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Pasture Stations At The NODPA Fielddays
What was learned at the five pasture stations set up at
Roman Stoltzfoos’ farm in Lancaster County, PA.

summer forage
Discussing summer forage plots on the Stoltzfoos farm.

Added September 14, 2009.This year at the NODPA Field Days, we decided to do something a little different and provide some stations in the pasture where topics could be presented and discussed. At Spring Wood Organic Farm there is a lot going on, so the biggest challenge was reducing the number of possible subjects to just five. The station subjects were: 1) Summer Annual Forage Plots, 2) Benefits of Hedgerows, 3) Native Plant Identification, 4) Fence Lines and Water Systems and 4) Basics of Pasture Management.

Attendees were able to visit up to 4 stations over a 2-hour period as the stations would repeat their presentation every half hour. Below is a summary of what was covered:

Summer Annual Forage Plots and Discussion at Spring Wood Farm
With Tim Fritz and Dave Wilson of Kings AgriSeeds

Summer annual strips were seeded on Spring Wood Farm to demonstrate to benefits and differences of various summer annual forages for grazing. Plots compared and displayed were:

  1. Three sudan grasses,
  2. Five BMR sorghum sudans,
  3. Forage millet,
  4. Forage millet and a forage brassica
  5. Five forage brassicas
  6. Forage brassicas and BMR sorghum sudan

In addition, brassicas were added to some areas of BMR sorghum sudan. Even though 2009 was a very productive cool season grass year, Dwight Stoltzfoos felt that the summer annuals benefited his grazing program as they relieved the grazing pressure on the perennial pastures which resulted in increased rest period and better summer forage quality.

Due to an abnormally cool and wet season, weeds were very heavy in the brassicas. It seemed as though the combination of forage brassicas and the Millet and the BMR sorghum sudan were the most productive in this wet year. Sorghum sudans andSudan grasses prefer drier and warmer years. Brassicas grow well in both cool and hot weather and prefer a year that is not very dry. The bottom line is that brassicas are an excellent low cost addition to summer annual grasses.They can also be seeded with oats in cooler climates along with spring and fall plantings in warmer climates.

The group also discussed harvesting summer annuals for stored forages. All the crops with the exception of the brassicas work very well as a stored forage.

Several producers commented on various successes that they have had feeding BMR sorghum sudans grasses to their herd in the winter months.

Benefits of Hedgerows
By Roman Stoltzfoos

There seemed to be signifcant interest in the why’s and how’s of fencerows and their benefits. Roman explained that there were different reasons for wanting border strips along fencerows. Some are protecting animals or using buffer strips to protect certified orgainc land from contamination and or having what was called and edge affect that gives beneficial insects and animals a place to winter. Also sometimes you may want to have a beautiful backgrounding plant that will encourage songbirds to proliferate and feel at home.

Jim Gardner explained the synergism of different plants growing together and some of the advantages to the animals and the soil.

Charles Hegburg dealt with the economic advantages of hedgerows. Animals can benefit from plants growing there like willows and berries. Also pecans, pinenuts, or blueberries could be grown along a hedgerow, providing a supplemental income stream to the farm.

Native Plant Identification
By Sarah Goslee, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit

Do you know how many species of plants are in your pasture? Two? Ten? Fifty? And can you identify most or all of them? My group has spent many years looking at what plants grow in pastures, and where. In a regional survey of pastures on 44 grazing farms from West Virginia to Maine, we found that pastures were quite diverse, with 9 to 73 species per pasture. The average number of plant species was 32. Across all the farms, we identified 310 different species. These species provide forage, habitat for insects, birds and mammals, erosion control, and more.

The plant identification station at the NODPA field days was in a pasture that contained 32 species: 12 grasses, 2 legumes, and 18 non-leguminous forbs (anything that’s neither a grass nor a legume). Like most pastures, the dominant species were forage grasses, including orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and tall fescue. Red and especially white clover were the most common legumes in this field, and across the Northeast. A few species, like dandelion, plantains, and quackgrass, were found on every farm we visited. Most farms also had thistles, jimsonweed, or other noxious species. These plants are unpalatable or poisonous, can be invasive, and may require special attention and control.

There is variety even within a pasture. Disturbed areas around gates or waterers often have species like plantains and crabgrass that quickly appear in bare areas. These fast-growing species can help reduce soil erosion. Different species also show up in damp areas, where many forage species won’t do as well. Here you might find reed canary grass and smartweeds. Plants species also vary based on the time of the year. Chickweed is a spring species, while crabgrass and foxtail don’t show up until midsummer.

If you would like to learn more about identifying forage grasses and legumes, there are many resources available through extension and NRCS, both online and in print. Some of these publications also include common weeds, but none include the whole range of species that might be in your pasture. I often use Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb. Many of the plants that grow along roadsides and bloom attractively in the summer or autumn can be found in your pastures, and in this book. It is well-illustrated, easy to use, and inexpensive, and is a useful resource for anyone interested in what’s growing in their pastures and hedgerows. More comprehensive plant identification manuals are available, but they can be difficult to use and often have no pictures.

Learning the plants on your farm and watching their patterns in time and space can improve your understanding of the soils, weather, and topography of your farm, and how they interact with management. Every time you walk your pastures, take a look at what’s there, not just how much and how green. Which species or lack of species respond to heavy disturbance or overgrazing? Changes in pH or nutrients? Drought? Some of the species on your farm may be early indicators of change, and paying attention can pay off.

Pasture Fence and Water Systems
By Sarah Flack

I led a discussion of how to set up and trouble shoot an effective electric fence system and provide water for grazing. Here is a summary of some of the key points:

  • Select and properly install a quality energizer. An energizer which is not adequately grounded is more likely to be damaged by lightning, will provide less of a charge to keep the livestock in and is more likely to result in stray voltage.
  • A simple way to determine if the grounding system is adequate is to short out the live fence and then test the voltage on the ground wire. If the test shows significant voltage on the ground wire, the ground system is not adequate.
  • Lightning protection includes having a large enough grounding system, and can also include diverters, arrestors, chokes or coils.
  • Getting high voltage to all areas of the farm is made easier with high quality perimeter fencing that can conduct electricity with minimal resistance. High tensile fence will require the least maintenance and maintain high conductivity over time. Other types of steel wire (at least 14 gauge) can also make a good perimeter fence.
  • Portable fencing can be used to subdivide larger areas. There are significant differences in the quality of portable posts and polywire. Highly conductive poly wire known as “turbo” poly wire is worth using if you are fencing areas that rely on the poly wire to carry power over a long distance. Stranded aluminum wire can also carry voltage effectively over long distances.
  • Water can be provided to paddocks in several ways. If piping water to pastures is not possible, water can be provided using a tank on a wagon parked in the pasture.
  • If using pipe to provide water in each paddock, use large diameter pipe so water pressure is maintained as it travels the length of your farm. Many prefer to keep the pipe above ground so it is accessible for repairs and can be relocated if water lines and fences move in the future. Leaving the pipe above ground can raise the water temperature, so in some climates burying the pipe or keeping it in the shade may be necessary.
  • Water tubs can be small and portable as long as the flow rate is high enough to keep them full while the herd drinks. Water tubs can also be large and rarely moved, which is often easier if the water flow rate is low or if the herd is very large. It is less expensive to have a few portable tubs than many permanent tubs.
  • Fixed water systems where cows walk to drink from a centrally located tub may be your only option when you are getting your grazing system set up, but it will be helpful to begin providing water in the paddocks as soon as possible. Drinking from ponds or streams may also be possible with careful attention to water quality and potential erosion.
  • Particularly during wet weather, having well built lanes will make managing pastures easier. Dry, well-surfaced lanes can also help prevent hoof injuries and other problems. In wet areas or heavily used lanes, a road-building filter fabric used under the gravel will create longer lasting lanes and less maintenance. You may also need culverts and erosion controls.
  • Check with your local NRCS office for programs to help pay for fences, lanes, water systems and other costs of setting up the grazing system.

Basics of Pasture Management
By Lisa McCrory

The Basics of Pasture Management Station covered some key points to a healthy, successful grazing system including adequate recovery periods, determining the amount of feed that your animals need, estimating paddock size, and planning the number of acres needed for grazing over the growing season.

To prevent overgrazing of plants and maximize dry matter intake, move animals frequently, so that each paddock is not grazed for more than three consecutive days. Grazing periods of 12 to 24 hours result in much higher pasture and livestock productivity. Average number of days in between grazings will vary from as little as 12 days in the spring to 45 days (or longer) by October first.
Dwight Stoltzfoos joined us for the first session and explained his grazing program to the group. The cows typically go into the pastures when the forage is 8-10 inches tall and they are given a new paddock after each milking. Every two or three grazings, when a pasture acquires a significant amount of rejected feed, Dwight will clip the pasture right before the cows are gong to graze that piece again. The cows do an excellent job of cleaning up all the cut feed and anything left over is food for the soil. This system has worked especially well in paddocks where there is a significant amount of fescue.

Below is a copy of the dry matter and paddock size calculations that we used. (There are 43,560 square feet in an acre, which is a square that is about 210 feet on a side).