Wednesday 4/21/2010
I began my cattle grazing experiment this past Sunday. Should preface it by saying that I am also using the cattle to clean up the horse lots behind the horses. The cattle on Sunday get the horse lot used during the week.
We are having a crazy week so I have not had time to take photos and document as I would like but will share some observations.
Grass has been slow to grow this spring. Barely reached ten inches at the target of beginning to graze.
Opened the first strip Sunday evening. Three cows just weaned and one bull.
Monday evening it was grazed as if it had been mown and the cows saw me walking to the area and heads went up. A simple call and they came to go to the new strip and the bull led the way.
Tuesday evening the next strip was again mown pretty clean. They left a few buttercups which are apparently pretty foul tasting and reputed to be a bit toxic. Buttercup invaded my place over the last two years and I am still figuring out if and what I want to do about it. The lot currently being grazed is mostly fescue with some clover and seedling vetch and seedling ryegrass.
Went I went to the area the heads went up and the cows called to me and started coming. Sam again was the first thru the new strip.
I walked the strip just grazed. 66 paces long and four paces wide. Roughly 165 feet by 12 feet or 1980 square feet. In walking that strip I counted 18 new manure spreads. Now my cows are not confined to the strips and still have access to the barn and to the main farm
lane and the water lane and shade in the trees. Still I think they spent a lot of quality time and left more manure in the pasture.
I think I will have a difficult time getting the area right for a small number of cattle and rapid spring growth. My area right now is too small and they had grazed it fairly closely, but grass is beginning to grow faster so more grass will mean less area needed so I may be in the right ballpark anyway. My target it to try to give them about 2000 square feet daily. I think by next week I will be close to right.
I eagerly await to observe the regrowth. Was hoping to take photos over the weekend but have to go to Roanoke for a funeral on Saturday and have to dig up a plumbing leak and try to get it fixed on Sunday.

just a brief observation from last nights pasture rotation.
I changed strips at about 6:30 pm. The cows and the bull came running when they saw me go to the area. 4th day and they are looking for me to open a gate and the bull was last and came running. 1800 lbs of bull even if he is gentle gives you pause as he gallops by you to the fresh grass.
old strip had nineteen manure splashes/piles but they were mostly in the shady end of the field. Heavy fescue over there and it had not been grazed severely.
When I went in to the house right before dark I glanced down to where they were and they had already stripped enough grass that the area had changed color. I think there was grass left but in an hour and a half that had harvested a lot.
hopefully I can work half day Friday and get some photos.
Saturday is Memorial Service for Maries Brother and Sunday have a dig up the yard plumbing project.
Yesterdays strip was again pretty well picked over. Only nine new manure piles so I think they harvested it and went and laid in the trees or in the barn. The Mineral and the fly control backrubber and such are in the cattle stall area of the barn and they go there for shelter and sometimes for shade.
They saw me heading for the area and were there when I got there to open the new strip. I am going to try to set up four new lots this afternoon and plan to make them a bit bigger. They will be harder to measure as they will be more irregular in shape. I think the cows are grazing below the 3 inch desired limit right now. The strips from Sunday and Monday are already showing signs of regrowth and recovery.
The next fields I will go to already have more grass than where we are which is different from when I laid out these first strips.
Should add, that I have not minded limiting them a bit at first for two reasons. One is we just weaned the calves and they need some time to dry off. The second is I wanted them to clean up the last of the hay in the hay ring. I looked at it last night and they have some left but I think they have eaten what they are going to eat. Think I will move the hay ring and close that field this weekend and let it begin to recover.



The tools and methodology

My intended method is to give the cows the amount of grass they can consume in one day and then move them off of that area and onto another days worth of forage. There are several management objectives in this strategy.

1. Increase grazing efficiency. By having less area to walk over and select from the cows should harvest what is available to them in the given area. They will still eat the chocolate first and leave the brussel sprouts alone but they will do it over a more concentrated daily area.

2. The uneaten part will be trampled down and contribute to the organic matter of the soil. By concentrating the cows on a smaller area the hoof action on the area is increased.

3. Hopefully we will somewhat increase the manure deposition on a given area. the challenge will still be to get the cows out of the shade in the summer time which is where they hang out and concentrate the manure.

4. Increase the rest time for the forage between grazings. The rest time, is when the plant recharges and builds root reserves. Continued grazing stresses plants and reduces plant species diversity. My ambition is to establish deep rooted and diverse forage plants that will improve the soil.

5. Leave and increase organic residue to contribute to soil building. This residue may be manure or uneaten plant residue.

6. Reduce chemical inputs and raise forage in concert with nature.

7. Increase plant species diversity. I wish to have a forage base that will serve us in cool season as well as the heat of summer.

8. Reduce usage of stored feeds. I want the cows to graze as mush of the year as possible and feed less (in volume ) expensive hay. Initial goal is to graze for 300 days once we begin. We certainly had 65 days of winter this year and I must be prepared for that and more.


I will not begin the formal grazing strips until the grass is ready. I estimate this will be mid April. I have a grazing stick and want the grass to be a minimum of ten inches tall before we begin grazing. I am carrying cows on hay until we get to that point. This will also coincide with the plan to wean the calves about the same time we begin grazing. The calves will have to be confined away from the cows for a couple of weeks and a couple of lots have been set aside for this. This will allow the cows to begin to put on some condition and be ready for calving again in September. They milked well and are a bit thin, but they are bred back . I have already laid out the strips for the first week. We will begin in the lot known as the corner. I am eyeballing and guessing at the strips and the first week will be a learning experience. Hopefully I will get better at estimating forage availability and need with practice. I made an educated guess this time and will adjust on the fly. Simplicity of layout is also a factor. I am pacing distances rather than measuring. this photo shows six lanes laid out across the bottom of the lot with each lane made by one strand of polywire. The leaves in the foreground indicate a small lot what has not been used since fall and the cows are there right now cleaning it up. I put them there to enable me to let courts heifers access the barn for herd health work without Sam getting all emotional.

this is a view down the daily grazing lanes. The grass is currently 5 to 6 inches tall in these lanes. Clover is abundant with the wet year we have had.

This lot was broadcast with ryegrass and hairy vetch and lespedeza in mid March. However almost every lot has been broadcast with some sort of seeding so we have to start grazing somewhere.

The Ell actually has a bit more grass by volume but I desire to favor the bermudagrass out there and plan to take off the cool season grasses as the Bermuda breaks dormancy.


 this is what I refer to as an economy grazing wheel. The grazing companies sell nice metal and composite ones that should last a lifetime and they have hooks for hanging them up and they are very nice. They also cost about forty bucks each. This plastic extension cord reel cost less than eight bucks at home depot. This one has poly rope on it. I had a partial spool of poly rope. Most have 220 feet of polywire on each reel. 220 feet is probably as long a run as I will need to make, and the polywire comes on 660 foot spools. I put a no kick handle on one end so that I can unroll off of a hot fence if needed and rig up a regular handle with a double end snap on the other end so that I can quickly adjust and tension and hook up.



A no kick handle is a pretty simple affair. A piece of plastic with a hole in one end and a hook on the other. Since I have broken one already I may figure a way to make my own.



This is something neat I discovered on the Powerflex fence web site. It is called a floating brace. It is an answer to the needs of an arthritic old mans wrists. No need to tamp post or dig a hole to set a brace. Since I was only putting up one wire here, I cheaped out and used pressure treated 2X4 as the brace. For more wire a 4X4 would do better but other than that it is great. The foot is a two foot long section of pressure treated 1X6. I attached it to the 2X4 with a couple of screws. I attached the top of the 2X4 to the post with wire and tightened the brace with a fence strainer. The brace will bend the post.


Works on a wooden post as well. This one is at a funny angle because the foot is actually sitting on a tree root. Should not sink in the mud. It is muddy in that spot now. The fence strainer is easier to see in this photo. One of the screws I used is an eye bolt screw and I ran the wire through the eye to prevent creep or splitting the brace.

 VDOT puts water on my property at four different points across my short road frontage.

We have had a LOT of water this winter and my place is still damper than most in the area. Star Baby loves to run and spray mud.


on the right in the photo is a new area that we fenced in and broadcast two weeks ago with rye grass, hairy vetch, lespedeza and some leftover tillage radishes. Just getting the horses off of it has started it to green up compared to left of the blue posts where they still are. The blue posts are Obrien Tread in posts. They are far superior to the ones in the feed stores around here and are no more expensive. They are made with a better resin and are much stronger.

 The lespedeza is beginning to sprout …..Look closely in the track…….

The ryegrass and the vetch are not yet visible. Some of the tillage radishes seem to have sprouted as well. Could not get a good picture of them.

Aim to begin Grazing around Tax day  and will report more then.





This is an aerial photo of my home, known to me as Pipe Dream Farm. For over twenty years my neighbor and I had a joint venture herd of registered angus cattle. He had the land and I had the experience and skills and we shared the love of the cows. The rascal came down with Cancer and thirty days after he was diagnosed we buried him. At least he did not suffer long. Two years later I miss him still. About that time I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Anyhow to make a long story short we dispersed the cow herd and I have a small hobby herd of three cows with calves now. We also have a couple of equines but they will not be a part of this study in any major way. They have their own area where they are rotationally grazed.
I have been practicing rotational grazing to some extent for over twenty years and have the place divided into small lots. In recent years I have subdivided lots using portable fencing. Every division gave me more benefit and ability to manage the land.
In January of 2010 I had the opportunity to meet Greg Judy and hear a presentation on how he manages pastures and makes money on cows and goats. This is no minor accomplishment.
I was inspired by what I heard and decided that the time was right for me to try to do better as well. My employer Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District enables me to use this personal experiment as an educational tool as well.
I am working with JB Daniel, the NRCS Forage Agronomist, to do a case study and JB has already given me great guidance.
We are beginning by documenting the existing conditions.
The Ell is land that is actually owned by my neighbors estate but I still have the use of that acreage from the heirs. Similarly the paddock labeled Hermans Lot. Herman was Jack’s last Hereford bull before we switched to all angus. We built the lot for Herman to gain control of the breeding season and I housed and managed our bulls ever since and raised the heifers.

The Ell was last grazed in the fall of 2009 but after frost. We had a significant accumulation of bermudagrass over the summer when it was only lightly grazed. After frost the Bermuda was not prized by the cows and as a result a good bit of residue was left on the entire field.
This residue gives me a running start on the Judy management philosophy which is graze fast. Allow the cows to eat the chocolate and trample and fertilize the rest to add organic matter to the soil and move em on and rest the field.
Management intensive grazing is all about managing the grass and the organic matter and allowing proper growth and rest.
This field was last fertilized with bioisolids in the fall of 2008. This field is still permitted for biosolids and we anticipate another application in the fall of 2010. This is the only part of the project that is permitted for biosolids. Hopefully application will not interfere with the grazing schedule significantly.
The plan is to offer 5.4 animal units about 2000 square feet of grazing area every day and move them daily. I estimate the Ell will offer 39 days grazing.

Herman’s lot is still historically used for bulls and this past fall we had three young bulls and they grazed this and other lots pretty hard.

Again a stand of fescue and bermudagrass. The treed area is a fenced off stream that feeds the pond. There is a Mirafount frost free water trough in the fenceline but our of sight in the photo.
Hermans lot is estimated to offer 10 days of grazing.
This lot has had annual fertilizer until last year where it received none.
This field was frost seeded with Korean lespedeza on 2/27/2010

This is the front of the property and has been divided with portable fence into four lots and rotationally grazed.

The plan is to leave the center more permanent portable fence and MIG graze from gates on each end.
The front is estimated to offer 20 days of grazing.
This area has not been fertilized in three years and was limed two years ago.
This area was frost seeded with Korean lespedeza on 2/26/2010

This is the back yard field which is oddly the field behind my house.

This was used as a rotational bull lot for the last several years along with Herman’s lot and two other areas. This paddock was broadcast with ryegrass and hairy vetch in the late fall of 2009.
It has not had significant fertilizer in three years, nor lime in two years.
Estimated to have 9 days MIG.

The remaining lots along the driveway were similarly grazed and managed and are a bit wetter in wet parts of the year. They were also broadcast with ryegrass and hairy vetch in the late fall of 2009. There was germination before hard weather set in. I estimate 18 to 20 days grazing there. The trees make it difficult to estimate acreage from the aerial photo. I don’t have a current photo. The photo below shows it after our first big snow

Another significant area is known as the corner.
This .9 acre lot had cattle in it until February. Three cows with calves and one bull. This photo from 1/23/10 shows the ground cover.

This lot was broadcast to Korean lespedeza and ryegrass and vetch on 2/27/10. The corner is currently divided into two lots but is estimated to offer 18 days of MIG grazing. Pictured are Ulysses and Ursula who are both already registered and the future of my herd. They are both sired by Diamond D Sure Enough 6D.
This lot is projected to offer 18 days of MIG grazing.

Warm Season Grasses

Tate’s Tips
A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage

Issue 6.

Warm Season Grasses

The first few paragraphs should look familiar to those who have followed the series as they are directly from the last article, but a good review.

There are many classifications of plants.

There are annual plants and these are plants that usually grow for a single season or a single crop. Annuals include tomatoes, potatoes and, in fact, most vegetables; corn, wheat, beans and most other commodity crops and forages such as Oats, millet, Crimson clover, sudex, sudan grasses and turnips, canola and other brassicas.

There are a few biannual plants which have a two year life cycle. The most notable of these from a production standpoint would be red clover, a very useful legume. Another would be Canada thistle, a weed.

Then there are longer lived plants which are known as perennials. Their lifespan is determined to a large degree by the growing conditions and management they are exposed to. These would include many of the common pasture and hay grasses such as Orchardgrass, Fescue, Bluegrass, Timothy, Switchgrass, Indiangrass, Bluestem, Bermudagrass, Crabgrass and legumes such as White Clover, Ladino clover and several other clovers, Alflafa, Birdsfoot trefoil and lespedeza.

Some plants like ryegrass have cultivars that are annual and others that are perennial. Crabgrass can come back from the roots but it sets so many seed so quickly, that once you have a good stand it will stay with you for a long time.

Of the plants named above, many were warm season plants and some were cool season plants.

Corn is the ultimate warm season plant. When it is so hot and sticky that you are uncomfortable; corn, given adequate moisture, grows so fast that the growth is almost visible. In the late spring you can measure a day’s corn growth. However any frost will damage corn terribly as it does not tolerate cold weather.

Okay….now we will start fresh.

This year (2010) has made me look like a genius to those who have read the previous articles. Sadly it is just the accumulated wisdom of a lot of bad luck over a lot of years. It is late August 2010 as I address keyboard now.

Everything bad in weather has been dealt to us in spades this year. We had record snow fall in the winter and the wettest winter on record. When spring finally came and it stopped raining, forage producers went to the hayfields this spring, where they found thin stands and reduced yields. We can only surmise that many of the grasses drowned out in the winter and wet spring. Not all farms saw significant decline but many did.

The spring started off like gangbusters otherwise. At first we had what appeared to be the most uniform and potentially best corn crop that I have ever seen in this area. Everywhere I looked corn was beautiful and growing like gangbusters. It was uniform because the wet ground had kept everyone from planting until the ground dried out enough to get equipment on it.

It was beautiful and just about to tassel when the weather changed. Late May it got HOT and it Got DRY. One thing about corn is that it needs moisture when it is in the reproductive stage commonly referred to as tasseling. Corn can stand hot weather but it has to have water. 105 degree days took water away from the soil as if it were being drained. This is the exact opposite of what was needed.

I have been around here a lot of years and I do not recall a year where the corn had no ears. That was the case in a lot of fields this year. Some of the guys say 1977 was as bad. I was in Ohio digging out of snow that year.

When there is not enough water for corn to make ears……..and the weather is hot…..then cool season grasses are in trouble.

Grass weakened by the wet weather and then mown or grazed and then baked for weeks on end…..will mostly be reseeded or overseeded this fall. (We have two no till drills that we rent out for reseeding use.)

The bright spot in many places has been the warm season grasses. At my place, bermudagrass, or common wiregrass, has saved my butt this year. That and the fact that I have been doing Management Intensive grazing has kept me grazing all summer while all around me have been feeding from the short hay supplies harvested in the spring.

The photo below was taken of a daily grazing strip which had just been grazed. The date on the photo is 5/15/2010. The clumps are remnants of cool season grasses and the finer stuff is bermudagrass that was just emerging and spreading to fill in the voids. At that time I was worried about it but now am thankful it did.

The bermudagrass is the only thing I had to regrow after first grazing up until two weeks ago when we finally got a shower or two of rain. My cows and horses have been living on bermudagrass and the occasional sprig of crabgrass since mid early June.

Retired NRCS agronomist Glenn Johnson told me many times that he thought that Eastern Virginia forage producers were missing the boat by not using more Bermuda and crab grasses and overseeding them in the fall with rye and ryegrass. I have perennial ryegrass on my shopping list for this week. Because I know that when frost hits the Bermuda I am out of grass.

Warm season grasses will not stockpile like fescue. Well you can grow a pile of it and leave it out there but when it is frosted it goes dormant and loses feed value rapidly.

The nature of warm season grasses is they are only of value when it is warm. Even warm season grasses need moisture though.  the value of warm season grasses is that they grow at a prodigious rate makeing lots of forage in a short time.

I got a phone call from an old friend and a former boss, ( I feel proud of myself to count a former boss as an old friend) who had planted some Teff grass this year and he was bragging on it and sent me some photos. He was waiting for it to quit raining so that he could mow it again.

This photo was taken in southwestern Hanover county in August 2010. The teff was seeded I think he said in June. He has planted some for grazing as well and says Hereford cows love it and it holds up fairly well if given some rest.

Looks like a good leafy forage that he says makes excellent hay of good nutritional quality

My son is farm manager on a good sized farm in Goochland and he addressed the hay shortage by planting two warm season annuals…..brown top millet and sudex. He has baled a section of the millet and got 83 round bales but I do not know the acerage. He is mowing the sudex pictured below today and says it is now ten or twelve feet tall and he is expecting 400 round bales. This is too tall to be optimum but the rain of the last two weeks, and they have had substantial rain over there, has prevented harvest. Even over mature hay is “Better than snowballs” as old Tom Goins used to say to me many years ago.

These are but some examples of warm season grasses and the benefits thereof.

Warm season grasses are grasses that oddly enough grow in warm season of the year. Most do not even begin to be productive until it is nearly hot. They are not drought proof and need water to survive and thrive. They will survive generally with less water than cool season grasses require.

Warm season grasses can be annual or perennial.

Annuals include millets, sorghums, sudexes, sudan grasses, forage peas Johnson grass and some newer stuff like Teff grass.

Perrenials include bermudagrass, crabgrass, switchgrass, bluestem, indiangrass, buffalo grass and others.

Bermuda and Crab are lower growing and both are actually not native to our area. But they are easily grown and have a natural place in forage rotations. Many of our cool season pastures actually have a significant amount of Bermuda and crab in them but they are not noticed as the livestock like them very well. Crabgrass is very palatable to most livestock. Dr. Teutsch is doing significant research on these alternative feeds at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research Center.

Further south Bermudagrass is big business. Most varieties are hybrid and are planted by sprigging vegetative cuttings. There is not much sprigging equipment to be found in Va. In the last few years a few seeded varieties of improved Bermudagrass have been developed and are commercially available. There are now improved crab grass seeds available as well. Dr. Teutsch has indicated that some of the local common Bermudas are doing very well in his research.

The others grasses above are termed native grasses and there is a long list of them. They make good forage, require low inputs, are adapted to our area and provide tremendous wildlife benefits, but they cannot stand close or continuous grazing and are more difficult to establish. They are more suited to mechanical forage harvesting, but as large bunch grasses they require a different management than our cool season hay mindset. These forages are also seeing increased used as biomass fuels. Those growers are teaching traditional producers how to manage these ‘new ‘old crops.

Monocultures are not nature’s way. Forage species diversity is good and should be encouraged. As people we have aesthetic landscapes in our minds eye as goals but those goals are difficult and expensive because you have to defeat Mother Nature to get there.

Some of the best graziers in our country value their pastures by the number and diversity of species of grasses that exist in the pasture.

Our new “traditional” “production driven” agriculture has given us the technology to strive toward the desired monocultures. I am not sure we know the true cost.

The older I get the more I see that it is a lot easier to work in concert with mother nature than it is to battle her. I try to approach all things with a mind toward moderation. I strive not to be an extremist in any direction, although some would paint me as the poster child of some extremes. I am currently trying to reduce inputs and increase management and observation. It costs me very little to observe nature at work.

My observation today, is that warm season forages have a place in our systems. We need to embrace them and determine how we can best utilize them in a balanced forage production scheme.

Some excellent reference reading links are below for those who want to learn at a more in depth level as well as the forage seasonality chart. (EVERY Forage grower should know this chart by heart).

The first two are basically the same. One is a web page and the other is a PDF file. I find the PDF file to be more useful.

The third link is to a list of publications by Dr. Chris Teutsch who is Virginia’s current leading authority on forages.

Click to access 418-012.pdf




Chart taken from controlled Grazing of Virginia’s pastures

Cool Season Grasses

Tate’s Tips

A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage


Issue 5.


Cool Season Grasses

 There are many classifications of plants.

 There are annual plants and these are plants that usually grow for a single season or a single crop.  Annuals include tomatoes, potatoes and, in fact, most vegetables;  corn, wheat, beans and most other commodity crops and forages such as Oats, millet, Crimson clover, sudex, sudan grasses and turnips, canola  and other brassicas.

 There are a few biannual plants which have a two year life cycle.  The most notable of these from a production standpoint would be red clover, a very useful legume.   Another would be Canada thistle, a weed.

 Then there are longer lived plants which are known as perennials.  Their lifespan is determined to a large degree by the growing conditions and management they are exposed to.  These would include many of the common pasture and hay grasses such as Orchardgrass, Fescue, Bluegrass, Timothy, Switchgrass, Indiangrass, Bluestem,  Bermudagrass, Crabgrass and legumes such as White Clover, Ladino clover and several other clovers, Alflafa, Birdsfoot trefoil and lespedeza.

 Some plants like ryegrass have cultivars that are annual and others that are perennial.  Crabgrass can come back from the roots but it sets so many seed so quickly, that once you have a good stand it will stay with you for a long time.

 Of the plants named above, many were warm season plants and some were cool season plants.

 Corn is the ultimate warm season plant.  When it is so hot and sticky that you are uncomfortable; corn, given adequate moisture, grows so fast that the growth is almost visible.  In the late spring you can measure a day’s corn growth.  However any frost will damage corn terribly as it does not tolerate cold weather.

 On the other hand small grains like wheat and barley and rye and canola are cool season annuals that in our state are planted in the fall and they overwinter to flower and fruit in the spring.  They tolerate cool weather better than corn and in fact do not perform as well in summer heat.  There are western varieties that are grown in the northwest United States that are summer varieties.  Plants are amazing at their ability to adapt and perform in so many different environments.

 The focus of this article is intended to be on cool season perennial forages that are common to Virginia.  Within this category, what is common in the eastern coastal plain and what is common in the mountain west and southwest parts of the state may be very different.

 Let’s start simple.  Cool season grasses prefer the cool seasons of spring and fall.  Freezing weather will cause them to go dormant, but they overwinter well.  Hot dry weather will cause dormancy too and extreme heat and dry can be fatal to some cool season grasses.  Generally cool season grasses and mixtures should be planted in the early fall.  They can be planted in the spring but weed pressures and environmental factors are more inhibiting to a successful establishment.  Summer and winter plantings need extreme luck and management to survive.

 Oats is a cool season plant that has varieties that can be planted in the fall called winter oats, and also there are spring planted varieties called spring oats.  Spring Oats are not cold tolerant and will winter kill.  Both are annuals and both can be used as forage as silage or hay or harvested at maturity for grain and straw.  The spring oats would mature at a later date.  Once harvested they are essentially done.  Oats are sometimes used as a nurse cover crop for new seedings of perennial forages.  Now wasn’t that easy.

 Timothy  is a cool season perennial except in the eastern half of Virginia.  While it is excellent forage and makes good grazing or hay, it is not hardy enough to persist in the hot and dry part of the commonwealth.  The hay producers in eastern Virginia interseed timothy annually in their hay fields to provide it to the customers who prefer it.  A spring cutting can be made and then the timothy perishes due to heat and dry conditions.  Basically one could say it is the coolest of the cool season grasses with no tolerance for hot dry conditions.  It can be a perennial in the high mountains and in southwest Virginia.  See still easy.

 Bluegrass  is a cool season perennial that will persist under hay making conditions and will survive the stress of hot and dry.  It will not be productive during that time but it will survive.  It is a smaller finer forage that makes excellent forage but lesser tonnage than some other grasses.  Does not handle stress and close grazing so it does not survive well in continuous grazed pastures.

 Orchardgrass is a cool season perennial that is close to blue grass in hardiness.  It is a larger and more productive plant and has a deeper root base than bluegrass.  Recall that the more plant we have above ground the more root mass we have underground.  It produces excellent quality forage and under well managed hay programs I have observed stands of Alfalfa and Orchardgrass that were 18 years old.  It will persist in summer with moisture.  If temperatures are moderate and moisture is adequate it will produce multiple hay cuttings.  If these conditions are not met it will simply go dormant until favorable conditions return.  It also is excellent pasture forage but it must have rest.  Continuous grazing will kill Orchardgrass.  Extreme drought will also kill Orchardgrass but it will survive a typical Virginia summer.

(Please refer back to Issue 2, How does your Plant Grow? For a refresher on this concept.)

 Now having read the refresher and eaten a few cookies, this too is simple, Right ??

I should not reveal all this as we make good money for our scholarship fund renting no till drills to folks who plant Orchardgrass every year.

 Ryegrass is both an annual and a perennial depending upon the variety.  It is a vigorous and copious seed producer and if allowed to set seed will be a recurring annual.  Rye grass is an easy starter and a vigorous grower and produces high quality palatable forage suitable for pasture and for hay or silage.  It is useful for getting fast establishment on bare areas and is tolerant of a wide variety of growing conditions.  It also is not a heat tolerant plant in either annual or perennial variety.  It is the first grass to green up in the spring and the last to quit growing in the fall and I include it in my recommended mixes as it has the greatest chance at establishment.  As a cool season grass it is virtually dormant in most summers but will reemerge with cooler weather and rain. 

 Use ryegrass with caution if you adjoin a small grain production field.  Ryegrass is a serious weed in small grains and is invasive and difficult for grain producers to control.  I have no desire to be implicated in causes of gunplay between neighbors.

 Have you noticed a trend yet?

All of these grasses in most Virginia summers experience what is called summer slump.  The heat and dry conditions are just too much for them and they shut down until conditions improve.  Some more than others.   Everything is still simple so far except that we don’t have any summer grass yet.  We will get there later.  Refer to the chart below taken from Controlled Grazing of Virginia’s Pastures for a graphic representation of what we have discussed so far.

 Fescue is the most common and most abundant and hardiest and most productive of the cool season grasses.  Fescue stands up to hard grazing better than any of the other cool season grasses.   It will still have a summer slump because it is still a cool season grass.  But it will survive.  Fescue is a bit less palatable than some of the other grasses.  It still makes good forage and grazing but given a buffet of ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, and brussle sprouts, the brussle sprouts don’t have to worry about me bothering em.  Fescue is the forage equivalent of brussle sprouts.  Eat em cause they are good for you.  Yeah Mom, soon as I polish off this pizza.

 Animals select the most palatable plants first and go back for regrowth as soon as it appears.  They will graze around the tougher fescue until the ice cream is gone and then they will eat the brussle sprouts (fescue).  This natural animal tendency puts negative pressure on the Orchardgrass and positive selection pressure on the fescue.

 Fescue is a complicated grass as well.  It gets a good part of it’s hardiness from an organism called an endophyte.   The endophyte is a microscopic organism that lives in fescue and concentrates in the seed heads.  Rather than pay rent the endophyte benefits the fescue plant contributing to the plants hardiness. 

 The endophyte also has the side effect of some toxicity to animals.  In cattle it increases summer slump by restricting blood flow in the animal and creating over heating problems and thereby suppresses animal production and performance.  It can have reproductive repercussions as well in cattle.

 In horses the problem is in pregnant mares.  Pregnant mares exposed to the toxic endophyte with have a high percentage of foaling problems.  I will leave it to discuss with your equine practitioner for specifics. 

 Once the troublesome endophyte was discovered quite a few years ago, enterprising plant pathologists were successful in removing the endophyte and created;

  Endophyte Free Fescue  Seed is available for endophyte free fescue today and it eliminates the toxicity problems of fescue.  In fact it made fescue a more palatable plant and made it more like Orchardgrass.  The problem is that the endophyted free fescue is now no hardier than Orchardgrass.  For the good forage manager this is not too much of a problem as the fescue can be managed right along with the Orchardgrass.  For those who overgraze…..you just ran out of grass again.

 The newest option is a fescue which has been developed with a novel endophyte that gives the fescue its hardiness back and yet eliminates the toxicity of old Kentucky 31.  Only one seed company has this product and the seed is a bit expensive but it is a good product that works.  Over time native Kentucky 31 can infiltrate a stand of Endophyte friendly fescue and it is not discernibly different.

 My advice for mare owners is to keep pregnant mares off of fescue and cattle can be selected for fescue adaptability as some cattle are much more tolerant of it than others.  Interseeding of fescues with other grass and particularly legumes is of great benefit.  Pasture management is an integral part of managing the toxicity problems.  Clipping of seed heads reduces problems greatly as well.

 Matua  is a new variety of brome grass that seems to be relatively well adapted to Virginia.  It is a good and vigorous producer but needs management similar to Orchardgrass to maintain a good stand.

 We have yet to cover warm season grasses or legumes.  We will hit those in the next two topics.

 Some excellent reference reading links are below for those who want to learn at a more in depth level as well as the forage seasonality chart.

 The first two are basically the same.  One is a web page and the other is a PDF file.  I find the PDF file to be more useful. 

 The third link is to a list of publications by Dr. Chris Teutsch who is  Virginia’s current leading authority on forages.







 Chart taken from controlled Grazing of Virginia’s pastures


Tate’s Tips
A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage

Issue 4.

Since I have gone fairly basic on this series, I might as well continue with some fundamentals.

The most fundamental elements of growing forages are the nutrients. I will try to address nutrients from a layman’s viewpoint. I will address them in what I think are the order of importance.

The most important nutrient for forage production is plain and simple water. If we have rain at normal intervals and in appropriate amounts then grass will grow. Three months of hot dry weather will leave you with nothing and you can only hope that when rains return the forages will come out of dormancy and regenerate. Enough hot and dry weather can kill any stand of grass that has been otherwise stressed. That suggests the topic of supplemental water or irrigation but we will save that as a separate topic.

Normal rainfall in central Virginia is historically about 42 inches per year. If all things were equal then that would be 8 tenths of an inch per week. But nature is seldom that predictable. 2003 is the last excellent crop year we had across the board in our area. 2009 was not a bad year but the weather patterns were extremely spotty. Parts of Caroline county suffered horribly under drought. Other parts had a great crop year.

Rainfall volume this fall has been unprecedented in my lifetime. None of us has much influence on the weather so we have to take what we can get and deal with the averages.

I deal with all kinds of crops but in this series I am talking mostly about grass forages. Summer of 2002 was a brutally dry year. But that fall in early September we had a tropical storm that brought four or five inches of rain and grass that was brown and dry sprang to life and grew at a prodigious rate through the early fall. Even fields that were a bit short on other nutrients, experienced what I refer to as compensatory growth and put forth good growth in an effort to rebuild their root reserves and survive. 2003 followed with a year of moderation in summer temperatures and regularity of rainfall. It was an excellent forage and livestock year.

Forages need water to survive, produce, flourish and reproduce. It is the first and most limiting nutrient. Nothing grows without water. A couple of years ago there was big news all over TV and the internet that Death Valley was in bloom. It had experienced the first significant rain or possibly snow in something like twenty years. In just a few weeks plants emerged, flowered, set seed. Death Valley was a place of beauty and grandeur, but it grew hot and dry again and the plants wilted and then faded under the unrelenting sun and temperatures of the climate. But those seed will lie in wait for the next rain. We have all seen the monsoon shows about the perils of the rainy and dry periods in Africa.

Normally here in temperate Virginia things are a bit more even but Mother Nature can be a cruel taskmaster. We have to talk about normal conditions, acknowledge the possibility of abnormal conditions and hope for the best.

This fall we have been dealing with scattered reports of Ark building.

Nationally syndicated garden talk show host Andre Viette recommends watering lawns deeply and inch or two at a time once every ten days. 1.15 inches of rain every 10 days would give us our annual average of 42 inches per year. Of course a little more in the hot summer and a little less in the winter would balance things nicely. But then July and August are typically the heaviest rain months of the year anyway. See……. Ma Nature is trying to help us along.

links to climate data for Ashland Va. below.



This year we went into the fall with a rainfall deficit of about 9 inches. After the rainiest November on record we are now going into winter with a rainfall surplus. Not to mention the mud surplus.

So water is the most limiting nutrient and it is the single factor that usually will make or break any cropping enterprise.

The second most limiting nutrient is pH. pH is the measure of the level of acidity or alkalinity in the soil.

Basic information. Most but not all crops prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8 with 6.0 being a bit low but acceptable and 6.8 being a bit high. There are some acid loving plants like azaleas and such that prefer a lower pH but most agronomic crops will fall within the 6.0 to 6.8 range.
What does pH mean?
This is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The initials pH stand for “Potential of Hydrogen.” Acids have pH values under 7, and alkalis have pH values over 7. If a substance has a pH value of 7, it is neutral-neither acidic or alkaline.

Because the pH scale is logarithmic, a difference of one pH unit represents a tenfold, or ten times change. For example, the acidity of a sample with a pH of 5 is ten times greater than that of a sample with a pH of 6. A difference of 2 units, from 6 to 4, would mean that the acidity is one hundred times greater, and so on.

From the above information you can quickly see that the range of 6.0 to 6.8 is actually pretty broad with 6.0 being eight times more acid than 6.8.
So what does this mean when trying to grow grass? It means will your grass be happy and survive and thrive in the pH of the soil you want it to grow in. It also determines whether or not the other expensive nutrients will be used by the crop you want to grow. Excess acidity or alkalinity can inhibit uptake and use of expensive fertilizers.
At risk of sounding like a broken record the first step to good agronomy is a proper soil test. The soil test will give you a minimum of the soil pH and the Phosphorous and Potassium levels. Most soil test will give you a recommendation of what is needed if you provided information on what you wish to grow.

In this part of Virginia the natural condition is for the pH to be low. Forest land or fallow land will typically test down to 4.5. Streams running through significant portions of such land will also test low in pH. Newly cleared land in our area will almost always have a very low pH.
To correct low pH the cure is the addition of Lime. The standard for lime is Calcium Carbonate equivalent. Limes from various sources vary and the proper amount needs to be adjusted to meet the calcium carbonate equivalent. Lime may be from ground Limestone, hydrolytic lime, calcium carbonate or calcium sulfate (gypsum). Lime is usually broadcast by the ton or part thereof.
In no case is it beneficial to apply more than two tons of lime per acre. That is the maximum amount that the soil biota can metabolize and make use of. Lime does not immediately take effect. It is a slow and biological process. If pH is extremely low the standard advice is to apply up to two tons of lime in a given season and retest the soil annually for additional recommendations until proper pH is reached.
As mentioned above the level of the pH impacts the effect of other nutrients. Soil nutrition is chemistry and I am not a chemist.
Low ph is like trying to grow something in battery acid.
High pH is like trying to grow something in baking soda. Neither is a very good growth medium.
Potassium and Phosphorous are two widely needed nutrients. If you add Phosphorous to acid you will make some amount of phosphoric acid. Plants won’t grow in phosphoric acid either. If you add potassium to baking soda you will make some amount of Potassium Hydroxide which is a strong caustic and nothing will grow in that. So getting the soil pH correct is the first step to adding nutrients.
An additional good discussion of this topic is available at

Phosphorous this section is taken from earthworks at


Phosphorous is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the basic plant nutrients. An anion, phosphorous is very reactive, and often tied up in the soil with calcium and other cations. These calcium-phosphate bonds are often very hard to break, especially in biologically weak soils, leaving the plant deficient. Phosphorous is found in all plant tissue but is most pronounced in the seeds, flowers and youngest shoots. It is the backbone of many enzyme and amino acid systems, including photosynthesis. It regulates the breakdown of carbohydrates and energy transfer. Without phosphorous, cell division is weakened and plant growth suffers. These deficiencies can lead to plant stress, susceptibility to disease, insect attack, and even weed infiltration.
Potassium is often referred to as “the band director.” It helps to direct free nutrients (such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) out of the atmosphere and into the plant. Without this activity photosynthesis would be severely restricted and the plant would struggle to make starches, sugars, proteins, vitamins, enzymes and cellulose. Potassium aids in helping the plant through the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer. In short, when potassium is out of balance plant stress is very high. However, one of the great fallacies in our industry is that you can not overdo potassium. You can overdo everything!
Potassium is a positively charged cation and should saturate only 3 – 5% of the soil colloid. When too much potassium is used, other important cations suffer, most notably calcium and magnesium. In fact, potassium can drive pH more aggressively than magnesium or calcium by quickly replacing them and creating an imbalance in base saturation. Potassium tends to be relatively mobile in the plant. When excesses occur not only does the soil suffer, but imbalances are created intra-cellularly and stress is actually created. As soil pH climbs above 6.5, potassium mobility slows down, and as the soil reaches 7.0 mobility is severely hindered.
“..any nutrient introduced to the soil is first digested by micro-organisms before the plant has a chance to eat.” Joel Simmons
Without nitrogen there would be no photosynthesis and, therefore, no plant. However, nitrogen is also the most overused nutrient in our industry, and the negative impact it can have on the soil ( and water) can be tremendous.

Urea > ammonia (NH3) >
nitrite (NO2) > nitrate (NO3) >
into the plant.
(The arrows in this diagram represent soil microbes which are responsible for breaking down the nitrogen fertilizer into plant usable forms.)
Nitrogen (N) is a key nutrient in manipulating plant growth. Most nursery/floral producers use large quantities of N fertilizers in a “blanket” attempt to meet the needs of their crops. However a thorough understanding of N nutrition Can be useful in optimizing both the concentration and form of N best suited for the plant species, stage of growth, time of year and production objectives.

Plants require N in relatively large quantities and in forms that are readily available.

Nitrogen metabolism is a well studied and a vital aspect of plant growth. Nitrogen is one of the important building blocks in amino acids:


Amino acids are typically made up of an amino group (NH2), carbon (C), a carboxyl group COOH), and a variety of molecular structures (R) which define individual amino acids (glycine, serine, licine, alanine, etc.). When these amino acids link together in long chains they form proteins. Proteins are also vital components in a variety of metabolic pathways and processes. Proteins makeup the molecular structure of DNA, RNA and a host of other critical metabolic processes required for plant growth.

When N is deficient in plants restricted growth of tops and roots and especially lateral shoots may occur. Plants also become spindly with a general chlorosis of entire plant to a light green and then a yellowing of older leaves. This condition may proceed toward younger leaves. Older leaves defoliate early.
Since I am now on page 6, this might be a good place to stop and take a nutrient break and assimilate the little nuggets we have taken in so far.

Natures Puzzles

Tate’s Tips

A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage


Issue 3.



I have been reminded to tell folks that this is a blog which is basically one mans opinions and that I have no qualifications whatsoever to give any advice.  For real advice contact the Virginia Extension Service.  They are the designated hitters.

Now that we have discussed how plants grow in general, we ought to talk a little bit about the other factors that influence plant growth and the general balance of nature.

Plants are widely varied in nature and over the millennia have adapted to survive in a wide variety of situations and climates.  Giant fir trees grow in the Pacific Northwest United States.  Coconut Palms and Bananas grow in tropical climates.  The trees in a southern forest are not necessarily the same trees found in a northern forest.  In the southeast United States improved Bermuda grass is the standard.  In the North central and Northeast Fescue and or Orchard grass would be the standard.

There are wetland plants and dry upland plants.  Cold tolerant plants and heat tolerant plants.  Annuals Biannuals and perennials.  We will discuss all of these in turn.

The point is that nothing occurs in a vacuum.  People love to try to influence plant communities and exert their will, but every action in nature has a reaction.  Sometimes the reaction is good and sometimes it is not.  It is not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

One of the things that I deal with in my job is folks who wish to clear land for agricultural purposes.  Sometimes it is land well suited for agriculture.  Often times it is not.  Wetlands don’t make good agricultural land and in most cases today wetlands are protected.  Steep land which is covered in trees is covered in trees because people figured out years ago that trees were the best use for the land and that growing trees was easier than fighting erosion all your life.  Forest that is managed in a sustainable manner can provide income over the years, but most people today insist that it must be clear cut and replanted on a shorter cycle.  Sometimes all of our efficiency methods and improved management are not all that improved.  Nature does not grow tress or most other plants in a monoculture.

Steep land without a very good cover will erode when it rains.  Sometimes steep land with a very good cover will erode.  Mother Nature is sometimes a very cruel mistress.

But people who have purchased land figure they own the land and as long as they pay their taxes they should be able to do what they want to do.  This is true to some extent.  Landowners should be aware that wetlands greater than 1/10 of and acre ( that is 4,365 square feet or an area 66 feet by 66 feet) are under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.  If you want real trouble, just go fill in your jurisdictional wetland.   Also erosion from your land which fouls public waters is actionable.  But again I digress from the topic at hand.  I can’t help it.  I am from the government and I am here to help you. ( Please reread and repeat blog disclaimer above here.)

Plants help prevent soil loss.  Plants and the soil are intricately intertwined.  Yes there are plants that grow in a crack in a rock and there are plants that float but generally plants and soil have a dynamic mutual relationship.  Even in those examples plants are involved in building soil.   As we discussed previously, plants soil, water and sunshine and the magic of photosynthesis takes place.

If we are growing vegetables then the only thing else necessary is management to grow the preferred plant at the preferred time for the intended vegetable.

If we are growing grazing forages then in addition to management we may need to consider the livestock.  We have identified the basic pieces of a simple puzzle.  I borrowed this puzzle idea from Robert Shoemaker of Va. DCR.  He kindly offered me the use of his slides but after talking with him, I found it just as easy to create a few that were easily customizable.

The soil contributes basic properties of fertility and alkalinity or acidity, productivity, leachability, depth to bedrock, water holding capacity, cation exchange capacity, organic matter, particle size and topography.

The plant community must be adapted to the environment and sustainable in order to stabilize the soil and produce a useful energy product.  The plant interaction with the soil, its root penetration ability, Its water and nutrient uptake potential, its hardiness and its productivity are all factors.

Water and the water holding capacity of the soil and the depth to water table and annual rainfall will influence each particular plant species ability to survive in the given location.

Both of these factors influence what plants will survive on the soil.  If the plant that survives is a cactus or a red root pigweed then the livestock business is going to be tough going.  If it is a nice cool season grass mix with some palatable legumes, then things will be a little easier.

Similarly the livestock will have an impact on the soil and the plants.  Consider our previous discussion on the impact of too frequent grazing on young plants.  Different plants have different palatability’s and different animals prefer different plants.  Livestock also impact soil fertility through their grazing patterns and hoof actions and returns to the land and this distribution varies widely by species of livestock.

Then there is the wildcard.  Remember two of Mother Natures rules.

Nature abhors a vacuum.    Every action in nature will create a reaction.  You take something away and another thing will fill its space.

MANAGEMENT…..or lack of same…….this is the source of most problems.  Nature left to it’s own devices will find the proper balance of all the other factors.  Just as is the case in your and my jobs, unless you are self employed, that balance is usually not what is desired by MANAGEMENT.  Not all MANAGEMENT is evil.  Heck I have been a manager and even I am not totally evil.  But management will influence the natural factors.


Too much lime applied by MANAGEMENT will affect the pH of the soil which will in turn change the survivability of the plant species and this will effect the livestock and possibly the erosion potential of the land.  Eroding land will pollute the water.

MANAGEMENT with a goal of continuously stocking three cows per acre and maintaining Orchardgrass and clover better have a good plan B.  MANAGEMENT with a goal of stocking fifty head per acre on mixed grass pasture and moving the herd twice a day with 35 days rest between grazing might have a workable plan.

MANAGEMENT that tends to focus too much on one segment of production will invariably do so at the expense of the other segments.  In this example an over stock of livestock is at the expense of the plant, soil and water resources and MANAGEMENT is of reduced effectiveness.


In this example a reduction in water resources through a drought demands an increased level of MANAGEMENT to have any hope of salvaging anything like status quo in the other areas.  Typically in a water reduction situation all segments will be negatively affected but effective MANAGEMENT will minimize the negative impacts.

This is probably a more accurate depiction of how a drought situation would be graphically depicted.

This brings to mind some quotes I recently ran across from a noted grazier and cattle producer, Kit Pharo.

“As I travel around the country, I have found that many producers try to run enough cows to keep up with their highest grass production.   This forces them to feed hay when grass production decreases – often for several months.   The most profitable producers that I know of have a stocking rate that matches their lowest grass production.   For the most part, this eliminates the necessity of feeding hay.   To take care of their high-grass production periods, they utilize stocker animals – often of their own raising.”

Kit Pharo

“Although it has been well proven for over 20 years that we can dramatically increase grass production through Planned Rotational Grazing and/or Management Intensive Grazing and/or Mob Grazing, I suspect less than 5% of cow-calf producers practice any of these grass management concepts.   Why is that?”

Kit Pharo

Feeding hay is often the result of poor grass management and/or having too many cows.   Jim Gerrish says, “The average producer inMinnesota feeds hay for 130 days.   The average producer inMissouri feeds hay for 130 days – and the average producer inMississippi feeds hay for 130 days.”   What does this tell you?   Does it make sense?

Kit Pharo

“You MUST manage your land resources in such a way that you make the most efficient use of the FREE solar energy and rainfall that falls on it.   Planned Rotational Grazing and/or Management Intensive Grazing and/or Mob Grazing have been well proven to increase forage production (and beef production) by 50 to 200 percent – while improving the land.   WOW!   Believe it or not, the cost to do this is minimal.”

Kit Pharo

I believe all of the above to have a high degree of truth to it and these are all elements of MANAGEMENT.

Or as I heard one farmer say a long time ago.  “Heck man, I already know how to farm twice as good as I do now.  I just don’t have time to do it.”

But as my mother used to tell me, “If you have time to do it over, you have time to do it right.”

I would conclude by saying don’t let MANAGEMENT goals get in the way of proper management and environmental stewardship.  If it is good for the land and the environment, then it is good for you.

How does Your Grass Grow

Tate’s Tips
A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage

Issue 2.
How does your grass grow?

I have been reminded to tell folks that this is a blog which is basically one mans opinions and that I have no qualifications whatsoever to give any advice. For real advice contact the Virginia Extension Service. They are the designated hitters.

In order to discuss forage management and culture we must have some fundamental understanding of grass.

While my agricultural career has been animal based, there would be no animals without the magic of plants. One thing that I have learned over the years is that all things are related and that you can not change one thing without having an impact somewhere else.

At risk of giving away one of my good routines with third graders when we are teaching about soils, I challenge them to give me the name of a food that they like to eat that does not come from the soil. We then go through a series of interactive questions tracing their food suggestions back to the soil. It is a simple and fun process where I get to see a lot of little light bulbs light up over some heads. A few blank looks as well but a lot of light bulbs, sometimes even from the adults with the kids. I usually end up by telling them that without soil we would not have anything to eat, no oxygen to breathe, and no wool or cotton or leather for clothes or shoes, no wood to build houses and no clean water to drink and that if we could survive we would be standing on a rock, naked and hungry and gasping for breath. I have had kids tell me eight years later that they remember that.

The point is that all things in the natural world are related. Like it or not we are a part of the natural world. What we do influences how we live.

Grass is a fundamental part of that natural world. It is one of the miracles of the plant world. Plants perform the miracle of life every day. Plants take water and nutrients from the soil and through the miracle of photosynthesis, combine them with sunshine and create life and energy. That energy is stored in leaves and stems and roots.

Below is a graphical depiction of the process:

Just as described the roots take water and nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air and manufacture energy in the form of sugars and emits oxygen for the plant, giving us both energy and air.

The next illustration shows that the process occurs both on land and in the water with phyto-plankton being the basis of energy and life in the oceans. The smart third grade kids always think they have got me when they bring up a seafood item, but I am fortunately not nearly as dumb as I look.

For more detailed information on the processes above do some light reading on the Calvin Cycle which will take you through the chemical process of converting carbon into long chain sugars. That is more chemistry than I am capable of conveying.

The plant then uses the sugars for energy and for complex carbohydrate and protein building and in many cases conversion to lignin which gives the plant its structural component. The more complex the component that the plant builds then generally the less digestible the plant is and the more long term and woody the plant becomes. But photosynthesis is the engine that drives it all. Take away the sunlight…….Game over. Take away the water…..Game over. Take away the nutrients……..you guessed it, Game over.

Plants start from seed or in some cases from vegetative cuttings. At first they are energy users. Seeded plants rely on energy stored in the seed to produce a tap root and the first leaves. As the root begins to accumulate moisture and nutrients the leaves begin the photosynthesis process and the plant builds itself and begins to store energy. The stored energy is what we benefit from when we eat corn or rice or beans or any other type of seed crop. That is the energy that is to sustain the new plant.

The plant builds itself by adding leaves and stems and roots. Generally for every bit of plant that you can see above ground there is an equivalent amount of plant underground. Energy is stored in all parts of the plant but the main functions of the root are assimilation and transport of water and nutrients and the storage of energy. A beneficial side effect of the root function is to hold the plant securely in the earth.

Like all living things the plant is driven to go through its growth cycle and reproduce. After reproduction the plant is pretty content to go into a retirement mode and enjoy life. When and how plants reproduce influences their other characteristics.

Lets talk about grasses. Lets visualize spring in fast forward. The ground warms and the robins arrive and the spring rains and sunshine begin to refresh the face of the earth. The brown tones of winter take on a greenish hue and before we know it the hum of your neighbors 46 horsepower lawnmower arouses you from a sound sleep at 7:00 am on a Sunday Morning. As you arise you wonder why that fine gentleman who needs to arise so early to commune with nature and his maker can’t go to church instead of cutting his grass.

Those things aside let us examine the grass. As discussed above that grass plant wants to put roots deep into the ground and send leaves and stems upward to reproduce. It takes advantage of the warming temperatures and the lengthening daylight and produces at a prodigious rate. There are days in the spring when you can actually see corn grow. The grass is similar but harder to see.

Let us use a little analogy at this point. Think of the grass plant as a small business that produces chocolate chip cookies.

The small business would go to the bank or to their rich uncle and borrow start up capital to buy flower and chocolate chips and milk and sugar and eggs and an oven, packaging supplies marketing capital etc. ——- The plant gets its start up capital from the seed energy.

The first few batches of cookies are made and packaged and distributed. A few dollars came in and you are ready to buy supplies for the next batch and the friendly health inspector shows up and quarantines the kitchen because you need blah- blah- blah to meet the health code regulations. This takes all the income and also a little more which means another trip on bended knee to the bank or uncle.

The livestock equivalent is your horse, cow, goat, pig, llama, alpaca or other grazing animal coming along and grazing the plant prematurely. The plant reaches into the roots and pulls out whatever energy it has been able to store and attempts to regenerate its leaves.

A few weeks go by and the health code needs have been purchased and implemented and cookies are baking and the aroma is wonderful and draws in the business inspector who needs to verify that you have all the proper permits. Naturally to operate a cookie business you must have the appropriate local and state permits even the ones you never heard of and by the way you must have industrial electrical service and so the business is shut down again until you complete the upgrade. Again all income is disbursed in this transaction and the bank account is again depleted and you still have not paid the egg bill this month.

The animal equivalent is the plant being grazed off to ground level again before it has had time to bank any reserves.

Properly permitted and electrified you once again begin to bake and even launch a new flavor cookie created while the business was dormant. You go along for a while and are putting cookies in the distribution chain and folks love them and some income comes in and sales take off and you acquire a major grocery distributor who wants a thousand dozen a week. Sales are so good that you need a bigger truck to deliver cookies. Back into the bank account. A truck costs how much? And I need a CDL driver because it has air brakes and the insurance is what?

The animal equivalent is yet another grazing before the plant has banked any root reserves. But the plant struggles and puts forth a new stem or two and endeavors to survive. But it takes longer for the plant to push that stem and those first leaves up. Moisture is a little deeper in the ground than it was when it was planted and the roots have not yet made it that far down.

The cookie business resumes and the banker or the rich uncle who have been carrying you see a business with new improvements and new permits and a new contract for cookies and even a new truck. They are thrilled and begin to talk about a return on their investment.

One day there is a fire in the kitchen and you are shut down for another two weeks trying to get things rebuild and repaired and repermitted. No income and more bills.

The animal equivalent is another grazing of the forage portion of the plant.

Then some kid comes down with swine flu and his mother holds a press conference to declare that it must have come from those new cookies that little Johnnie loved so. She had learned that they were made using animal products. Sales cease. The big contract is cancelled. The health department swoops in and orders a recall of all the cookies and the kitchen is closed down until testing can prove that there is no contamination or danger to the children. You are forced to throw up your hands and take bankruptcy. All the assets of the business are put up for sale to satisfy the creditors. You have nothing, and try hard to get a job at the local bakery but your reputation is shot and no one will hire you.

The animal equivalent is the plant is grazed yet again before it establishes any root reserves and unable to draw up any resources it expires and its spot is taken by a pokeberry or hardy horse nettle or red root pigweed, which your grazing animal will not eat.

The take home message is that the key to maintaining a desirable stand of grass is that the plants must have time to rest and regenerate. Generally, after grazing or mowing, a plant takes about five days to begin to put up new shoots. The closer it is grazed the longer it takes. If it is stressed it take longer. If it is 95 degrees and dry it takes still longer. Under optimum condition a forage plant needs thirty five days to rebuild its productive forage base and its root storage. Under stress conditions the rest phase may need to be longer. If after five days dear pony (or other grazing creature) is standing there to clip off the tasty new shoot, the plant is in danger.

Grazing management is a key to maintaining a forage base.

Intro to Forage Production….a laymans guide

Tate’s Tips
A Series of Reflections on growing grass for forage

Issue 1.
An introduction

As a lifelong stockman who has worked in some phase of agriculture for all of my working life, and now celebrating ten years in working in conservation, grass and forage have always been an important aspect of my life. In the early years it was something I took for granted. In the middle years it was something to be nurtured and improved and like everyone else I sought miracle cures and magical species to solve our forage problems.

Here in recent years I have finally come to the realization that we actually know very little about grass around here. Spoiled by normally abundant rainfall, to the tune of 42 inches per year on average, we have culturally adapted to the mismanagement of our forage resources.

As I look down the barrel of the 22nd anniversary of my 39th birthday and as I walked through the pasture checking calving cows for new babies, I observed the grass in the pasture and I reflected on how much I had learned about grass in the last few years and how much I still did not know. This general reflection is normal at this stage of life and is broad in spectrum, but I will try to remain relevant to forage.

It occurred to me that so much of the conventional wisdom that I had accumulated in my life, particularly in the area of growing grass, was of significantly less value than the souvenirs the grazing cattle had left in their wake. I had an epiphany of sorts. I have always viewed myself as having a different paradigm, but did I really. My answer was no……but I needed a different one.

I have been raised for nearly all of my life in the area of post World War 2 national prosperity and production driven agriculture. Let me be abundantly clear here. The prosperity was national and general and not particularly agricultural. For decades the farm commodity prices have stayed low and farmers had to be more productive and get greater yields and farm more acres to manage to cover the costs and stay in business.

Our whole agricultural system has been geared toward greater productivity in every aspect my entire life. Cheap commercial fertilizer has facilitated this drive toward ever increasing production goals. Sustainability was only mentioned in macro terms of sustaining agriculture and seldom in sustaining anything at the cost of lower production.
For some this gave rise to the organic movement which in and of itself is a good thing, but in my view the practitioners have gotten caught up in a cycle of certification and marketing lingo and a competition of who is more organic than whom. The tight “organic” standards and certification criteria have given rise to the “all natural” category of products.

But I digress. My intention is to discuss principles of agronomic grass production and to address needed changes brought about by the economy and production needs. When the phone rings today and folks ask advice in improving a pasture, if I give the same answers I gave a couple of years ago, I need to be prepared to give audio CPR over the phone as the standard advice of a few years ago can be grab your chest and protect your wallet expensive today. What I hope to do here is to create a series of articles that we can post on line as a resource to use in thinking about forage production and livestock management. I don’t have much of a plan, but that is my nature. I am a seat of the pants kind of guy who has had so many plans kicked out from under him that I now prefer to go with the flow and using the old army lingo, improvise, adapt and overcome and survive.

Generally I want to discuss elements of production, species and varieties of plants and animals, natural factors, unnatural factors, livestock management, and production techniques.

The first and most important topic will be basic plant physiology. All of this work is intended to be in layman’s terms so that I can understand it. Occasionally I may site scientific work which has been interpreted for me by the scholars of forage in my life. I will also digress from scientific knowledge at times and give the unique perspective of the life experience of a beat up old cowboy, because my focus will be on sustainability rather than production and most research is production oriented.

It occurs to me that you may have asked yourself by now, “Exactly what qualifies this yahoo to even address the topic?”

The answer is nothing in particular. I am the son of the son of the son of a farmer. One of my earliest recollections was of riding the mule as my daddy cultivated the family garden plot. Who among you today has a garden plot of sufficient size to require a mule for cultivations? I also recall riding that mule once in a runaway after plowing up a bees nest. Well I rode him for a ways anyway before I hit the ground.

I was raised by a Strawberry Roan horse named Miss Lucy who instilled in me a love for large animals which led to living my life through agricultural pursuits.

I have a B.S in Animal Science from Virginia Tech.
I have been in the Registered Angus business in one way or another for over 34 years now.

While we have sold most of the herd, I still have few to keep me broke and honest.
A member and past president of the Va BCIA, member of the Culpeper BCIA Bull Test committee, life member of the American Angus Association, member of numerous horse organizations including the Virginia Horse Council.
I am an NRCS certified level I conservation planner.
I am a certified nutrient management planner and scheduled to take the course and test for the new turf grass and landscape certification as well.
Back in the day before round balers, I was the machine of choice for hay movement.
I currently lay unverified claim to owning the prettiest Gray PMU rescue in Hanover County

In general I am an old man with opinions, and I am not afraid to share ‘em.

The Rodeo at the Horse Show

The Rodeo at the Horse Show



Baby Jim
Photo courtesy of The Old Cowboy Archives

The Rodeo at the Horse Show.

When Baby Jim was a youngun and still eating vittles from his Mammy’s table, he had a few equine adventures.

Baby Jim’s Daddy had a good friend who had quite a few horses. In fact the man owned four different stallions of four different breeds and bred mares from all over the area. Now the mares this man owned were all Tennessee Walkers and that was his breed of choice. He had a beautiful big Walking Horse stallion and Baby Jim use to be the exercise boy for that horse. He was good enough that a trainer most often successfully showed him but Baby Jim rode him a lot to keep him in shape.

Baby Jim also started a lot of the walking horse colts and fillies and did the preliminary riding for the evaluation that determined if they were show horses, sale horses or potential breeding stock.

The owner also had a Shetland Pony Stallion who was used to drive to a cart and he was very pretty and well made and had a pretty good disposition for a pony stallion. He was sorrel with a flax mane and tail and was quite eye catching and popular.

There was an Appaloosa stallion that was white with the black spots and Baby Jim just never cared much for that horse. He was not very brainy and was often difficult to handle.

Then there was Lebo Judge. Lebo was a pretty little bay Quarter Horse. He was not very big but he was all horse and was a nice little stallion.

Every time the walking horse or the Shetland pony went to a show we would get several new bookings for them for mares from people who saw the stallions at the show. So going to horse shows became a small part of the marketing strategy for all of the stallions. Baby Jim and his dad usually took the Shetland or the App or Lebo. The trainer showed the Walking Horse.

We seldom took the Appaloosa as his trouble making nature did not seem to win him many friends and those who wanted his color genetics knew where he was.

We very often would take the Shetland or the Quarter horse and just kind of have em around to be seen. The quarter horse was so easy to handle that Baby Jim grew quite fond of him. He inquired if this horse had ever been ridden and no one knew. So Baby Jim decided to give him a try. It was quickly evident that if he had ever had a saddle on he had not worn it for long. So Baby Jim started to work with him. The horse was quite sensible and it was not very many days until Baby Jim was up and riding him in the practice ring. Another day or two and they were out riding around the farm.

Two things make Lebo memorable. The first was his speed. No one knew he could run. Baby Jim was out riding along a big hay meadow and let him out a little and noticed the horse was running effortlessly. Baby Jim made sure he had some brakes by stopping the horse without difficulty and then decided to see if he could run. They walked down to the far end of the field and then Baby Jim let him out. By gosh that horse could run………That was the fastest horse Baby Jim has ever been on. And when started from a standstill his power was going to pop your butt out of the saddle. He could run so fast that between the wind itself and the wind whipping the little stallions luxurious mane it was almost blinding and difficult to see without eyeware. He fit the old quarter horse description of “A sleepy little hoss that can unwind like lightning.”.

Baby Jim was letting him run one day when a bell hornet was flying in the opposite direction and hit Baby Jim square in the forehead. A bell hornet is the local term for a large hornet that is about an inch and a half long and brown and yellow in color. Their sting is ferocious but they are not terribly aggressive unless the nest is bothered. They fly very fast. The bell hornet was flying fast going south. Lebo Judge was flying fast going north and when the hornet hit Baby Jim, it did not sting him but did knock him off the back of the horse. Riderless, Lebo headed back to the barn at a high rate of speed, which is how the older generation regrettably, discovered he could run.

The other thing that makes Lebo stand out in memory was the rodeo ride. Baby Jim had not been riding him long when the owner decided that he needed to go to a local horse show to be seen. Mare bookings were evidently a little light. Baby Jim’s daddy was surprised to see Baby Jim toss his rig into the back of the truck but did not say anything. He did not know that Baby Jim had been riding the little stallion.

When they got there Baby Jim unloaded him and cleaned him up and walked him around a little to make sure the horse had brought his usual good disposition with him and to see what mares in heat needed to be avoided. The little stallion would not be any problem but sometimes those mares could cause problems on their own so Baby Jim had a policy of identifying and avoiding while at shows.

A little while later Baby Jim took the horse back to the truck and tacked him up and stepped up. Now the intent was not to show the horse but just to show him off and Baby Jim figured a good looking horse under saddle was a lot more impressive than one in a halter. Besides who wants to walk around all day at a horse show, leading a perfectly good horse. The old cowboy mantra was never walk anywhere that you can ride and you should be able to ride anywhere you go.

And Baby Jim was a good horseman and a good rider in those days and when he was mounted on a good horse it was one aspect of life that he was able to shine in and so the normally shy and plain kid was not above showing off a little bit while mounted. This tendency is what got him into trouble that day. Baby Jim rode the little stallion all over the show grounds. Thru traffic and kids and such and quietly worked on little training things and chatted with folks who noticed the little horse. He was feeling quite confident and had made several contacts about possible breedings. After all…..that was the purpose of being there. Even entered a couple of classes on the spur of the moment and Baby Jim was not a show cowboy.

It was a hot late spring Sunday and Baby Jim decided he could use a cold drink. He spied his dad along the ring watching the show and chatting with folks and he rode up to him. He said “ Hey Dad, hold this horse while I go get a soda.”. That is when the stoooopid kicked in and he tossed the reins to his paternal ancestor and went to step off. Not satisfied with one stoooopid move at a time, Mr. Hot stuff swung his right leg over the front rather than over the back. The little hoss tossed his head and Mr. Hot Stuff kicked him in the top of his neck with his boot heel.

The hoss put his head back down…….in fact he put it between his front feet and grunted and threw his butt toward the sun. And there it was. One stoooopid kid riding a green hoss with his right leg hooked around the saddle horn and no reins and the horse bucking for a fare ye well in the middle of the parking lot.

Funny how thoughts fire through the brain in times like that. Baby Jim recalls a series of thoughts. Damn, don’t fall off…..everybody is watching…….watch that car hoss…….If he runs into a car am I gonna have to pay for it……Old man will kill me……If this hoss throws me into a car he might kill me……for gods sake, Move lady…..hope no one else gets hurt…….your are still riding……get control of this hoss.

Baby Jim had quickly gotten his leg back in place from the horn but never found the stirrup. The little hoss was bucking hard but it was honest and rhythmic and actually pretty easy to ride. Then Baby Jim heard the Public address announcer calling the action in the parking lot and yelling Ride Em Cowboy. After a few near misses with automobiles Baby Jim finally managed to snag the left rein and pulled the little hosses head around and he lifted it. Baby Jim managed to lean down again and snag the right rein and had em both on the left but was back in control. Lebo quit bucking and dropped to a crow hoppy trot and they made a loop around the grounds and came back to where it all started and Baby Jim stopped him and dismounted like someone who had a brain. That was the only time that horse ever had a bad moment and it was not at all his fault. No one got hurt. No automobiles were damaged. The horse came through it without incident or injury and no lasting effects. Baby Jim rode and sat on him the rest of the afternoon to prove to prospective customers that the horse was all right and only the rider was insane.

Lebo’s speed was his undoing. Someone found out he could run and offered a good price for him. He went on the track and won a few races but as he moved up in class he began to get beat. Someone else bought him and he became a polo pony. When Baby Jim trundled off to an institution of attempted higher learning, he lost track of the fine little hoss but his love of quarter horses had been ignited.

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