It’s all about the grass

It’s all about the grass

 

For 20 years, Jim and Barb Bauer have raised Angus cattle on the Anchor JB Ranch  east of Acme. But their ranching story really begins in 1980 when they lived on a ranch between Rocky Mountain House and Rimbey. There, for 15 years, they raised Red Angus cows and were early adopters of new intensive grazing strategies.

In 1984, 11 ranchers in the area including Jim formed the Grey Wooded Forage Association. Jim was one of the first board members and within a year the group had enough funding to hire him as manager and test out new grazing ideas and other forage production methods.

It was the beginning of Canadians hearing of Allan Savory’s holistic management and Stan Parson’s Ranching for Profit schools. There were also new ideas coming about grazing coming out of Europe and New Zealand.  

“I took on the role of general Manager of the GWFA and we were hungry to learn everything we could about grass management from our Alberta range specialists and innovators around the world,” remembers Bauer.

“I felt like I was in a fortunate position – it was a new day in the world of managing cattle and grass. We tried to keep open minds and try things that would work for our areas.”

Electric fence played a pivotal role in the evolution. Compared to traditional barbed wire fencing, it was cheap, flexible and effective. You can have permanent electric fence and portable. Once you understood how they worked and used them effectively there’s not much you couldn’t do to improve grass production. You could control where and for how long cattle could graze and how long an area could be rested.

It took the group a few years to manage pastures during the growing season, which allowed them to then stockpile grass effectively to extend grazing into fall, winter and early spring seasons.

In 1995 the couple moved to Acme to take over Barb’s father’s place and even though it had lower production than the Rimbey ranch, there are more acres. Out of their 2300 acres of owned and rented land, only 200 acres are cropped for annual swath grazing and greenfeed.

Bauer says his paddock sizes vary from 20 acres to 90 acres and they use portable electric fence to further sub-divide paddocks.

The Bauers were able to increase their cow numbers by keeping one quarter of grass at the Rimbey ranch for another ten years and adding rented land at Acme.

“It’s common for Alberta ranchers to truck cows to different parts of the country in order to access more grass. This way, we were able to increase our cow herd to 350 cows. Barb and I enjoy doing most of the work on horseback with the help of a good cattle dog. We help neighbours brand and they help us and family pitches in when needed,” says Bauer.

During his years associated with the GWFA Bauer took on the role of putting together a grazing school – first for the association members and when he moved to Acme, his audiences grew.

“I’ve continued to conduct grazing schools for groups and associations. Twenty years ago the questions were centred around how to begin planned grazing but producers have had access to lots of new materials and grazing seminars and conferences and are much more knowledgeable these days,” suggests Bauer.

“I always tell groups to come back to basics because sometimes they try to jump too far ahead too fast. They first need to understand what overgrazing is and how to stop it and to determine the proper stocking rates”.

“Some producers have heard stories about intensive grazers that move cows several times a day and are scared off about starting. I tell them if they have one pasture and can divide it into four parts then they are resting 75 percent of it. Then, as you begin to see the differences, you could divide that same pasture into four or eight paddocks but only do so as you are comfortable. The key is always to pay attention to overgrazing and overstocking.”

Bauer says that seasoned intensive grazers move to higher paddock numbers because they know it helps them to better manage the cattle’s daily nutrition level.

He shares this piece of advice that once you divide a pasture even into a few paddocks, by the end of the year, you will know a whole lot more about managing grass.

Bauer admits that when he took livestock production as a young man at Olds College, he was interested in cows not grass. But once he had his own place and recognized that he could run more cattle on the same acres or graze longer with more production – he never looked back.

 

Both the cattle and the marketing plan have changed  

With winter grazing available on the Anchor JB Ranch, the Bauers bred their straight bred Angus cows to moderate bulls to retain moderately-framed females that could graze and maintain themselves during the winter months. But the replacements were becoming smaller and there were fewer pounds per calf at weaning.

“By focusing on adapting the cows to this type of management, we lost some frame size,” admits Bauer.

“To rectify the problem, three years ago we bought some Black and Red MAX bulls from Soderglen Ranches. These bulls are a Simmental-Angus cross and we’ve gained some muscle and a bit of frame size resulting in increased weaning weights. We’re excited about the heifers we’re breeding this year.”

 

Grass impacts the marketing plan

“The bulk of our calves are born in May. For years we grassed our steers to about 900 pounds selling them through Electronic Auction. We keep a lot of our replacement heifers, but also have a market for bred heifers.”  

“We enjoy grazing yearlings in the summer but it looked like a drier summer this year and the calf prices were strong. We decided to sell the grass cattle which were the small end of last year’s steer calves and our cull heifers the beginning of May.”

“By managing our grass and having extended grazing, we can manage our cattle and our grass to take advantage of the highs in the market no matter what time of the year.”

by Bonnie Warnyca