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Cattle And Crops

The team, which includes members of a new Nebraska Beef Systems Research Initiative, expects an integrated system, which overlays cattle grazing with existing crop production systems, to increase output per acre and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with production. The team will also examine if the benefits of using cover crops are retained when they are used for livestock forage.

Cattle and Crops

"It's very difficult for new or young farmers to get started," MacDonald said. "You may not own the land or need to work with a family member's existing system to start your own enterprise. Integrating cattle without disturbing crop production with minimal investment can help young producers get started and stay in agriculture."

The availability of perennial forage for livestock production has decreased as farms move to less diversified systems to grow individual crops. Highly specialized systems, such as monoculture, may be less sustainable than diversified approaches in terms of resource efficiency and long-term profitability.

"Cover crops are a long-term investment to improve soil health and reduce erosion, but they can be difficult for producers to pay for," MacDonald said. "If producers can graze cattle on cover crops, they could increase land efficiency and mitigate costs."

Grazing cattle on neighbouring farmland can have benefits to both the cattle producer and the farmer if done properly. From Saskatchewan to Manitoba and Ontario the following producers have had success with grazing cattle on neighbouring crop land.

Joey Bootsman is a cow-calf producer near Brandon, Manitoba where, along with his family, he calves 600-700 cows, as well as manages backgrounding and grass cattle, and raises bred heifers for sale. The Bootsmans grow most of their own feed but will send cattle to community co-op pastures or other rented pastures in the summer. Bootsman works with his neighbours to graze his cows on their stubble fields when they come home from summer pasture to carry cattle through the fall.

Adam Shea and his family have a beef, sheep, and cash crop operation in east central Ontario. They are located in a very diverse agricultural area that includes ideal cash crop acreage next to hilly areas that are suitable only for grazing cattle. Shea really liked the idea of grazing cover crops but his uncle and father who run the cash crop side of their operation were not so sure. Shea was able to work out a deal with his neighbour to graze cover crops after winter wheat was harvested.

For Shea, since he is relying on cover crops as a source of feed, he says it is necessary to treat them like a forage crop, and in his area that means ensuring nitrogen fertilizer is applied. The discussion of who is seeding cover crops, who is paying for them, when they are being seeded, when nitrogen is applied, and who is paying for nitrogen application is all discussed the previous year.

With proper planning ranchers and farmers can work together to provide a mutually beneficial system. Crop farmers can use cows to terminate fall cover crops, receive some post-harvest income, and positively impact soil health, while beef producers can get additional grazing without buying or renting land.

Infrastructure like fencing and water is necessary to graze cattle on crop land and often must be installed before grazing can take place. Adequate fencing will ensure cattle stay where they are supposed to which is crucial for success and a better chance of being invited back to graze again in future years.

Portable watering systems have been used by all producers. Shea says being flexible is key, since he only grazes on cover crops after winter wheat has been harvested and he rotates the fields he uses every year. In some years he has been close enough to the yard to simply run a hose and in other years has had to haul water.

Bootsman has noticed that heifers pace more than cows, so they may cause more damage along fence lines. In those cases, he works with the farmer and is willing to help pay for any extra tilling or working the land that is required to reduce any damage that is done but finds that by spring, most evidence of cattle grazing is gone.

Although wet conditions are often not the main problem for Axtens, they do like to see cattle graze after the ground has frozen. They feel that grazing at this time helps prevent damage and compaction of the soil. Axtens also like to see cattle only remove about 50% of the residue meaning that cattle are moved according to the amount of residue that is left over.

For Shea he also tries to alter his grazing plan to do minimal damage to fields. If he knows that specific fields have low or wet spots, he tries to graze those first so that they have the most time to recover. He has grazed wet fields before and finds that with good management and quick cattle moves, he can usually prevent any long-term damage.

Short grazing periods was important for all producers to reduce the amount of damage that is done to crop land as well as prevent cattle from overgrazing. These specific grazing management decisions were different for each producer. For Bootsman, he likes to graze a group of 250 cows together in one herd. This allows a quarter of land to be grazed in five to ten days.

For Axtens having cattle on every acre was important but so was only taking half of the plant material. When cattle were grazing their land they liked to see most of the acres being used and if there were less nutrients available they would just move through quicker. Thompsons have tried different grazing techniques including a mob grazing style where large numbers of cattle were turned onto a cover crop or stubble for a short amount of time. Because of their large and diverse cattle herd, they can often gather a large herd of cattle to move quickly through a field, sometimes in only a few days.

For Thompsons and Axtens, choosing the right class of cattle was important. Once Axtens decided what pieces of land they wanted grazed and when they wanted to graze it, Thompsons could then select the appropriate class of cattle to meet those requirements.

For the first few years Shea brought his spring calving (March/April) herd home from pasture in the fall and put both cows and calves out on to the cover crops. Although both the cows and calves came back in great condition, they had to bring them home before they had grazed all the cover crop to wean and market claves. Last year Shea sent the cows to the cover crops after weaning and backgrounded the calves. Turning just the cows out onto the cover crop meant that they were able to graze until early December.

Each year, we bring truckloads of stocker cattle to the farm starting in mid-October through early December. They graze a variety of cover crop species until mid-April, which is when the last load is shipped out so that row-crop planting can continue. The majority of the animals leave our farm in a finished condition, but a small percentage will return to their home farm for a little more time on grass.

One of the key profitability pieces for us is the length of time we are able to graze cattle. Having forage ready to graze from mid-October through mid-April is unique and only possible with a wide selection of cover crops. We rely heavily on spring oats, which are ready to graze between 30 to 45 days after planting. Oats allow us to graze from late October through December. They have a risk of winter killing in our area, so we always pair spring oats with more cold-tolerant grasses.

These are often paired together so that each pasture has two grasses as the base forage. We have adjusted this each year and are finally feeling more comfortable with this formula. As with anything related to forages, hitting an ideal ratio between species will always be a moving target. In addition to these grasses, we also include a brassica in most of our fields. The brassica we have had the most success with is rapeseed, which has only added $2 to $4 in cost per acre and is preferred by the cattle once they adapt to it.

We have experimented with annual legumes as well but have not been satisfied with our return on investment or their standability to grazing and traffic pressure. If we were trying to reduce nitrogen inputs for the row crops, then legumes might provide more value.

Being a row-crop farm, most of our fields are not contiguous; this means we are often creating groups of cattle that stick to the same fields the whole time they are with us. From a forage perspective, we have to ensure that each group gets those ideal grass ratios. This also means we frequently walk cattle across roads during pasture moves, which would not be possible without having the cattle well trained to polywire.

The working facility is also mobile, so we can unload, load, treat, or weigh anywhere on the farm. Using completely temporary systems also means that the row crops are not impaired by fences, water lines, and so forth. One of our biggest regrets are those few fences and water systems that we initially made permanent.

In many areas of the world, current theories for agricultural origins emphasize yield as a major concern during intensification. In Africa, however, the need for scheduled consumption shaped the development of food production. African cattle were domesticated during the tenth millennium BP by delayed-return Saharan hunter-gatherers in unstable, marginal environments where predictable access to resources was a more significant problem than absolute abundance. Pastoralism spread patchily across the continent according to regional variations in the relative predictability of herding versus hunting and gathering. Domestication of African plants was late (after 4000 BP) because of the high mobility of herders, and risk associated with cultivation in arid environments. Renewed attention to predictability may contribute to understanding the circumstances that led to domestication in other regions of the world.

Although raising livestock and crops together used to be the norm, in the United States farm production has shifted to increased specialization because of presumed management efficiency. Considerable research, however, has found that reintegrating animals into crop production systems yields considerable benefits in improved soil health, reduced risks associated with raising a single product, reductions in fertilizer input and animal feed costs, reduced labor and machinery costs, and increased carbon sequestration. Grazing cropland improves soil fertility by increasing soil microbial density and organic matter due to the addition of manure. It can also provide significant benefits for farmers who use cover crops and no-till methods as the animals can graze the cover crops while lightly integrating their manure into the soil with their hooves. Managed grazing and crop rotation techniques work best with this approach to avoid over-compaction of the soil. 041b061a72


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