Mud and Seeding
It’s been a long, cold, wet winter in Tennessee/Kentucky, and this inevitably brings on the potential for lots of mud. Hay feeding strategies and maintaining cover are crucial to reducing mud and compaction. Seeding areas denuded from feeding will increase production, reduce weeds, and improve soil health.
Here are a few considerations to reduce the impacts of mud
- Number One – maintaining good vegetation
- Stockpile pastures intended for winter feeding
- Feeding away from travel areas
- Unroll hay on areas to build fertility and weedy areas (48-14-48/ton N, P2O5 & K2O)
- No hay ring around good hay with 20 plus cattle
- Where possible, bring in hay from the side of the field that has more cover, not through the cattle
- Feed over the fence
- Move hay feeding location each feeding
- Set out hay when dry or when the ground’s frozen
- Ration bale grazing with polywire
- Fenceline feeders and manger feeders used only in wet, muddy conditions
- Use these conditions to your advantage, pug out undesirable vegetation
- Reseed areas lacking cover
ips for Winter Seeding
- Frost seed in February, ideally on frozen ground or snow
- Ideal time to seed legumes
- Drill or harrow in March
- Cool season grass, ideally drilled in September
- Warm season grass like crabgrass broadcast seeded on lightly tilled soil in Ma
Seeding Feeding areas
- Persistent use areas, seed bermudagrass or tall fescue
- Seed something to utilize excess nutrients and reduce weeds, annuals are fast and reduce weed issues
- 2-4-8 Renovate! 2lbs white clover, 4lbs red clover, 8lbs annual lespedeza on thinner soils. If cost is a concern, use this ratio, reduced.
- Pelletized lime works well to bulk up the seed mix.
Big Spring Farm Pasture Walk
My annual pasture walk is Thursday, October 14, from 10 am ct till about 3 pm.
I’m finishing cattle, sheep, and hogs for direct marketing now, so we’ll look at what it takes to produce high-quality forage for finishing animals.
This year, my most significant challenges have been my high stocking rate, maintaining minimum grazing height, and 6 – 8 weeks of dry weather. To combat persistent weeds, I’ve added Kiko goats. We’re breeding them to a cashmere buck for future cashmere fiber.
Free-range laying hens are in the cotton wagon for eggs, and the hogs continue to work, converting mediocre forest to silvopasture.
We’ll discuss selections of animals based on traits best suited for grazing and different grass finishing techniques for your finishing operations.
We’ll discuss how our garlic, oregano, and cinnamon are working for fly control and general well-being.
Topics of conversation will include, seeding annuals into pastures, hay feeding strategies, including bale grazing, and unrolling hay to grow more grass in the fall.
We’ll demonstrate soil life activity by burying underwear in different plant communities. We’ll also look at the benefits to other pastures with proper sacrifice area management.
Fall Hay Feeding
Why in the world would you feed hay in the fall when you could be grazing? Fall hay feeding may be counter-intuitive, but the benefits can be advantageous, especially if your pastures are already grazed to a minimum grazing height (3” for tall fescue and 4” for orchard grass). Maintaining minimum grazing height is always a benefit, but it can pay the most in the fall. Fall growth can significantly reduce cattle costs by reduced hay feeding. By feeding hay in September and October and not grazing over 20% of our pastures, we can stockpile fall growth on the remaining 80% of our pastures. This time of year, pastures can grow 20-40 pounds of forage per acre per day, so it’s possible to grow up to twice as much forage as the hay we would feed in the same period. In January, we can’t grow grass, so fall hay feeding extends the growing season, and less hay is fed during times we can’t grow grass. Feed the hay on lower fertility pastures or weedy fields.
TOP THIRD GRAZING
Top third grazing is my preferred grazing method, but with higher stocking, I somehow slip into “take half leave half.” To get the full benefits of third top grazing, you needed to start this method sometime in June or July. That way, you could graze instead of fall feeding.
CREATE A MIRACLE – PROTECT MINIMUM GRAZING HEIGHT IN THE WINTER
If you want to see a miracle performance of your pastures in spring, don’t graze below 4 inches throughout the winter. Begin grazing after the grass is 6-8” tall with dense growth. Forage growth will be 2- 4 weeks later when pastures are grazed lower. I don’t like any pastures to be grazed below 2” in the winter.
You can experiment by removing stock from some of your pastures while the grass is still 4” tall. The most significant benefits come when the soil has organic matter of 3% or higher, pH of 6.2 to 7.2, P and K in the medium-high range.
HAY AND THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
It is easy to fall into the trap of needing more hay. Hay is an extractive process, removing nutrients from the soil and transporting those nutrients to the ground where the hay is fed. The ruminant animal returns 85% of nutrients to the land, which hit the field with good management. Otherwise, they are a potential environmental issue and don’t aid in sustaining or improving soil fertility. Without adding nutrients back to the hay fields, yields drop, and the need for more hay land increases and pastureland decreases. Before you know it, more and more land goes into hay production, and you have less pasture, thus continuing the downward spiral.
A general balanced spread of land is 2/3rds pasture and 1/3 hay. Although it is admirable to produce all of your needs from your own land, I recommend buying your hay. The available nutrients (N,P,K) in hay are typically worth about 2/3rds of the cost of the hay. Buying hay allows you to graze all of your land and bring in nutrients from another farm. One downfall to this idea is that you’re also possibly bringing in weed seeds. Oh well, you can use them as an excuse and blame those weeds on someone else. Or are they forbs?
GROUNDING YOUR ELECTRIC FENCE
Everyone agrees the biggest issue with most electric fencing is the grounding, assuming you start with a charger with enough joules.
SIZING A CHARGER
Ideally, buy a charger that has one joule per mile of fence wire. The next rule of thumb is to have one ground rod per joule. That works fine for chargers less than 10 joules, but my charger is a 36 joule, and I don’t want to put in 36 ground rods. Another method of checking to see if you have enough ground rods is to ground out the fence about 300’ from the charger with something like a steel post, then test the ground rod, and it shouldn’t have over 500 volts on the ground rod. Some of my electric fencing is now more than 40 years old, so some maintenance was in order. We added several ground rods and, with a bit of clean-up, we increased the charge by 4,000 volts.
My dad always said, “the best fence is good grass,” but we don’t want to be limited by our fence. Another of my dad’s sayings was, “you don’t want your fences to be too good; otherwise, they can’t get back in.”
In summary, inventory and manage what you have; consider planting something that fills a void in your forage chain, natural or planted.
Respect minimum grazing heights and graze at a stock density of 10,000 lb or higher per acre with an average grazing period of 1-3 days and an average recovery period of 45 days. Maintain fertility in the medium range with a pH of 6.2 to 7.2.
Where I have a mediocre stand of perennial grass and lots of legumes. I plan to seed the following mix in early September.
Species Pounds per ac
Cereal rye 40
Forage turnip 1
Perennial pasture is the cheapest source of pasture; however, if you have excessive legumes, it’s hard to establish perennials since perennial grasses are slower to establish than annuals. Forage annuals cost about the same, per pound, as hay, but annuals are about 2x the quality. It’s essential to do good grazing management with multi-paddock grazing so you can ration and control access of livestock to the annuals.
This phenomenon is why most land grant universities advise only establishing perennial grass in the fall and then following up with legumes seeded in late winter or early spring. They also don’t recommend seeding annuals with perennials since the annuals also outcompete the perennial grass.
During the grass-clover cycle, drill in other perennials when legumes begin to wane.
Any quick search on Google or YouTube with the mention of grazing is enough to send you down an rabbit hole that can easily cause confusion and frustration as you try to plan your grazing management for summer pastures. Here are some of the different types of grazing systems you’ll find in the rotational grazing articles and a brief description of each.
I find that most of my farm responds best to the Top Third Grazing method but I use many of these options when they’re required for soil, pasture, and livestock health.
· Prescribed grazing: a designed method to accomplish a goal. It may include multiple strategies
· Rotational grazing; typically 3 to 14 days of grazing followed by 28 or more days of recovery
· Flash grazing; short periods of grazing from hours to 2 days less than 4 times per year
· Creep grazing; allowing young stock to graze ahead of their mothers
· Forward grazing; high nutritional need stock graze first followed by animals with lower nutritional needs
· Strip grazing; providing a new strip of grazing hourly or every few days
· Time limit grazing; grazing an area for a short period
· High density/short-duration grazing; 4,000 pounds per acre to 70,000 pounds per acre. Stocking rates over 70,000 pounds per acre will usually need the stock to be rotated two or more times per day.
· Ultra-high density grazing (mob grazing); 70,000 pounds plus per acre.
· Total grazing (boom or bust) (landscaping); making stock graze everything followed by a long recovery. In high rainfall areas, recovery periods of 90 days or more will be needed.
· Seasonal grazing; grazing when grass is in abundance. I employed this technique on a field allowing a taller residual height over winter and the grass rewarded me with magical production.
· Put and Take grazing; adjusting the number of livestock as pasture production changes (e.g. early-season double stocking)
· Continuous grazing; any benefits of managed grazing decrease substantially when fields are grazed longer than 14 days
· Spot grazing (selective grazing); a sign that livestock preferentially grazed certain plants/areas. This is typically due to stocking density not being high enough.
· Over-grazing; grazing below where most carbohydrates are stored. This results in high utilization but production can be reduced by as much as 2/3rds.
No matter which management style you choose for your particular situation here are some things to remember for success with your grazing management.
Rotate livestock before your most limiting resource is stressed and negatively impacted.
Wait to rotate until the next paddock is at the proper height to graze based on the present plant community
+ 4” + cool-season grasses
+ 3” bermudagrass, crabgrass, white clover
+ 6” johnsongrass
+ 8” native grass
Don’t limit yourself or your operation by locking into one form of management
No matter which technique you choose, Always rotate when the paddock is soiled
Does a field need grazing-disturbance or recovery-rest
Graze to keep pastures vegetative and palatable
Rotate fast in spring to control seed production
Top third grazing allows you to slow down rotation when growth slows
Target the pre-boot stage of the plant, when the seed head is moving up the stem
Keep light to desired plant community (key plants), shade out undesirable
Double stock pastures in spring when grass is plentiful
Stockpile reserve paddock 90 days for drought or winter
Target your soil sample results for pH 6.8 for soil function, medium range for phosphorus and potassium. A pH of 6.2 is fine for forage production
Seed or manage legumes for nitrogen (high protein= Nitrogen)
Tools to impact undesirable plants: Strategic grazing, placement of hay, mineral, mobile shade, and water source
Shade becomes important when temperature and humidity are above 80
Stockpile grass on sacrifice paddock and traps near a corral
Combine herds when practical
The number of paddocks needed is 16 permanent per herd divided into 45 or more temporary paddocks but any amount is better than one.
Strive to not allow back grazing longer than 4 days
Back fence to prevent livestock from taking a second bite of desirable plants
What type of grazing management is best for your unique situation?
I’m sure I’ve missed listing some forms of grazing but the main idea to remember is that they all have their place and application. This is where the “adaptive” part comes in. Anything can be accomplished with grazing management. You need a clear goal when choosing your grazing strategy. Different fields can benefit from different grazing techniques. Identify and learn about your plant communities and start rotating!
Wishing you the best, if you have questions, concerns, or rebuttals about anything I’ve presented, feel free to respond to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find past Timely Tips plus many other resource materials at my website, www.gregbrann.com.
There are many ways to accomplish regenerative grazing.
June 25, 26, 2021 South Poll field day Gary and Diane Graves, Trenton, TN southpoll.com
October 14, 2021 Big Spring Farm Pasture Walk
November 5, 2021, Tennessee Forage and Grassland Council Conference, http://utbfc.utk.edu/
The next timely tips: Transitioning to warm season grass.
Spring Hay Feeding
I wanted to send out a Timely Tips to encourage everyone to feed hay a little longer in the spring to let the grass get a good start. Spring grass is washy with high water content and some hay fed along with it helps to slow the rate of passage, improving digestibility. Also, allowing the grass to get a good start gives you a buffer of extra grass through the year. Typically, I will feed hay into early April.
One Location feeding.
The idea here is to reduce impacts on the pasture which is understandable but not a good plan for profit. The manure value is $20/1000 lb. roll of hay and the cost of reseeding an acre is less than $50/ac, so it’s ideal to feed hay on your most infertile ground. The manure is worth 10 x more than the cost of reseeding the small area impacted by feeding hay across a pasture.
Fenceline feeders are an improvement on one-location feeding because the tractor doesn’t have to enter the field, creating tracks and compacting it. However, it is still a method of one-site feeding, which has some downfalls.
If one hay feeding site is used, choose that site wisely. It should be 300’ or more from drainage ways and other water areas, away from sinks, ditches, and be on a slope of 5% or less. If feeding is done near sensitive areas, it’s potentially an environmental disaster and a contributor to poor water quality and disease. If animals spend their days in mud their energy needs are increased as much as 2x.
These areas need to be sown in something like bermudagrass or tall fescue to reduce weeds and take advantage of nutrients.
Accumulated waste should be gathered and ideally covered by a roof until it is spread on the land. If you have a pad, concrete is the easiest to scrape. If using a gravel pad, you should leave a couple of inches of manure on the pad to keep from scraping up gravel and spreading it on fields. Since the cost of spreading usually equals the value of the manure, isn’t a great value at this point and we call it waste. Since most of the nitrogen comes from the urine, you’ll lose it to leaching if the manure is left in one place.
I prefer to feed hay in the fall when I can grow grass this allows me to feed much less hay. It is possible to grow as much as five times the grass then hay fed in the fall but there are many variables to consider.
Decent soil fertility and properly managed grazing heights will grow more grass. Fall hay feeding can dramatically improve fields with weed problems and low fertility. Ideally, allow sacrifice areas substantial recovery time before winter and you’ll see quick green-ups.
The minimum recommended grazing height for cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue, is 4” during the growing season. I don’t like to see it taken below 2” in the winter.
Bale Grazing. There are many different ways to do bale grazing. It’s important to place the bales in the field when the soil is dry or frozen and place the bales strategically to accomplish the desired nutrient distribution. The cows will cycle 80 to 90 percent of the hay back onto the pasture as nutrients therefore, if you want to increase fertility, you may want to place the rolls as close together as 30’ apart, which is equivalent to 24 tons of hay biomass/ac. If you are looking to maintain fertility, place the rolls approximately 80’ apart which equals about 3.5 tons of hay/ac.
Ideally, stockpiled grass would be available along with hay which would be rationed with a temporary wire fence like polywire. You would paddock off an estimated amount of hay needed for 3 days or less. Example: 30 cows weighing 1200 pounds x 0.03 (percent of body wt. consumed per day) x 3 days = 3240 pounds. So, provide them access to 3 rolls. If the available grass is substantial, reduce the quantity of hay accordingly. Good grass is typically about 300 lb/acre inch. However, only approximately 50% is consumed. Example: 8” grass x 300 lb/ac. In. x 0.50 (grazing efficiency) = 1200 lb, so reduce hay feeding by about one roll/day for every acre of grazing when available grass is substantial.
Hay can be placed behind a high hot wire providing calves or other stock the ability to forward-graze to more or better hay.
The biggest advantage to bale grazing is labor savings over unrolling hay.
Unrolling hay. I like this method best but to do it right, it’s labor-intensive. It really should be done once or twice a day, unrolling half of the animals’ needs in the morning and the other half in the afternoon to simulate grazing. They need to clean up most of the hay before feeding again. All hay isn’t equal so don’t make them clean up junk hay.
One big advantage to unrolling hay is that all animals are on a more equal playing field, everyone having more access to hay. Hay rings can limit access and animals at the bottom of the pecking order, like young calves and sheep, won’t have equal access to the hay in a ring. Unrolling hay has great strategic manure placement.
Feeding in rings versus not using rings. This may be controversial but there’s no doubt that although rings will conserve hay, the mud-out is much worse with a ring than without it. My experience is if you have enough stock to clean up the hay in a day or less the hay waste is minimal but if the hay is there for multiple days a ring is going to be your best bet.
Remember, grazing is half the cost of hay. If you feed 3- 1000 lb rolls a day and hay cost is $40/roll, every day you graze instead of feeding hay will save you $120 since the nutrients (N-P-K) in those three rolls are worth about $60.
The next Timely Tips will cover different grazing strategies.
Wishing you the best, if you have questions, concerns, or rebuttals about anything I have presented respond to me at email@example.com. There are many ways to accomplish regenerative grazing.