Category Archives: Fescue Control with row cropping

Fencing, fencing, Fencing

Building fence, not the notion of combat sport.

Over 4 years ago, I rolled up the fence on the Bowyer farm and hung the hi-tensile wire rolls on the posts at the end of each run and stored the fiberglass posts in the barn on pallets. At age 55, i truly was questioning this decision to have the farm organically row cropped for 4 years in a quest to eliminate or set back the toxic endophyte infected fescue which had become quite horrible to animal and wildlife health. Reminding myself that, should i live long enough, i’d be reinstalling all this fence at age 59 – and here i am doing it. Praise Yah for the strength and health to do so.

In addition to moving fences on the east 320 in preparation for more efficient and effective total grazing, I’ve been doggedly setting up this 120 for total grazing. It is supposed to start raining this evening (Wednesday) and do so for more than a week, so i’ve spent hours each good day walking out hi-tensile line, pounding in posts, clipping the wire to the posts, setting up gateways, and scrambling up and down the ditches with drop lines through the many ditches and draws on my farm.

Additionally, as i’ve been putting in fence and taking a break from pounding in posts by hand, i spend time resting by lopping out locust tree sprouts and treating the stumps with RTU. The bigger trees will require my chainsaw, but there are really, really high winds right now plus i must focus most of my limited energy on getting the fences installed. Tree and brush removal is a HUGE job considering they were allowed to grow these past 7 years due to organic certification regulations. (3 years prior to organic farming, then 4 years of farming). I’ll likely use more fuel and chemical getting the place back under control than would have keeping it under control.

Bowyer farm with fences being re installed. The red lines are ones i have finished (with the exception of the north end because i have to burn brush piles created when logging out which are in the way, but it is set up with temp step in posts for now). The light purple lines are yet to be installed. So, i’ve installed 3/4 of a mile and i have about that much more to go. Actually the red line around the pond and the stretch to the south of it are barbed wire permanent.

Thoughts on Lease Cropping vs Grazing Your Own Stock

There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out.  Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan.  But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating.  Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid.  Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.

Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres(Bowyer Farm) for organic farming for 4 years.  My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops.  I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.

Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal).  I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.

Here are some bullet points i have:

  1. animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
  2. in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered.  This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting.  (it’s now October 2019 and covered with weeds again). Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
  3. I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property.  I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor.  Bottom line, from a purely income/expense perspective, I make more money with grazing vs leasing the property for row cropping.
  4. Lessees do not care for your property as you would.  Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land.  I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage.  In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow.  It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property.  A lot gets big and away.  More work at the end of the organic regime.
  5. This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again.  I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways.  My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules).  At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time.
  6. The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced.  Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’  This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had.  Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
  7. If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed.  We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market.  The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
  8. At the end of the day,  we do the best we can and then we die.  The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom.  A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on.

At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to bringing the 120 acres back under my management even though i will only graze it once i get it seeded back down.  With managed grazing and some brush/tree removal, the pasture will be back hopefully making money for me soon.

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You can see the worked field which has now been bare soil since harvest of soybeans last November.  That means 10 months and counting of open, unprotected soil.

Getting Ready

One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project.  Alas, that isn’t true in my case.  Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan.  Old fence posts and wired had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.

 

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There’s been a 16 foot gate here for longer than i’ve been alive, although this is a new gate i had installed about 5 years ago.  But, 16 foot opening is far too narrow to pull in comfortably with big equipment, although you’d be amazed at what a skilled driver can get through!

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So, this is the new look – set two new corner posts and hung two 16 foot gates.  Very professionally done by Jim Fitzgerald.

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HUGE thank you and shout out to North Central Missouri Electric Coop for quickly removing, not only the lines from the transformer to the meter pole, but also my farm lines from the meter pole to windmill pump. About an 1/4 of a mile’s worth. While i did the ground work of chaining the pole to the front end loading, Dallas pulled the posts. Afterward, i dragged them to a burn pile with my Gator.

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The electric company removed the wires from two tall poles which were on my property.  Our little tractor had to shove a bit on the pole, then really hunker down to get these poles pulled up.  As you can see, they are buried quite deep.  Instead of burning these poles, they were cut to length and used as the corner posts for my new gateways!

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Old fence left over from who knows when still across the pasture with wire buried and tangled.  What a mess but at last we prevailed.

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Here are half the posts from that fence.  These will all burnt in a pile.  Would make good firewood if they weren’t full of staples and wires.  The corner posts were too heavy for me to lift into the bucket, so we just used the tractor to pull them ’round to the burn pile – it wasn’t far.

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An old home built load out chute we drug up out of the middle of the pasture.  

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With most posts pulled up, Dallas is building me a low water crossing while I pull the remaining posts to burn pile and roll up another half a quarter mile of hi-tensile wire.  Weather is perfect for working but I’m about out of steam!

 

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I bet you were wondering how I can roll up 12 gauge hi-tensile electric wire.  The key is this spinning jenny from Powerflex Fence.  Don’t do this without a spinning jenny  Notice the rolls of wire I stored nearby; ready to roll back out after the 4 year renovation.  All told, I rolled up a bit more than 2 miles of hi-tensile wire and pulled some 140 fiberglass posts.  Many were 1 inch and were easily pulled by hand.  I hauled them all home and have them stored on a pallet in the barn.

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Here you can see the old hand strung electric line from way up at the barn down to the electrified pump.  It used to be run only with the windmill, but there is not enough reliable wind to make that very viable.  Anyway, those were the posts Dallas and I pulled up.

Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!

Cheers

tauna