows - (No haying here)

All cows are wintered at the 320 acre parcel. Before calving (late Feb) I move ~40 to the other parcel. Calves are sold "weaned on the truck" in November. The cows are then moved back to the larger parcel for wintering. For each of the two years a different set of cows was at the smaller (higher weight) parcel.

The primary variable is the farm, at least from my perspective. I never expected this, thus my inquiry. The sample size is pretty large. Also, it is clear to the "naked eye" that the one farms grows larger calves.

Thanks,

Tom
 

IluvABbeef

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I agree with HD, many variables that come to mind that would differentiate between the weight of the calves could be: soil fertility/pH differences, precipitation differences, topographical differences, soil type differences (soil type can vary within 30 miles of one location to another), stocking rate variations, etc. Evidently genetics isn't a factor to the weight differences here, seeing (and assuming) that either cowherd and calves would be of similar breeds. But even then its hard to know without knowing more about which cows are put on which pasture, etc.
 

Jogeephus

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Just me but I'd look at the soil first. Possibly get a forage sample as well. Doesn't take much variance in the soil to make a huge difference in feed quality. If you find the soil is low in something or the forage test shows a difference just for $hits and giggles ammend about 10-20 acres of the land and see where the cattle chose to graze.
 
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twabscs

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Thanks ILuv and Jogeephus, My cows are mostly BA / RA with some Charlaois crosses, with registered BA bulls. A mostly random selection from the herd each of the two years was placed at the smaller farm.

If it really is just a difference in soil, it brings up an interesting point. Maybe the first part of building a good (and moneymaking) herd is to first focus on your pasture. Yes, I know this is said all the time, but these two farm's pastures are very similar in type of grass, level of growth, rainfall, etc. Also, I wouldn't have believed it without this first hand experience.

Shall I sum it up to soil fertility?
 

3waycross

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Have you considered the fact that the smaller place is getting rested for several months a year.

What doesn't make sense is that the larger parcel is getting fertilized all winter and should be producing better forage.
 
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twabscs

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3Way, Agree, the larger piece get's more fertilizer as I buy half my hay and feed it there, while the smaller parcel does get some fed hay for the last two months of winter (Mar-Apr). In fact, the 80 acre parcel on where I fed through the winter last year looked / looks fantastic this year. Maybe after a couple of years of this, the larger parcel will produce similar results.

Seems to me, feeding hay (unrolling) would be better than a rest. :D It sure looks that way in the spring.

Red Bull, maybe, but both farms have similar ponds and creeks. However, the smaller parcel does have more creeks (larger w/constant water flow), so maybe better water is also a component...
 

SRBeef

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A lot of good points brought up here. Especially the water. I didn't follow all the details but is there a significant difference in the water between these two places? Or method/distance of watering them?

I think availability of water is one of the unsung factors. I see it myself. When my cows are in a paddock at a distance from water they tend to go get a drink just a few times a day. When they are in the paddock right next to the waterer it seems like they are getting drinks more often.

As Jo points out, the other likely candidate is the soils. I would soil test both places and compare the results.

Another thing to look at are there different levels of compaction in these fields? That will affect the growth and maybe the composition of the grass etc growing on top and maybe in a way that is not readily visible.

I think two very important tools on any farm are a soil test probe and a soil compaction probe. You can take soils samples with a shovel but they are not as true as ones taken with a cylindrical probe.

Here is a page of different soil probes. http://www.gemplers.com/category.as...ls&s_kwcid=TC|4086|soil probe||S|b|3012853075 I like the step in one with the tab on the bottom. Very easy and fast to use and gets good samples.

You can also usually borrow one from your county extension office at no charge. Oakfield also makes a simple soil compaction probe.

Interesting to know if there is a real difference and why.

Jim
 

JRGidaho`

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Interesting discussion....

Water could make the difference. Do cattle drink directly from ponds or is the water from stock tanks? I have seen 50 lb difference in weaning weights between direct pond access vs pipelined water in tanks.

Basic soil structure or fertility could make enough difference in forage production to keep the smaller parcel in good supply while the larger parcel runs low on forage by mid-season. remember, the cattle will always know forage is in short supply a month before you do.

One serious consideration that hasn't been mentioned is the possibility that the smaller parcel is enophyte-free tall fescue while the larger parcel is endophyte infected. 75 to 100 lb difference in weaning weights is common between toxic and non-toxic fescue.

Is there any difference in breeding percentage between the two farms? That would be a real clue to what might be going on.
 

dun

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Did one farm get significantly more rainfall the past 2 years? Many areas had so much rain that although the grass really looked good it was pretty poor quality, i.e. hogh moisture content for the amount of nutrition in it. That could be one small part of the equation. Water availabliity and soil fertility are also possibiitys. Or could be a combination of all factors being cumulative
 

novatech

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A shot in the dark here. But if the one that gets rested during the winter is the one they gain the most weight in then could it possibly be parasites. Even if you worm cattle on a regular basis parasites can come back pretty quick. When pastures are overstocked, pastured together over winter, parasites eggs do not have a chance to die off as they would in a rested pasture.
 
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twabscs

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Thanks all for the great comments. Here are some more details:

1) They drink directly either from the ponds or creeks. During the winter they use the concrete waterers, but it's still pond water.
2) Distance to water is larger at the bigger parcel as it has larger ponds, but farther apart. On the smaller parcel, water is probably within 150 yards no matter where you are. Maybe 300 yards on the larger one.
3) Parasite load is one interesting point.
4) One other point, the smaller parcel has had cows on it for 50+ years, not tilled during that time. The larger parcel has had some tilling on most of it within the last 20 years. It was in alfala, beans, corn, etc., but it's been pasture the last 15 years.
5) Rainfall for the last 2 years is similar at both parcels, approximately 45 inches/year.
 

JRGidaho`

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4) One other point, the smaller parcel has had cows on it for 50+ years, not tilled during that time. The larger parcel has had some tilling on most of it within the last 20 years. It was in alfala, beans, corn, etc., but it's been pasture the last 15 years.

I think this is the huge point right here. There is probably a lot more life in the soil that has not been tilled.

I had a similar experience in Missouri many years ago between a piece of property (100 acres) that had been cropped farmed from the 1940s through the 1970s adjacent to 800 acres that had laregly been in pasture since the mid 1800's. We started grazing the 100 acres in 1981 and it took at least a decade of good grazing management before it came to equal productivity as the long term grassland. Even after that time, in a dry year, that 100 acres simply ran out of gas long before the other. It is what we call the plant-animal-soil dynamic. For grasslands to be healthy and vigorous, they must be grazed. Tillage and cropping take away that dynamic and it is hard to restore.
 

S&WSigma40VEShooter

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Jogeephus":3v4bveoo said:
Just me but I'd look at the soil first. Possibly get a forage sample as well. Doesn't take much variance in the soil to make a huge difference in feed quality. If you find the soil is low in something or the forage test shows a difference just for $hits and giggles ammend about 10-20 acres of the land and see where the cattle chose to graze.


Good advice.
 

novaman

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My money goes on the water. Your situation is a bit different than mine because my pastures are watered from a well, but I regularly see heavier weaning weights on one pasture which has its own well. Even though you are watering from ponds I would have to think there is something different that would change the quality of water.
 

dun

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JRGidaho`":pn15j8ur said:
4) One other point, the smaller parcel has had cows on it for 50+ years, not tilled during that time. The larger parcel has had some tilling on most of it within the last 20 years. It was in alfala, beans, corn, etc., but it's been pasture the last 15 years.

I think this is the huge point right here. There is probably a lot more life in the soil that has not been tilled.

I had a similar experience in Missouri many years ago between a piece of property (100 acres) that had been cropped farmed from the 1940s through the 1970s adjacent to 800 acres that had laregly been in pasture since the mid 1800's. We started grazing the 100 acres in 1981 and it took at least a decade of good grazing management before it came to equal productivity as the long term grassland. Even after that time, in a dry year, that 100 acres simply ran out of gas long before the other. It is what we call the plant-animal-soil dynamic. For grasslands to be healthy and vigorous, they must be grazed. Tillage and cropping take away that dynamic and it is hard to restore.
I would also wonder about micro nutrients in the soil because of the cropping done previously.
 

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