Saturday, November 6, 2010

Growing Forage

I've moved cattle to a new paddock first thing this morning.  Outside temperature 26* F. This is also the time of day  I like to check out the condition of the forages.  We've had  only about 1" of rain since the first week of September.  And even with this drought, grass continues to grow.  The trees are mostly leafless, and most warm season grasses have been dormant due to the frosts we've had.  But the cool season growth is doing an amazing job even though its very dry.  We all know the wonderful benefits of our tall fescue for winter feeding.  But down deep in the sward is the really good stuff like tender ragweed, narrow leaf plantain, burnett, yarrow, some of the vetches and many, many other forbs and herbs that love this cooler weather.  They are very green and growing well. And the livestock love them. Most of these so called weeds are higher in most all nutrients than any of the domestic forages.  The crab grass is mostly dormant except down deep in the sward.  I guess it is kept at a more warm, protective temperature due to the companion plants all around.  This dense sward of multi-species of grasses, legumes, forbs, herbs and other woody species seems to me to act a little like a green house.  That is, I believe keeping these plants packed in tight to each other helps keep the sward as a whole at a more productive and protective state.  They tend to stay green longer into the winter and continue growing even after the temperature drops well below freezing.

Most neighbors are feeding hay.  I feel for the cattle as much as I do for the farmer.  Dried out hay will never be as nutritious as green forage no matter whether it is alfalfa, clover or fescue.  My cattle seldom if ever go into that slump of growth period they used to when it would get dry in the summer or when they were forced to rely only on dried hay for their nutrition over the long winter months.  I estimate we are growing about 100 to 300 pounds of dry matter of forage per acre per day right now.  Even at on the low end growth of 100lbs per day per acre we are still growing more each day than what the herd is consuming across the ranch.  If we were not in this drought period I would surely be understocked even more than I am.  I may have to supplement a little hay just before we come out of winter because my measurements tell me I am running a little short.  That is, I am not positive I can make it completely through this winter with no requirements for hay feeding.

Some big changes started occurring on my ranch when I quit using chemical fertilizer.  We began to grow more grass.  I am not the only farmer who has experienced this phenomenon.  I now feel like I have been lied to.  More than that, I feel like there are just a whole lot of educated experts walking around out there spouting off about technology they know little to nothing about.  Biological farming will always produce more than synthetics.  And life exists because of biology not because of synthetics.  As farmers we must learn to park the tractor.  Growing more grass has nothing to do with working up the soil with a farm implement and planting new domestic grass seeds.  This bare ground, no matter for how long, is very costly.  Working and maintaining a perennial stand of forages across the ranch or farm has everything more to do with how we manage the grazing throughout the year.  A thin stand of grass in a paddock can be improved faster with heavy hoof action than any other way.  I still contend that drought and economic instability is more self inflicted than the results of rain or market fluctuations.  Most of my problems still continue to be ones I cause myself.       


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