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… 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.

more residue experiments update 1

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It has been eight days since I planted these buckets with cover crops.  all buckets have been watered equally and pretty regularly

The bucket with no residue only has a few seed germinating….I think some seed started to germinate and then got baked on a couple of the hot days we have had….they are still visible in the bucket…


Below is the bucket planted to the green cover mix and this bucket had the tall summer annuals and so it has heavy mulch….it was at least a 4 inch thick layer of mulch and the mulch is weighing down the new seedlings but they are beginning to show thru the mulch and certainly around the edges.


the below bucket is the one that had the goosegrass residue chopped up and it was sown to my home cover crop mix of the day.   While some plants are beginning to show thru the residue…..the entire residue mat is being lifted off the bucket.


the below photo is an attempt to show that the residue mat has been lifted a couple of inches off this bucket.


the seed scattered in the still living chicory is beginning to come up but since it is slower and not nearly as thick as the residue buckets and it is the same seed mix.



more residue experiements

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Building on the curiosity I created within myself with my gravel tubs, I have embarked upon another experiment.

In the early summer I brought four of my cover crop buckets to work.  One had chicory planted in it and the other three had various summer cover crop plantings….

Bucket require almost daily watering because the have limited soil reserves and these bucket did not do well over the long hot summer…too many days I was not here to apply water.

But I endeavor to persevere.

This morning I cut back everything but the chicory, a perrenial.  and I applied cool season cover crop seed to all four buckets and watered it in thoroughly….

the bucket on the left is the chicory….I sprinkled some of the mix I am seeding with at home on it and watered.   the bucket on the right started out as a summer cover but was taken over by goose grass which apparently came form the fraction of horse manure that was in the bucket.  this one was sprinkled with the same seed and mulched with the residue from the plants cut off.

chicory left goose grass right

below is a photo of a partially harvested residue….I cut it off and then cut it up with hand shears and then reapply it to the bucket after seeding.

part of the residue from the left bucket

in two other buckets I had two more treatments.  these two buckets both avoided the goose grass infestation and had what was left of the summer covers….  I had begun harvesting the bucket on the left when it occurred to me that I ought to take a picture….

summer stuff left half harvested

These two buckets got two different treatments….

The bucket on the left was seeded to some old green cover sample jar seed that was two years old….so I put it on pretty heavy…then it was mulched with the residue from the summer plants.

The bucket on the right was seeded with the same mix I used at home and was unmulched with no cover.

after seeding left mulched right not

I worry that it will feed the birds but nothing ventured nothing gained.

unmulched my mix

the seed mix from home   This is the volume usually broadcast on a single grazing paddock of about a tenth of an acre….I just grabbed a few handfuls from a mix to seed two buckets…



the label from the green cover seeds has seen better days …..I can read

black oats, winter peas, crimson clover, nitro radish, forage collard, purple top turnips and I think barley.

since this is at the front door of the our office I should be able to keep up with it in a reasonable fashion and will try to post observations….Or you can stop by and watch for yourself….

I planted chicory at home and was thrilled with it…six or seven feet tall and beautiful blue blooms most of the summer…Thus I am including it in my seedings again this fall….I found that it can be frost seeded or spring seeded or fall seeded…..what I wanted was a deep rooted perennial…..deep rooting limits its ability to grow in buckets especially crowded so it is not showing well in the buckets.   The stock devour it….



Experiments around the farm



Jim Tate

Jim Tate



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

I liked the new letterhead that I made for the OP-ED article so I am going to use it again…The mule is my good friend Stewarts good little mule Dancehall Dixie….The jackass riding the mule is yours truly.


I have a lot of photos I took of various things this morning as I was working.  The photos are from the cell phone and I cannot see to aim the thing in the sunlight so the photos are not as good as my regular camera.  The phone camera is just as high a quality but if you cannot see to aim it the photography suffers.


This is the mornings work area…the three pvc pipes are the left hand boundary of the two lots grazed by the heifers this past week…this area will be broadcast to cool season seed mix and bushoged and closed off while the cattle move to the next lots up the hill.

mornings work area

In sowing yesterdays lot my shoulder bag seeder when kaput….so while I was out yesterday afternoon I stopped by home depot to get one they advertised on line….but they failed to have one in the store….

So I stopped at tractor supply and found this one for a little more than half the price and I think I am going to like this one.

ground work

Metal gears that are exposed and can be lubricated.  Metal seed opening adjustment.

metal gears

Real good seed distribution.  Easy adjustment for volume and easy cranking….

seeding rate

Below is a step that I got behind on this year…and I have been paying the price.  I did not trim under the electric fences the first time we grazed and then the crops got over them and I have been trimming fences ever since…this works for me as well as anything…a mower with the wheels set as high as I can set them….lot easier than a string trimmer..I have a wheeled string trimmer and it is worthless.  This little mower handles blackberries and small trees and poke berries and the residue.  More on residue to follow….residue is important…Part of what I want to illustrate is the amount of residue I am leaving….in this paddock the residue probably averages 8 inches high or more…I could make them eat more…

But that does not leave anything for the livestock underground….building the soil microbia is a key component to building the soil….this takes underground roots and surface residue…my goal is for the livestock to take half and leave half and I think we have come closer to it this year than any year in the past….a good part of the credit must go to the timely rains we have had most of the summer….water is the most important nutrient.

residue mower

I have learned some things this year…It is not awful for grasses to go to seed.  I have a couple of wet paddocks that I could not get into to seed or bushog after grazing….these paddocks had a pretty good mat of walked down residue and I wondered how it was going to affect the grass…the orchard grass and fescue  had put up seed heads and they had matured before it got dry enough to even let the horses in that area.  Now a month or so after grazing I have new grass showing all over the lot.  Natural reseeding.  I am also seeing increased red clover in areas where I have not seeded red clover in a couple of years.  In addition if the livestock grazed those seed heads they help with the reseeding.  Yes I get a few weeds but weeds have some value as long as they do not take over…bush hogging after grazing will control the weeds.  I actually need more goats to graze with the cattle for better weed utilization.  My lazy goats are not hungry and lay about the barn most of the day.

The morning light was not the best for the photo below. It shows the stages of the lots mown and sown the last three weeks.  Last weeks has barley up about three inches tall today.  The grasses are too fine to see.  Clover is starting to become apparent.

last three weeks

I mentioned above that I have lots that did fine without mowing…the only reason I mow regularly after grazing is for weed control and to suppress the existing vegetation to allow the new seed to get established.  A good grass stand will not allow much competition to get established.

Below is where I will talk about what I learned about quantifying the value of residue just this weekend.  Some background is in order.

A couple of years ago I attempted to set up an aquaculture experiment…raising fish in rain water tanks and using plants grown in gravel to filter the water and fertilize the plants…My experiment did not work because I could not find an economical 12 volt pumping system…small pumps would not pump enough water and the fish did not get enough aeration, and pumps of sufficient volume killed the battery beyond solar charging capacity.  So for a couple of seasons now I have just scattered seed in the tubs full of gravel and observed what would grow.  Last summer I dropped some improved crab grass seed in these tubs and grew a whale of a crop….no nutrients just kept it watered growing in pea gravel.  In the fall I dropped some cool season cover in it and had a decent spring cover crop, again just gravel and water….when the cover crop faded with summer heat the crab grass came back,,,naturally reseeded…I normally water my cover crop buckets daily and also water these tubs…

Now, these tubs have a valve system to keep them from getting water logged and if full, the drain opens and drains the tub…sometimes a heavy rain will trigger the valve and I have to refill them…so I check the water about every day….Normal transpiration will use about two to three quarts of water per day.

I decided to drop some cover crop seed in the gravel again this fall…the crab grass and buckwheat had overgrown the walking area so I decided to cut it back…I took some shears and cut it back to about six inches and generated a pile of residue.  After I generated the pile of residue….I thought why not chop this up and mulch the seed with it…the second tub I did not cut as it was not in my walking area.  The residue I took off when chopped up made about a five gallon bucket of mulch….I put it on the seed and it made a layer at least six inches thick….All this was late Friday afternoon.   I did my regular watering during that evenings chores.  Saturday afternoon the tub with no mulch required the regular two quarts of water.  The tub with the mulch require 1 pint of water….only one quarter of the normal amount.  I will try to see how long the effect lasts.  Same on Sunday….two quarts in the tub with no mulch and about a pint to the tub with the mulch.

Photo below is the mulched tub and then the two tubs side by side.

Update 9/7/2016

the mulch tub is still only using about a pint or less of water per day…..the unmulched tub is using a quart and a half to two quarts depending on the heat of the day.   the fall cover crop is coming up in both….more easily seen in the unmulched tub but the cover is coming up through the mulch in the mulched tub.  will try to get some new photos


mulched tub

two tubs