Tag Archives: species

Grazing Patterns

Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion.  Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle.  In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.

Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).

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The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019.  They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information),  but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure.  Observation is key.
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This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species.  However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.
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This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year.  Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly.  Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen.  This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.
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Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.
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Red clover in the foreground.  The smaller purple flower is alfalfa.  I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.
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See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground?  that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!

 

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This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing.  Not all the severely eroded spots have mended.  May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing.  My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.
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Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land.  Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them.  They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will  now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.
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This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze.  More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.

 

 

Purdin Paddocks 23 and 24
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks.  This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling.  The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first.  They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown).  They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade.  If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance.  Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line.  No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left.  For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile.  The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres.  Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.

Forest and Timber Management

Another super helpful article with great ideas from On Pasture.  My ongoing logging activity has yielded far greater returns than expected since my logger has found buyers for specialty logs which resulted in more money for both of us!  Plus helped the specialty buyers keep their mills going.  Although my logger can remove and use some of the trees for firewood, there is still a massive amount of firewood type logs which will be burned up if i can’t find someone who needs firewood to come in and cut it up and haul it off.  Seems like a waste, but there is not much use for firewood quality logs anymore. (and these are already safely on the ground!)

On Pasture

Translating research and experience into practices you can use NOW!

Put Idle Land to Work With Intensively-Managed Livestock and Silvopastures

By   /  June 11, 2018  /  1 Comment

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One of the things that really impressed me (Kathy) on my April visit to Greg Judy’s place in Missouri is the thoughtful way he turns forested areas into silvopastures. In addition to creating great pasture, he turns trees into money by selling it as timber, and uses left over limbs to grow another enterprise – shitake mushrooms. I think other On Pasture readers could do the same. So with this week’s Classic by NatGLC, here is Brett Chedzoy with suggestions for getting started at your place.

Throughout most humid regions of the US, the landscape is dotted with old farm fields and pastures that today grow trees and shrubs.  In some cases, there are obvious reasons why land was left to revert back to its natural state – too wet, stony or steep. But many of these old field sites also grew back because the farmer no longer had the means or needs to keep the land open. Regardless of the underlying reasons, many of these what now appear to be woodlots (or brushlots, if that’s the image that comes to mind) present ripe opportunity for productive and profitable grazing system expansion – especially when adjacent to existing pasture land, or available in large enough blocks to support a viable grazing operation.

There are many variables to consider when evaluating the potential of bringing idle land back into production for grazing.  For starters, the land must be accessible and “fenceable”, have a developable source of water, and be potentially productive enough to offset the necessary investments. If you can’t check “yes” to these questions and there isn’t a reasonable fix, then look elsewhere for the time being.  The next step is to come up with a (simple) plan for what will be done, who will do it, and when.  Making sure there’s a good “why” is also a recommended part of this planning.  In other words, will it pencil out and contribute to your objectives?

The following are some of the important considerations for reclaiming former farmland:

Are there trees and shrubs worth leaving?

If so, then developing into a silvopasture (openly-wooded) pasture may be the best option because quality trees can cultivated as a future cash crop while at the same time provide shade, browse, watershed protection and many other benefits.  And if grazing is the objective, why spend money clearing trees today that will yield profits tomorrow?

How many trees should be left?

Silvopastures, like many things in life, are all about balance.  From a forestry perspective, favor trees of good value, vigor and quality that will continue to significantly appreciate in value. Trees that are of firewood quality today – and will only probably become larger firewood trees in the future would be good candidates for culling, unless there is some other justification for leaving them. Some examples would be unusual species, or trees with special wildlife value like a nesting cavity or den.  Silvopastures vs. woodlots can be thought of as a choice between growing the best trees on a given location together with either forage (in the case of silvopastures) or firewood (in the case of woodlots). For silvopastures, the firewood-quality trees are removed to reapportion sunlight to the ground level to grow quality forage plants. Getting enough sunlight on the ground is a critical step in silvopasture development, so avoid leaving too many “good trees”.  Consulting foresters can provide invaluable expertise when contemplating an extensive woodlot thinning.

What about all that other green stuff?

Trees intercept some of the precious sunlight needed to grow forages in the silvopasture understory – but so do all of the other plants and shrubs already growing there.  Some of these plants and shrubs may be quality food sources or enhance the silvopasture in other ways.  Others, however, may detract from the silvopasture because they are unpalatable, potentially harmful, or too aggressive in their growth habit such as the so-called “forest invasive plants” like multiflora rose (although there are also many native plants that can be problematic like some species of ferns).  The “low shade” from the shrub & herbaceous layer is often more of an impediment to growing quality forages than the “high shade” of the main canopy trees.  And unlike the culled trees that can often be utilized for things like firewood or sawtimber, these smaller plants are usually costly to control.  Mechanical, chemical and organic methods such as burning, shading (solarization) and livestock impacts (trampling, girdling, defoliating and rooting) are all options to consider for removing the lower interfering vegetation.  Usually, a combination of these methods will give the best results.

Heavy livestock can be baited into persistent patches of undesirable brush to damage and weaken the targeted plants over time, as well as to stimulate the growth of forage plants in the decomposed waste hay.  In the examples below, a round bale was fed in a clump of multiflora rose, leaving the canes heavily damaged afterwards.  Mineral feeders and supplement tubs can also work to lure animals into brushy and weedy areas.

So, I got enough sunlight on the ground – now what?

Daylighting the ground is the starting, not the ending point towards establishing quality silvopastures.  The next two steps are to create favorable conditions for desirable plants to germinate, and then manage in a way that promotes their growth – while discouraging the growth of the undesirables.  Germination requires a seed source and good seed-soil contact.  Wooded areas surrounded by fields and pastures – or where there is still a remnant of forage plants – usually have a sufficient seed bank to spare the expense of supplemental seeding.  Once a variety of herbaceous and woody plants start to grow in the increased sunlight levels, skilled management will be necessary to shift the composition to primarily desirable species.  When open pastures become too weedy, they can be mowed, sprayed or even reseeded.  Silvopastures, on the other hand, have lots of obstacles in the way that limit these options – so intensively-managed livestock impact is about the only practical tool to manage vegetation.  Desirable impact with livestock can be achieved in different ways.  Some examples are: rooting by pigs; bark girdling and defoliation with small ruminants, or trampling and crushing with heavy livestock that are grazed at very high densities or which are baited into brushy areas during winter feeding.  Each of these has its pros and cons, but managed correctly could be an effective way to increasingly improve understory vegetation composition – without unduly compromising animal performance, welfare, tree health and other resources.

 

There’s a learning curve involved with developing idle land into successful silvopasture systems, so start small and experiment when possible.  Resources and advice from fellow practitioners is available at Cornell’s silvopasture forum: www.silvopasture.ning.com

Brett Chedzoy is a regional extension forester for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County, and in his spare time manages his family’s 450-acre grazing operation, Angus Glen Farms, LLC in Watkins Glen, NY.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

The 7th National Grazing Lands Conference is coming up in December and it’s one of On Pasture’s favorites. One of the things that makes it so great is that folks just like you are the speakers, sharing their great experiences. Learn more about the event here. On Pasture will be there. Come see us!