A Memory of Marie

Was going through some of Maries stuff while it was raining to look for things I needed to take care of….

 Found this photo in her purse…I had no idea she carried it around

 Photo is from 2001.

 The bull Is Jock who was a Riptide son out of my Enchantress cow if I recall correctly.

 The light colored blob on his back is the top of Maries head….as she was scratching his back….

 Jock was a big boy…

 One of the cows I have now is a grand daughter of Jock.

Spring Grazing 2018 continued

This is a follow up to my previous post about beginning grazing in Spring of 2018.

On Sunday 4/8/2018 I moved the horses into the fourth grazing paddock.  This was the end of day nine with three paddock having been grazed for three days each.  They went into the fourth paddock on Sunday Afternoon and will go to paddock five on Wednesday afternoon after I get home from work.

This is in spite of having yet another snow on Saturday night which was gone by mid day On Sunday…This winter is reluctant to release its grip on us….

In spite of all the cold weather we are still pretty dry in the Arid Zone of Virginia.  Dry weather and cold temperatures have really delayed grass growth and as I go around the area and check cover crops I am not seeing that there has been a lot of corn planted yet…ground temperatures are just not warm enough.

Back to the topic at hand….these paddocks across the front of my place are about .15 to .2 acres each.  They are divided by a single strand of polywire.  Some had some cover crops broadcast in the fall but there is not really a lot of cover crop growth yet apparent.  Sunday we went into the fourth of eight so we have four more paddocks to go in this strip or about another fifteen days grazing….

Here Pete poses for a demo of the just grazed grass along side the new paddock.

Pete poses for a demo shot

The crew was hanging out at the stable when I walked up there with the dogs to change the gates….When I got there Pete was right behind ma and Condi was not far behind.  Perkins and the donks brought up the rear.

whole herd enjoys new paddock

below is a close up of the just grazed paddock.  They really left more residue than I have anticipated.  There was four to six inches of residue left after having the whole herd on it for three days.

residue paddock just grazed

My assistant herdsman is shown below inspecting the just grazed paddock….actually he was looking for a chance to duck into the woods across the road, but he knew I was watching him..

Apache assesses paddock just grazed

As an aside, I planted a lot of native perennial flowers this week….I got an assortment of started plants from Gardens Gate Nursery and planted them in the burgeoning garden around our dog graves.

then I noticed that a lot of my crop buckets had not survived the winter.  These are buckets that I have planted cover crops and other things in for over six or seven years now.  My effort has been to keep something green and growing in them year round…often trimming the residue of one crop and using it as mulch on the new seeding.

With the dry and cold winter, the crops in many of these buckets did not survive for the first time in all the time I have been using them.  I was suprised when I got them all together at how many buckets I am dealing with…29 in this row and a few others.  some buckets have strawberries in them…three buckets of sedum…several with cool season cover crops which show what a bad year it has been in our area for cover crops…they should be at least twice as growthy as they are.  And I have four buckets, two each planted to Eastern Gama Grass and Switchgrass.

I reworked eight of the buckets with dead stuff in them and planted seed of native perrenials…wildflower mix, columbine, rudbeckia, lupine, aster, borage, and two others that are chilling in the freezer and will be planted this week.

some of the remaining buckets will host tomatoes this summer.

29 crop buckets

Spring grazing my horses 4/1/2018

small ridingby Jim Tate,

Conservation Specialist,

Hanover-Caroline  SWCD


Yesterday was April 1, 2018.  It is a normal target for the beginning of grazing season at the poor farm.  So I had an opportunity to take a couple of photos of the horses grazing the lot they moved into on Saturday 3/31/2018.

I must confess that these horses have had access to a couple of paddocks all winter.  After we finished the Artificial breeding just before Christmas I have not had any cows on the place.  The heifers had not finished all of the paddocks before they were turned out so I have let the horses clean up several of them this winter.

The horses get a small handout of pellets every night.  They have access to hay 24 7.  They have access to whatever paddocks are open.  For the last few weeks I have been broadcasting some seed and closing off paddocks to allow the seed to come up and for the present grasses to begin to regenerate.  The horses pretty much stopped eating hay about ten days ago which told me they were getting some pretty good pickings.  Last week I put the horses into the paddocks of Herman’s lot and it carried them for about a week.

On Saturday I moved them to the first of the eight paddocks across the front.   These have not been grazed since fall…there are eight roughly equal sized paddocks.  My plan is to graze each one for three days and then move the stock to the next paddock allowing the grazed paddock to rest and recover.   Pete enjoys the spring grass below.

Pete closeup

Condi is not about to be left out either….her nick name is Miss Curly Tail because she has a little bit of pig in her…


Looking beyond Pete you can see the next seven paddocks or the next 21 days grazing.

eight lots

Perkins is not in the photos because he hangs out at the stable and lives mostly on his retirement rations but he occasionally hikes out to the grazing paddocks as well.   And the two mini donks, so there are several animals grazing these paddocks.

There is an interesting thing in the photo below.  Notice in the foreground there is some dark green short grass.  Where the horses are is taller paler grass.  The dark green grass is the road frontage that I mow with the mower….mowing is why I happened to be there to get the photo…I want you to notice how much better the pasture grass is than the grass that is mown with a mower.  Grazing animals can be good for a pasture as long as the pasture gets some rest and recovery time.


The paddock the horses are in a few years ago was the worst spot on my property….until the year I broadcast some rye and vetch and just let it go….come fall it had grass and has done well as a part of the rotation ever since….the dark green marks the fence line…it is nothing but weeds and they are sparse…it has not been mown since last fall…you can see that Pete is in grass up to his fetlock.


Below I just walked up to the fence and took a shot of the grass.  Now this grass has already been grazed for about a day and a half so they have taken the young green stuff.   But there is plenty of grass there and they are enjoying it…

grass close

My other point is about the fears that people have of horses over consuming grass.

I am not going to say that horses can not get into trouble with grass.  But usually the problems come from the management rather than the grass.

One of the biggest worries is founder…Founder is caused by a sudden burst of metabolic energy.  It can come from an overdose of any kind of energy of a combination of energy sources suddenly changing.  Horses accessing the feed room unsupervised is an example…

Dry lotted horses on a jail break to a lush field is another opportunity…

It is not the evil high energy grass….it is the sudden change in diet and energy that causes the problem.

These horses have been picking at grass shoots for several weeks….I monitored when they reduced their hay consumption and that is when I first turned them into Hermans lot, where they got a small section of grass….most of you know by now that I am an advocate of good hot electric fence for grazing control….I stick up a portable poly wire and dictate how much grass they get at once…and I gradually increase it every day until they are acclimated…..

Now even Miss Curly Tail, who is still fairly new to our system, will make a foray out to the grazing and graze for a few minutes and then she will go back to the stable area and hang out with Perkins.  They have no need to overconsume….they are already fat and sassy…



Forage of the Month December 2017

IMG_3156Forage of the Month    December 2017




I am finally getting around to writing a forage article about Clovers.  This was originally scheduled for October and I am finally getting it done on the 28th of December.


Clovers are vitally important in our Central Virginia cool season grass scenario.  Most cool season grass stands that are not carefully managed and rotationally grazed will eventually be taken over by Fescue.  This is in no small part dictated by most grazing animal’s preference for other plants and then leaving the fescue to be grazed last.  This reverse selection allows the fescue to get a growth advantage while other forages are inhibited and stressed and diminished by continual grazing.


As stated above, grazing management can and will alleviate this process in the hands of a knowledgeable grazier.


Clovers are a tool that can easily be used to enhance fescue pastures.  They do so by creating supplemental protein.  Since they are legumes they have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil if properly inoculated.  This nitrogen is available to the Clover and to other plants and life forms within the soil as well.  This can reduce chemical fertilizer purchases considerably.  Clovers can also reduce the impact of endophyte infected fescue on the animals by offering a diluting effect of an alternative quality forage.


Clovers are easily established either by conventional direct seeding in the fall or the spring.  They may also be sown by “Frost Seeding”.  In our area Frost seeding is simply broadcasting the clover seed over the field in late winter.  I personally use the time frame of 15th of February to 15th of March as my guideline for frost seeding.  Others offer a wider window of February and March.  Clover seed is small and the idea is that the freezing and thawing cycles of that time of year will get the seed to the soil.  I have had good luck broadcasting clover just before a rain or even during a snow event….CAUTION do not broadcast clover after a snow event as it makes expensive bird seed cast on top of snow.


In any event the existing forage should be grazed pretty close to allow the clover seed to get to the soil and to reduce competitive pressure from existing plants in the early spring.  In recent years I have taken to using a mix of clovers and even adding some Kobe or Korean Lespedeza as well as some chicory.


So let’s talk about clovers.  There are many types of clovers with many different natures.  Most are cool season but there are warm season clovers like Balsana.  Within the species there are many branded varieties as well.  But let’s stick to basics of the commonly used clovers.




Crimson Clover


From the SARE Learning Center


Trifolium incarnatum

Type: winter annual or summer annual legume
Roles: N source, soil builder, erosion prevention, reseeding inter-row ground cover, forage
Mix with:
rye and other cereals, vetches, annual ryegrass, subclover, red clover, black medic

With its rapid, robust growth, crimson clover provides early spring nitrogen for full-season crops. Rapid fall growth, or summer growth in cool areas, also makes it a top choice for short-rotation niches as a weed suppressing green manure. Popular as a staple forage and roadside cover crop throughout the Southeast, crimson clover is gaining increased recognition as a versatile summer-annual cover in colder regions. Its spectacular beauty when flowering keeps it visible even in a mix with other flowering legumes, a common use in California nut groves and orchards. In Michigan, it is used successfully between rows of blueberries.


Biomass. As a winter annual, crimson clover can produce 3,500 to 5,500 lb. dry matter/A and fix 70 to 150 lb. N/A by mid-May in Zone 8


In our area Crimson Clover is mostly used as a winter cover crop.  The heat of May and June usually does it in unless we are abnormally wet.  It

will reseed if left to maturity.


Also from the SARE publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably.


Trifolium repens

Also called: Dutch White, New Zealand White, Ladino
Type: long-lived perennial or winter annual legume
Roles: living mulch, erosion protection, gree

n manure, beneficial insect attraction
Mix with: annual ryegrass, red clover, hard fescue or red fescue
White clovers are a top choice for “living mulch” systems planted between rows of irrigated vegetables, fruit bushes or trees. They are persistent, widely adapted perennial nitrogen producers with tough stems and a dense shallow root mass that protects soil from erosion and suppresses weeds. Depending on the type, plants grow just 6 to 12 inches tall, but thrive when mowed or grazed. Once established, they stand up well to heavy field traffic and thrive under cool, moist conditions and shade.

Three types: Cultivars of white clover are grouped into three types by size. The lowest growing type (Wild White) best survives heavy traffic and grazing. Intermediate sizes (Dutch White, New Zealand White and Louisiana S-1) flower earlier and more profusely than the larger types, are more heat-tolerant and include most of the economically important varieties. The large (Ladino) types produce the most N per acre of any white types, and are valued for forage quality, especially on poorly drained soil. They are generally less durable, but may be two to four times taller than intermediate types.

Intermediate types of white clover include many cultivated varieties, most originally bred for forage. The best of 36 varieties tested in north-central Mississippi for cover crop use were ARAN, GRASSLAND KOPU and KITAOOHA. These ranked high for all traits tested, including plant vigor, leaf area, dry matter yield, number of seed-heads, lateness of flowering and upright stems to prevent soil contact. Ranking high were ANGEL GALLARDO, CALIFORNIA LADINO and widely used LOUISIANA S-1 (392).

White clover performs best when it has plenty of lime, potash, calcium and phosphorus, but it tolerates poor conditions better than most clovers. Its perennial nature depends on new plants continually being formed by its creeping stolons and, if it reaches maturity, by reseeding.

White clover is raised as a winter annual in the South, where drought and diseases weaken stands. It exhibits its perennial abilities north through Hardiness Zone 4. The short and intermediate types are low biomass producers, while the large ladino types popular with graziers can produce as much biomass as any clover species.

In Virginia it is a perennial with good grazing management.  However, under intensive continuous grazing the small type will predominate.

A healthy stand of white clover can produce 80 to 130 lb. N/A when killed the year after establishment. In established stands, it also may provide some N to growing crops when it is managed as a living mulch between crop rows. Because it contains more of its total N in its roots than other legumes, partial tilling is an especially effective way to trigger N release.  Grazed white clover is highly palatable and digestible with high crude protein (about 28 percent), but in heavy stands, it can pose a bloat risk in ruminants without careful grazing management practices.

Locally you can buy White Clover also called White Dutch, and you can buy branded Ladino Clovers.



Red Clover

From the Sare Publication     RED CLOVER
Trifolium pratense

Also called: medium red clover (multi-cut, early blooming, June clover); mammoth clover (singlecut, late blooming, Michigan red)
Type: short-lived perennial, biennial or winter annual legume
Roles: N source, soil builder, weed suppressor, insectary crop, forage
Mix with: small grains, sweetclover, corn, soybeans, vegetables, grass forages
Red clover is a dependable, low-cost, readily available workhorse that is winter hardy in much of the U.S. (Hardiness Zone 4 and warmer). Easily overseeded or frostseeded into standing crops, it creates loamy topsoil, adds a moderate amount of N, helps to suppress weeds and breaks up heavy soil. Its most common uses include forage, grazing, seed harvest, plowdown N and, in warmer areas, hay. It’s a great legume to frostseed or interseed with small grains where you can harvest grain as well as provide weed suppression and manage N.


Crop fertility. As a cover crop, red clover is used primarily as a legume green manure killed ahead of corn or vegetable crops planted in early summer. Full-season, over-wintered red clover can produce 2 to 4 T dry matter/A and fix 70 to 150 lb. N/A. In Ohio, over-wintered mammoth and medium red clover contained about 75 lb. N/A by May 15, increasing to 130 lb. N by June 22.



Red clover, a short-lived perennial, usually produces two or three hay crops per year. It is characterized by rapid spring growth and low winterhardiness, which contributes to its short-lived nature.

Growth habit varies from erect to prostrate. Numerous stems with large trifoliate leaves arise from the crown region each year. Red clover has a thick tap root that grows to a length of 24-36 inches. Lateral roots arising from the tap root are concentrated mainly in the upper 5 inches of the soil. Small ovoid, pinkish, nitrogen-fixing nodules can be found on the lateral roots if the plant is actively incorporating atmospheric nitrogen into protein nitrogen.

From Best Forages

The most widely planted forage legume after alfalfa. Red clover performs better than alfalfa on acid or wet soils. Faster establishing than alfalfa. This legume is often used in grass mixtures predominantly for a cutting regime. Clovers are best cut for hay when in full bloom. If cut earlier, it is more difficult to cure. Cut later, it loses palatability. Red clovers are more drought tolerant and productive than White Clover, but not quite as high quality. Use some of each for grazing! In Penn State’s trials, the average yield of all the Red Clovers was a little higher than the average yield of the leafhopper resistant Alfalfas, the year after seeding!


Forage of the Month Oct 2017

       by Jim Tate,

Conservation Specialist, Hanover-Caroline SWCD

Forage of the Month    October 2017

To see any photo larger just click on it and then use your browser back button to return to the blog.

This Month I had planned to write about clovers…..but that has now been moved to November due to a photographic opportunity this weekend.

In early August Dr. Gabe Pent of the Blackstone AREC helped me acquire some samples of Native Warm Season Grasses.  These grasses were on the farm of a cooperating producer in Dinwiddie and were grasses that Dr. Teutsch had assisting in planting quite a few years ago.

We managed to locate and dig up plants of all five of the commonly referenced Native Warm Season Grasses.  Switchgrass, Eastern Gamagrass, Indian Grass, Big Bluestem and Little Bluestem.

We used these grasses at a small field day we had in August and then again in our Native Plants Buffer display at the State Fair of Virginia.

A few comments about the whats and hows….I knew I had to try to keep these plants alive for a couple of months….I acquired a few five gallon buckets.  Not wanting to leave holes in the fields I acquired some cheap potting soil and some composted manure and mixed it up and filled the buckets.  My thought was to dig up as much plant as we could and put them in the five gallon bucket with any extra soil going to the hole.

But it was hot and dry when we collected our plants and it was all we could do to get the shovels in the ground to get some roots.  I am a not so petite 24o lbs and me jumping on a shovel could not get it to penetrate much more than four or five inches into the soil.  Dr. Pent thought we had enough root so that is what we settled for….When I got them home I watered them well and let them set in thoroughly wet soil for a couple of days….then I drilled a drainage hole in each bucket.  I opted to drill the hole at about half the depth of the bucket to maintain a water reservoir in the bucket in case I missed watering.  Below is a photo of a bucket.


I watered these plants nearly daily.  Each bucket got 1 quart of water through August and September.  They managed to stay alive and endured the movement to and from the fair and lived in the tent the duration of the State Fair.  As a reward I decided to take them home and plant them somewhere.  So I planted them along the eastern side on my barn.  I dug the holes before we had the ten inch rain last week.  I dug a hole big enough to set the five gallon bucket in.  This chore took a while because the ground was like concrete and dry as a bone…..the holes were dug with a spud bar and a manual post hole digger removing the dust.

Two days after I dug the holes we had the big rain….so the underlying soil is now thoroughly wet.

The surprise was when I took the first plant out of the bucket for planting.  It was a Switchgrass plant and the roots were wrapped around one another at the bottom of the bucket.

Note that the red soil is the soil we were able to dig up and the black soil is the cheap potting soil from Walmart.  So you can see that we did not dig up a high volume of root for any plant.

I took some photos and put it in the hole and the hole was too deep so I backfilled and then put the plant in and put dirt around them and watered in.

Then was a big bluestem.


Then a little bluestem

Then an Indiangrass

Then an Eastern Gamagrass.


All except the little bluestem had roots to the bottom of the bucket.


These plants are famous for being deep rooted perennials.  This is what gives them the hardiness to survive dry conditions and the ability to forage for their own nutrients and not need fertilization.


These characteristics are what make these plants such a great forage alternative for warm weather grazing or hay making.


They will not endure under continuous grazing.  Their growth point is higher in the plant and livestock love to graze these plants and will graze them into oblivion under continuous grazing.  The plants however are fast growing and highly productive and will do extremely well under even minimum rotational grazing allowing for a couple of weeks of rest and regeneration.


Warm Season Grasses will take about a year to get established but then once established they are a great source of summer forage during the hot dry times when fescue and orchardgrass go into the summer slump.  They just take a little different management.


They are also great for wildlife……particularly quail….


My intention is to plant two paddocks this winter or early spring.  One of Eastern Gamagrass and one of Switchgrass…..these two grasses will do well in single species plantings.   Switchgrass will also do well when planted with Indiangrass and the Bluestems.   Indiangrass and Big Bluestem and Little Bluestem are commonly planted together.

here is my planted row of Native Warm Season Grasses









Forage of the month Sep 2017

Forage of the month


As always you can click on any photo to see it larger….use your browser back button to return to the blog.

Perkins and I have both fallen in love with chicory.  I began incorporating a wee little bit into my cover crop mixes about a year and a half to two years ago.

Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family Asteraceae, usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Wikipedia


I added it because it is a deep rooted perennial.  It has some value as a forage and can aid in building soil heath and soil tilth.  The deep tap root penetrates compacted soil creating channels for water infiltration..  Since it is deep rooted, it also mines the subsoil for nutrients and brings them to the surface.  When the plant is grazed the animals distribute these nutrients across the field in their waste stream.

It is a tremendous pollinator species with its abundance of bright blue morning flowers.  The chicory in late spring dominated the cover crop patch on my little garden plot and it was absolutely buzzing all summer.  In the late summer about a dozen gold finches discovered the plot and they were in there daily apparently feasting on the copious seed.

Since then I have discovered that it is very versatile and can be easily sown with good results most any time of year.  I have frost seeded it along with clovers and Korean or Kobe lespedeza.  I have put it in my cover crop mixes and broadcast it after grazing paddocks behind both horses and cattle.

Livestock love it and it is impossible to maintain under continuous grazing.  The stock will graze it into oblivion.  This applies to horses, cattle and goats.  I would imagine other species as well but have direct experience with the three species named.

Having grazed or mown it, it is quick to rebound and put out new growth.  The deep roots aid in this even in dry weather and this trait is its downfall under continuous grazing….Since it is desirable forage and rebounds quickly the livestock graze it often and hard thus contributing to its exhaustion of root reserves and eventual plant death.

However under managed rotational grazing where plants get a rest period after grazing chicory will flourish.

Chicory is classified as an introduced plant but it is found in all 48 continental states and most of the provinces of Canada.  It is originally a native of the Mediterranean region.  It has successfully naturalized here and can be found growing wild.

On my property I have been sowing what I believe is an improved variety.  I have actually purchased chicory seed from three different sources and all of them seem to be a bit superior in forage to the native variety.

When I mow my paddocks after grazing the chicory is the first thing to put forth new growth and it very quickly has leaves 8 to 10 inches tall.  At about 12 to 15 inches the woodier stems appear and the flowering begins.  My purchased seed seems to yield plants that are well over six feet tall and covered in flowers.

In the cow pasture next to my home place there has been a little chicory in that field for years.  It is common chicory  It has always persisted but has never seemed to increase as it is in a pretty good stand of fescue and and been under the same management for 25 years..

When my neighbor died there have been a couple of different managers over the last few years and the latest manager is a practioner of rotational grazing.  The chicory has shown an increased presence. Just yesterday I noticed something remarkable.  Where the cows have grazed the ground pretty closely around the now stemmy chicory stems, which are still blooming, there are myriad new chicory plants coming up..  See the photo below.   All the chicory needed to flourish and proliferate was an opportunity to have the grazing pressure reduced and allow the chicory to get established.

The orange circles are to illustrate the mature chicory stems.

The yellow circles are to illustrate the new chicory plants.

Below is a paddock at my place that has improved chicory.  Notice the different leaf shape is more oval and smooth edged where the common chicory above is serrated and longer and thinner.

And finally below is a photo of the improved chicory which I let grow all summer.  I mowed it in August.

Then I broadcast a mixture of poured up seeds leftover in small quantities.  The second and third year chicory are still dominant.  this is the regrowth and new seeding as of 9/16/2017.


On a non related note…..The horse folks all still think I am going to kill my horses letting them graze all manner of stuff intended for cows and goats…..Even have a new horse and she has adapted to our grazing policies….they all went into the summer cover crops beginning this past weekend….summer cover includes…pearl millet, summer cow peas, buckwheat, sorghum sudan, dwarf essex rape, sunflower, sun hemp, and okra…Condi was a little skeptical about walking thru all that tall stuff but she followed Pete who is barely visible.  And Perkins loves the chicory….








I started this job with the district in 1999, so come Labor day I will be beginning my nineteenth year.  I began fooling with horses and cattle about 1960 when I got my first horse.  It took me a long time to figure out that as a stockman , my first job was to be able to grow grass for feed for the livestock.  Since that big revelation it has been a steady progression of learning just how to do that.  Don’t get me wrong….I am not tooting my horn because I have made so many mistakes along the way that it is shameful to recall them all.  Some of those mistakes were my fault because I am a little bull headed.

Some of those mistakes are not my fault because I was doing what I was taught…..Some of the teaching was conventional wisdom and some of it was university research.

I think my strength is that I can recognize what is not working and attempt to try something different hoping for a better result.  This in itself has taken me down many a blind alley.  But I have tried not to be one who repeats the same process over and over expecting different results.

It took me a while to get here but for the last eight or ten years I have been on a quest to find ways to do things more holistically and with lower inputs and in concert with nature.

My personal livestock endeavors transformed from a sideline business to a hobby about that time when my neighbor and cattle partner died and I returned to riding horses for pleasure.  I sold the cow herd down to two good old lame cows that were too good to slaughter and yet too unsound to sell to anyone else.  Those two cows are gone now, but I am back up to four registered and one commercial cow to breed this fall.  The commercial cow raised a set of twins on her own this past year so she is a pretty good one too and I will probably sell her as a commercial cow next spring after weaning her fall calf and breeding her back.  Three or four good cows Is my goal and I even registered a heifer this year for the first time in three or four years….

But I digress.  At that time I was raising cattle by the university tested paradigm….I was performance testing and measuring growth and doing all of the approved management practices and soil testing and fertilizing and spraying for pests both plant and animal and was a regular customer at all of the farm supply stores.  There came a point where decisions had to be made and poverty avoided.

About that time I was exposed to several outside the box thinkers who are still widely denounced as impractical and quixotic.  But what they were saying registered with me.  I won’t go into all of them and their methods but I decided that there had to be a better way.

I quit buying fertilizer and lime.  I greatly reduced my use of pesticides for both weeds and insects.  I attempted to embrace nature and diversity.  I recalled some of the techniques practiced by the farmers of my childhood right after world war two.  I knew farmers who used horses and mules and recall when 8N tractors were the thing many coveted.  Almost every farm had a surplus army jeep as a farm vehicle.  I remember good bountiful crops before the age of chemistry.  I remember when all farms were diverse with multiple species of livestock and crops.  But yield goals were changing and small farms were becoming big farms and specialization in farming was well under way …… by the time I got to college.  My specialty became Beef Cattle and  I have worked with registered angus  ever since…remember,   I still have five.

But now in my doterage I recognize what we have lost….we have lost diversity.   We have lost the interrelationship of crops and animals.  We have lost natural interrelationships of animals fertilizing the land.  We have lost natural production cycles.  Nutrients are commodities that are moved on and off the farm with abandon.  We have lost wildlife habitat.  The greatest symptom of that is the decline in Bobwhite Quail.  It is theorized that this is mostly due to loss of habitat.

The answer to every problem today comes in a chemical jug.  Now I am not knocking progress and we have found solutions to many problems and have the ability to produce more every year….until something happens in the supply chain,  Or until nature discovers a work around.  One of the great challenges today, is due to the use of Roundup for everything .  We now have roundup resistant weeds that are super aggressive..

Nature abhors a vacuum and she will put something there to cover the soil and her solution is often a bigger problem than the original problem you thought you took care of with the chemicals.  I sprayed some fence line because the grass was shorting out the electric fence….Killed the grass fine….but now I am fighting multiflora rose and wild blackberry and pokeberry and tree of heaven and cedars and so forth that were never there when the fescue was there.  Today I mow fence lines with a push mower….No it is not easy but it is easier than dealing with the multiflora rose….

Now to the points of all of this.  Yes there are a couple of points to be made.

The first is stocking rate.  The conventional definition is number of animal units that can be successfully managed on a given amount of land.

For simplicity an animal unit is generally considered to be 1000 lbs of animal generally regardless of species.  The problem is that many people have no idea what their animals weigh.

Virginia Tech generally recommends that it takes two acres to carry one animal unit.  My position has been for years that Virginia Tech is in the Mountains of Southwest Virginia with a different climate and distinctly different seasons and pasture species than we have here at the juncture of the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont.  I have contended for years that three acres per animal unit would be a better target.  Since no one has heeded my advice in that regard, I am relatively safe in changing my recommendation to four acres per cow.

But people want to have what they want to have.  So they rationalize.  Well I buy all my hay any way.  I buy my feed.  I don’t want the horses to get to fat….clover makes them slobber, too much grass makes them founder, my horse is an easy keeper….the county allows two horses per acre…..and they plant grass every year or have dry lots.

Cattle people do it too…they stock for the best production time of the year…cows get fat in the spring while the producer struggles to make spring hay around the spring rain showers and about a third of the hay gets wet with quality lost.   Then we hit a spell of hot dry weather like this weeks (today is 21 July 2017 ) 104 degree days and no rain for several weeks and the cool season grasses just give up and go to sleep.  I have seen people this week feeding hay that was intended for winter…Hay feeding initiated now is likely to carry on through September or until we get meaningful rain from a hurricane.  In the last couple of decades we have seen summers like this about one in three.  Yet people continue to stock at two acres per cow or less, because that is what we have always done.   My thought is why not stock for the worst of times to be sustainable and have luxury in the good times.  Then you can background your calves rather than having to send them to market …the easiest money to make in cattle is in backgrounding weanlings….if you have the forage.

I was on the farm of a producer this week who does not feed any hay….He has not fed any hay for the last couple of years….his stated goal is for his cows to graze 365 days per year.  This producer does several things differently from the conventional cattleman.

First his stocking rate is four acres per cow.  He had about eighty acres and about twenty cows.  And he had pretty big cows.  For those of you who have seen my cows his were nearly as big as ours used to be and the current ones are now.  Three of my five are still pretty big.  One of the five is but a weanling heifer and one is a smaller cow who produces like a big one.

This producer has grass right now….fescue up to my knees and swithchgrass some of which was over my head.  He is not Making any hay….he is managing his grazing and stockpiling forage.

He rotationally grazes…he controls where the cows graze and more importantly where they do not graze.   Simple one strand hot wire fence….

He allows his pastures to rest and recover after grazing.

Yes I said switchgrass….he has a twelve acre field of swithchgrass and that is where the dry cows are spending a good part of their summer and they are fat and sassy.

I have used and advocated using Summer annuals to do this same thing for several years.  But I was convinced to plant some native warm season grasses in the coming year.   I am planning on beginning my preparation this fall.  I am thinking of a plot of switchgrass as well as a plot of gamma grass and a plot of indiangrass and bluestems.

The first advantage is that the summer annuals cost me seed and planting cost every year.  Once the native warm seasons are established they have little to no maintenance costs.  The stand I was in was twenty years old and had not had any lime or fertilizer or pesticide since it was established.

The native warm season grasses will put roots down 12 to 15 feet or until they hit bedrock which makes established stands able to withstand our hot dry summers.

Below is a picture of corn in my neighborhood this weekend which illustrates how dry we are….some areas are getting rain but we are in a drought year after a wet spring.  This is pretty characteristic in our area about one in three years.  Pastures are dry, dormant and crunchy unless you have some Bermuda grass.  It is still green.

The NWSG will also provide a break from the heat stress on the cows grazing endophyte infected fescue….The endophyte is hardest on the cows when it is hot and dry….a logical alternative is to graze something that is not endophyte infected during the heat of summer….That is what I have used the Summer annual cover crops for.  This year though even the pearl millet and sorghum sudan are rolled up and suffering from the lack of rain….this is one of those years that will reveal what your stocking rate should be….Due to its deep roots and native hardiness, the switchgrass field I was in was tall and lush and leafy and excellent forage and the cows were slick and clean and fat and not suffering with the heat stress.

The NWSG will also make good quality hay but it must be managed a little differently than cool season grasses.   To me however the real value is the ability to fill the void of summer slump in the cool season grasses with a crop that requires little in the way of management or inputs.  Yes it is different than what we have always done but it is the grass crop that was predominant in Virginia before we brought in the cool season grasses and pressured the warm season grasses out of our pastures..We did this by over grazing and over stocking….The NWSG are extremely productive but they can not stand continuous grazing and their growth point is about 12 inches and not 3 or 4 inches like the cool season grasses.

The NWSG will require a different management.  But it is not rocket science.  All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to try something different.  Why would I not try something that can reduce cost, improve animal performance, reduce inputs, address summer slump, provide an alternative to fescue toxicity and make life simpler and possibly more profitable.

We have one local producer in the area that is grazing two large swards of warm season grasses and he is liking them very much.  I just spoke with him yesterday on how he is grazing and managing with the warm season grasses.

Raising livestock is simple…..the hard part is keeping it simple…

As I embark on this new adventure I will try to document my steps and comment on any success as well as any failure.  Dr. Pat Keyser of the University of Tennessee has developed a management sequence that is yielding good results and I am going to try his method of establishment.  My first obstacle is lack of equipment so I have to find a method to plant my small paddocks in something akin to a no till fashion.  I still believe that tillage kills soil and want to avoid tillage.  And no till is an excellent method to plant these warm season grasses.  But the seed is not cheap and I want to have a successful stand with the initial planting.  I will have to use some herbicide to get a stand started and reduce competition but I feel like it is a good trade off to use a herbicide in one year in return for a stand that may last me the rest of my life with very few inputs.  My goal will be to begin grazing it the second summer after planting.

I am targeting four of my paddocks, two on the horse side and two on the cattle side of my property.



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The last time I posted I was fusing about the lack of rain….so May tried to wash us all away. Actually right here in Aridzona Virginia we did not have too much for anyone except the hay guys….they did have a devil of a time trying to make hay and a lot got wet and a lot more got too ripe to be highest quality. And it was pretty cool for a May. We did grow a little grass. I have been cutting grass relentlessly. Boss won’t let me graze the yard.

As of yesterday it has gotten hot…weather terrorist say the heat is here and no relief in sight…those guys are always trying to terrorize people with the weather….news flash summer will be hot…maybe the hottest ever…maybe not…but stay tuned and we will tell you what happened to you…

Went over night from sleeping under a blanket to sleeping under a fan.

We are in the midst of remodeling a bath room. Nothing fancy but the floor was bad and so we ripped everything out and putting in a new floor, shower, and sink and such. In over thirty years here we have not had a shower….we are starting to stink…not really, we are taking out a bath tub and putting in a shower…

I am in the midst of sowing my summer cover crops after grazing….this weekend we did two lots….one for the horses and one for the calves. Last weekend I brought home a heifer I am going to raise to breed and the twins from last fall who probably totaled 750 lbs together but they are way too small to market. Brought them here so that I can feed them a little bit. Took them two days to catch on to the feeding schedule….they holler every time they see me already. Yesterday I wormed them all again and put them thru the chute the first time with feed…now they keep looking for ways to go thru the chute again….It is amazing how fast they learn..

Any how below is a picture of the calves grazing paddock for the last week. This is after a week of the big steer and three weanlings and two goats grazing on it….I think I have a little residue. My problem will be getting the seed to the soil. But I mowed it with the bushog and drug a tractor tire behind the bushog to try to get the seed to the soil.

Here is a closeup of the residue after a week of grazing by the two year old steer and three weanling calves and two goats.

Here is the post seeding photo

And here is this weeks grazing

And the crew working on it….

Here is a shot across the five paddock in what we call the big bull field.

This is a shot of the far strip after three weeks growth….I should recall here that these paddocks have not had any chemical amendment of any kind in about seven years….no lime no fertilizer other than naturally deposited manure and no herbicide. Simply an effort to manage grazing by maximizing rest periods and species diversity with an emphasis on deep rooted crops and legumes. And each of these strips has responded differently to the conditions at the time.

The steer has been living on these crops for about a year and a neighbor was here a week or so ago and asked if the steer wasn’t ready for the freezer and I think he is…he has been getting about four quarts of feed a day for a few months now as well. I just grew up with corn fed beef and prefer the taste….so I feed him a little corn.

I would once again point out the high tech fence….a 2 inch diameter PVC pipe driven into the ground as a post and a strand of polywire…it looks like more because I have the gate pulled around along the fence. The divisions are single polywire.

And last but not least….my chicory patch in the garden was literally buzzing this morning. Bees and butterfiles and all sorts of critters. This patch has several species in it but after mowing it a time or two I decided to let it go and the chicory has dominated. It is beautiful with the early morning blue flowers and timely because the spring stuff like crimson clover and vetch have diminished and the summer stuff is not yet blooming. The chicory is well over my head. The animals love it and that is why you do not find it in conventinally managed pastures. Animals will graze it into extinction. It is a good plant because it is very deep rooted when allowed to grow and mines nutrients from the deep soil and breaks soil compaction .

Managed grazing and species diversity are the keys….I still have about three family’s of quail…on 12 acres….we hear quail calling almost every day….

It is too early to observe the summer seedings…I see cow peas everywhere and am just starting to see some buckwheat and pearl millet. I even went across the road and bushogged a patch of weeds a couple of weeks ago and broadcast about a quarter of an acre as a wildlife patch just to see what it would do.

PDF forages 4/22/2017

Me, mounted on Dancehall Dixie, the great little Mule owned by my friend Stewart.

Jim Tate

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We have finally had some rain…we were getting dry and had only had 2 inches so far in April which is normally one of our rainier months.  In the last two days we have had two thunderstorms, and had 3/10 of an inch the first day and 4/10 last night.  It was gray and gloomy this morning and so we walked about and took some photos….taking photos was not my original intent and so I did not take the camera and used the cell phone….unlike most people today the phone is not my better camera and so the photo quality is not quite as good.   But I think it will illustrate   the things we want to point out.

First up are some shots of the pasture near my front yard.  This pasture has been divided into two long strips with one poly rope….this is typically a horse paddock…it was last grazed about two months or more ago….the tall side was grazed and I broadcast some cool season seed and closed it off.  The short side was grazed the following week and it also had some seed broadcast and it was mown and had a tire drug over it….the tall side is taller because I did not set it back by mowing it and the plants not grazed bolted in the spring…the new seedlings are just becoming apparent in both fields.  And the tall side has one week more growth here in the spring.  Sometimes the only way to figure out if what you are doing is right is to try something different.  I still don’t know which will end up better but the different management is apparent at this point….now the taller one has bigger weeds as well.

comparisongrazed and broadcast seedgrazed, seeded mown and dragged

I really need to switch the horses and the cattle to take control of the weed problem but the goats won’t honor the single strand horse fence and just go everywhere….and I can not put the goats with the horses cause both Pete and Star Baby love to chase em….

Next are some shots of paddocks across the big bull field….this one pasture has been divided into five paddocks with poly wire…it was grazed in the late winter by the steer and the goats.  The same animals will go back into these in two more weeks….by then the forage will be over the poly wire…what is of interest is that each paddock was grazed for about a week in the fall and then seeded and mown and or dragged.  The seeding mix was not very different for each….but there are differences in the plant community in each paddock…the closest one is dominated by vetch and crimson clover…one is dominated by barley and others have varying degrees of the mixtures…

oh and I must point out here that while I was powering up the camera to take these shots a turkey hen flew up out of this field which is right beside my house…Last week she and two suitors were in my back yard….these cover crops are not only good forage….they are great for wildlife.

bull field paddock 5barley, vetch crimson clover and dwarf essex rapelooking across the five big bull paddocks

One thing has become apparent….these pastures where I have continuously had cover crops, have very little fescue.  I used to think fescue was the only thing that would hold up….but these continuous covers and rotational grazing have changed the plant community without using herbicides….now I have used some herbicides this week.  The goats are not numerous enough to keep up with the brush and the goats do not have access to the horse side so I have been spraying back some blackberry and multiflora rose and thistle and poke berry this spring….

but back to my point…I continue to think that multi species cover crops are a good agent of change suitable for use in converting from endophyte infected fescue to endophyte friendly fescue….two or three courses of seasonal multi species cover crops, supplemented by spraying between cover crops should adequately suppress the endophyte infected fescue.  I like the productivity of the cover crops so well that I intend to continue to use them as a primary forage.

Next up is the series of eight paddocks that the horses are grazing now.  They are currently in the fourth of the eight.  They have each one for about a week.

view from the road

horses are in the 4th of 8 front paddocks

Here is this week’s paddock with the crew at work.

this weeks horse pasture

Here is last week’s paddock, seeded and mown and aerated with my spike tooth aerator.  Got it done right before the rain….Oh, and it was seeded with the new summer mscc mix I got this week from Green Cover Seed.  I don’t have the mix right here to hand but it has :  Pearl Millet, cow peas, sunflower, sun hemp, okra, dwarf essex rape, florida broadleaf mustard, chicory, buckwheat and I forget what else.

last weeks horse pasture

I have an area that once upon a time was garden and now is home to the chicken tractor.   My routine is to move the chicken tractor weekly and then I throw down some seed and mulch over it.  Some of it had gotten pretty tall and so I let the horses and donkeys in over the weekend to knock it back a bit…Pete liked the barley and rye….Star Baby was eating vetch and crimson clover.  The donkeys just stood in one spot and ate  it all.  Perkins decided he liked the chicory.  The chicory was about two feet tall and Perkins went from plant to plant and grazed it to the ground.

Perkins grazed the chicory to the ground

Not cover crops but these are the day lilies looking good around the graves of eight of my best friends….

day lillies mark the graves of eight of my best friends

Here is another shot of the paddock by the stable where a pair of quail are frequent visitors….the Rape in this shot appears to have taken over.

rape blooms hide everything

But there is small gain, crimson clover and vetch as well as a pretty good stand of orchardgrass.

vetch and crimson clover are there too

Last but not least…..my chestnut trees are blooming.

chestnut blooming

I grew these chestnuts from seed that I picked up from a huge chestnut at Big Spring Mill in Elliston, Va. Over 25 years ago….I actually had a couple of chestnuts last year but did not see them bloom…this year there are quite a few blooms.

chestnut grown from seed

A compliment……. sort of

Commentary from Jim Tatearound the farm    Sep 26, 2016

Jim Tate enjoying a Ride on Dancehall Dixie, a wonderful gaited mule owned by my good friend Stewart Wickham.

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I had one of the local farmers offer me a compliment the other day…he was not trying to offer me a compliment….he was trying to be diplomatic.

To paraphrase his comments, he had noticed the crop diversity on my pastures.  He said that he couldn’t help but notice that I had a lot of strange looking stuff growing up on my place.  He had seen me out there bush hogging quite often.  He offered me the use of any equipment I might need to help me manage my pastures, specifically offering a small sprayer.

Now I do have some weeds….and sometimes when I go a good while between grazing paddocks the weeds go wild….I have one spot out front that is getting to have a pretty big blackberry patch….but that is because it is in the horse side and the goats cannot run with the horses because two of the horses like to chase them…but,  once we finish breeding cows I will put the horses on the cow side and the goats will have the horse side for the winter and early spring.

And the wet summer has kept the tractor out of two fields all year and they now have a pretty good crop of nut sedge.  The goats will deal with that over time….

I have totally different weeds on the two different sides and a more frequent rotation would be my best cure.

The milkweed from the cut over land next door last year pretty well inoculated my fields for this year so I have some of that as well.  But I don’t let a few weeds drive me crazy.

sun hemp blooming and peas reaching up

sun hemp blooming and peas reaching up

Mother Nature does not typically grow things in a monoculture…only humans do that and we convince ourselves that is the way it has to be done.

I thanked him for the offer and said I would keep it in mind.  But I told him that we have a half dozen weanling calves gaining about a pound and a half per day on the weeds.  We will graze the three horses and two miniature donkeys for about 10 months of the year before starting to feed some hay.

grazing forge six feet tall

grazing forge six feet tall

Every summer and until mid December I normally have a half dozen heifers to develop for breeding.  The current crop just entered the grazing below and I have not seen them since….that stuff is six to eight feet tall.  They will come out in the evening for their evening handout and roll call.  Don’t need to feed them much with forage like that but a little handout keeps em gentle and they come to call.


there are yearling calves in there somewhere

there are yearling calves in there somewhere

We have some rabbits that I see most mornings in the dark as I am on my way out to go to work.  Have seen as many as six at one time….The weeds is the only way they survive the numerous hawks and owls and the occasional eagle.

The greatest benefit of all is that on 12 acres I now think I have three coveys of quail this year…I can not yet swear that I have three coveys but I know I have two and think I have a third that is in pretty close proximity to the second covey.

All summer I have been reminded of my late friend Jack Ellis who was an avid bird hunter and had some good English Setters.  He hunted birds from November thru February culminating in a couple of weeks at a hunt club in South Carolina in February.  But while he did all the things DGIF suggested he never had any quail on his farm and had to go elsewhere to hunt and seldom found any birds.

I am reminded of him because every day I hear the quail calling from right around me as I am walking about and doing work around the farm, and more often than not if I am in the fields a dozen birds will explode from nearby testing my heart….Went to the doctor for a checkup this morning and he said I needed an EKG as it had been over a year and a half since I had one….I said no…I had a heart test Friday and again Sunday…I Had to work our District booth at the Fair Saturday so I skipped the heart test that day.   Fridays test was right at the upper right hand corner of the photo above.  About fifteen birds straight up and zipped into the wood line.

A couple of years ago a turkey hen nested within 200 feet of my front door in my weeds…I found out about it when one of my dogs stumbled across the nest and brought me a dead poult.

If it were not for the tall grass and weeds, I would not enjoy any of this.

I only do two things differently from anyone else…

  1. I broadcast some type of seasonally appropriate cover crop on every paddock after most every grazing and bushog it.
  2. I move the stock normally about every three days. I give them small paddocks and when they have grazed it shut them out to let the paddock recover for at least 60 days.

Of course all of my weeds are not weeds.  I think the neighbor was worried about Johnson grass.  But what he was seeing was Sorghum Sudan grass.  I do have some Johnson grass on the back of the place but the cattle love it and it only persists because I intensively rotate my grazing.

My biggest chore is in keeping the fences clear of tree seedlings.  I prefer not to spray herbicide and try to mow under the fences…but mowing well grown grass is hard on mowers and I have spent a lot of money on mower repair this year….I tried a wheeled string trimmer and it did not work for me…the horses will not graze near the electric fence, so it is a bigger problem on the horse side….

Again my best solution will be to find an easier way to rotate ruminants and non ruminants….part of the obstacle is the wife has definite opinions on what animals consider what buildings and paddocks as “home”.   And when I have calves at the house I need to access the working facilities with them for monthly weighing and such.  Another option would be to sell the horses that chase the cows and goats but they are my favorites….and a stock horse is supposed to like to chase stock.