Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everywhere You Look ... Mud!

It feels like it has rained for about 36 straight hours (or more). It has not been a downpour, but it has been a steady and cold rain that has amounted to a bit over an inch I believe. With all of this rain our farm has turned into one big mud puddle. In fact, I think mud puddle might not even be the right word at times because in most places the water just sits on top of the ground not really even soaking in to make mud!

The above picture is what are farm looks like basically if we receive any measurable amount of rain. The moisture just doesn't soak into the ground and will either run off or evaporate. I'm sure I'm exaggerating a little bit, but that's what it seems like. And, we I'm out doing chores and walking through these puddles I understand just how far we have to go on this farm to get the soil fertility up to a level that is really beneficial.

I am encouraged though when I hear success stories of farmers and farms that were able to build healthy soils. I know Joel Salatin likes to write about how his farm used to be sparsely covered in grasses, but after rotational grazing and giving back to the ground instead of just taking it is like a whole different farm. So, do any of you have any other encouraging stories like that so I don't get down every time it rains on the farm?


Rich said...

If you can get the ground covered with a good stand of grass, the rate of water infiltration should increase, and the mud should be less of a problem.

On the subject of getting the grass to grow, I have recently become more and more interested in the concepts of pasture-cropping (trying not to beat a dead horse by commenting over and over about it), and after seeing the results of my first attempt, I have become even more interested in the possibilities for increasing both profitability and pasture fertility.

Pasture cropping is basically a matter of planting an annual grass into an existing perennial grass pasture to increase the grazing possibilities, increase the amount and diversity of perennial grasses, and possibly have a grain harvest.

From what I have gleaned from my observations and online research the thinking behind pasture-cropping is that there is relationship between perennial warm season grasses and annual cool season grasses. The perennial grass root system opens up a ‘pathway’ that the annual grass roots can then follow when the perennial grass is in its dormant phase. After the annual grass dies down, the perennial grass can exploit the ‘pathway’ provided by the dead annual roots. So, both grasses benefit in a ‘symbiotic’ relationship. Adding in grazing adds even more to the benefits.

But, the interesting point is that the idea is not limited to cool season annuals (wheat, oats, cereal rye, triticale), because Australians are also planting sorghum into existing cool season perennial pastures. If you can plant sorghum into an existing pasture (I plan to experiment with that idea next summer), you should be able to plant corn, millet, etc. into an existing pasture to build up the organic matter in your soil while also increasing grazing possibilities and improving your existing grasses.

On a related tangent, the Baldridge Grazing Corn website has a detailed account of the methods and economics of grazing their corn with stocker cattle. After they grazed the corn, they had a thick stand of grass that could be grazed again or stockpiled for winter grazing. The resulting stand of grass makes me wonder if planting warm season annuals into an existing pasture could help establish a cool season perennial pasture (or a more diverse pasture containing cool and warm season perennials).

There wouldn’t be a grain harvest with corn, and it would take a certain amount of added fertility (either compost or purchased N), but there would be a large amount of organic material added and could graze a lot of cattle in a small area.

It might take a little experimenting (different annual grasses, different planting methods, etc.), but that is the interesting (pioneering?) part. Don't forget that there might even be possibilities for some sort of grant to fund your 'research' (not likely, but entirely possible)

Farmer Cat said...

We are finally starting to dry out some. It's rained at least once a week most weeks since August here, leaving 1/3 of my goat pen (they aren't in it anymore) under water, and the "bottom land" by the barn a sticky gooey mess. The truck has been stuck in front of the barn for about 3 weeks now. We have finally had about 2 weeks of dry weather (even if it did rain Sunday/Monday, it wasn't too bad).

This is to say, I understand about the mud. My pigs are extremely happy, but we aren't!

Adkins Family farm said...

Isn't it alway too much rain or not enough rain. Can't we ever just get the right amount.

I agree with Rich that when you get a ground cover of grass the water will infiltrate the ground more easily.

We just got our first rain in about two weeks today. I'm glad to see it because I saw some smoke close to my mothers yesterday and when I got close enough to smell it I knew the woods were on fire somewhere. I hope the rain put it all out.

Rich said...

Have you considered planting something to help break through the compaction layer which will usually help solve some erosion and water infiltration problems?

I have been reading about planting canola in a winter wheat rotation (I actually planted a few acres as a test this fall), and one of the benefits of canola (and other brassicas like turnips, etc.) is that the taproot can penetrate and breakup compaction layers.

It is too late to plant a winter-hardy variety of brassicas (if it is even possible in Iowa), but there are spring varieties available, and turnips are always an option.

Canola is supposed to produce a large amount of high quality forage (for either cattle or pigs), the seed is relatively inexpensive, and can be planted by broadcasting (followed by a light spring-toothing). But, it does take a certain amount of fertility (N and sulphur) to produce a decent stand.

You wouldn't need an entire area solely planted to a brassica to get the benefits, a scattering of plants around your pasture might actually be better if you planned to graze it.

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