Research results published November 30, 2017 by Sarah Kenyon, PhD, University of Missouri once again illustrate how grazing the non-native, invasive toxic-endophyte (E+) fescue plant causes health problems in cattle and other livestock, including horses. Other studies show the effects on the soil microbial populations and wildlife. E+ Fescue is pervasive, persistent, and poisonous.
Short grazing of E+ fescue in the last fall/early winter before a killing frost has been used by us and others to manage the spring growth of the plant by shortening the root system which slows spring growth, allowing more desirable grasses and legumes to get a foot hold. This is effective, but a relentless endeavor since it must be done every fall/winter to control the fescue and quite simply, there is no way to manage ALL the fescue at once everywhere on the farm.
I’m thankful for professors and agricultural leaders bucking the status quo and revealing this long-known information to a modern generation and offering solutions to not only mitigate the health issues associated with the toxin, but also ideas on eradicating it. Time will tell if changes will work – it’s expensive to renovate and manage pastures and fields – – and farming and ranching does not lend itself to wide margins of profits to plough back into improvements.
As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience. When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days! In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit. However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest. One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition. At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too. So…..
So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing. The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing. Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department. However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter. It does look like that has happened at least in short term. It is very hard to measure long term benefits. However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland). Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work. I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week. This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done. There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.
It's been a rather busy and momentous month, so i'm way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project. Here are photos of growth at 60 days. Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017. Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon. It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i'm ready to put paid to this project.
Time for an update on the annuals. It’s now been 33 days since planting on the 26th of May and it’s been terribly dry until just now.
The soil had some moisture in it when i tilled the 18 acres the first go on 18-19 May, but then we received a rain (4/10s) which delayed the second tillage until 25 May, at which time my husband seeded the hills right behind the second tillage so we could wrap up this project for the first stage.
Then weather set in hot, dry, sunny, and windy. Some of the seeds germinated and some even sprouted and grew. If we didn’t get a rain soon, those brave spindly plants would soon wither and die.
At last, over the course of 14-15-16 June, we received 1.5 inches of rain and temps cooled just a little bit – a breather for plants, soil, animals, and man.
Rainfall has been scarce until 28-29-June, when a gully washer of 7 inches fell in a bit over 24 hours. Thankfully, not much soil moved because i was careful to leave grass strips and there was still some dead plant material. Ideally, there would have been new root growth to help, but the previous dry weather compounded by my poor soil restricted growth tremendously.
So, bring on the next 30 day! With that 7 inch rain and little of it running off, there should be a massive increase in forage growth. Excited!
With the first pass May 15, 16, and 17 behind me, several very light rain showers, and a few days of drying out, I was ready to get to that second tillage pass and get the annual seeds in the dirt!. Thursday, May 25, 2017, I spent 4 hours with the Howard Rotavator 600 and was pleasantly surprised that, for the most part, the John Deere 4250 tractor worked along nicely at A2 speed vs A1. This effectively increased my speed from 2.1 mph to 2.6 mph. And it showed up in the final tally for sure! The second pass on the same 18 acres, instead of taking 12 hours as before, only rang up 7 1/2 hours. Nice. Admittedly, i could never make a farmer (row cropper); how do those guys run those things for hours on end, daylight to dark, day after day. I was thankful, i could distract myself for a while, at least on the long rows, by chatting (private message) with my son, who was at a cafe in Spain, and texting about soil conditions with a friend who was farming another part of my farm with 120 acres for organic soybean production. I finished up with the second pass on the 26th. It was also seeded on the 26th.
When i was about 2/3 rds completed, Allen came with a huge bag of premixed annual seed to fill the hopper on the Einboch power seeder and harrow. He finished all 18 acres in about 4 hours, counting a couple stoppages due to hoses plugging.
So, time spent so far:
Mixing seeds – 1 hour
Tractor – first pass – 12 hours
Tractor – second pass – 7 1/2 hours
Tractor/Seeding – 4 hours
A couple of ways to figure the cost of establishment.
One is to figure my actual costs and assign an hourly rate for our time plus wear/tear/depreciation on the tractor and implements. And the other is to use custom rental rates which are figured by the acre.
Total man hours spent – 24.5 hours at $??/hr
Tractor costs for 23.5 hours at $??/hr
Fuel costs – 23.5 times 7.7 gph = 181 gallons @
Or using machinery rental rates (which is what i’m going to do since i don’t know the above costs!)
tractor and rotavator – 36 acres times $20/acre = $720.00
tractor and seeder/harrow – 18 acres times $15/acre = $270.00
Seed costs – $31.56 per acre is what i ordered – HOWEVER, i am informed that Allen actually put on about half again as much, so i will multiply that amount by 1.5 for a per acre cost of $47.34. The additional seed will hopefully pay off in increased forage yields. So total seed costs are $$852.12.
Buckwheat 6# @ $ .90/lb
Lespedeza 6# @ $1.00/lb
Pearl Millet 5# @ $1.05/lb
Oats 12# @ $ .28/lb
Cowpeas 6# @ $ .90/lb
Sunflower 5# @ $.45/lb
Red Clover 2# @ $1.95/lb
Total expenses then amount to $1842.12 or $102.34 per acre. That’s a lot and does not include the 2 tons of lime i had applied in April at a cost of $66/acre. It’s tough to say this all has to be recouped in one year or one grazing because the lime will be there for the rest of my life and the tillage will have long term effects in loosening the soil as well as eradicating the toxic endophyte infected fescue. With so many variables, counting the cost, or rather, measuring the increase or lack thereof, in the short run, is very difficult in ranch renovation.
The plan is to have something to graze in 60-75 days. This will depend large part on moisture. We are getting pretty dry now already and need a rain. I will post updates.
By the way, you noticed i’m not including costs associated with photography and blogging. It’s a good way to force me to sit down and keep a log of expenses, time, and results. Hopefully, it will help others as well!
Managing soil, water, and animals properly and privately goes a lot further than politically motivated government regulations written by people who are far removed from soil and weather.
As a first step of my endophyte infected fescue eradication and pasture renovation project, today was the big day of tillage. My husband had purchased a Howard Rotavator 600, which is 10 foot wide sod-cutting and chewing machine and the soil (actually just dirt, it’s in pathetic condition) it’s been through gave it a real workout. Even the tractor couldn’t keep up and i had to sidle over and only take 2′-5′ bite of new sod at times, especially going up hill. This first pass took place on May 17-18, 2017.
One pass tillage next to existing stand of grass. Serious clay content. Methinks some of this worked up harder than if i took down the gravel road!
All in all, i mapped out about 18 acres actually tilled. There are about 25 acres total in the area being renovated, however, because of the steep slopes, several acres are left alone to serve as grassy waterways. I wonder, however, as hard as the ground is, if the tilled portions won’t actually hold and stop more water than the hard pan waterways. Hmmm.
So far, 12 hours spent (1.5 acres per hour) tilling, but not counting time servicing tractor and machine or time spent getting to/from the farm. Tractor uses about 7.7 gallons diesel fuel per hour, so 92.5 gallons there. Second pass should take a bit less time, but we’ll see!
We received a big storm last night with about an inch of rain, so the second pass won’t happen for a few days – depending on weather. Allen will be right behind the second rotatiller pass with the Einbach harrow/seeder and my selected annual grass mix.
Symptoms of ergovaline poisoning in livestock are:
decreased milk production (as much as 45% reduction!)
poor body condition
general poor health
decreased weight gain (stocker gains can be halved!)
delayed hair coat shedding
low conception rate
low birth weight
circulatory problems (ie: ear tips freezing, sloughing off of tail switch, even so far as to slough off hooves)
loss of appetite
poor circulation also leads to inability to dissipate body heat (especially troublesome in the heat and humidity of summer) (this is the main problem which leads to the above symptoms)
The cause is that the fungus is a vaso constricting substance called ergovaline. A good explanation comes from Endophyte Service Laboratory, College of Agriculture Sciences
Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 USA.
“The toxin ergovaline is a vaso-constrictor, it constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood circulation to the outer parts of the animal’s body. Animals that have consumed a toxic dose of ergovaline will have difficulty regulating body temperature. The constriction of blood flow also can cause “fescue foot”. Fescue foot is characterized by gangrene or tissue death in the legs, ears and tails.”
Seems mind boggling that we farmers and ranchers continue to allow this non-native plant to be grazed by our stock, doesn’t it!? Tannachton Farm is on a mission to remove it. It will be a fight since the grass is allelopathic and persistent!