As a first step of my endophyte infected fescue eradication and pasture renovation project, today was the big day of tillage. My husband had purchased a Howard Rotavator 600, which is 10 foot wide sod-cutting and chewing machine and the soil (actually just dirt, it’s in pathetic condition) it’s been through gave it a real workout. Even the tractor couldn’t keep up and i had to sidle over and only take 2′-5′ bite of new sod at times, especially going up hill. This first pass took place on May 17-18, 2017.
One pass tillage next to existing stand of grass. Serious clay content. Methinks some of this worked up harder than if i took down the gravel road!
All in all, i mapped out about 18 acres actually tilled. There are about 25 acres total in the area being renovated, however, because of the steep slopes, several acres are left alone to serve as grassy waterways. I wonder, however, as hard as the ground is, if the tilled portions won’t actually hold and stop more water than the hard pan waterways. Hmmm.
So far, 12 hours spent (1.5 acres per hour) tilling, but not counting time servicing tractor and machine or time spent getting to/from the farm. Tractor uses about 7.7 gallons diesel fuel per hour, so 92.5 gallons there. Second pass should take a bit less time, but we’ll see!
We received a big storm last night with about an inch of rain, so the second pass won’t happen for a few days – depending on weather. Allen will be right behind the second rotatiller pass with the Einbach harrow/seeder and my selected annual grass mix.
Per acre healing forages:
- 6 lbs buckwheat
- 6 lbs lespedeza
- 3 lbs pearl millet
- 12 lbs oats
- 6 lbs cowpeas
- 5 lbs sunflower
- 2 lbs red clover
These were chosen for their prolification, adaptability to poor soils, nitrogen fixing, and low cost as well as providing excellent grazing in 60-75 days.
With the first pass May 15, 16, and 17 behind me, several very light rain showers, and a few days of drying out, I was ready to get to that second tillage pass and get the annual seeds in the dirt!. Thursday, May 25, 2017, I spent 4 hours with the Howard Rotavator 600 and was pleasantly surprised that, for the most part, the John Deere 4250 tractor worked along nicely at A2 speed vs A1. This effectively increased my speed from 2.1 mph to 2.6 mph. And it showed up in the final tally for sure! The second pass on the same 18 acres, instead of taking 12 hours as before, only rang up 7 1/2 hours. Nice. Admittedly, i could never make a farmer (row cropper); how do those guys run those things for hours on end, daylight to dark, day after day. I was thankful, i could distract myself for a while, at least on the long rows, by chatting (private message) with my son, who was at a cafe in Spain, and texting about soil conditions with a friend who was farming another part of my farm with 120 acres for organic soybean production. I finished up with the second pass on the 26th. It was also seeded on the 26th.
When i was about 2/3 rds completed, Allen came with a huge bag of premixed annual seed to fill the hopper on the Einbock power seeder and harrow. He finished all 18 acres in about 4 hours, counting a couple stoppages due to hoses plugging.
So, time spent so far:
- Mixing seeds – 1 hour
- Tractor – first pass – 12 hours
- Tractor – second pass – 7 1/2 hours
- Tractor/Seeding – 4 hours
Using published machinery rental rate
- tractor and rotavator – 36 acres times $20/acre = $720.00
- tractor and seeder/harrow – 18 acres times $15/acre = $270.00
- Seed costs – $31.56 per acre is what i ordered – HOWEVER, i am informed that Allen actually put on about half again as much, so i will multiply that amount by 1.5 for a per acre cost of $47.34. The additional seed will hopefully pay off in increased forage yields. So total seed costs are $$852.12.
- Buckwheat 6# @ $ .90/lb
- Lespedeza 6# @ $1.00/lb
- Pearl Millet 5# @ $1.05/lb
- Oats 12# @ $ .28/lb
- Cowpeas 6# @ $ .90/lb
- Sunflower 5# @ $.45/lb
- Red Clover 2# @ $1.95/lb
Total expenses then amount to $1842.12 or $102.34 per acre. That’s a lot and does not include the 2 tons of lime i had applied in April at a cost of $66/acre. It’s tough to say this all has to be recouped in one year or one grazing because the lime will be there for the rest of my life and the tillage will have long term effects in loosening the soil as well as eradicating the toxic endophyte infected fescue. With so many variables, counting the cost, or rather, measuring the increase or lack thereof, in the short run, is very difficult in ranch renovation.
The plan is to have something to graze in 60-75 days. This will depend large part on moisture. We are getting pretty dry now already and need a rain. I will post updates.
By the way, you noticed i’m not including costs associated with photography and blogging. It’s a good way to force me to sit down and keep a log of expenses, time, and results. Hopefully, it will help others as well!
Managing soil, water, and animals properly and privately goes a lot further than politically motivated government regulations written by people who are far removed from soil and weather.
It’s been a rather busy and momentous month, so i’m way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project. Here are photos of growth at 60 days. Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017. Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon. It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i’m ready to put paid to this project.
This is volunteer yellow foxtail as identified by our county extension agent. Despite being a ‘weed’, this forage is exceptionally palatable with excellent nutritional value.
Cows and calves grazing annuals. in the middle of the photo, one can see where i didn’t till because of a small ditch. I was concerned about erosion, but that wasn’t an issue this year. Wishing i had tilled right on through them. Live and learn.
Today (August 27, 2017) marked the last day of my experiment with rota-tilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.
Grazing comparison data is as follows:
2013/14 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs Total: 5089 lbs
2014/15 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs Total: 5574 lbs
2015/16 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs Total: 3294 lbs
2016/17 – lost all my records
2017/18 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs Total: 2242 lbs
As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience. When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days! In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit. However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest. One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition. At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too. So…..
So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing. The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing. Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department. However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter. It does look like that has happened at least in short term. It is very hard to measure long term benefits. However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland). Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work. I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week. This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done. There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.
Additional thoughts and observations:
Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls
Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.
There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages. However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections. Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres. Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.
If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.
Post grazing observations:
- where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
- Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
- The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application. Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered. Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.