The best for animal husbandry and land stewardship is often a balanced decision. These past two years in north-central/northwest Missouri and a bit of southwest Iowa makes grazing management decisions tough to call. Two years of unusually dry and hot summers each followed by severe cold and long winters has left our pastures and pasture management in tatters. The following article printed in Midwest Marketer magazine is from Iowa State UniversityExtension beef specialists Erika Lundy and Denise Schwab offers some ideas for consideration. We live in toxic endophyte fescue country, so it is not a best practice to encourage its growth with the addition of any type of applied nitrogen. Legumes planted can mitigate the effects by replacing the poisonous grass, but must be managed with proper grazing.
This is Part 2 in Jim’s series. If you missed Part 1, here you go!
When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially Nitrogen (N). Have you thought about how much N you may actually be applying when you feed hay?
It may be more than you think.
Let’s Look at How N Moves From Fed Hay Back to the Soil
The amount of nitrogen in hay is directly tied to the protein content of the hay. Protein on average contains 16% N. Grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than required.
If the hay is just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about half of the N will be excreted in the feces and half in the urine.
Livestock will generally excrete 85 to 95% of the N consumed.
Fecal N content changes very little as dietary protein level increases.
N is slowly released from manure piles as they decompose. feces breaks down relatively quickly in warm, wet environments and very slowly in cool, dry environments.
Almost all excess N ingested by the animal when protein content of the feed exceeds the animal’s requirement is returned to the soil via urine.
Urinary N is a highly soluble & readily available N fertilizer. When managing hay feeding for targeted N application rate, urinary N is where we focus our attention.
This table shows how much urinary N is returned to the soil depending on the protein content of the hay.
When you decide how many bales of hay you will be feeding on an acre of pasture, this table can help you decide.
If you set a target amount of N to apply, you can determine how many bales per acre it will take to accomplish that application rate. You can see the number of bales to feed per acre will vary greatly depending on the quality of the hay being fed.
Do you have a nutrient management plan or are you missing a great opportunity and wasting resources?
Coming next week – Jim provides some background to help you figure out a plan to manage the nutrients from your hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments below!
Farming and ranching are both career choices which require continued study, education, and practice modification to remain profitable and regenerative. As you know from previous blog entries, i’ve tried tillage and replanting with perennials, hired an organic farmer who is using minimal tillage and planting food grade soybeans and has tried planting cover crops to hold soil when crops are harvested (this has not been successful – weather), and both of these approaches to eliminate toxic endophyte fescue have been very expensive and no enhancement of soil health.
My next practice is planned to start with frost seeding as soon as weather allows – which is looking to be challenging since we are in the midst of a polar vortex right now and near record lows. But turnaround this weekend to near historic highs. Missouri is always a challenge in the weather department. Broadcast frost seeding is typically accomplished by early March.
High stock density grazing or mob grazing is labor intensive and thereby expensive to implement, but i hope to use this practice to prepare the soil for receiving the grass/forage seeds. All these expenses i will record, track, and monetize to make an apples to apples comparison with the other two practices i’ve tried. (Organic soybean farming and Permanent Ley Pasture)
To keep costs down, i plant to use annuals, grazing, and long rest to allow these plants to produce a lot of growth but before the plants become unpalatable, mob graze again allowing lots of manure and urine deposition across the paddock as well as trampling plants to keep soil covered and cool. That’s the plan anyway. My top photo was taken last year, but illustrates what the grazing/trampling effect i hope to achieve with hoof action and no mechanical tillage.
Planned seeds for broadcast:
Alsike clover – .25 lb
Barley – 8 lbs
Lespedeza – 3 lbs (if a supply can be sourced)
Oats – 8 lbs
Sunflower – 3 lbs
I’ve ordered a broadcast seeder for my John Deere Gator, so that should make broadcasting much easier so that i’m more likely to get it done in a timely fashion. Sometimes having the right machinery makes money rather than costing. It depends on one’s goals and how much you value your time. Also, if the practice is effective. If, for example, the practice does not add value to my operation, then the more i do it, the more expensive it becomes. One of the holistic management testing decisions.
Energy/money source & use
Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source in terms of your holistic goal?
Will the way in which energy or money is to be used lead toward your holistic goal.
So, this is what i do when i have a really bad head and it’s below freezing outside. Study and plan.
The benefits of managing trees and timbers far outweigh the tree-hugger (an environmental campaigner used in reference to the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled) concept of saving all or specific trees. Biblically, we are instructed to tend and keep the garden – not let it run rampant into total chaos. Work is not a four-letter word in the negative sense and it behooves us all to manage for effectiveness, efficiency, helpfulness, integrity, and beauty.
As Greg Judy shares, there are two ways to establish silvopasture or savannah. One way is to clear out dead or unproductive trees in existing timber or to plant a diverse mixture of productive and valuable trees. Planting and establishing a new timber will take decades before reaching its full potential, but if you didn’t start decades ago, might as well start now.
Unmanaged timbers will eventually become worthless – full of scraggly crooked trees which will never grow if the older trees are not harvested at their peak of quality. The heavy canopy old tall trees prevent youngsters from reaching their full potential. Even though the old fogy’s will eventually die, the young trees may never recover and the timber itself will fail. This may take a millennia, but why not manage it, sustaining, regenerating, as well as taking off a cash crop to help pay the bills.
Trees and timber are so important in our environment – for people, livestock, wildlife, soil. Shade is the first benefit which often comes to mind. Evapotranspiration is the ‘coolest’ sort of shade there is – much better than that provided by a shade cloth or roof. Additionally, we harvest fuel, wildlife, forage diversity, shelter, lumber, and a beautiful landscape. But management is more than harvesting, it also requires protection from overuse by livestock and even wildlife, yet on the flip side, excluding animal use will allow brush overgrowth and a buildup of fire fuel, which during a dry hot spell could catch fire and destroy your timber in a matter of moments.
Trees which are allowed to grow large around ditches, draws, and branches destabilize the banks. Their large roots won’t hold the soil as well as millions of deep rooted grass plants, so it’s best to keep those sprouts cut out so grass can grow. My observation is that once trees are removed, sunlight can reach the bank which allows the grasses to grow, especially with the ready supply of water! Include timeliness of livestock impact (to knock down the steep eroded banks) and grass will quickly cover those leveled areas as well. This all works together to hold soil, reduce erosion during what we call gully washers and slow the flow of water across the landscape. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the land heal.
A word of caution in all this! It will not work if you hire a bulldozer and push out trees – roots and all. This moves too much soil which may cause a lot of erosion and make the scarring even worse. The trees must be harvested leaving the roots in place. I find it more attractive to cut the stumps fairly level to the surface, plus the convenience of not having a stump to run into, but it probably doesn’t make any difference from a soil saving aspect.
The final argument to address is to define my use of the word ‘management.’ One way to manage is to bulldoze, another is to clear cut, but i’m referring to managing for regeneration. Sustaining my unmanaged timber is not smart – improving for the next generation (regeneration) is more respectful all around.