cattle cattle management dexter hay

Beef: Grain Finished vs Grass Finished

There seems to be a shortage of research on whether grass finished beef is better than grain finished beef. I won’t go into the politics of the issue, but it’s easier and cheaper to grain finish large amounts of beef, from a feed-lot management perspective. It takes a lot of ground or hay to grass finish a beef, relative to grain.

Here are some resources that will help clear it up, with a bias toward grass finished beef.
cattle cattle management drought farming hay

Feeding stock through a drought…

During La Nina years, there is a high probability of a drought. This will contribute to higher feed costs, lower forage availability, and potential herd reductions. Fortunately, we are just coming out of a La Nina which should bring much needed relief to the drought in the western United States.

If we find ourselves in a continued La Nina weather pattern, it would benefit all graziers, ranchers, and forage growers to stock up on as much hay as possible, and consider immediate herd reductions to prevent future losses or damage to grazing lands.

Chances of a continued La Nina hover around 50-55%, according to, with a 67% chance of a neutral weather pattern, and an 8% chance of an El Nino.

compost farming hay soil

Compost Volcano

Creating healthy compost can be a challenge. Too much nitrogen, too little carbon, and too little oxygen are the most common problems. These problems all lead to a smelly anaerobic compost that is rotting (bacteria and moisture), rather than quickly breaking down using oxygen and moisture – aerobic composting.

Other problems with anaerobic composting are that it takes much longer, it gives off methane gas, and does not reach the high temperatures necessary to kill seeds, weeds, and pathogens.

We maintain a large compost pile that gets refreshed daily with a wheel barrow load or two of manure, mixed with hay and some hog fuel (rough wood chips). Every week or two it gets turned with the tractor and then covered with a thin layer of hog fuel. We also bury carcasses and offal in this pile, as well as anything else we need to get rid of. This morning, it was giving off steam like a volcano, showing that it was aerobic and progressing nicely.

Compost Volcano

We’ve found that the layer of hog fuel helps retain moisture, adds sufficient carbon material, and makes it look more presentable.

farming hay measuring soil

Pasture Health

If you don’t measure it, you will be hard pressed to verify that you have improved it.

One of the most basic tenets of improving anything is measuring the thing — recording changes over time. This also applies to pasture health. Last year I began taking a picture of one part of my pasture every month, near the first of the month. While it will generally show variations in forage over the seasons, it will eventually illustrate improvements over the years with regenerative management.

Please note that the timestamp on the camera is incorrect until November, 2021. The camera is an inexpensive eastern model that limits my ability to manage it.

Eventually I will setup a post for each month so that I can see how the pasture changes over the years.

cattle cattle management hay large square bales

Feeding large square bales…

I bought a couple of large square bales of hay last time I was at the local feed store to try them out. They can be a disaster! If you have a tractor that can lift them and enough cattle to put them in the field with little waste before they get too wasted, they would be great. The big advantages, IMO, are that they stack really well, and are very large. The biggest disadvantage is that if you store them in the barn and feed portions at a time, they completely fall apart when you cut the strings.

I ended up building a carrier for the tractor out of a pallet and some scrap lumber that will allow me to carry a couple of flakes out to the cows using the pallet forks. It works really well so far. I also used a bungee strap and a couple of hay hooks over the top of the bale to hold the bale together and allow me to release a couple of flakes at a time instead of the entire bale falling apart.

Here is the contraption on the pallet forks, with a couple of hungry dexters eating from it. Cascades Contender looks like he wants to climb in and go for a ride.

Update: I recently bought a bunch of large square bales and have been using my round bale cradle feeder to feed them. I attached a section of hog panel to the base of the cradle feeder to reduce waste, and I am getting 4 days per bale, if I move the herd each day. I have 12 head of cattle right now.

The square bale does not fit initially, but I when I cut the strings and pull a little bit off each end, it falls into the feeder.

farming hay

Haying the Field

There are a lot of different opinions on how to supplement hay to cattle when on pasture. The majority opinion appears to be to put out just enough hay to keep the cows from breaking out of the pasture and finding their own elsewhere. Also, most would use a hay ring or indoor feeder to keep the hay as long as possible to reduce hay costs.

An alternative, as illustrated by Greg Judy, is to hay the field, not just the cattle — and not in the traditional sense.  By hay the field, we mean to put out a lot more hay than necessary to add boost the productivity of future forage growth.  This is what we are doing here at Red Alpha Farms.  We’re putting out a significant amount of hay that the cattle can further enrich with nutrients as they eat and loaf around.  We’ve been doing this with a couple of cows and horses for nearly a year now, but more recently it has increased significantly with the increase in our cattle herd.

After years of no maintenance, we began mowing the field in January of 2019. We mowed 4 times over 2019 and that has nearly eliminated weeds, significantly increased the amount of biomass in the soil, and has turned the soil from clay and read to dark and rich. Before this year, you could count the number of mole hills in the field without taking off your shoes. Now, it would be a difficult task to attempt. Moles thrive in areas with good soil that has lots of bugs – we just didn’t have good enough soil before to support moles.

barn hay round bales

Round Bales in the Barn

We recently switched to using round bales for the cows – much cheaper and easier to manage. Premium Quality Hay and Feed delivered 16 bales. Each bale is 700-750lbs.

Right now we’re putting out 2 bales each week, with 7 head.