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Making a pasture....and keeping it managed.

Discussion in 'Pasture, Hay, & Forages: Information & Management' started by greybeard, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. Jul 11, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    Thought I would post a little about pastures and the differences in a manged pasture and one that is not...and what the results of an un-managed pasture can easily become.
    For people new to pasture management, the first rule is vision.
    Have in your mind, not what you want your pasture to be tomorrow, but what you want it to be when you are all done and have nothing left to do but get up, watch the sunrise, drink a cup of Joe, and wander out to tend to your animal's immediate needs. Never, lose sight of that vision.

    Weeds. Later in this, I will be using that term loosely, a catch all for any unwanted plant even tho it may include tree saplings, woody brush, reeds and vines around ponds..all of it. For this purpose, if it isn't grass forage, it's a weed.

    As most here know, I took my land from a many decades old thicketed pine & hardwood forest, and tho the original process began when I was a kid in the mid 60s, I didn't really get into it seriously until 2008. At that time, it was a useless, ugly, useless, impenetrable mess. My vision at that time, was cleared land, with just a few trees left, pond, and plenty of good forage for cattle, fenced pastures weed and brush free and I worked to that end immediately. Cleared the land, piled the leftovers from logging, burned them and planted grass then worked on fences. By 2010, I cattle grazing belly deep in Bahia grass. Thought I was home free then, but soon realized my work had only begun.

    Even if I had bought a place with good pastures already established and ready for grazing, there would still be work to be done...the managing part.

    There are 2 types weeds, as there are 2 types any plant. Annuals and perennials.
    By far, annuals seem like they would be easiest to deal with, as they are almost all seed born. Perennials on the other hand return each season from their root stocks, usually having lain dormant during the cold winter months.
    Regardless of the method of weed control we choose, to be successful (or actually 'more successful') , we need to know a little about plant growth..how the vascular system works from the roots up thru the stalk or trunk.
    Not all plants work exactly the same, solid woody trees work different than a soft weed stem but the basics are mostly the same.

    Annual weeds.
    There is a common misconception, that you can mow or graze down annual weeds 2-3 times per year and quickly get rid of them permanently. Most cases, this is not true. All you have done is to prevent or postpone seedhead formation. Most people's lawns are from seed established plants, but you mow it every week and it never dies out during the growing season. And there are always weeds popping up in your lawn, no matter how many times you mow. Why? There is, in the soil, a seedbank. There are years of seeds of every kind of plant that ever grew in the last decade (maybe longer) stored there, just waiting for the right moment to sprout and grow, and many of the native weed seed can lie dormant for many years, still viable. There are also seeds in that seedbank, from those bags of grass seed you originally planted to make a lawn. They don't all sprout..a lot stay 'in reserve' to help replace lawn grass that has died.

    Perennials can be even worse and that problem comes not from seeds but from the root systems. We tend to think of roots being a one way conduit, carrying nutrient rich moisture from the ground to the limbs and leaves of trees and plants. It is not. It's a crowded 2 way highway. The roots are more than suction and anchoring devices...they are also storage facilities and they do a great job of it. Unless it's an evergreen, the plant itself dies back in winter, but within the root system, even in regions where the frost line is very deep, are stored vital nutrients. Energy, in the form of carbohydrates, sugars and some starches that were made by the leaves' photosynthesis during the growing season and sent down a section of the plant stalk or trunk called the phloem, and that area of living cells can move nutrients up or down as the plant needs demand. (The section of 'plant highway' that transports nutrients up TO the leaves is the Xyleum and it is generally made of dead cells.)

    The volume of energy stored in perennial roots can last for years, thru drought, extremely long bitterly cold winters, mowing, herbicide applications, digging, tugging, pulling and it usually only takes one little root left to produce at least one new plant, even if every bit of the above ground plant is gone.

    More later.......
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2018
  2. Jul 12, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    Return to the seedbank.. People wonder, why don't the weed seeds just all come up at once after a nice rain, so I can get rid of them all at one time?
    The answer is, for most weed seeds.. they can't. Most of the time, there is already some cover of some kind already growing and the seeds need 2 other things besides moisture. Sunlight/warmth and room. By room, I mean a place to squeeze thru the existing growth...a few sq inches or a few sq yards of open space. The open space allows the sun to warm the soil so the seed 'knows' to germinate. If grass or ground cover is already there, it acts as an insulator and keeps the sun's rays from warming the soil, even in mid summer.
    Ever drive thru your nice grassy pasture, maybe turn your 4 wheeler or pickup truck too sharp or drag something across the forage and leave a bare spot of soil? Watch it. Bare today, but 2 weeks later..weeds. Weed seeds love disturbed soil. They are opportunists and you provided the opportunity. Birds didn't come flying by and deposit those seeds or the wind pick up seeds somewhere else and drop seeds on that bare soil........they were already there. You look out at your nice green pasture today and are just soooo happy with it, but believe me, no matter where you live in the world, weed seeds are right below the surface...waiting waiting waiting. I've seen it too many times, and most of you probably have as well.
    I took this picture in 2009..it's part of a pasture about 15 acres total, not long before we moved into the house May 09. 2 years before, it was covered in forest, thicket, and vines so thick you couldn't walk thru it.
    I had cleared it, removed most of the stumps, disked it and preparing to plant bahia/bermuda mix on it as soon as it warmed up some more. My cowpen now sits where that tree trunk is and that incomplete fence corner is now my SE yard corner. (the lone pine I left died and I cut it down before I finished fencing in the yard) As you can see, it's mostly bare ground....danger will robinson!
    IMG_0753_(Small).JPG

    Same area, taken in January which is mid winter her, about 1 year later.
    I've cut the pine down, finished the yard fence, installed the gateway and the remnants of the frost killed grass can be seen..typical of winter here on new pasture. Takes about 1 1/2 growing seasons to really establish and cover.
    backhouse 2010.jpg
    Like all things, it isn't what you see, it's what I didn't get a picture of.

    Spring of 2009 the grass seed did come up pretty good, but along with it, the most prodigious crop of woolly croton and croton capitatus ever to grace this planet completely covered my yard and the area in those pictures. It's a native plant here, all along the gulf coast and will grow on most of the southern USA, more often called Dove Weed or Goat Weed. It reproduces solely by seed, and each plant produces hundreds and hundreds of seeds. I had tens of thousands of plants in the area you see. I had seen, but a few of these plants in the woods before I cleared it, but not many tho my gut feeling was they had been growing there each year & for decades .
    I gave the croton seedbank all and everything it needed to come alive after the 1st spring rain fell. Bare ground and sunlight. It was awful, but I had a heck of a dove flock every afternoon. I mowed it down 3 times in 2009 and it just kept growing back until the first good frost, but I knew much of it would be back the next spring if not more.

    Not only was it in the pasture, but covered the yard as well. I was able to cut lower in the yard with my lawnmower every other week, but it didn't matter. The plants just kept growing back. They are extremely drought tolerant, will grow on any soil, grow up to 4 ft high but, are a dicot, making them easy to pull up. Drought resistant doesn't mean it won't grow well in damp soil, it thrives either way. When the drought came a few years later, and I drove up thru East Texas to the Oklahoma border, I realized just how thick the croton seed bank was all over the state. The drought first stressed then all but killed the grass, allowing sun to hit the soil and woolly croton was everywhere (but not on my place)

    Not mine, but this pasture full of woolly croton is what much of East Texas looked like in the summer of 2011's drought:

    croton.jpg

    Wooley croton was not the only weed I had that year. Dog fennel, some marestail, and thousands of little sweet gums sprouted up too.
    :(
     
  3. Jul 13, 2018
    Bruce

    Bruce Herd Master

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    Looking forward to future installments.
     
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  4. Jul 13, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    Working on it Bruce.
    pH and nutrients and their effect on weed growth will be next and it may surprise some.
     
  5. Jul 16, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    We have all heard, get your soil pH right before we try to fertilize. When we start to make a pasture or renovate an old one, we should look at several things and pH is at the top of the list.

    The relation between top soil and subsoil regarding moisture retention(does the topsoil drain down thru the subsoil well enough to not be a muddy mess for weeks and weeks after a slow soaking rain?), porosity (can moisture even get down to the roots...can oxygen get to the roots and other gasses out away from the roots?) , the big 3: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash or Potassium and pH.

    pH is among the most overlooked part of our pastures, because it is often the hardest to adjust, and even if we know what we need to do, it isn't as quick a fix as the NPK needs are & I'm as bad about ignoring pH as anyone but what is pH anyway and how does it affect forage grasses and what we call weeds?

    Plants live and grow thru photosynthesis..the process of using sunlight to break down base elements into a plant's real food. We think, when we water our plants, and add fertilize, compost, organics, NPK and other 'stuff' that we are feeding our plants. We are not. We are making 'stuff' available to the plant so it can easily and quickly make it's own food. That food, is glucose. How do they do it? Scientifically the plant takes 6 molecules of CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air and six molecules of H2O (water) from the soil (and air) and thru photosynthesis, turn those into one molecule of C6H12O6 which is the scientific notation for one molecule of glucose.

    What does that have to do with ph?
    The letters pH stands for 'potential Hydrogen' and the H is capitalized simply because it is the scientific symbol for Hydrogen, the most abundant element in our universe. Potential Hydrogen roughly means the ability to absorb Hydrogen ions. (an ion is an atom or molecule with it's # of electrons not equaling the number of protons in the nucleus) Hydrogen, as illustrated above, is an essential part of photosynthesis, the process that all plants use to live and grow. H, is one of the elements that doesn't 'travel' well alone. It's atoms are almost always bound to another atom (or several). Our air has very very little H in it, (way less than 1%) but we have plenty of H in water and water vapor, so the plant needs water simply for the hydrogen and as a liquid medium to carry water soluble nutrients. No matter what else we 'feed' our pasture or garden plants tho, without H, that plant will die. However, a plant can have too much H as well as too little and will still die. This, is where the ph scale comes in.


    The potential Hydrogen scale tells us whether our soil and water (and almost everything else) is acidic or alkaline. While the 0-14 pH scale means 7 is neutral, most forages and other plants seem to do better a little on the acidic side, around 6 to 7. All tho the scale is graduated 1-14, the difference between the numbers is a factor of 10. For instance, if a soil shows to be slightly acidic at 6, it has 10 times the acid as neutral 7. If the test shows an alkaline 8, it is 10X more alkaline than 7 but 10X LESS alkaline than a 9. Small differences can make a lot of difference.

    It was developed and adapted internationally just to give us an easy indicator, but besides hydrogen, what does the differences in acidic and alkaline mean in regards to plants ? It means a lot regarding how well those other things a plant needs are transportable and movable..how available they are. Some elements and compounds are more easily available in acidic bases and some more available in alkaline base. For H alone, a neutral base works best for most plants, with just about every plant being able to live, grow, and reproduce within a few points either way of neutral. Neutral means a balance....not too much nor too little H.

    But, as we all know, H isn't the only thing a plant needs, and some plants need more of some elements than others and the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and water play a big part in that as well. (We don't worry much about the pH of the water our plants get, as most rain is pretty good for our forages at an acidic # of around 5.2-6 and few of us irrigate out of streams, rivers or lakes that may have a low or high pH. It's pretty accurate to say, that from a plant's point of view, 'what the soil is, it's water is'.

    pH1.jpg

    As far as our basic NPK fertilize goes, no matter if it is 100% organic or commercial, pH plays an important part in whether the plant gets to use it or not.


    pH2.jpg
     
  6. Jul 16, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    pH1.jpg
    Posted the chart again, because we are going to use it in this post......
    What, is the correlation between a weed crop and the soil's pH?
    Agronomists are sure there is one, tho all do mostly favor the old adage of 'Listen to what your weeds are saying."

    Is it the actual acidity vs alkalinity that makes the difference?
    Let's look at a few common weeds..
    We know that common bur clover likes a relatively low pH (between 4 and 6) but it also likes low fertility soil--specifically, low in Nitrogen.
    Look at the pH chart above on the 4-7 acid side, and we see that soil's ability to hold & transport N , begins to taper off at 6.0.

    Knotweed, also likes low pH soil, and low magnesium and low calcium soils.
    Again, both of those elements aren't very available in low pH soils.

    So, is there really a correlation to pH and weed growth? I'm not so sure it isn't more a case of an absence of trace elements. I have some places with pretty high pH and dandelions don't seem to have a bit of problem growing there, but that's anecdotal evidence and I'm really not much on that.

    Wasting fertilize...
    You can see in the forage fertilize chart, how much of the N you can lose with a low pH. Get your pH right first and the only way you can tell what you need to do, is by a soil assay or test. (unless of course you just have lots of $$$ to throw away)

    Will finish this post after breakfast......
     
  7. Jul 16, 2018
    Baymule

    Baymule Herd Master

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    Thank you for your detailed explanation. I always learn from your years of experience. You are right about the goat weed. I pull it up on our place and more comes back. I’ll win some day.

    There is several hundred acres across the road from us in two sections with two owners. One pasture is sporting American Persimmon seedlings and is seldom mowed. The Persimmons are quickly moving to saplings and will soon form a thicket if not mowed more regularly. Two large trees drop a LOT of fruit each fall.

    The other pasture gets covered in goat weed, but it gets mowed—AFTER the goat weed sets seed every fall. What dummies. They are only planting more!

    My sheep eat a lot of weeds, but even they won’t eat goat weed.
     
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  8. Jul 16, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    That weed seedbank including the croton seed, will be there long after we're all dust . The croton variety that grows in most of Texas can, per plant... drop up to 20,000 seeds in it's single annual lifetime. How many seeds do you think lie in and on the ground below the plants in this picture?
    turnedtodust.jpg
     
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  9. Jul 16, 2018
    Bruce

    Bruce Herd Master

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    Which apparently they do in Iowa. Radio show today talked about how many millions of tons of Nitrogen are getting into the gulf from Iowa farms, primarily corn and soy bean. Apparently corn doesn't like wet feet so there are in excess of 1,000,000 MILES of drain tile under the farms to run water off the land. Guess where it goes. In some years Iowa is the source of up to 89% of the nitrates in the Missouri River even though their land area is only 3.3% of the Missouri River basin. Over the last 20 years without the Iowa drainage, the amount of nitrates reaching the Mississippi Delta would have gone down 42,000 tons/year, with Iowa's "contribution" it is up 50,000 tons/year.
    Spread it on, wash it down the river. Lots of money going to waste and creating the dead zone in the Gulf.

    That is why you need to add goats to your farm!

    Um, A LOT?!?
     
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  10. Jul 16, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    More than there are miles of tile drains in Iowa