Tag Archives: fescue

Permanent Ley Scheme

Horribly dry here and no chance of rain in the forecast!  However, it’s perfect for disk ploughing and rotatilling sod pastures so that they have ample opportunity for the grass that is turned up to die.  On the four paddocks i’ve selected this is mostly toxic endophyte infected fescue and other weeds.  Except for the 18 acres that i had tilled this spring and were involved in the annuals scheme, the remaining 32 acres is established pasture – pastured that has been grazed for at least 55 years.  Tilling it up created quite a clatter on my rotatiller.  Rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  There basically is no topsoil on my pastures except in the low spots along ditches.  Sad – very sad.

image
Rainfall on 21 August 2017 – very nice and quickly absorbed by thirsty soil, but hot, dry, and often windy even until now 17 September 2017.

 

 

image

image
Settings we used for a mixed sized seed batch on our John Deere 1590
image
Settings
image
Settings
image
Settings
image
Settings
image
John Deere 7220 and John Deere 1590 planting permanent pasture mix.  I hope to never have to work the ground this much.  I’m no farmer!
image
Seed ordered and mixed by Welter Seed & Honey.
image
Note the difference sized seeds which makes how to set the no-till drill tricky.  At least for us; we are just learning.
image
Dallas loading the no-till drill while Allen and Andy discuss what settings to use.

 

image
Using the 7220 John Deere tractor which has front wheel assist to pull the JD 1590 no till drill.
image
Here is the mix i ordered from Welter Seed & Honey, Onslow, IA.  Really appreciate their personal and quick discussion and advice.  Mixed and shipped very quickly.

 

So how in the world did i come up with this mix?  After reading Robert Elliot’s book The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass, i’ve been interested in his trials and observations.  I used a permanent mix found from Cotswold Seeds and interestingly it is even labeled Clifton Park mix!  How weird is that?!  The link here describes it in depth;

‘LAMINS’ Drought Resistant Four Year Grazing Ley Dry, Light Land

Pulled into the first sod bound pasture land (Paddock 15) with the John Deere 4250 and the Howard Rotavator on 29 August 2017.  Granted, i know most recommendations are to have this seeding done and in no later than the 20th of August, but this year just wasn’t going to allow it.  And thankfully, i didn’t get in earlier; had i put these seeds in slightly moist soil, they may have germinated, sprouted, then dried up in this heat and dry weather.  As it is, the seeds are just resting in that super dry soil waiting for just the right conditions to grow and thrive.  The concern at planting late is that there won’t be good growth before freezing weather and a long winter.

 

(On the 1st of September, i mustered my bulls and hauled them (Allen and Dallas helped a lot), i spent too much time outside and became overcome with ragweed allergies.  This kept me sleeping and recovering in the house for two days.  Andy was able to take over for me so we kept on schedule.)

image
16 September – RAIN!  Slow and gentle, but with damaging winds.  Total amount received two inches – perfect!  Yah is gracious.

 

image31.jpg

So to wrap it up with costs:

image
Figures from 2016 Custom Rates for Farm Services in Missouri

That’s a lot of money!  and doesn’t even include the $60/acre spent earlier this year in lime spread.  Hope it all pays off – i don’t want to ever have to do it again and with managed grazing, it should last many lifetimes.

Shalom!

tauna

 

Annuals Scheme – Final Analysis

Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.

Grazing comparison data is as follows:

2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs  Total:  5089 lbs

2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs  Total:  5574 lbs

2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs  Total:  3294 lbs

2016-2017 – lost all my records

2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs    Total: 2242 lbs

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.

image
I drive through the annuals with my Gator to make it easier to set up a polybraid fence through it.
image
Grazed part next to ungrazed annuals.  That tall stuff still standing in common ragweed.
image
My ground is very poor in most areas and this is all it will grow in a 65 day period of the annuals.

 

image
This is along the fence line (see fence on the left).  What a difference in where i tilled and planted vs undisturbed.  The ubiquitous Kansas ragweed (lanceleaf) is still thriving where it is undisturbed.

 

image
Those cows didn’t waste any.  They really, really enjoyed eating the succulent annuals and snarfed down the volunteer yellow foxtail.  The stalks are trampled nicely.
image
This is a close up of the left behind common ragweed.  That step in post is 36 inches tall.
image
A closer look at the Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed in undisturbed soil.  Same step in post.
image
Larger area shown here of what is left of the annuals after grazing.

 

The Big Till

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.

IMG_2667
Here my husband has been running the equipment to make sure everything was working.  I’m getting ready for my dual.  Operating new equipment is always an uneasy step for me!
IMG_2669
The ‘soil’ more like dirt because it’s so dead is very compacted and lots of clay making for a lot of overlapping.  I even killed the tractor a couple times because there was simply not enough power to pull the machine.  I quickly learnt how much ‘bite’ the machinery could take so the John Deere 4250 would not be overwhelmed.
IMG_2690
The Howard Rotavator 600.  Here’s a link to a video of the rotavator in operation.
IMG_2679
My soil hasn’t been tilled since at least the early 1960’s.  It’s compacted with little to no life in it.  Just dirt.  The  hope is to allow water and other nutrient infiltration to encourage forage growth.  This is an example of first pass.

IMG_2680

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!

18447365_10208951224400242_1733792195519459584_n
Plenty of big rocks (these are some of the smaller ones) to make the machine go ‘klunk’!
IMG_2695
My office for a total of 8 hours.  Allen ran it for about 4 hours. 

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.

Per acre healing forages:

  1.  6 lbs buckwheat
  2.  6 lbs lespedeza
  3.  3 lbs pearl millet
  4. 12 lbs oats
  5.  6 lbs cowpeas
  6.  5 lbs sunflower
  7.  2 lbs red clover

These were chosen for their prolification, adaptability to poor soils, nitrogen fixing, and low cost as well as providing excellent grazing in 60-75 days.

IMG_2706
Grass waterways left to slow water during rains until the rest has forage established.
IMG_2701
Not a clear photograph, but a better idea of leaving waterways.
IMG_2704
On the far slope, the rows would have been so short that a lot of time would have been spent just turning around, so i chose to strip till through and across low and high spots.  Time will tell if that was the right decision.
IMG_2698
View from my office. 😉

Effects of E+ Fescue

Symptoms of ergovaline poisoning in livestock are:

  1.  decreased milk production (as much as 45% reduction!)
  2. poor body condition
  3. general poor health
  4. decreased weight gain (stocker gains can be halved!)
  5. delayed hair coat shedding
  6. low conception rate
  7. low birth weight
  8. circulatory problems (ie: ear tips freezing, sloughing off of tail switch, even so far as to slough off hooves)
  9. lameness
  10. loss of appetite
  11. abortions
  12. 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.

Recent research done by Matt Booher, Crop and Soil Agent at Virginia Coopoerative Extension and John Benner indicates that despite our best efforts, endophyte infected fescue at all stages of growth causes some level of poisoning to livestock.

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!

 

Cheers!

tauna

E+ Fescue History

Not even going to bore you with a long history of a specific grass – I don’t even want to read about it.  Given the little dab of history i’ve uncovered that was already known about toxic endophyte infested tall fescue, E+ tall fescue being sold as a wonder grass in the early 1940’s must surely have been one of the most duplicitous marketing schemes ever played on the American farmer.  And we fell hook, line, and sinker for it.  Now planted and still being planted on at least 35-40 million acres across the midwest and southwest United States.

Tall fescue has good attributes – it surely does.  You can overgraze it, trample it, burn it, freeze it, mow it, dilute it (with other forages), plough it and it will come back year after year even stronger yet.  But, as i have shared earlier, that persistence is purchased with losses in the health of livestock and decimated wildlife forage and habitat.

As evidenced by the following documents, I suspect we could keep digging backwards in time and discover that at least one cultivar of Tall Fescue has been wreaking havoc for many, many years.

forages-fescue-toxicity-page-300

forages-fescue-toxicity-page-301
These two pages are scanned from “Forages,” a 1973 college level curriculum.   Note that the New Zealand worker reported his observations in 1913. (on page 300)
clifton-park-system-on-fescue
A page scanned from “The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass” by Robert Elliot.  Quoted here as seeing in a book already written as to the New Zealand species of tall fescue containing ergot.  (we now know that it is ergovaline produced by the fungus endophyte which is hosted by the fescue plant)

Fescue Toxicity

Boy, howdy, now there’s an exciting title and one to really pull in a reader eager to learn about such a thing.  Well, not, of course, but to cattle farmers and ranchers across a great portion of the United States, it’s a reality that sucks an estimated $1 billion out of our collective pockets EACH year!

in 1943 Kentucky 31 variety of fescue was commercially introduced and sold, it seemed at first a godsend to sod forming, persistence, deep rootedness (soil conservation), and production for cattle and other livestock producers.  In the late 1970’s, scientists at last identified that fescue hosts a fungus that can produce toxic compounds called ergovaline.  However, it is important to note, that reports of  toxic effects of grazing infected fescue have been around at least since the early 1900’s.  Why didn’t the light bulb go off that there is a problem that needs addressing BEFORE scattering it all over the US!?  The only answer that seems reasonable is that establishment of the grass is cheap and easy and the resultant health concerns in stock are a silent drain.

Whatever the case may be, I’m now on a mission to eradicate to a degree as much as possible toxic fescue from my pastures.  In so doing, cattle health and numbers should increase, calf gains and cow milking ability should increase as well as reproduction improvements.  Additionally, soil health and tilth should improve, thereby increasing its moisture capturing and holding capacity (resulting in less runoff and erosion).  Lastly, but certainly not least, ridding the pastures of tall fescue will greatly improve wildlife habitat – especially ground nesting species such as quail.

The fruits of this project will likely be for the next generation and i ask myself if it is really worth the expense and effort to make a bold move in such uncertain times of low cattle prices.  Time will tell, i guess.

I think I’ll put these entries in a separate category so my reports and progress can be easily accessed.  I’m no Pioneer Woman like Dee,  (ya gotta admire the outreach she has done with her whit and way with words),  but if you have an interest in organic, no chemical, minimal tillage farming, pasture renovation, cattle rearing for producing clean healthy food while improving (regenerating is the popular term) our environment, come alongside and join the conversation.  I will enjoy any questions.

Cheers!

tauna

cropped-purdin-farm-october-2012-004.jpg
This is a nice photo of my cows, but what you don’t see is that a good portion of what they are grazing is toxic endophyte infected fescue.  In other words, with every bite they are being poisoned.  It’s time to see if the dollars and cents to renovate make sense to change this condition.