General update to grazing and school starts

It’s raining and cool again here at the farm. We should have sunshine today but its a misty cool start to the day. The grass continues to grow very well. It looks like the fescue is coming out of summer dormancy and is growing again. The cows certainly aren’t complaining.

SWMBO is starting day 2 of school. Spork reported that he very much enjoyed school yesterday and SWMBO said it went off very well so hopefully today will be a repeat.

After one full day of phosphorous refill, the cows have consumed about one half of the 25 pounds. I have one more bag of phosphorous and then I will be out. Luckily its time to reorder. I also notice that the trace mineral TA and the vitamin V4 are starting to look like they have had some attention and will need to be refilled in a week or two. Looks like a pallet of phosphorous is in order though. I’m very encouraged by the drop in the cows PH so I don’t mind ordering more. If this solves the PH problem it will be more than worth it.

Chicken tractor redux


The “beef” chickens (our meat birds) got a new chicken tractor because yours truly cannot perform simple geometry and made the first one too small. They now have a true Joel Salatin style tractor with much more room. They are definitely happier with some space to stretch out. We are retrofitting the original tractor to make it more suitable so all is not lost.


Also, it may be too early to have a party over this but what you are seeing in this photo is some dog fennel which has been eaten by the beef chickens. They were out of food when I got to them this morning so it may have been desperation but I will take any success I can get.

Mineral feeder update, with some early results


Minerals continue to be a big hit, but still phosphorous (P) is the far and away leader. I refilled the phosphorous (P) section again this morning. It was licked clean. Thats the second refill since I started this. I noticed that the iodine looked like it had seen a bit of attention and while I was filling the P, the cows started hitting the iodine. Looks like they had a serious P need. The best part is that I was able to check Sam’s PH this morning. He is one of the cows that I have seen eating the P. his PH was about 7.8 or so. That’s the lowest any check has been since I started checking.

I don’t know the science behind this yet, but it does seem to be working. It will be interesting to see what other minerals start getting attention as their PH comes back in line. It’s also interesting that my soil tests showed a ground that was too acid, but in P and K was just fine. However the cows seem to need P really badly and they are not acid, but are alkaline. There is definitely more going on than the soil test indicated to me.

Kencove fence charger, and my treatise on chargers in general

Kencove electric fence tester
Kencove electric fence tester. If you have electric fencing, you NEED one of these.

Before we started paddock shift grazing I had some really nice fence chargers that did a great job. They were about 1 joule of power but for one hot wire on top of hog wire with no contact to grass they did great.

Then we added some temporary fencing and stopped having the cows mow the grass right down to the ground. So I bought a 2 joule fence charger. Double the power!

Yeah, that didn’t work. So I called Kencove and asked them what I needed. I had heard great things about the Stafix chargers and they recommended that I get a 6 joule charger! Now were talking. We’re talking massive power, which Miguel confirmed when he accidentally touched a wire. So all was good in cow land.

Then I decided to put the pigs in the pasture. That required putting the wire down on the ground and therefor further into the grass. It also meant adding more high tensile wire which was also in the grass. When we did all that, the voltage dropped all the way down to under 2000 volts which barely keeps cows in and you can forget about pigs.

So back to Kencove I go to shell out even more money. I explain my problem, and let it slide that I hold them personally responsible for not selling me way more than I needed the first time. They recommend I get a 12 joule charger which is double what I have. After several rounds of this I have finally learned and I ask what is bigger than 12 joule. After a snarky comment about a 54 joule unit they sell we settle on the 18 joule charger. Pictured above is the result, through the grass, through all the connections, 6000 volts at the business end of the poly wire. Now that’s what I am talking about.

What I’ve learned.

A charger cannot be “too big.” If it is overpowered it will simply ramp down its output and loaf along. This is speaking of modern chargers here. Now if you go lay against the hot wire, it will ramp up and light you up. I’ve never seen anyone or anything go back for seconds on a hot wire.

Everybody lies. The first chargers I bought were “50 mile” chargers. We estimated that they were about 1 joule. Who knows, they aren’t really rated. Mileage, estimates, ratings, specs. They all are pretty much meaningless.

The day you install your new charger is actually the worst day to test because more than likely prior to spending money you went around and cleaned up all the possible shorts, bad connections, fallen limbs, etc. the fence is wearing its Sunday best when you pop your new charger in place and of course then tests at a great output. Then day by day things get worse as the grass grows, it rains, etc. by the time the power is down on the fence to unacceptable levels, it’s too late to return the charger you bought.

It would have been way cheaper to buy the biggest charger I could ever conceive of buying the first time than to have worked my way up one by one. The only saving grace is that the Stayfix charger will work off of solar so I can use it in the back pasture where we don’t have power. Something I did plan for should it not be big enough.

A proper digital tester like the one pictured is worth it’s weight in gold. The first one I owned came with the Stafix charger. It doubles as the remote. It finds faults but more importantly it gives you accurate readings without having to insert a ground probe. That means you are much more apt to actually test your fence which is really the key. Every time you turn the fence on and off you are also testing the fence. One grounded reel or line and cows are everywhere.

Mineral feeder refill

Today I refilled the phosphorus for the first time. All of the other minerals are completely untouched. The phosphorus was completely empty. Yesterday while giving a tour I saw one of the cows actually eating the phosphorus so this is the first time I’ve seen the cows use the feeder. Again this morning I saw the same cow use the feeder for a different mineral. I don’t know if any of the other cows are using the mineral feeder, I sure hope so

I checked a cows pH this morning and found that it had dropped half a point from when I started the free choice feeder. Their pH is still too high but we are making progress.

New chicken tractor


So we have begun experimenting with Joel Salatin style chicken tractors. This is the first small scale unit, it’s 1/4 the size if the ones Joel uses but we just have a few laying meat birds in here for now. So far so good. The tractors keep the birds protected and moving. Now that I’ve seen they can survive a few days, I am going to park them over some dog fennel and see if the chickens will strip the fennel. If they do, then these will be my new fennel elimination machines. Fingers crossed.

Grass and grazing update – this is a long one.


Todays paddock on the left. Yesterday’s paddock on the right.

The unseasonably cool weather continues. We had showers come through yesterday evening bringing even more rain and a drop in temperatures. The high today is 83 and we don’t get back into the 90s this entire week!

Rain and sun and cool weather are the recipe for grass growth and we have plenty although the cows have done well in the smaller paddocks and there is a definite line of where they have eaten and where they have not. They may be overgrazing a bit but after all the waste of the last rotation, I figured we tighten them up a bit this rotation for comparison.

The mineral feeder is in the same state. The cows continue to hammer the phosphorous and ignore all the other minerals. Anyone has yet to see the cows actually use the feeder for more than a scratching post but somebody is eating the phosphorous. I will need to add another bag this afternoon.

The cows continue to improve in their condition and are looking better every day. The calves are growing nicely and look like they will be good cows although they definitely want to be out of the paddock. Except for when they are nursing, they spend 70% of their time in an adjoining paddock with their peer calves. Being independent, right next to mom. Kids, whaddya do?

Sam, our red Devon, continues to go through the hot wire. Fortunately he didn’t pull the entire fence down this time but I found him out in the main pasture by himself. I got him back in easily enough but we are going to need more juice to keep him corralled I am afraid. The Stafix x6i just doesn’t have enough to keep him in.

Darryl pointed out to me this morning that the pigs have broken their waterer. It was pouring water out into the paddock at full stream so that’s on the list to be fixed. I was using PVC. Maybe I need to go back with cast. Of course thats more of a freeze issue in the winter. It’s always something.

I mowed an area yesterday before the rain to get the dog fennel down. I know I am supposed to let these pioneering plants do their thing but its so thick you can’t walk through it. I mowed a section in front of the barn close to the main gate. I then raised the mower (this involves a shop and a 3/4 air wrench, its not your dads Snapper) and am planning on mowing at least part of the side pasture at this higher setting. I know as soon as I mow thats its going to stop raining and turn 100 degrees so I hope you all have enjoyed your cool summer. My thought is I will mow one section close, one section high, and leave one section alone. Then we’ll see how the pasture looks later in the season. The fennel isn’t going away anytime soon so may as well experiment.

And if the fennel isn’t enough, the bitterweed has started growing in the pasture. It’s pretty if you don’t know better but its just another plant we don’t want growing. Fortunately the solution is the same as all the others. Rotate cows.