Tag Archives: soil microbes

Everything Cover Crops

Love or hate Facebook – depends on your perspective – maybe both.  But there is real opportunity for farmers to share and learn from one another about cropping and ranching methods they’ve tried – what has been successful and what was a colossal failure.

I coped a young farmer’s (from central Iowa) method here, so i can come back to it as a reference for what i may try in the future.  This is copied and pasted from a Facebook page by the same name, so it reads clunky out of context of responses, but i wanted his words.

Drilled a 4 way mix of oats, annual rye grass, rape seed and soybeans about a month ago (late August/early September) following rye harvest. Very pleased with the amount of forage and soil structure that we have gained. Planning to let cows out later this week if the weather cooperates. Located in north central Iowa.

30 lbs (annual) ryegrass  (10# is enough, but farmer was using up what he had on hand)
20 lbs oats
8 lbs rape seed
Roughly 20 lbs of soybeans ( some seed was 2 years old)

we hauled cattle manure then chisel plowed and field cultivated to work it in before we drilled it.  I agree that tillage will break down some of the soil structure but I sleep better at night when I can work the manure in. I also don’t have access to a no till drill.

I chose annual rye grass over cereal rye so it would winter kill and everything else I planted will winter kill and I am planning to plant corn in that field next spring. If I was going to plant soybeans I would have used winter rye.

the winter rye that was growing previously we combined for seed. The four way mix that is growing now will be grazed and the corn that we plant next year will be combined.

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 far 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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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.