Under construction 

I recently read a book by Gene Logsdon titled 'All Flesh Is Grass'.

I like Logsdon because he not only calls himself the Contrary Farmer but also writes about combining old and new in ways most conventional farmers hate. He isn’t espousing some miracle new methodology/ideology of his invention but simply talking about rethinking the way things are done.

He talks about the inevitable rise in fossil fuel costs and his and others attempts to achieve animal production without the use of fossil fuel powered equipment. The method is grass farming, which in a nutshell is rotational grazing to slaughter weight of animals on a number of small plots for quick, uniform grazing of the pasture before moving on to the next plot; allowing the first to recover.

While this may not seem radical, it is certainly different from the current model where calves are raised with the cow to weaning at around 400 pounds then shipped some distance to either a stocker ranch where they are grazed to a higher weight before another shipment to a feedlot or shipped direct to the lot to be feed grain (mostly shipped-in corn) before another shipment to the packer.

He says that the best lands; i.e., the current row-crop lands are best suited to grass farming and will be utilized that way as fuel prices increase. The eventual goal would be year-round grazing with no tillage, no imported grain and even no harvesting of fodder for winter-feed. I don’t see this as practical for me — at least currently, but it has encouraged me sufficiently to continue.

Of course, since I am attempting to do exactly what he has been (I wish I had started sooner) I agree with his analysis of the current feedlot system and the advantages of using what my neighbor calls 4-legged combines. My land is tillable for the most part but certainly not prime corn and bean land.

He never mentions the decline of cheap energy directly but I’d be surprised if he hasn’t read up on the subject. I thought it interesting that article 599 in Sept. ASPO newsletter advocated a similar approach and pointed out that in addition to the fuel cost in numerous shipment of the animals themselves and the energy cost of growing, drying, storage and shipment of grain, it is a foregone conclusion more and more crops will go toward producing transport fuel. All the arguments of ethanol’s EROEI, net energy gain and all the rest aside; the conversion of crops to fuels is happening today and will continue into the foreseeable future.

He even talks about 'Grass Gardening' on tiny suburban plots.


In a cool season grass like fescue, if you graze half the standing height, from say; 8”-10”and leave half, the roots continue to grow as if nothing was taken. If you take 60% it takes 2-3 weeks for the roots to begin growing again! Warm season grasses are different in they grow new leaves from higher on the plant and can’t be grazed below 6”-8” and must be allowed to rest in the fall.

Fescue is also virtually indestructible – contrary to many people’s wishes in fact. You can definitely retard its growth by overgrazing, but sometimes that is a good thing. In order to get some legumes and perhaps a little orchardgrass established in the fescue we’ve deliberately over-grazed it this fall (not too hard to do considering the drought) so it will have a slower start in the spring. We’ll frost-seed white and red clover (broadcast the seed while the ground is frozen in February) and the slower start by the fescue will keep it from shading out the clovers in the spring.

One more thing I’ve learned about fescue is it makes the best-stockpiled forage for winter grazing. Stockpiling is basically fertilizing fescue with N and letting it grow ungrazed from about Mid-August forward until all other forage is exhausted and then strip grazing the field during Dec.-Feb. Managed grazing tries to eliminate much of the need for large machinery, and stockpiling is one of the ways to take advantage of the fall growth of fescue without any equipment whatsoever. Fescue maintains nutrition to be good forage better than most grasses - even after 3 months of lying dormant, due to the waxy coating on the leaves. One presenter at the class stated that one-acre of 10” fescue can feed a 1,000# animal for 75 days! He had the research to back up the claim - I am somewhat skeptical though willing to try.

Additionally, the entophyte fungus that causes the Summer Slump associated with fescue also dissipates when stockpiled. My eventual plan calls for grazing fescue/legume in the spring to the extent my animals can keep up, then instead of haying and applying fertilizer to areas to be stockpiled, I will clip the grass and let the cuttings lie (recycling the nutrients and hopefully eliminating the need for additional N) and rest the grass through the entire summer to be grazed in the fall and winter. I did this to good effect on one 5ac plot this year - unfortunately I had to graze it because of the drought.

Of course the additional benefit of this system is that by feeding your stockpiled hay where it grows, you return the nutrients right back where they came from in the form of manure.

Over summer I plan to have an appropriate amount of warm season pasture/legume to graze whatever animals I may have – at this point we plan on raising spring bottle calves to be turned out on the warm season grass in summer then fescue in the fall and the stockpiled fescue through the winter - to be sold the following late winter into the top of the market.


...The point with management intensive is, instead of turning say, 20 head of steers out on 40ac and just letting them do their thing, you cross-fence (ether permanently or temporarily) that field into 8 or 12 small paddocks and move the animals to fresh forage every 2-3 days.

The difference in utilization of the forage increases from about 35% for continuous grazing to as high as 75% with a 12-paddock set-up.

The animals continuously have fresh new growth graze which is highest in food value. Additionally, the pasture benefits from extended periods of recovery with each paddock grazed only 2-3 days and rested for 15-30. The relatively heavy stocking rate forces the animals to be less selective, resulting in more even grazing. This reduces weeds and encourages plant diversity, and results in more even distribution of manure, less compaction and lower chances of erosion.

An additional and not small benefit is that by feeding the animals where the forage grows, most of the nutrients are returned directly to the soil instead of being exported in hay. The numbers cited were a $20 big bale of hay contains approximately $4-$6 of NPK.


We are raising dairy bottle calves, mostly Holstein cross bull calves, either for stockers or feeders at the moment.

We have had an extended drought here in SW MO but received 3” a few days ago. It was badly needed. Although it is late in the season even for cool grasses, the weather has been exceptionally warm – approaching 80F for the last week and our fescue is responding well.

Our larger steers are looking pretty good and though they are around 700# - which is a good sale weight, we are holding off selling them for another month or so since the prices usually rise as winter wears on. We have no feed costs so there isn’t any hurry. And as mentioned before, they are keeping the grass short where we intend to plant clover.

Our system, such as it, is goes like this, bottle feed brand new babies morning and night in individual pens within a large, South facing shed, after the first 3 days of colostrum, they get starter feed as well as milk replacer, after about a month they are weaned and get a little hay and a 16% protein feed twice a day. After weaning they go into a small pen made from 36in. hog panels attached to the same shed for shelter and continue on feed and more hay. At about 2 months, they are castrated and de-horned and go into a small paddock (we call it the corral) to start on grass and get accustomed to electric fencing – this paddock is 5-strand barbed wire with an offset of hot steel wire and also poly-wire, since we use both, they now only get feed once a day.

We fenced an additional paddock yesterday using 2 strands of smooth steel electric fencing – about an acre, and today we’ll turn out the larger (350#?) calves because…

We have 4 - 250# calves to get a working on and then turn into the corral from the weaning small pen because…

We have three newly weaned and vaccinated calves to go in that pen, because…

I need to clean out the shed for a couple more late babies we are hoping to get.