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.

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