Kick the Hay Habit – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, PASTURE, Pasture & Livestock, Stockman Grass Farmer by James2 Comments

Is it possible to be a grass farmer or rancher and never need to buy or cut hay? Can you graze year round? The answer is yes, and the book to teach you how is Jim Gerrish’s Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-Round Grazing. This is Jim’s second book, his follow-up to Management-intensive Grazing which I reviewed last time. In his second book Jim zeros in on the concept of year round grazing – what it means and how to do it. Grazing year round is much more complicated than I initially imagined, but like most things it can be accomplished over time with discipline and knowledge. The biggest reason to year round graze is it is a much more economically sustainable approach verses cutting or buying hay.  The bottom line is the economics of hay cutting and harvesting has changed drastically in the past several decades. In an industry such as farming with profit margins so often running tight adding value to an operation by grazing year round could end up being the difference between making or breaking a farm over time. Some highlight points you’ll learn as listed on the back of the book include: *Just how much it really costs to produce a ton of hay. *How to use nature as your guide for low-cost winter grazing. *How to conduct a pasture inventory. *How to select the optimal breeding and birthing seasons. *How to custom design your own winter forage system. *How to make the transition from hay feeding to grazing, and much more. Both beginner and experienced grazers will benefit from this book.

What’s in the Book? 

Jim as sectioned his book into 28 chapters: 1. The Culture of Hay 2. The High Cost of Making Hay 3. What did Animals do Before there was Hay? 4. The Power of Year-Round Grazing 5. Know Your Forage Opportunities and Challenges 6. Conducting a Pasture Inventory 7. Choosing the Optimal Breeding and Birthing Seasons 8. Achieving a Variable Stocking Rate 9. Designing your Winter Forage Systems 10. Understanding Animal Needs and Forage Quality 11. Making the Transition from Hay Feeding to Grazing 12. Using Crop Residues to Extend the Grazing Season 13. Stockpiling Cool-season Perennial Pastures 14. Stockpiling Warm-Season Perennial Pastures 15. Winter Grazing on the Tall Grass Prairie 16. Winter Grazing Native Range 17. Growing Winter Annual Pastures 18. Using Brassicas and other Forbes 19. Stockpiling Summer Annual grasses and Legumes 20. Keeping Winter Grazing Simple 21. Budgeting Winter Forage 22. Winter Stock Water 23. Fence Systems for Winter Grazing 24. Swath Grazing 25. Supplementing Stockpiled Pasture 26. What do you do when it Doesn’t Rain? 27. Dealing with Snow, Ice, Wind, Cold, Mud and Whatever else Mother Nature Throws at you 28. Coping with Peer Pressure and Ridicule

Highlights 

In the chapter discussing stocking rates Gerrish reveals one of his biggest idea break throughs or realizations:

“My head-slap moment on our Missouri farm came when I realized the more sensible stocking policy was to stock the farm to its winter grazing capacity and then consume the spring forage peak with additional animals.” Gerrish decided to take this approach rather than making hay or later destocking in the year. How he harvests the extra growth in the Spring is with custom grazing – or animals he allows onto his land from other grazers on a temporary time frame, and of course he gets paid for it.

How long should it take to make the transition to year round grazing?

Gerrish says, “I think it is a reasonable goal to plan to gain a month of grazing each year through changes in management. If you are feeding hay only for a month on average, you can probably make the change in a single year. If you are feeding for two months, plan to make the change over two seasons.”

How do you determine when to start stockpiling forage when stockpiling cool season perennials?

Jim notes, “The way you determine to begin stockpiling is to estimate your last day of grass growth and back up 60 to 75 days. In north Missouri, we consider November 1 to be the end of our grass growing season so we would begin stockpiling around August 15. Where we currently live in Idaho, grass growth is pretty well finished by October 1, so the target starting date is around July 15th.”

Gerrish on stockpiling warm-season perennials:

“Because warm-season grasses lose quality more rapidly with age than do cool-season forages, we generally don’t want to let the stockpile grow as long with warm-season grasses. For bermudagrass, generally plan on about 45 to 60 days of regrowth. For the Upper South, this generally means you should begin stockpiling in late August to early September, for the Deep South early to mid-September. This will provide an optimum forage balance of forage yield and quality. Stockpiling for longer periods can lead to substantially lower forage quality and the need for greater levels of supplementation.”

The need for Nitrogen:

“Not very many seeded warm-season grass fields in the South contain enough summer growing legumes to provide adequate N for stockpiling. A few Southern grass farmers who divorced themselves from the N-fertilizer paradigm a number of years ago have been able to raise the legume content high enough to eliminate the need for any N fertilizer for stockpiling. It took them several years to get to the 30-50% legume level.”

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

This book is a great read for any grazier who is interested in year round grazing. The book is comprehensive, but not so detailed that the reader gets lost in the details.  Essentially it lays out the principles and from there depending on where you live and what your land and climate is doing  you can take the principles and adjust to the context of your farm or ranch. If you are raising herbivores it’s essential to be working towards year round grazing to stay profitable and this book is a great way to get you there.

 

Jim Gerrish’s presentation on Kicking the Hay Habit

Comments

  1. Addye Thole

    Realizing that Mother nature is in charge and respecting and understanding that, Gerrish offers a smart guideline for year round grazing. Great review that should provide a lot of future improvements for many farmers out there. Valuable read I would say.

    1. Author
      James

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, year round grazing is the most cost effective way to graze, and if you can get it right it ends up being the best case scenario for both the farmers and the animals.

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