Evaluating Various Forage Combinations in a Rotational Grazing System

Final Report for FNC93-057

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $3,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $34,400.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
Our operation consists of 320 acres of grass, managed intensively and harvested by 80 dairy cows, 40 replacement heifers along with 65 stocker calves. All grass is divided into 2-10 acre paddocks with water plumbed to each paddock. The stocker calves are brought in May 15 through August 15 to help utilize the spring flush of grass. If there is more grass than can be grazed it is harvested mechanically and stored for winter use.

The dairy operation is seasonal, so all cows are dried off in November and used to graze the stockpiled grass that has grown since the stockers left. The cows will start to freshen in March and begin their lactation on new growth of cool season grasses.

Fifteen years ago I stopped using anhydrous ammonia and started trying to reduce the use of pesticides. Being on sandy loam soil, I also tried to keep ground cover to reduce wind erosion. With these goals in mind, I moved slowly from wheat and row crops to alfalfa to grass.

Producers and businessmen assisting with project:

! Jerry Wise, Kauffman Seeds–cultivar selection
! Willy Kilmer, Willy Wire–fencing layout and design, encouragement, and proclaimer of results
! Jerry Jost, Kansas Rural Center–publication of field day and results of sustainable practices implemented
! Kevin Graber, Farmers State Bank, Yoder, KS–encouragement to me and pushing other clients to implement sustainable practices

Public Agency:

! Don Kueck, Reno County Agriculture Agent–modest skepticism propelling me to try harder to make the program work

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS

1. Barriers and Goals for project:
I have been exploring the options available to me for seeding perennial cool season grasses into existing alfalfa; and experimenting with mixtures of grasses and legumes to plant into open ground to be used in an intensively-managed grazing operation.

The options that I have been given by the University Extension, seed suppliers, forage consultants, and old-timers are all different and at odds with each other. Some say that “these” grasses will grow but only if they are planted in a certain way. The next person says that they can be planted any way you like but you don’t want “those” grasses, you should plant “these”. It goes on and on, either because they lack experience with management-intensive grazing, or because they haven’t experience with inter or over-plantings.

There are only a few beef cattle operations in Kansas utilizing management-intensive grazing and most of those are in the flint hills. At present there are not any other dairymen trying to utilize these tools in our area. I am trying to promote these concepts, but I’m at a loss to know what to say when asked what grasses and legumes to plant.

Another barrier to any operation in central Kansas is the climate. In 1993 we were flooded out in the middle of the summer; consequently, we lost some grass and legume stands. With the 1993 grant money these were partially reseeded to see how best to proceed in reestablishment of those swards.

2. Describe project and information learned and disseminated:
In the autumn of 1993 we interseeded the pasture mix known as Grazers Delight into those paddocks that were flooded out that summer. Due to the dry winter and spring conditions a poor stand was established.

We received about 6 inches of rain in July which brought on limited growth of the planted species and good growth of the summer annuals. After the rain stopped about July 25 we received no rain until the middle of October.

These conditions made for a very dry summer in which we harvested through grazing 50% less animal unit days per acre than we did in 1993. When Kenneth Schneider was here September 23 he observed how short of forage we were at that time.
Observations:
* In climatic conditions the abnormal is the normal in central Kansas
* With pasture establishment much patience is required.
* The lack of organic matter in the soil due to years of cropping is probably our biggest limiting factor.
* The information that I think is correct is probably wrong.
* I can share my experiences with others but with the disclaimer that what worked for me will probably not work for them but what didn’t help me will most likely be work for them.
* In the normal years (ie floods and droughts) I would rather be grazing than trying to harvest forage conventionally.
* In normal years (ie floods and droughts) with intensively managed pastures I have much less soil erosion due to wind and water than conventional operations.
* Interest from other farmers is growing exponentially and it is a real pleasure to share what I have learned with them.

3. Discussion:
This grant enabled us to spread the word about sustainable agriculture through the field day and by showing what can be done with grass as compared to small grains and row crops. After a number of inquires about what grass and legumes to plant from people this summer Jerry Wise (who assisted with the project) and I reformulated the mixture that we put together last year to include 8 grasses and 5 legumes instead of a mixture of 5 grasses and 3 legumes to sell for fall planting. This reformulation was a direct result of what plant characteristics were observed this summer made available by the grant.

This fall Jerry Wise of Kauffman Seeds Inc. sold enough seed to plant 115 acres to pasture. This was about one third less acres than was expected due to the extremely dry seedbed conditions and people not being able to plant.

On the economics side of this small gain of perennial polyculture, if all 115 acres (which were planted to our grass/legume mixture) are grazed next summer instead of cropped, a net income gain of at least $50 per acre can be projected. So, because of this one small grant, $5,750 will be gained monetarily by producers next year, in addition to reduced soil erosion and the social impact it will make.

OUTREACH
The organized outreach was through a field day that was held on our farm on July 18, 1994. This event was advertised through flyers that were mailed and hand distributed; through announcements in The Hutchinson News, Kansas Rural Center Newsletter, Grass & Grain, High Plains Journal, Farm Talk, Larry Steckline’s Agri News; and by word of mouth.

This meeting, with Ed Martsolf providing input, was attended by 75 people. Among those in attendance were several writers for local magazines who then wrote articles for their periodicals. The article which received the greatest circulation was the story in the November issue of the Kansas Farmer. A copy is enclosed. A similar article appeared in the Wichita Business Journal.

By far, the most detailed information was disseminated on a person-to-person basis throughout the year. I spend an average of 10 – 15 hours per week in this kind of contact both on the farm and over the phone.

Sample seed packs of Grazers Delight were prepared and mailed to Washington D.C. for publicity when funding for the SARE Grant was being debated. Since that time Kauffman seed produced “business cards” (included) for his own publicity.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.