Tag Archives: renovation

Pasture Renovation

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.

  1. 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.

Cheers!

tauna

 

Greg Judy on Toxic Fescue – Part 3

Greg (a world renown speaker) and his wife, Jan, are very good friends and he makes some incredibly good points here.  This year, i too, spent a lot of money tilling up my fescue pastures and planting tame, sweet grasses.  Now, i also did the tillage because the old pasture was really really rough and tillage also served to even out the washouts and other wallowed out patches.  Head on over to “On Pasture”  for lots of great articles.
You are here:  Home  >  Pasture Health  >  Forage  >  Current Article

Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 3 – Fescue Tolerant Animals and Grazing

By   /  February 19, 2018  /  No Comments

    Print       Email

This is Part 3 in Greg’s four part series about the trouble with Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue, and how he’s learned to love it. (Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.) Here he describes the management techniques that have made him question moves to try to eradicate it from his pastures.

My Pasture Renovation

First I want to share with you my complete pasture renovation project that I undertook years ago at the advice of forage professionals. I did a complete reseeding on our pastures and put in a 100-acre diverse stand of brome, orchard grass, timothy, redtop and various legumes. I got lucky that fall after everything was planted and got a nice rain. The seeding came up and looked great the next spring. We held a farm walk that summer showing what we had done with this precious 100-acre piece of infected fescue. Everybody at the pasture walk was in awe of how beautiful the pasture looked. I was so happy that I could hardly stand it until someone at the pasture walk made a comment to me privately.

One seasoned grazier crept up to me and whispered, “Greg that is pretty nice piece of grass you have there, but in five years you will have Kentucky 31 tall fescue and clover, that’s about it.”

You could have knocked me over with a match stick! I was shocked that he would dare say such a thing to me. I responded right away, “Oh you’re mistaken! We rotationally graze and will manage these improved grasses so that they thrive on this farm forever. Fescue is history on this farm, it has no use here.”

Well guess what? He was dead right, in five years our primary grass was Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue with red clover. I had a good dose of “humble pie.” My pocket book was still hurting from the money that I spent putting in all these wonderful new grasses. In those days, we still had a loan on everything on the farm including the money that we spent on the seed. That was a sick hollow feeling making those loan payments that included the purchased seed knowing that my money ended up in someone else’s pocket and my farm was right back to where it was at five years earlier.

Grazing Management and Culling Make the Difference

Once we switched to mob grazing many years later, we were able to grow many additional species of grasses that were in the soil bank. This rank fescue needs a good beating every now and then with a mob of animal hooves to encourage additional forages to grow in the canopy. This animal impact sets back the fescue enough to allow legumes and other cool season grasses to propagate. But the main grass remains Kentucky 31 endophyte-infected fescue. In the Midwest during the summer months, fescue pretty much goes dormant, but with all the other forage species mixed in with it, our animals still perform well. Fescue is what we have and it wants to grow here, so we figured we better learn to make some money with it. Life is too short to wake up every day trying to kill something.

Back to our cow herd. What we decided was that we were going to graze whatever grew on the farm. We owned no tractor or equipment, so whatever nature dealt us, we were going to manage with that. Whatever animal could not perform on what grows on our farm naturally, would be culled. Absolutely no excuses are made for any animal that fails this test. It was a little harsh starting out. We culled several more animals than we would have liked to in the early years. But we stuck to our original management practice and it has paid huge dividends.

One of the easily observed results from endophyte infected fescue is that some cows will lose their tail switches. The tail switch falls off right at the very tip of the tail due to restriction of blood flow to the extremities of the animal. My good ranching friend Wally Olsen was here this winter walking through our mob of South Poll cattle. In Wally’s prior visit ten years earlier a lot of the older cows were missing their tail switch. On this visit, he immediately commented that almost every cow now had their tail switch intact and all the animals were in super body condition for the winter period that we were in. By staying committed to culling the animals that struggled on the endophyte infected fescue, the remaining animals and their offspring are much more tolerant to the fescue on our farms today. Certainly, having a diversity of other plants in the forage sward helps the livestock perform on fescue as well.

We now have a very fescue tolerant herd, our animals look at their fescue/legume sward and get fat. We occasionally still get an animal that develops a limp (fescue foot), and that animal is sold immediately. I have no tolerance for an animal that will not perform on our forage when they are moved constantly to a fresh pasture of grass/legume sward. We just get rid of them – problem solved. When an animal that is adapted to your farm’s forage has the opportunity to select the best parts of a plant multiple times per day, those animals will make you a very nice living.

Now, think of the money we have saved by not renovating our pastures every five years and gambling it away on a promise of having a better pasture in the future. I may step on some input folks’ toes here, but I am more concerned about the grazier making a living on their land.

Who’s making all the money with farmers killing their pastures with herbicides and seeding these new fescue varieties into their pastures? Hint, it’s not the farmer! We are losing farmers every year at an alarming rate because there is nothing left at the end of the year for the guy on the land that is doing all the work. We take all the risk, they take all the money. Most of the money is going to town, and we need to keep it on the farm where it belongs. To make a profit every year on our farms, we must eliminate inputs which we do have control over.

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion.

    Print       Email

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg’s popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

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. 😉

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.