summer cover 2018

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Below is a photo snapped this morning of the trail behind my chicken tractor.  The Chicken tractor only has three retired chickens in  it now….I move it about once per week and then sow some cover crop on the area just vacated…

this morning while going to turn Perkins out from eating his breakfast I stopped to take a shot of the last six weeks growth of summer cover crops.

This is the same cover crop planted at roughly weekly intervals…

first you see the buckwheat and the cow peas.  then the sun hemp appears.  then the buckwheat starts to bloom and grow…finally the warm season annual grasses come up through the vegetation…

the farthest back plot is about 3.5 to 4 feet tall now…

what was sown Friday is just germinating…(Not visible in the shot)

The horses are grazing around this area…I put up some baling twine to make them think there was an electric fence and they have not bothered it in almost a week.  you can see a step in post on the left side of the photo.

the monsoon rains are keeping it growing…

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

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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


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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….