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Animal Health Notebook

In Mississippi a man is renovating brushy land with cattle

Grazing at high stock density is providing quality for the cattle and stimulating grass which suppressing brush species.

 

In July of 2012 I had the opportunity to visit a 1,000-plus acre Mississippi operation where a friend of mine was in the midst of developing a cow-calf operation out of brush-overgrown prairie.

The land had been allowed to revert to the wild for more than 20 years by a hunting outfit. They had maintained a few roads through the brush, brambles and regrowth trees, and had done just about nothing else. Grass was almost nonexistent.

The first impression most cattlemen, including myself,  would ask at that time was, "What are the cattle going to eat?"

It was the middle of July and hot and dry. There were more than 100 cow-calf pairs, with calves having been born in May and June. There was zero hay or feed supplement other than mineral and salt.

I’ll admit to being amazed by how good all the cattle looked, especially since they had come in from Texas only a year or so earlier and the only cows culled were those with no live weaned calves. The herd was in one group, managed in high densities, and moved once per day or more often onto a new cut of weeds and brush. They were walking a half a mile or more to water and the water quality was nothing to write home about.

"At least it’s not a thicket," was about the only good remark I could make to my beef producer friend who had driven over for the visit. He was thinking that the rancher certainly needed a "real" job.  I remarked that 100 cows should not be expected to provide anyone with much of a living without specialized marketing.

In fact, the rancher did have and still has a good day job. But here is what has happened in less than 36 months.
• The brush has decreased dramatically without chemicals or equipment control besides animal density.
• Grass and legumes have replaced the majority of the brush and weeds.
• The broadleaf plants (weeds) have provided a lot of much-needed energy for the cattle while helping correct a previously broken water cycle and opening the tight-clay prairie soil.
• The closely spread manure and urine has increased soil fertility dramatically.
• The cow herd has retained a 90% plus pregnancy rate and grown the calves to weaning.
• Little money has been spent except for a hundred or so step-in posts, a couple of solar fence chargers, wire reels, and poly-braid wire.
• Other equipment is nonexistent.
• The cattle are dead broke and people friendly.
• The ranch is already drought tolerant, making a good profit per acre and improving every year.
• The stocking rate has doubled.

I look forward to revisiting the ranch soon and I’ll convince my formally negative buddy to drive me. He knows the territory much better than I do. I’ll bet we will both be positively impressed.

The bottom line is that it's very possible to break in really rough ground and start making money without investing a war pension.

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