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When The Dung Pat Hits The Fan!

As most of you know, human resources is a very important part of my business. I work hard at creating positive relationships with all of the people who are a part of my business as well as those just outside my business. It is important for me to keep all of my professionals happy. (My banker, my accountant, my lawyer, my landowners, etc.) There is however, one professional I have troubles with. I can t keep my mechanic happy.

Don t get me wrong. When I pull into the repair shop with my quad or bale truck, the boss is pretty happy to see me. Quad repairs are expensive and bale trucks have a hard life. I could do with a few less repair bills, if you know what I mean, but the boss has a smile on his face. It is the mechanics who work on my equipment who don t like me.

I m always nice to them. I joke around with them. I treat them with respect, but they still don t like it when I come in. They tell me that I am the only farmer who brings in equipment that is always covered in manure. They deal with lots of farmers but I m the only one whose equipment stinks and they don t like working on it.

I try to wash it off. I spray underneath and I try hard but I can never get it all. The last time my quad went in, they told me they had to wash the manure out of the radiator, and I just smiled.

I have come to realize, that when the dung pat hits the fan& it is a good thing.

Lots of farmers go out with a quad and check their pastures. But not many get covered with manure like I do. If you drive across one of my recently grazed paddocks with a quad, you usually end up with manure all over you. It whips up off the tires and sprays all over the place. It is hard to miss them. The truck is the same. I have to clean the radiator on it quite often. The reason? The dung pats hit the fan. Why? Good stock density. One of the benefits to having a high stock density is that your manure distribution is good. The higher the stock density, the better the manure is spread and the better the nutrient recycling.

Stock density is the number of animal units on a piece of land at a specifipoint in time. It is measured in Animal Days per Acre. This is not to be confused with a stocking rate, which is the number of animals you have on a pasture for the season. The other benefit to a higher stock density is improved plant utilization. If you have good plant utilization, every plant is either bitten or stepped on. This allows for an even playing field for every plant when it comes time to regrow. Stock density is just one of the four grazing concepts needed in the sustainable management of pasture. (Graze period, rest period, stock density and animal impact.)

So why do we need good stock density? In a continuous grazing system, most of your manure ends up in the trees and around the water site. Both of which do not need to be fertilized. Nutrients are being transferred off your open land. Pretty easy to drive across this field and not hit any manure with your tires. Our goal with increasing the stock density is to get the nutrients to return to where it came from, back out on the open land. Can you get a dung pat every square metre on your land in a season?

On the other side of the spectrum, very high stock density, or mob grazing has very good manure distribution. With mob grazing we might be moving a fence six or seven times a day. When you move a fence that many times a day, there is not a lot of time to get anything else done.

If I have to go to town, I move a fence on the way into town, and move it again on my way home. When I have done this, I found out real quick to make sure I bring along my boots. Don t try to move the fence in your town shoes. The manure is everywhere! Manure distribution is excellent when mob grazing.

At Greener Pastures, I do not make a habit of mob grazing very often due to the very high labour cost associated with it. Don t get me wrong. The benefits of mob grazing are great and if I was in an environment with lower labour costs, I would mob graze everything. But I m not, so I don t.

How much stock density is enough? Here is an easy rule of thumb for you without getting into a bunch of calculations. If you drive across your pasture with your quad and you get splattered with manure, you are doing a good job with stock density. If not, you might need to step it up a bit. You will need more fencing. For my opera- tion, I think I have found a balance between good land management and labour costs. On average, I move cattle every day in the spring and every two to four days in the summer. Now this is a little different on each cell and is adjusted each year depending on many factors but it is mainly dictated by my margin on each pasture.

Your farm is different than mine, but make sure your stock density is high enough to have good manure distribution and therefore gives you good nutrient recycling. If you don t get covered in poo while driving your quad across your pasture, you re losing out on some very beneficial nutrient recycling.

I don t actually want to drive over my dung pats as this increases their surface area and increases the losses due to volatization and run-off. (Similar to the detrimental practice of harrowing your paddocks.) A well-placed dung pat that is undisturbed is decomposed by the soil life from underneath. This is nutrient recycling in action. My challenge to you is to improve your manure distribution by improving your grazing management. Here is hoping you can recycle most of your nutrients back into your land for next year.

The downside& you might need to give your mechanic a nice Christmas present next year.

I should add my deepest and most sincere apologies to my own mechanics. Sorry guys, but it happens.

SteveKenyonrunsGreenerPasturesRanchingLtd.inBusby,Alta.,w ww.greenerpasturesranching.com,

780-307-6500,email [email protected]

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The higher the stock density, the better the manure is spread and the better the nutrient recycling

About the author

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Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. You can email him at [email protected] or call 780-307-6500.

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