Our goal is to build up the life in your soils so that the seeds you sow will grow into crops that are highly mineralized. If you feed your soils and improve the biological life there, you will have better quality plants. At Lancaster Ag we stay close to the natural system by using naturally occurring mineral sources that benefit soil life and are readily available to plants. We use the research of Dr. William Albrecht and Dr. Carey Reams to balance nutrients for the farmers and growers we serve.
How can we provide all the myriad of nutrients and minerals in a proper balance for our animals? Highly mineralized crops are the best nutrients for livestock. Our supplements are easily assimilated, because they include natural plants and herbs so that the livestock are supplied with what they need to thrive. In your pastures, your livestock will be well supplied with nutrients that boost their immune systems from grazing on nutrient-dense legumes and grasses.
Herdsmen need a proper pasture evaluation to assess the value of a pasture that is providing forage for grazing livestock. They need to determine if the pasture will provide the amount of forage needed or if some type of overseeding is needed to thicken the stand. Pasture evaluation begins by assessing one-square-foot areas around the pasture. Observe the kinds of plants that are growing there and what percentage of the soil is covered.
A pasture evaluation should include the following observations:
What are the reasons? Animal traffic, soil fertility, compaction or shading?
Are there enough plants growing in the pasture to intercept at least 85 to 90 percent of the sunshine before it reaches the soil surface? Monitor density carefully so that cows’ dry matter intake is as efficient as possible with every bite.
Are soil fertility and soil biology at optimum levels? Having the proper proportions helps to provide a dense production pasture.
Is the proper forage species growing in the pasture to match the type of animal grazing? The grass-legume ration, short-tall growing species, and cool vs. warm season forages are main considerations.
Have poisonous and unpalatable plants in the pasture and barnyard been eliminated?
Is there proper drainage in the pasture so that there is no standing water? This will encourage the more productive forage species and control diseases and insects.
What is the over-all yield of the pasture? Yield determines the stocking rate the pasture will take, how long it can be grazed in each rotation, and how long into the fall the pasture can be grazed.
The grazer should understand the role of plant and animal interactions as well as their influences in pasture production.
Fall is the time to pay attention to pastures. In conventional farming, an option for pasture renovation is to kill all existing grasses and start over with new seeding. In organic farming, the goal is to thicken up the existing grazing stand by using no-till.
An excellent time to interseed is before grass comes out of dormancy in the spring. Fall is when the grasses are dormant. Another good time to interseed is during a dry spell, just before the rains come. This is when the old grasses are dormant.
The new seeding has a better chance of survival when there are many large bare spots in the pasture. It makes sense that new seeds will not fare as well when sown among green healthy grass that is already established. A rule of thumb is: the thicker the stand, the less new seeding that will be established.
Having mentioned that rule, there is a seed variety that we at Lancaster Ag have observed that does do well when sown among a thick stand. We have seen much success with no-tilling Greenfast Mixture into existing pastures. That mixture is available at Lancaster Ag by calling 717-687-9222.
When dealing with a pasture of thick fescue grasses, the best approach might be to get rid of the thick stand. Fescue is a tougher grass than some of the other varieties. Our suggestion is to kill it or plow it down in the fall and start over with a permanent grass mixture. Here are some options of other varieties to consider: HillSide Mixture, Star Mixture (CFU), King’s Haymaster Mixture, King’s Grazing Mix and the Barenbrug brand mixtures.
Farmers need to analyze the situation in their pastures then decide between two options. They can thicken up the species that they already have growing, especially if there are big bare spots. Or, they can entirely get rid of a species that they do not like.
If there is residual refusal in grazing, it is wise to consider a new variety of grass. For example, cows might not like grazing on endophyte grass, tall fescue or orchardgrass. A new grass species can also make a difference in solving fertility problems. In those cases, the soil must carefully be analyzed. Lancaster Ag representatives can give recommendations on new species and fertility problems.
Summer annuals are used to renovate pastures in the spring. When farmers seed in April, they can have stock grazing in June or July. Then early in the fall some yield from the summer annuals will need to be sacrificed in order to sow permanent pastures. Farmers can expect to get one or two cuttings from summer annuals to put into the silo. Grazing to 6 inches is allowed and then in several weeks stock may graze again to 6 inches. One round of grazing may need to be sacrificed in order for the field to be in better shape for the fall seeding. The growth of summer annual grasses slows down as soon as cooler weather comes in early fall, but they do survive until the first frost. Depending on weed pressure, disc or no-till can then be used in fall seeding.
Call us at Lancaster Ag about the best mixture to use for your specific situation. It is good to use mixtures because certain grasses do well in certain conditions. A mixture will cover several conditions. For example, triticale is excellent for spring and fall when there is plenty of moisture, but is dormant in the summer. Thus, the mixture should also contain summer annuals such as sorghum sudangrasses that do well during the dry season.
Dry Matter Measurement
It is important that farmers know the amount of dry matter an area of pasture has to offer. Mastering this evaluation helps to maximize pasture efficiency. The one mistake common among farmers is wasting pasture by offering too large an area of pasture at one particular time.
Dry matter yield per acre is a big challenge in pasture density. When the density of a pasture is correct, grazing becomes more efficient and weed pressure is eliminated. There are several ways to measure dry matter (DM) in a pasture. Use one or more of these methods to better manage your pasture operations:
Train the eye to determine pasture yield, dry matter, and quality
Direct Method / Hand Clipping
Clipping, drying, and weighing samples
Indirect Method / Pasture Ruler
Measuring the average pasture height
Indirect Method / Rising Plate Meter
Calculating both height and density
Managing pastures is a daily requirement for cattle growers. First, you should determine how much forage the grazing animals need on a particular day. Evaluate forages and grains fed in the barn, then determine the quality and amount of DM needed to be grazed on that day.
The different seasons play a big role in this determination. For example, in the spring when grass is growing strong, you need to graze faster so that the grasses do not get ahead of your cattle. In the summertime, you can focus more on yield and graze slower. Stage your grazing by taking the season of the year, yield, quality and DM into consideration.
Properly managed pastures can be very effective and dramatically change your bottom line. In order to achieve proper management, you must be keenly aware of all of the circumstances that affect pastures, such as rain, sunshine and the number of cattle grazing.
Options for Improving Pastures
If there is poor pasture even after fertilization, the cause is often too hard grazing and too short grazing. Productive grass is lost. Here are a few organic options to remedy poor pastures.
- Practice rotational grazing, especially if there are desirable grass species in the pasture.
- Wait to graze until the grass has come up and is established.
- Intensively manage with break wires and back fencing. This will relieve small tender grasses and allow them to regenerate faster.
- Establish cow lanes for cattle traffic instead of using the entire pasture.
- No-till more seeds into existing stands in the spring.
- Plow down the old grass if the grass species are undesirable.
- Use spring grains, peas, or mixes, i.e. Milk Max Mix, Pea Oats, Pea Tritlage, or Oats Plus Mixture.
- Or use summer annuals, i.e. teff for horses, sorghum sudans, or straight sudans for cattle.
- In the fall, sow a favorite pasture blend again.
Good forage management will result in productive pastures and hayfields, as well as maximum economical-growing legumes and grasses producing high-quality leaves for livestock feeding. The forage species used by graziers and hay producers are legumes, such as alfalfa, red clover, white clover, crimson clover and the vetches, as well as cool season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, timothy, tall fescue, smooth bromegrass and ryegrass.
Light, temperature and soil moisture are the three environmental conditions most critical to growing forage species. Knowing how forage species respond to different environmental conditions determines which management practices are needed to maintain a productive sward. Choosing specific forage species for grazing, haying and cover cropping that will survive extreme conditions is important for good management.
The storage organs of legumes and grasses are their roots, rhizomes, corms and lower stems. Energy management of these storage organs is the key to the productivity of legumes and grasses in a conventional three to five mechanical harvesting system or in season-long grazing. Forage management systems should be designed to promote storage of carbohydrates/sugars in the storage organs/plant cells from which regrowth will occur. Carbohydrates are the foods that plants utilize to build new stems and leaves that we call plant growth. Carbohydrates are made in green plant cells by mixing water and carbon dioxide. Sunlight is the power source for this reaction.
The amount of carbohydrates that are stored in the storage organs of legumes and grasses follows an up-and-down cyclic pattern similar to the wooden structure of an old roller coaster. Carbohydrates are used in the spring for initial growth, then rise as more foliage is added. When the forage is harvested, the carbohydrates take a sharp drop and do not start accumulating again until there is 6-8 inches of new growth. This cyclic up-and-down level of carbohydrates in the forage plant continues throughout the growing season.
Knowing where different forage species store their carbohydrates is fundamental in the management of all forages. The management practices that you use should not abuse the plant structure that will begin the new growth in a plant after harvest. Take note of the following list of where specific forage species store their carbohydrates.
Principal storage organs:
- Roots: alfalfa, red clover, and birdsfoot trefoil
- Stolons: ladino clover
- Stem bases: tall fescue, orchardgrass, reed canarygrass, and perennial ryegrass
- Roots and rhizomes: smooth bromegrass, reed canarygrass, tall fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass
- Corm: timothy (the corm is special bulb-like storage organ)
The buds that form on the crowns of alfalfa and red clover are the sites for regrowth for later harvests. Since the crowns are situated below the soil surface line, it is possible for alfalfa and red clover to survive shorter harvest heights than the cool season grasses. The legume that is the exception is birdsfoot trefoil. In trefoil the amount of carbohydrate that accumulates at any point of time during the growing season will be at a lower level than found in alfalfa or red clover. Allowing leaves to remain on the base of the trefoil plant after cutting or grazing will ensure its survival.
Orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, smooth bromegrass and timothy should have a 3-inch stubble remaining after harvest. Tall fescue and bluegrass can be harvested closer, but leaving a 3-inch stubble will allow faster recovery. The cutting height for reed canarygrass is weather related; the more moisture available, the lower the harvesting height and the more frequent the harvesting times.
Here are general rules about recovery after harvest. Tall-growing forage species that have all or most of their leaves high on the plant will depend on food reserves stored in the roots and/or plant base for new growth after the top growth is removed at harvest. Short-growing species that have some leaves remaining after harvest are not as dependent on stored food for recovery.
High Quality Forages
Providing high-quality forages is the key to milk production and sound herd health. Grazing on lush young grasses gives production that is among the best! The cow uses acetic acid produced in the rumen by forage fiber digestion to produce milk and butterfat. Grains that are fed to supplement forages are broken down into propionic and butyric acids in the rumen, which the cow uses for body maintenance needs. Thus, it is not grain that will bring high milk production; rather, it is highly digestible forage.
In the past alfalfa was the queen of forages and corn silage was another mainstay of many dairy farms. Alfalfa gives protein and corn silage gives high-energy content. Available today are improved grasses, which if managed well, will produce higher protein than alfalfa and higher energy than corn silage.
Highly digestible fiber allows cows to eat more and give more milk without the high levels of grains, which can foster acidosis and degenerative diseases. It is a challenge to manage your grasses so that by harvest or by grazing you gain the optimum quality from the different grass species. It is very helpful to know the traits of each variety, then plan ahead by using that knowledge.
These improved, highly digestible grasses include ryegrasses (annual, Italian, & perennial), festuloliums, orchardgrasses, bromegrass, tall fescues, BMR sorghum sudan, BMR forage sorghum. These grasses, if harvested in the vegetative stage, are higher than alfalfa in digestibility of the fiber and range from 65-80 percent digestibility, whereas alfalfa’s digestibility is 50-55 percent. Thus, there is a potential for greater milk production with the improved grasses. Please note that NutriDense corns are also higher in digestible nutrients than common corns.
Managing High Quality Forages
- Apply a Fall Dry Blend of minerals, traces and biologicals to improve soil life and nutrient level
- Apply liquid fish- and biological-based fertilizers to spark growth at green-up in the spring and again after each cutting
- Grow alfalfa or clovers with the grasses to gain the benefit of nitrogen fixing, which will also spur growth
- Harvest at the vegetative stage. Grazing, with intensive management, can accomplish this. Cutting for haylage, baleage or hay should be done at the proper stage of growth. That way not as much will be lost from rain on grasses as will be lost with alfalfa and clovers. Digestibility will decrease if grasses are allowed to mature.
- For best herd health, do not feed more than 20-25 lb. of corn silage. Keep grain levels under 35 percent of ration dry matter. This considers corn silage as half grain and half forage.
Overseeding is spreading seed over an already existing growing crop or plant cover. It means sowing seeds where other plants are already growing without first clearing and cultivating the ground. The goal is for both crops (existing and new) to grow together. This promotes new growth or replaces one type of grass with another. Please note that the introduced crop can consist of two or more different species.
The usual type of overseeding is in a pasture where new grass seed is spread on top of existing grass and sown into an old sod. Overseeding is also used when adding a cover crop into a growing small grain or a vegetable garden. A seeder that incorporates the seed to a proper depth in the soil is needed rather than tillage that disturbs the growing crop.
The newly introduced plants will have a higher chance of survival if they have shade tolerance. Achieving good seed-to-soil contact is vital in assuring the success of germination of the seed and growth of the plants.
Frost seeding is an economical way to thicken a low-density plant stand or to introduce a new species into a plant stand. The technique in frost seeding is to spread seed on top of the soil when the soil is undergoing a freeze-thaw cycle. The surface of the soil will be honeycombed and have the appearance of the inside of an English muffin.
Weather conditions needed to make frost seeding successful are present one or two weeks in late winter to early spring. The specific sequence of weather conditions is: a rain event or melted snow saturating the soil surface, a clear cold night in which temperatures drop well below freezing, and finally, a clear cold morning. Existence of these weather conditions allows the soil to honeycomb, thus provides the small nooks and crannies that the seeds fall into. Soil thawing by the sun will grease over the soil and ensure seed-to-soil contact at the proper planting depth.
Other conditions that should be present to ensure success of frost seeding are: having open bare soil surface; using small rounded seed; starting seeding early in the morning when the soil crunches under foot; and finishing seeding before the frost on the plants thaws. Ground that is covered with a growing crop could be insulated from the effects of freezing from the cold air above. The species that have the most success are red clover, timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass and festuloliums. Alfalfa can be successfully frost seeded if the freeze-thaw cycle expands the soil more than normal and there are larger holes.
Interseeding is the practice of sowing the seeds of new species of legumes and grasses into an existing crop with the use of a seeding device that places the seeds at a proper depth. Reasons for interseeding are to increase the production of worn-out stands for several more years, shorten the time the field will be idle between crops or change the dominate species because of a change in management systems. The goal is to have a pasture or hayfield that is a producer of good quality forage.
The interseeding should be done at the proper time so that the new seedling will grow. The existing crop is also expected to grow and provide a grain or forage crop.
The most common kinds of interseeding are when soybeans are seeded into a growing stand of wheat or grass is seeded into a thinning legume stand. Another example is interseeding red clover or birdsfoot trefoil, which are nitrogen-fixing legumes, into pastures or hayfields with orchardgrass and smooth brome that continually need nitrogen to maintain production.
Keep in mind when interseeding into an existing stand, the existing grasses must be challenged or mowed short so that the introduced grass species does not have a challenge with moisture, nutrients or shading. It is very important that the introduced grasses have a chance to get established.
When seeding, growers need to take into account whether they have heavy or light soil and how firm their seedbed is. Forage legumes and grasses do best on fertile, well-drained soils with good moisture-holding capacity. The seed needs moisture to swell and oxygen to germinate. Plant legume and grass seeds in firm soil: ¼ inch below the soil surface in heavy soils and ½ inch deep in light, sandy-type soils. When growers plant too deep in heavy soil, the seed is starved for oxygen. They look for some seed lying on the soil surface, which is a indication that the seed has not been planted too deep.
In order for the seed to absorb the water that begins the germination process, there needs to be good seed-to-soil contact. Grass seeds need to take in twice their weight in water and legume seeds three times their weight for germination to occur. A seed placed in an open space or planted too shallow may get enough water to swell but not enough to continue the process of germination.
The two ways to properly prepare a firm seedbed for planting forage seeds are conventional tillage or no-till.
No-till seeding’s primary tillage tool is the no-till drill. The seeder prepares a narrow seedbed by using one or more disks right before it drops the seed into the soil. No-tillage seeding maintains a firm seedbed since the soil has little disturbance.
Conventional till breaks up the soil surface by plowing, chiseling and/or disking. Secondary tools such as disks and cultimulchers are then used to break down and firm the soil for planting. Special attention should be given to soil type and seedbed firmness when setting equipment for seeding. Is the soil heavy or light? Will the seeder sink into a soft seedbed after it has been set for placement of seed depth? Also note that there needs to be compensation for soil texture and firmness when the seeder is placed on asphalt or gravel to make adjustments in preparation for seeding.
Setting the equipment properly and compensating for the type and firmness of soil is very important. Many farmers are discouraged with their percentage of seed germination or emergence. They conclude that they planted bad seed. But in the end they discover that the seed was planted too deep for their type of soil. We recommend that you make your first pass through the field and then stop to examine the seed depth/placement before continuing.
Advantages of No-till
- Lower cost for field preparation
- Less fuel and labor
- Planting into a good seedbed
- Less soil erosion
Advantages of Conventional Tilling
- Already have equipment to do the job
- Soils warm up faster when tilled
- Adding soil amendments such as limestone and minerals to correct deficiencies
- Reduction of insects and diseases
- Adds oxygen to the soil
- Increases microbial activity
A nurse crop is an annual crop used to assist in the establishment of a perennial crop. Its purpose is to fill out the area, shade soil from excessive sunshine, help retain moisture, prevent erosion and discourage weeds. An example is small grains that are seeded alongside the primary perennial crops such as legumes and grasses. Perennials should be planted with large spacing. By using a nurse crop, less ground is exposed during the establishment of the legumes and grasses.
Legumes will grow better during establishment if nurse crops or weeds do not shade them. Alfalfa growth is greatly retarded from shading by companion grain crops or by weeds. Red clover is less severely damaged by moderate shading. This means that red clover is more readily established in winter grain crops than alfalfa.
Forage Crop Harvesting
When harvesting forage mechanically or grazing with animals, there is a compromise between maximum yield verses maximum quality of the forage. Harvest the legumes and grasses at a stage of growth in which both yield and quality are at the highest point in the plant. Neither yield nor quality should be sacrificed. Also harvest at a level where the carbohydrate reserves will not be depleted.
When mechanically harvesting, use the flowering legumes and heading grasses as indicators for the first harvest. For legumes watch for these stages: alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil 1/10 bloom, red clover ½ bloom, white clover 8 inches tall and vetches early bloom. To harvest the cool season grasses mechanically, watch for the boot stage in orchardgrass, bluegrass, reed canary and ryegrass. For timothy and smooth brome, harvest at heading. Later harvests are then scheduled after a 28-35 day rest period to build up carbohydrate reserves. Subsequent cuttings of timothy and brome should be made again after heading.
In harvesting by grazing, farmers need to approach the harvest in a completely different way. First, determine what you want to accomplish. From a management perspective, know what you are after: top yield, high- quality or both.
Top & Bottom Growth
Leaves are food factories. They use sunlight to combine carbon dioxide, water and minerals in order to make plant food. Leaves convert the water and minerals gathered by roots into plant food. Roots also store food that is essential for regrowth. Short tops mean short roots. Short roots mean less future grass production and less drought tolerance.
It is important to note that overgrazing destroys both leaves and roots. The mistake many graziers make is forcing livestock to graze too hard on the third and fourth rotations, leaving forage too short to recover quickly. This quote will help you determine when to stop the grazing. “If you can see a golf ball out there in the pasture in June, you will not have good grazing the rest of the summer.”
Leaving just 2-3 inches of residual is acceptable in the spring when cool season forages are growing fast. Cows need to graze close to keep pastures from getting ahead of them and to help clovers compete with grasses. Be aware, as the temperature rises, forage growth slows. You need to decrease stocking rates or move your herd to new grass sooner, leaving 4-8 inches of top growth so forages can recover faster.
It is important to inoculate seeds in many different ways. The industry standard has been the addition of rhizobia, a type of common soil bacteria, to legume seeds prior to planting. However, we are finding that inoculation of grasses, corn and vegetables is equally important.
To understand inoculation better, consider this analogy: a fragile, newborn baby is placed into an unhealthy environment not protected from danger. Like the infant, seeds are young and fragile and do not have many built-in defense mechanisms to ward off predators, diseases or insects.
Lancaster Ag has designed its own bacteria inoculant to inoculate seeds, not only the legume rhizobia bacteria, but using other bacteria as well. This inoculant defends the young, vulnerable seeds and provides nutrients, moisture and minerals so that the seeds can establish and grow prolifically.
Most soils in the Northeastern United States are acidic. Because the grasses and legumes commonly grown for hay or pasture are sensitive to acid soils, livestock growers need to pay attention to nutrient balance in their soils.
Apply limestone to fields before seeding to make the calcium soluble. If a soil sample calls for four to five tons of limestone per acre, Lancaster Ag highly recommends the application of limestone at 1,000-2,000 lb. increments over time.
There is evidence that applying all the limestone to the surface of the soil is as effective as incorporation. Fineness of grind, water content, total neutralizing power, soil magnesium levels and cost of material determine what type of liming material to use on a field. Limestone fineness determines the effective neutralizing power or quickness in balancing the soil. Water is a weight to the liming material and does not contribute to neutralizing the soil acidity. Pure calcium carbonate, used as the standard from which other materials are measured, has a neutralizing power of 100.
Nutrient requirements for establishing and maintaining forages can be determined by taking soil samples. Legumes and grasses are heavy feeders of phosphorus and potassium. At planting apply the amount and type of nutrients called for in the soil sample. Broadcast over the field, then work into the soil at seedbed preparation.
Lancaster Ag focuses on a broad spectrum of nutrients in the blends we have developed for legumes and grasses for fall and spring application. Along with this, we apply a broad spectrum of microbes giving a multi-pronged approach to making nutrients available.
Through the recycling of nutrients from roots and crop residue, there are nitrifying bacteria that focus on making nitrogen available from the atmosphere through hydrogen and oxygen. There are also bacteria that make phosphorus available in the soil. Thus, we encourage livestock growers to consider using one of our blends on acreage for hay or pasture instead of a single mineral fertilizer.
When considering nutrient applications on grasses, think beyond only fertilizer. Consideration should also be given to bacteria, organic matter and humus. The higher the bacteria and humus count in the soil, the better the grasses can flourish naturally, providing a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Large quantities of bacteria in our soils provide nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for legumes and grasses, gained from crop residue and root die-off. When this happens in the soil, along with having adequate amounts of calcium and limestone, there are many other nutrients that are automatically made available.
However, money wise, when planting a new seeding of forages, applying limestone to a field goes further for a successful stand of a legume or grass than money spent on fertilizer alone.