Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rain! And we don't even have hay down.

It has been raining nicely this afternoon so I kindly asked Tharren to go out and document the rainfall and he was kind enough to oblige. We've recorded just over half an inch.

Photo: Tharren went out along one of the barn's to take this shot. Normally our poultry flock spends their time in this area but today it was a little too wet for them.

It's been a little over a month since we've had a significant rain. The pasture's were turning brown, the creeks were getting a little too low for comfort and we were able to make a lot of hay. Folks have been leaving their windows open and farmers were cutting hay constantly just to coax a few drops out of the sky.

Photo: Tharren remarked that this gutter could stand being cleaned since there are a few leaves in it clogging the drain. I'm sure he won't mind being volunteered for the job.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last hay of the year!

We baled what are likely the last small square bales of the year for us. The lack of rain has made this our final cutting but we have enough hay in the barn and stored as baleage to get us through the next year. The bales are a clover/grass mix and should offer excellent nutrition to our eweflock and some of our feeder lambs.

I helped Stan, Dennis and Tracy unload the racks while Tharren, Mike and Carl baled. A few times I found myself at the top of the hay mound waiting for one of the fellas to toss a bale up to me to stack. Most of the time I didn't need to stack, the guys are more than proficient at stacking hay by throwing the bales exactly where they wanted them.

Last week we unloaded a few racks and during this time Stan discussed competing in a bale tossing contest during his college days, based on the last few days of stacking hay I have no doubt he did well.

Photo: The final rack. Once the hay was baled Tharren was able to snap a photo of us stacking the final bales. From left to right: Dennis, Joe (me), Mike, Stan and Tracy. The rack used was one Stan used growing up on the Home farm.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mob grazing and a walk in the pasture.

On August 9th-11th the Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted several pasture walks focusing on Mob Grazing. Mike, Tharren and I attended the walks in Richmond and Bonaparte, IA.

Photo: The group takes a walk out to a cattle pasture at the beginning of the tour.

Photo: NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson analyzes the contents of one of the pastures. He discussed that with mob grazing there should be a manure patty in every square yard of the pasture.

Mob grazing, otherwise known as ultra high density grazing, is the practice of stocking 100,000 to 1 million lbs of livestock per 1 acre of land. Animals are moved at least once per day, this depends on the stocking density. Increased density encourages livestock to eat all available forage, including weeds. Pastures are then rested for 60-90 days allowing the plants sufficient time to recover.

What the animals don't eat, they trample. The trampled biomass is returned to the soil as a beneficial litter. The high density concentrates the manure from the livestock in the paddocks. Manure is spread by the livestock throughout the paddock for a beneficial distribution of nutrients.

Photo: A mob of dairy cattle. The cattle are held in with Step-In FiberRod Posts, a MiniReel and IntelliTwine polywire.

The first farm we visited was in Richmond, IA. The farms owner, Phil Forbes, runs a flock of St. Croix Hair sheep and raises dairy replacement heifers. NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson and Iowa State University Animal Science Professor Dr. Dan Morrical took the group on a walk through the pastures. They discussed which plant species were dominant and what could be done to improve the forage and utilization of the pastures. Mike talked to Mr. Jackson about several pasture revitalization projects Premier is thinking about doing, including eradicating the endophyte infected fescue on our farms.

Photo: The St. Croix hair sheep are a fairly small animal. The ewes weigh about 100 lbs each and a fat lamb has a hanging weight of about 40 lbs. They do well on pasture, have high resistance to parasites and work well for their owners management system.

Photo: Dr. Morrical (center) discusses the sheep operation and the pro's and con's of hair sheep breeds.

The second farm was an organic dairy located north of Bonaparte, IA and is run by the Smith family. The Smith family milks 70 cows and mob grazes their herd on 1/3 acre pastures. Discussions focused on how the farm decided to become organically certified after years of decreasing their herbicide/pesticide use, going organic seemed natural. Other topics included rations for the cattle, raising replacement heifers and the management of the pastures.

Photo: Organic dairyman Dan Smith (facing photographer) describes his operation and pasture management. He mob stocks his dairy herd on his farm which has been organically certified for about 20 years.

For more information on Practical Farmers of Iowa visit: http://www.practicalfarmers.org/.

On a side note, during the walk I met the Erem family from eastern Iowa. They have a recent planting of hardwoods on 7 acres and decided it would be wise to keep the deer out. They spoke with one of our consultants, Gordon Shelangoski, and decided to install a 3-D Anti-Deer Fence. The fence is working and we're thinking about sending Tharren out to take a few photos of the fence in action.

Photo: Suzan Erem and myself discussing the fence her family installed to protect their hardwood plantings.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High Moisture Baleage

Last winter at Premier, we fed our flock baleage that we produced. The previous two summers were wet and not suited for producing quality conventional field dried hay. The low quality forage was low in protein and energy and required supplementation for our gestating ewe flock. We experimented with baleage and found the results satisfactory.

Photo: Carl (in the tractor) mows with a mower conditioner. The mower has "rollers" which crimp the grass to aid in the drying process.

High moisture baleage is typically baled at 55-65% moisture, though this figure ranges even among forage experts. Moisture is determined through several simple tests or using a moisture tester. The bales are individually wrapped or are wrapped in tubes to prevent mold and harmful bacteria from forming. This makes each bale or tube its own silo and eliminates the need for indoor storage for quality forage. Once wrapped, aerobic bacteria (oxygen using) consume the oxygen contained in the bale and then anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen using) consume available sugars and produce various nutritious organic acids, preferably lactic acid. The acid preserves the bale in a similar manner that vinegar (actually the nutritious organic acid—acetic acid) preserves cucumbers as pickles. Ideally enough acid is eventually produced to inhibit these bacteria and others from further growth, preserving the bales for winter feeding. The energy available to livestock may be determined by submitting a sample to a feed laboratory and have a forage test conducted for TDN (total digestible nutrients). When ready to be fed the bale is unwrapped and set in one of our Big Bale Feeders.

Photo: The double basket rake allows us to rake two windrows into one.

Photo: The single row shortens the number of trips around the field we need to take while baling.

Photo: The forage in this field is a clover/grass mix. This field was made into small square bales.

Baleage is produced similarly to field dried-hay. The main differences are that baleage is wrapped and there is reduced time between mowing and baling. The higher moisture percentage shortens the amount of time the hay needs to lay in the field curing. Since the bales are wetter, they are much heavier when compared to conventional bales of the same diameter. The bale is also packed very tightly in order to reduce the amount of air (less air means less chance of mold or of harmful bacteria growing). Baleage is moved with grapples since bale spears penetrate the bale or wrap and would introduce unwanted air into the bale.

Photo: The baler's cutter bar pre-chops the forage for better compaction within the bale. This produces very "tight" bales.

Photo: Due to the high moisture content and shorter drying time, the forage is baled while it is still very green and unbleached by the sun.

  • Less drying time with a minimal amount of sunshine. The common phrase used with baleage is "hay within a day". We can almost bale between the rain drops.
  • Plastic wrap eliminates the need for indoor storage.
  • Higher quality feed. The high moisture allows the stems to better hold on to the leaves, resulting in higher nutrient content and reduces the need for supplementing with protien.
  • Lower labor costs when feeding. We used to feed supplement to our gestating ewes daily. Now we only need to feed as often as the ewes finish a bale (typically every 3 days).
  • Little or no supplementation. This depends on forage quality. To determine our flock's needs we sent in samples of our forage for analysis to Dairyland Labs in Wisconsin.

  • Photo: Individually wrapped bales are easier to transport once wrapped. They also look like very large "marshmallows".

  • Added weight puts added stress on the equipment. This can be reduced by producing smaller bales. Smaller sized bales means we will have more bales overall. More bales translates to a larger amount of plastic used to wrap these bales.
  • Plastic wrap produces a lot of waste but we were able to recycle it rather than sending it to the local landfill.
  • Spoilage. Punctures in the plastic, low sugar content, air present within the bale and many other factors can cause spoilage.
  • Specialized equipment such as bale wrappers and bale grapples are needed. We also have a cutter bar on the baler which cuts the forage into 9 in. lengths. The shorter forage packs much easier resulting in a tighter/denser bale.
  • We have to be careful what gets baled. Too much dirt in a bale can introduce unwanted bacteria. When we mow, we cut the grass a little higher than if we were making conventional hay. Our rake is set so it the tines do not touch the ground and driving over the windrows is something we are careful not to do.
  • The moisture has to be just right. Too much moisture makes the bales very heavy. It also means the livestock may fill up on water instead of nutrient rich dry matter. Too little moisture and we run the risk of mold and unsatisfactory microbe production. If the wrong bacteria grow, fermentation does not occur and the bale spoils.

  • Photo: The first bales we wrapped were wrapped with an inline wrapper. It worked very well but we chose to go with individually wrapped bales for ease of transport.

    Individually wrapped vs. Inline bales
    Inline bales are baleage bales that are set end to end and wrapped on the sides. The benefits are less plastic used for wrapping. However, the bales at the ends of the "tubes" are exposed resulting in lost forage. Bale size must be consistent otherwise bulges and air bubbles may form in the "tubes".

    Photo: To protect the bales from curious livestock and hungry varmints (raccoons), netting is installed around the bales to discourage the animals.

    Whereas individually wrapped bales use more plastic but they can be handled once wrapped, inline bales cannot. We can move these individually bales without compromising the protective plastic.

    Photo: Photo: PermaNet electrified netting was installed around these bales since our livestock guardian dogs have access to the area where these bales are placed and the dogs enjoy lounging on (and puncturing) the bales.

    We have to take care where the bales are stored. Sticks and stems can puncture plastic so the ground we set the bales on had to be clear of debris. Curious sheep or a guard dog looking for something to climb on can puncture a bale just as easily, for this reason we set up electrified netting around our bales.

    Did our sheep eat it? Yes, they maintained excellent condition throughout the winter. We ultrasound the ewes to determine if they were carrying singles, twins or triplets. Ewes scanned with triplets were later separated off and fed baleage with soybean hulls for a protein supplement, otherwise no supplement was needed.

    Photo: Ewes and their lambs consuming baleage from one of our wire panel Big Bale Feeders.

    Did we like baleage? Yes and we're producing it again this year even though it has been drier than the last three summers. We still produce small squares to feed in our low waste bunk feeders but the majority of our hay crop is now wrapped up.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Soybean/Millet Baleage

    Yesterday Mike came into Graphics and asked if I could help move some bales. He needed someone to haul bales from the hayfield to the bale wrapper where he would wrap them. We were making high moisture baleage hence the need to wrap the bales (there will be a post on high moisture baleage in the coming weeks).

    I told Mike that I would need a quick tutorial in running the tractor, a JD 6410, since the majority of my tractor experience is on tractors less than 50 horsepower and made before 1965. I was also wondering what's a good speed for driving through the fields. Mike's response was "as fast as you can".

    So with limited instruction I drove the tractor across the hay fields for 3 hours while Carl baled and Mike placed the bales on the wrapper. We were baling the soybean/millet mix mentioned in an earlier post. We were originally planning on grazing these fields, but the weather dictated that we bale.

    Since I didn't cause any major mishaps or break the equipment, Stan asked if I could come back this weekend and help Carl bale since Mike would be gone. I'll let you know if I break any equipment this weekend.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Moving Hay with Mike

    Mike (one of the farmhands) came in yesterday morning and asked for help unloading a rack of hay. He surmised that it would be better to do it in the morning when it was cooler than in the afternoon when it would be ninety degrees and humid. Tharren and I changed into our "chore clothes" and went out to help Mike. Tharren stood on the hay wagon and tossed bales to Mike and me as we stacked the hay.

    Photo: Tharren hopped off the wagon for a few minutes to snap a few shots. If you're wondering where the wagon tongue is, it's shoved between the bales in the center of the stack. The wagon was pushed into place front first so the gallice wouldn't be in the way of our stacking. The bales are stacked from the sides inward (this leaves a slight gap in the middle of the stack).

    The hay (clover/grass mix) was baled last weekend from a field on our North Farm. 3 racks (about 300 bales) were loaded before a breakdown ended the fun. Baling was about a third complete before the breakdown. With 2/3 of the field left and a broken baler, the fellas pulled out the round baler and baled the remainder with that.

    We feed the square bales in our lambing jugs and lambing barn. When feeding single ewes in a jug it's hard to take a flake off of a round bale. We'll make up our lack of square bales by square baling one of the fields on our East Farm.

    Photo: When we stacked the hay, we had to make sure the bales didn't touch the roof. If roof and bale touched, the bale would absorb moisture and lose quality.

    Photo: I had to show off my bale throwing abilities when we finished the rack.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Herding the Flock

    A couple of weeks ago Mike and Carl moved one of the flocks from a pasture that needed some rest to one that was full of lush grass for the sheep to eat. Though this is a normal occurrence for a pasture based flock, their route was a little different. Why? Usually when our sheep are moved between pastures they need to cross a creek. The time of the move coincided with several heavy rains, thus the creeks were swollen and would not be safe enough for the ewes and their lambs to cross.

    Instead of teaching the sheep to swim, Mike and Carl moved them via an alternate route. They took them off of Premier property and onto an adjacent and lightly traveled gravel road.

    Photo: Mike and Carl herding the flock (hair sheep cross) through an opening in the PermaNet fence.

    Photo: The flock heading down the road. Both ewes and their lambs took the trip together. You may notice a size range in the lambs. Some are a few months old while others are just a few weeks.

    Photo: Though the road is usually "lightly" travelled, Mike and Carl still held up the local traffic. The traveller was a Premier neighbor and wasn't held up too long by the four legged pedestrians.

    Photo: A few of the ewes stopped to admire the scenery and tasty forage during their walk between the pastures.

    Photo: Mike and Carl conveniently picked a picturesque day to move the flock. The overall distance travelled was less than a mile. The sheep were well behaved and took the correct turn (to the left) at the farm ahead.

    Photo: Mike, Carl and their herding equipment: two ATV's and a RedCote crook.

    Photo: The flock immediately found their water source for the following weeks as they grazed a new pasture.

    Photo: Sometimes some of the younger lambs aren't fast enough to keep up with the flock (another reason Mike and Carl didn't take them across the creek). Luckily for this lamb, Carl was kind enough to give him a free ride.