Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall Growth

It's November 12th and the fescue is bright green and growing very well.  The growth rate this week, following a good rain we had earlier, is probably close to one half inch per day, or about fifty pounds of forage per acre per day.  On one thousand acres of grass that could be as much as about fifty thousand pounds per day.  A cow herd of five hundred head consuming thirty pounds of forage per head would be taking out fifteen thousand pounds per day.  So in realty, for the week, we are still producing more forage than what we are taking.

Several things must have come together to put this growth scenario in place.  One really big factor is the location of our ranch.  Here in fescue country, which is cool season grass country, the thirty degree nights and sixty five degree days is almost perfect conditions for growth of our type grasses.  Even after a very dry summer, almost no rain in July and August like normal, our grass continues to grow.  I can expect some growth maybe on up until mid December on a good year. 

Now the other important condition that also must exist is the grazing plan must have been put into place to take advantage of what rain we did get this summer.  We also must learn how to manage our grazing so that we go into these cool growing days with plenty of root system and leaf to take advantage of the photosynthesis and wicking ability of the plant.  About seventy percent of our annual growth comes in the spring time.  This is the one time of year that we are given the opportunity to advance as much growth as possible all across our ranch to increase that root mass and improve our ability to collect as much of those early heavy rains as we can.  We know we will need that precip later in the year.  One tool we do not want to use is mechanically harvesting of our forages.

It is natural to have the idea to process and store a great deal of this spring growth in baled hay or baleage.  This will only reduce the total forage production for the year.  What happens so often is we will mistakenly go into the paddocks and mow down the forage for hay so low that when it gets dry in the summer, like it always does, the root system is so diminished that the plant simply sets there and suffers until later in the year when rains do come and the weather improves.  The plant is starved for water and other nutrients.  If we will manage the plants in a total grazing plan we can eventually double the forage production or more.  Spending a lot of money putting the plant into a bale of hay will not give us more feed than if we left it standing.

Another key component to pull this together is multi species plant growth.  A mono culture planting can only take benefit from one very narrow window of temperature, precip, and growing conditions.  Our cool season grasses take off like a race horse in early spring.  When it gets hot and dry during the summer our warm season grasses like lespadeza, red clover, forbes, and many other plants take off.  In one years growing season we have catalogued over one hundred different edible plants for our animals on the ranch. 
I think fescue country really is a great place for grazing the right kind of animals.  But no matter where your ranch is, putting together a planned grazing program is a major step towards reaching a level of sustainability. 

1 comment:

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