“Diversity, pt 2”

No Till Notes

Date: Week of October 7, 2012

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

            Since I wrote last week’s article I’ve had a few phone calls and e-mails asking me to expand on the topic of adding forages to dry land crop rotations and how to implement these forages into the crop rotation.  I will share some of my ideas of what I think will work, but I’m by no means an expert in forages and grazing cattle.  I really think this a concept worth exploring to integrate livestock, diverse forages for grazing, and crop production. 

          It makes a good deal of sense to me that if we can improve the soil we work with our forage and crop production on those acres should also improve.  The most important aspect of improving soil health is to increase the organic matter of the soil and improve the biological diversity in the soil.  This concept would also diversify our operations by adding livestock into our operations.

The addition of a mixture of forages would provide this increase in organic matter and diversity provided the forages are managed properly.  These forages would be grazed rather than hayed and a least 50 percent of the forage has to be left for the soil.  It is critical that we leave enough forage on the soil surface to protect the soil and feed the biological organisms in the soil.

            If we had cattle in our operation I would replace the dry land corn acres with forages in our winter wheat, corn, field pea crop rotation.  Dry land corn is the weak link in our crop rotation from a moisture requirement standpoint.  We run out of moisture occasionally in July and August when the corn really needs moisture to produce grain.  This year is a good example where we had enough moisture to produce a good plant, but lacked the moisture to produce much grain.  If we would have had forages in place of the corn we could have produced a good forage crop with our limited rainfall this year.  

            In order to achieve long term grazing of forages I think you would need to implement a forage crop rotation within the forage cycle.  I would plant one third of these forage acres to an early season forage mixture which I would plant in early spring.  This mixture would include forages such as forage field peas, forage oats, radishes, and turnips.  You want a diverse mixture of forages for the quality of the forage and the diversity it brings to the soil.

            I would also plant a summer forage mixture on another third of the acres consisting of sorghums, millets, forage soybeans, sunflowers, radishes and turnips.  I would time the planting of this mixture so that it is ready to start grazing at about the same time that the grazing of the spring mixture has been completed. 

            The final third of my acres I would plant a mixture of the spring and summer forages.  My thought is to have a combination of forages with some of the forage growing in the later part of the summer and part of the mixture being cool season forage that would continue to grow into the late fall.  This would extend the time of living roots growing in the soil and add additional forages for grazing into the late fall and early winter.

            The logistics of how to really implement this type of grazing program would have to be worked out.  Fencing, grazing rotations, and providing water for the cattle would all have to be worked out to achieve the highest efficiency of this grazing program.  I don’t have the answers for these types of questions, but I do know of producers who have implemented these forage crops into their crop rotations.  This type of cropping system integrating cattle grazing into their operation has worked well for them.

            At this year’s Panhandle No till Partnership winter meeting we have invited some of these producers to speak about integrating cattle, forages, and crop production.  With a dry weather pattern these forages may have a real fit here in our region.  The forages could also help take some grazing pressure of the rangelands and allow them to recover.  I think these forages are worth taking a look at and implementing livestock into our crop production acres may increase the profitability of our dry land acres.


One thought on ““Diversity, pt 2”

  1. Hi Lyn, Thanks for getting in touch! You’ve got quite the sricaneo on your hands there, that’s for sure! We do have some suggestions for you, check it out and let us know if you have any more questions, OK?First, need to look at dry matter requirements and make sure the horse is getting enough. At the most basic level, you will simply need to get the calories in the horse to gain weight. I am going to use 1200 lbs because for his height that is probably what he should be. You can adjust if his actual weight is different.Light work horses require 1.5% 2.5% of their body weight in dry matter per day. Dry matter is hay/pasture + grain. So that would be 18 – 30 lbs of total feed a day for a 1,200 lb light work horse. Hard keepers will need more and easy keepers will need less. Horses needing to gain weight will need more. Good quality hay or pasture will also allow you to feed less. Poor quality hay or hay baled too mature will be much lower in calories and nutrients. Hay makes up the majority of the horse’s diet and hay quality changes often so it has the biggest impact on maintaining body condition. As a rule of thumb, you have to feed about 1 bd to 2 lbs more of grain to make up for poor quality hay (hay baled too mature) or pasture.For a light work horse, 65-70% of the diet should come from hay and 30-35% from a nutritionally prepared feed balanced in vitamins/minerals so horses reach daily calorie and nutrient requirements. So if you were feeding 24 lbs of total dry matter a day about 16-18 lbs should come from hay and 6 9 lbs should come from grain. Choosing a feed higher in fat and calories will allow you to feed less.I recommend a controlled starch and sugar feed and high fiber feed to reduce risk of hyper – exciteabilty and reduce risk of colic. I also recommend consistent levels of feeding and feeding times. SafeChoice Original would be a good choice for this horse because of the controlled starch and sugar and higher fiber levels and higher fat. Empower Boost can be added to help put on weight. I recommend no mixing of grains or vitamin/mineral supplements. Nutrena premium feeds are balanced in vitamins/minerals at optimum levels to support optimum animal performance and health. Mixing any grains or vitamin/mineral supplements can create an imbalance in the ration. For example, barley, oats, and rice bran are all higher in phosphorus compared to calcium and can create an imbalance in the 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio horses need. Rice bran in its natural form also goes rancid very easily.Beet pulp is a great source of fiber but lower in calories compared to grains so it will not help much with the weight gain. Beet pulp is also higher in sugar compared to SafeChoice Original so it won’t help much with hyper-exciteability but soaking it does help to remove the sugars. Feeding enough good quality hay with SafeChoice Original will provide enough fiber in the diet. Barley is also high in starch so it will not help with hyper-exciteability also. Feeding a controlled starch and sugar diet will be most helpful for hyper – exciteability, but it is very important to keep in mind that a certain amount of that is contributed to the horse’s personality. Horses getting good nutrition will also feel better, which is possible to mistake for excitable.SafeChoice Original also contains prebiotics and probiotics to improve digestion and nutrient absorption and help to keep the hind gut healthy. Pelleted feeds are also more highly digestible compared to whole grains such as barley.So in short, 18 – 30 lbs of total feed a day for a 1,200 lb light work horse…will probably need on higher side since he needs to gain weight. 18 lbs of hay or more and start at 6-7 lbs of SafeChoice and go from there. Add Empower Boost if necessary. No other vitamin/mineral supplements or grains mixed. Offer free choice salt and fresh water at all times.Good luck, and let us know if you have more questions! Thanks ~ Gina T.

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