A High Intensity Rotational Grazing Year

“Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process – green plants growing on regenerating soil.”

Allan Savory

With ten days of sunshine and temperatures in the 50s we are beginning to see shy little blushes of green on the southern slopes and under heavy standing forage. . .

Many of you have expressed interest in the portion of the Open Gate herd that is managed under High Intensity Rotational Grazing. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions that accompany the concept, so we thought we would walk you through a full year and even answer questions as we go. I will add to this post, and re-position it at the top whenever there is new content so that you can join us on the rounds!

Mid-March (Worm Moon)

Late winter has cattle nearly mad for green grass: we save back all of our very best hay for this last 6 weeks before the rotation starts, to keep them content and give the calves plenty of opportunity to begin rumen building. Paddock choices are made according to where there is open water, and where we left standing forage the previous fall as a nursery environment for earliest growth.

Late April (Egg Moon)

Called the Egg Moon in Northern European agricultural tradition because the soil is beginning to awaken and many soil dwelling critters along with it: I am seeing beetles, centipedes, ants and lots of worm activity, all of which makes an excellent stimulus for the poultry and other avian species to begin accelerated laying and nesting . . . signs of the soil warming to active levels.

So April is the month I take walk-about. It is an excellent time to survey every paddock and pasture, review my notes about the previous year’s grazing cycle, and survey what is happening. So many things affect the start-up of my forages that I need to be mindful from year to year of the impacts of previous decisions or challenges in order to learn from my mistakes, and also harness the successes.

This paddock was grazed hard in early winter; we were laying down some extra fertility by bunching up the mob on standing forage. The trade off was less cover, less snow catch, and less reserves in the root system going into dormancy.
So it will need extra time to break dormancy and begin to re-establish a good root mass. I’ll push off the first grazing until full recovery is reached.
Here is a paddock on similar soil and with a similar forage base, but with good cover left over winter. It went into dormancy with excellent reserves and the old forage provides a nursery environment to preserve moisture and mitigate cold nights. It may not look like a great deal now, but an extra week or two of good root development will translate to explosive growth once the conditions are optimal. I know already this will be ready to graze early.

Many of the observations I make on the pasture tours are simple common sense – but by taking the time to inventory what I see, and ask myself some key questions, a logical plan soon comes together.

  • site situation (south slope? better soil? better irrigation? more snow catch?)
  • management decisions (overgrazed? undergrazed? rest periods too short?)
  • improvement opportunity (poor plant population? monospecies? too far from water? fencing issues?)
  • what are this paddock’s strengths? weaknesses? am I missing an opportunity to think outside the box?

Take some time, over a couple of evenings, to sketch out a simple map of all your pastures, including the notes made on your tour, and you will be well positioned to draft a very sensible plan for beginning rotation. ūü§ď

“Not making a choice IS a choice and not making a decision IS making a decision.”

Jim Gerrish

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Supplement Sheet with Carcass Scan Data

We don’t have to choose between payweight and carcass quality, as long as we keep things balanced and track trends in our herd base.

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Weaning Season


Greetings from the gorgeous September days of the Eastern Front!  Weaning season is in full swing, which fills every spare minute not taken by 2nd hay cutting, irrigation, and harvesting the gardens.  Steers came in first this year as they were on the grass hardening off the fastest, and gains were stalling.  By getting a weight at weaning, we are able to calculate and plan for exactly how much growth they need to make our contract which takes all uncertainties out of any summer and just turns it into math.  Some secondary benefits:  we get to see how our commercial calves perform on an aggressive feeding program.  We get to see their health platform and what percentage of pulls from sickness we sustain year to year.  And we watch sire groups and styles of calves and notice how each responds to post weaning feedlot conditions.  Always learning . . .



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Aftermath: Winter 2018

Front Range: “I’m sorry – I know it’s been tough lately. But please don’t leave. I don’t want you to leave.”
Us: “You’ve been trying to kill us for 5 weeks . . . ”
Front Range: “I know! I know . . .but that’s just – that’s just the jet stream, you know? it gets in my head . . . makes me act crazy. You Gotta give me another chance . . . it’ll get better! You’ll see . . . . you’ll see.”


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Video 101

Ever wonder what it takes to create all those videos of bulls that you watch before Bull Sale Season? ¬†It certainly looks simple enough. ¬†Until you try to make one that doesn’t seem as though very young children were in charge . . .

  • Step One: ¬†arrange for bulls to be clipped, groomed, cleaned
  • Step Two: ¬†juggle the realities of weather, filming conditions, and whether or not the synchronized heifers are all calving
  • Step Three: ¬†set up a pen with a pleasant backdrop (preferably not manure piles, retired machinery, or a rotten fence through which bulls will exit)
  • Step Four: ¬†choose a team who enjoys the work, has a better than average patience range, and has nothing else pressing to do, as this process CANNOT be hurried
  • Step Five: trudge quietly behind bulls until they manage one or two walking passes the length of the filming pen (rule of thumb is acquire 3 to 5 minutes of video for every 45 seconds of good footage)
  • Step Six: spend all of your evening hours for the next 4 days snipping and assembling the good bits of video . . .
  • Step Seven: ¬†finally upload the finished project-either when it is edited to satisfaction, or one’s spouse is threatening to use one’s computer as a calf sled if one does not turn it off and become human again

There you are!  All of the secrets revealed . . .

Hope your calving season has begun well and may your hay yards stay full.



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First Bull Weight of the New Test

We run our performance test on the bulls for 4 consecutive months, weighed every 4 weeks.  This allows for a wide range of environmental conditions, sorts out anomalies, and blends in the compensatory gain of the first few weeks.  We also try to spread out the processing events since we have to run them through the chute for weight.  This time, we took an ear notch for BVD PI testing, poured for lice, and trimmed sheath hair.  The long, twisted hairs below the sheath are often dirty and matted, which can cause irritation and even exacerbate warts.  We have had much better breeding soundness evaluations since we began this maintenance step.

The group is at an average weight of 844 pounds, and has gained 4.3 pounds daily since weaning.  We really can see their rumen development during this first month.  The high fibre ration keeps the factory steaming along!

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Spring Madness!

Obviously a whirlwind since Bull Sale . . . . or maybe sitting down at the desk has just been second in line to more outdoor realities.  This morning was the wrap up of the second synchronization group of just over 100 head.  Was a gorgeous morning: still and sweet after the bluster and wet of last night.  We are greening up! Guess Spring has decided to come after all.



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Automatic Pivot Track Filler

What to do on a mild, sunny afternoon in March . . . ?  Run the self-loading, self-spacing automatic pivot track-filler.

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Notes on Performance Data

Today a rancher called with an excellent question about how our performance numbers on the bulls relate to each other. It merits some explanation. The three measurements of performance that we include in our catalog are 205 Day Adjusted Weight, Average Daily Gain, and Weight Per Day of Age.

  • 205 Day Adjusted Weight is calculated by American Simmental Association, based on the weaning weight we submit for each animal. They adjust to exactly 205 days, and also make an adjustment based on the age of the dam.
  • ¬†Average Daily Gain (ADG) is calculated by us, based only on the performance of the bulls while on feed test. They are weighed every 4 weeks for 16 weeks.
  • Weight Per Day of Age (WDA) is calculated by us, based on the bulls’ weight at time of ultrasound, which is usually mid to late January. It reflects their average gain over their entire life up to that point, including the time on test.
    These are basically three snapshots of a bull’s performance during different phases of his life. Some useful things can be determined by looking at the patterns: for example, if there is a significant difference between ADG and WDA, then the bull performed significantly better during one phase or the other. Or, if the 205 Adjusted Weaning weight is way above average but the bull’s weaning weight EPD is not, then we might assume his performance was environmentally rather than genetically driven.
    Our goal is to collect and present enough data to help cattlemen make a well rounded evaluation of what kind of package each bull offers. Happy studying!

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Sneak Peak! New Calf Crop . . .

Open Gate has added a new sire to the genetic program:

Hook”s Trinity 9T calves, January born, on first calf heifers.

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Ranching can’t be about what we’ve already done. It’s gotta be about what we do tomorrow.
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