Tag Archives: Nitrogen

Shortage of Land for Farms

The title is a bit misleading.  True enough that many productive acres are consumed by housing and commercial uses – covered up with concrete and buildings – changing the micro climate almost immediately.  Although, this does lessen the number of acres available, it is also true that with properly managed grazing and proper use of cover crops and regenerative agricultural practices (read this as a return to more productive agrarian crop/livestock integration and rotation), more food can be grown on less acres with an improvement to the soil structure.  Where the shortage comes into play is that it takes larger and larger operations to actually make a full time living.  Farmers compete with one another, people looking for an investment, and folks who are looking for ‘play’ ground (hunting retreats) drive land prices farm above their production values.

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A ‘salad bar’ of grasses, forbs, and legumes doesn’t happen over night or by accident.  Most ground (mine included) has been over cropped and over grazed for decades and require attention, some money, and proper management to become productive again.  Contrary to popular belief, the addition of nitrogen and other synthetic fertilizers, do not improve soil.  In fact, nitrogen burns up organic matter!  They feed plants, but not soil microbes for long term improvement.
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The poly braid temporary fencing is just one of many tools we use to manage grazing of our cattle to allow proper rest and regrowth.  

However, here is a good article from On Pasture with ideas of consideration into what to look for in good land.

Tips for Evaluating Property for Raising Cattle

By   /  September 30, 2019  /  No Comments

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This article comes to us from the Noble Research Institute’s Robert Wells, PhD., Livestock Consultant, and Rob Cook, Planned Consultation Manager and Pasture and Range Consultant.

When buying land for cattle production, there are some unique characteristics to consider before signing a contract. These characteristics include: stocking rate, forage quality and type, soil type and fertility, terrain and slope of the land, water sources in each pasture, number of pastures and traps, working pen availability and condition, fence condition and type, and other infrastructure (overhead bins, interior roads, etc.) availability and condition.

Every Property is Different

Many times a potential buyer is told that a ranch in a given area will run “X” amount of cattle. For example, “ranches in this county can run a cow to 15 acres.” These figures are rules of thumb that are normally rooted in some truth but are hardly ever accurate, especially for a specific property. Not every ranch is created equal. Ranches in the same area can have varying forage production potentials based simply on the soil types that are present.

Soil Types

Soil types can vary widely, not only across counties but also across ranches. Each soil type has different forage production potential. A loamy, bottomland soil will have the potential to produce more grass than a shallow soil found along ridges or hilltops. Knowing what and how much of each soil types are on the ranch will allow you to understand the forage production capability of the land you’re investigating. Land that has the capability of producing less forage for cattle consumption than other properties in the same general area could be less valuable to a livestock producer because of the reduced animal number it will support relative to properties of comparable size.

The Web Soil Survey website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a great tool to determine what soil types are on any given piece of land. This tool allows you to map out the property and run reports on what soil types are present, in what amounts, and the forage production capability for each soil type. There is also ratings on the building suitability for home and barn sites, crop production, and pond development just to name a few. This tool can be found at websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov or with a quick internet search for “Web Soil Survey.”

Nongrazeable Land

Not all of the acres on the property will be grazeable. Roads, energy production sites, steep or rocky terrain, and high densities of brush cover will restrict grazing animal accessibility and/or reduce or eliminate forage production. These areas will have to be accounted for when determining the property value for cattle production because the production realized on other acres or income from other enterprises will need to be utilized to pay for nongrazeable acres.

Studies have shown that cattle use decreases as rock cover increases. Rock cover of 30 percent or more could result in no grazing use from most cattle in a herd. Cattle seem to avoid areas with greater than 10 percent slopes if other options are available. Reduced production from high brush densities can be overcome by implementing brush management practices. These practices are usually relatively expensive, and must be accounted for when considering the cost of operation or purchasing land.

Past Land Management

The land health must also be considered. Past management can have a large impact on land health, and large amounts of time and/or money may be needed to overcome misuse by previous managers. A quick soil test on introduced pastures will give you an idea of the soil fertility and what type of nutrient inputs will be needed to meet the management goals you have for the property. Native grass communities could be shifted to less desirable grasses or low production because of past overgrazing. These issues can be corrected with proper management but will need to be thought through when developing a grazing management plan or an analysis of the economic feasibility of purchasing and operating a property.

Water Location and Quality

Water location and quality is essential when evaluating land for cattle production. As a general rule of thumb, cattle prefer not to range more than one-half to three-quarters of a mile from a water source. Therefore, make sure water sources are no farther than 1 mile apart in each pasture. The closer the better, as areas closest to the sources will be more heavily grazed; those furthest away will have little to no grazing activity. Larger and deeper impoundments will typically have better water quality. The larger the water source, the less susceptible it is to drying up in a drought. Well water is usually better quality and a more dependable source, especially during droughts. However, it is prudent to test all water sources to ensure there are no pollutants that could cause an animal to reduce intake or harm. Well water can be high in sulfur and salts that can be detrimental to cattle performance.

Infrastructure

What infrastructure will come with the ranch? Is there is an overhead feed bin on-site that could be negotiated in staying after the sale? Overhead feed bins cost $8,000 to $10,000 to purchase, deliver and set up on a ranch. They allow for flexibility in feed types as well as when and from where feed can be procured. Are there quality and large-enough working pens that are strategically placed on the property? Look to see how well the working pens are constructed. Make sure the layout is logical and that cattle will flow calmly and smoothly through the working area. Make sure there is a good, full squeeze chute in the pens, not just a head gate at the end of an alley. Building new working facilities on a ranch is an expensive undertaking, especially if old pens have to be torn out before a new set is built.

Additionally, make sure the ranch has good internal roads. Inclement weather events, especially during the winter and spring months, can make it difficult to get into pastures that are only serviced by dirt roads. If the property has oil field activity, ask who maintains the roads. A good gravel road can make it easy to feed cattle during the rainy season.

Fence Conditions

What condition are the fences in and are they in the right places? Fence construction typically costs more than $9,000 per mile if built on flat and clear land. If brush has to be removed or earthmoving has to occur to ensure building ease of an effective fence, costs can increase dramatically. Different forage types need to be fenced from each other to be properly managed. Native grasses should not be in the same pasture as introduced grasses or crop ground. All fences need to be in good enough condition to hold the species you plan on grazing. Field fence with several strands of barbed wire on top is desirable in traps located adjacent to working pens and where weaning will occur. Goats will require field fencing to be most effective in containing them. Bulls will require at least a five-strand barbed wire fence in good condition to keep them apart from the cow herd during the nonbreeding season.

Easements

Finally, ask if there are easements that could impact property use. Be sure you understand the nature of any and all easements that my impede portions of the land. Pipeline or power transmission line easements will require a certain setback where no building construction can occur. Have there been any easements with private groups that prevent livestock grazing?

This list is not exhaustive and the topics discussed are not intended to be looked at as a make or break on a deal. They are only meant to make you aware of some things to consider when looking at properties. Things such as location, options to purchase other land, goals and objectives, and cost could trump any or all of these. Remember to engage industry experts such as Noble Research Institute consultants, land-grant county extension services or NRCS employees before buying a property to help you make the right decisions. Ask the right questions and take everything into account before deciding to buy. Knowing all this information up front can help you as a potential buyer determine a reasonable value for the ranch.

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Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 6

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 6

By   /  April 1, 2019  /  1 Comment

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This is the last part in Jim’s series. If you missed any part, here are links to catch up: Part 1,Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5.

Hay is more Carbon (C) by dry weight than anything else. When we feed hay we are also adding carbon to the soil in addition to the Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorous (P) discussed in the earlier posts in this series. Adding carbon increases the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil through increase in soil organic matter.

How much carbon do we add to the soil with hay feeding?

Let’s do the math.

Hay is typically between 40-50% Carbon depending on plant maturity at harvest time. Some of this C is in cells as soluble sugar or other easily digested materials. The bulk of the C is in plant fiber that varies in degree of digestibility.

What’s left behind after feeding is a combination of unconsumed plant material and dung and urine. Both are important contributors to soil health.

Unconsumed hay is intact plant material that helps provide the ‘armor’ on the soil. During the growing season we refer to litter cover on the soil surface. Hay residue provides the same benefits to the water cycle as plant litter.

The consumed part of hay that is not digested comes out as manure. We have already discussed the N & P values of manure and urine following hay feeding. Whereas we can add too much N or P to the soil through excessive hay feeding, it is almost impossible to add too much C.

The digestible part of the hay is utilized by ruminant livestock as their primary energy source. Maintenance quality cow hay may be as low as 50% digestibility while high quality ‘calf hay’ may be close to 70% digestible. The C from digested material is incorporated into body tissue or expelled as CO2.

It is the non-digested plant material that contributes to building soil organic matter through dung returned to the soil. Manure on the ground does not contribute a lot to ‘soil armor’, but it contributes to feeding soil life.

The rate of manure breakdown is largely driven by digestibility of the residual fiber. If rumen microbes could not quickly digest it, soil microbes aren’t much faster. Manure breaks down much more quickly in warm-wet environments compared to cold-dry environments.

Hay residue left on the ground will ultimately contribute to soil organic matter. Many people have the bad habit of wanting to burn residue piles in the Spring. Please, do not!

These piles become enriched soil organic matter sites and can be above average production areas for years to come. Burning piles sends most of the valuable C into the atmosphere.

While in the first year following feeding there may be some weeds grow up on these piles, most of those weeds are making a contribution to soil development or get grazed by the livestock during the growing season.

The bottom line is, each ton of hay fed will contribute about 400 to 600 lbs of C to the soil as either hay residue or manure.

That is a valuable addition to your land. Make the most of it!

 

This is the last part in Jim’s series. If you missed any part, here are links to catch up: Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

 

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Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 4

More great information from Jim Gerrish, owner of American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

Review Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3Part 5 and Part 6

By   /  March 18, 2019  /  5 Comments

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Did you miss the start of this series? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Bale grazing has been increasing in popularity for several years now. This method of feeding minimizes or eliminates the need for running any feeding equipment in the winter months, but is it really all sunshine and roses?

Let’s take a look at potential for excess nitrogen loading soils under bale grazing.

Spaced Bale Feeding

As part of our early efforts in the 1980s to reduce the cost of feeding hay, we developed what we called ‘Spaced-bale feeding’. This was an early version of bale grazing.

Bales were placed in a feeding block as shown on the right side of the picture. We only handled bales once as they were picked up from the field and put in a feeding block, usually in the same field. Spacing was generally 25-30 ft on centers. The bales were protected with an electric fence and then when it was time to feed, a line of bales was exposed and ring feeders placed on those bales. We manually flipped the feeders each time we fed hay.

We quickly noticed that while we were enriching the pasture fertility in the feeding area, we were having no effect on increasing P levels away from the feeding block. In fact, they were going down.

Yes, the spaced-bale feeding system allowed us to reduce cost of feeding in the winter but it was mining nutrients from the pasture as a whole and concentrating them around the feeding block. We did relocate the block every year, but they were always placed close to the permanent fence and not scattered all across the pastures.

Bale Grazing

Bale grazing was being done more commonly in Canada by the early 2000s. Ring feeders were done away with because of the difficulty using them in deep snow situations.

An electric fence is moved and a set number of bales were exposed to the cattle. Very often the bales were just left where the baler had dropped them in the summer, so equipment cost was reduced even further.

As more producers bought their needed hay rather than baling it themselves, bale grazing started to trend back towards feeding blocks rather than widely scattered bales across the field where they had been harvested.

Now we can look at the N being returned to the field in those feeding areas using the information shown earlier in this series of posts.

That is a lot of N!

You might ask, “But who would feed 20 tons/acre?”

Here is an aerial photo showing where bale grazing took place on a farm the previous winter. We easily see the increased growth where the bales had been fed. The area outlined is one acre.

With 36 bales weighing 1300 lbs fed on that one acre, the urinary N returned is over 400 lbs/acre!

Even if the cows did wander off and urinate in different parts of the pasture, there is likely still at least 300 lbs/acre raining down on the feeding block.

This is where we can end up when we don’t have a feeding plan that balances the feeding rate with the capacity of the soil to absorb and hold N.

In some parts of the US such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes watersheds, N overload is a serious issue and regulations are in place to regulate manure application and animal concentration.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we on the land understand the consequences of our decisions. We all need to have nutrient management plans for our farms and ranches – not because the government is going to eventually make all of us do it, but because it makes economic and environmental sense to do so.

Nitrogen is only part of the fertility story. Next week, we’ll look at Phosphorous. If you have questions for Jim, please share them in the comment section below.

 

Fertilize with Hay

Going along with my previous post, this article appeared in the 24 March issue of Midwest Marketer and tickled my ears.  

Check out this Bale Grazing Calculator!

This primer on bale grazing is excellent, though dated.  Since its publication, i think producers have found that plastic twine and netwrapping materials need to be removed before the livestock have access to the bales.

 

Fertilize fields with hay

Winter-feeding beef cattle on hay and pasture fields can minimize labor of hauling manure while still distributing crop nutrients.

Fertilize fields with hay

Many Beef cow-calf producers feed hay rations to cows in confinement settings during the winter months. Feeding hay on fields away from the barn is gaining popularity. Labor and machinery requirements of hauling manure can be minimized by winter-feeding beef cattle on fields. Care should be taken with feeding practices to ensure that crop nutrients are evenly distributed.

Feeding on fields is typically accomplished by strategically spacing hay bales around the field either with or without hay rings frequently referred to as bale grazing. Another feeding method on fields includes unrolling bales on the ground. Unrolling bales on the ground typically allows for better crop nutrient distribution. Spacing bales across a field creates a situation of concentrated nutrients from manure and waste hay in the areas where bales are fed. Over time, nutrient distribution can equalize with good grazing and management practices to promote soil health. Nutrients can be distributed by livestock and soil microbes over time, however, uniform nutrient spreading is more ideal for crop production yields.

Utilizing the various feeding methods can result in a wide range of hay waste. Producers need to weigh cost savings associated with winter feeding on fields and feed loss with any given feeding method.  Feeding on fields allows nearly 100 percent nutrient cycling into the soil for both phosphorous and potassium while nitrogen capture will be variable. Consequently, hay waste is not a 100 percent loss. Much of the crop nutrients from hay waste is available to the next growing crop. If hay is harvested on the farm, nutrients are simply redistributed to the feeding area. If hay is purchased, those nutrients are added into the farm nutrient pool.

Purchasing hay and bringing nutrients onto the farm can be a cost effective addition of fertilizer to the farm. The vast majority of fertilizer costs for crop production are for application of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Producers should use a feed analysis of purchased feed to determine its fertilizer value. Producers can use dry matter, crude protein, phosphorous and potassium content to determine fertilizer value. Table 1. demonstrates the calculations of converting an example feed analysis to the quantities of fertilizer nutrients in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Using an example of dry hay containing 85 percent dry matter, 10.6 percent crude protein, 0.18 percent phosphorous and 1.6 percent potassium content, the following value can be calculated:

Dry feeds will usually contain 10-15 percent moisture or 85-90 percent dry matter. A 1000 lb. bale of dry hay with 15 percent moisture will contain 850 lb. of dry matter. Ensiled feeds will contain considerably more moisture.

Protein contains 16 percent nitrogen. Crude protein is calculated by multiplying the percent nitrogen by a conversion multiplier of 6.25. From the example hay analysis, 10.6 percent crude protein can be multiplied by 0.16 or divided by 6.25 to equal a rounded off 1.7 percent nitrogen. The nitrogen content multiplied by the dry hay bale weight of 850 lb. equals 14.45 lb. of nitrogen in the bale of hay. The percent phosphorous (0.18 percent) and potassium (1.6 percent) are also multiplied by the 850 lb. of dry matter hay to equal 1.53 lb. of phosphorous and 13.6 lb. of potassium.

Producers must be aware of the differences between feed analysis and fertilizer analysis. Feed analysis are recorded as percent crude protein, elemental phosphorous, and elemental potassium. Fertilizer analysis is recorded as percent elemental nitrogen, phosphate (P2O5), and potash (K2O). Using Upper Peninsula of Michigan fertilizer prices, nitrogen is valued at $0.47/lb. N, phosphate at $0.35/lb. of P2O5, and potash at $0.325/lb. K2O.

Table 2. demonstrates the fertilizer value contained in a 1000 lb. bale of hay. Fifty percent of the nitrogen and 85 percent of the phosphate and potash are recycled through cattle back into the soil and is used for future plant growth. Some of the nutrients are lost to volatilization into the atmosphere and are retained in the animal. Referring back to the example, 50 percent of the 14.45 lb. of nitrogen contained in the hay gives 7.2 lb. of nitrogen into the soil for plant uptake. The 7.2 lb. is multiplied by $0.47/lb. to value the nitrogen at $3.38. Elemental phosphorous and potassium need to be converted to percent phosphate and potash. Elemental phosphorous 1.53 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 2.29 to equal 3.5 lb. of phosphate. Elemental potassium 13.6 lb. is multiplied by a factor of 1.2 to equal 16.3 lb. of potash. Eighty-five percent of both the phosphate and potash will be recycled into the soil for future plant uptake then multiplied by their respective unit price gives a value of $1.04 of phosphate and $2.65 of potash.

The calculated fertilizer value of the 1000 lb. bale of hay is worth $7.07/bale or $14.14/ton. Current value of this quality of hay is roughly $80-100 per ton. In this example, about 15 percent of the value of average beef quality hay can be attributed to its fertilizer value. Farms that are marginal on soil nutrient levels may consider purchasing at least a portion of their feed to increase crop nutrients on the farm and replace some portion of purchased commercial fertilizer.

Feeding hay on fields during the winter months has several advantages that beef producers can use to offset some of the production costs associated with beef production. For more information regarding the impact of feeding hay on pasture and hay fields, contact MSU Extension Educators Frank Wardynski, 906-884-4386 or wardynsk@anr.msu.edu or Jim Isleib, 906-387-2530 or isleibj@anr.msu.edu.

Buying Hay

 

Finding NPK in forage via test results

Given the retail prices of N, P, and K – (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) from Butterfield Grain Associates in Meadville, MO.

Nitrogen – 3.71 lbs times .42/lb = $1.56

Phosphorus – 1.63 lbs times .35/lb = $0.57

Potassium – 8.875 lbs times .29/lb = $2.57

Total NPK value  = $4.70 per 1250 lb hay bale or $12.17 per ton.

This value doesn’t include micronutrients and the organic matter in manure and wasted hay, including calcium, magnesium, etc.

Purchased bales of mature warm season grasses weigh about 1250 lbs each.  I sent core samples to Ward Laboratories to have analysed for feed value as well as fertilizer value.  Here are the results:

Ward Labs - Libby hay Sep 2017