By: Randy Kuhn
, Beef Today
Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
A Grazers Secret Weapon
Aug 17, 2012
Grazers secret weapon!
Well managed grass delivers low cost feed and can potentially deliver growth rates of 2.25/lbs. per day or more. A good grazing system can produce finished beef at as little as 18 months! And pastured pigs in as little as 5 months! We’ve done it.
White clover is the key ingredient
White clover is a perennial legume. If it has ample time to establish, and isn’t over-grazed or mowed too young, it will maintain consistent stands for up to 7 years! Just like alfalfa, white clover fixes nitrogen into the ground, converting it to nitrates.
Livestock, especially pig’s, are likely to consume 20 – 30% more white clover than partner grasses assuming equal access. This isn’t a bad thing because the sugar/protein in legumes such as clovers leads to increased weight gains. Clovers also have better digestibility and nutrient contents than straight grass forages, therefore it has a higher feed value.
White clover will also increase the crude protein content of first cutting haylage or baleage by 1% for every 10% increase in the amount of clover in the windrow. The root system of white clover can also help tackle soil compaction, allowing freer movement of nutrients and water to it’s companion forages.
The optimum amount of clover in a mixed forage field or pasture is 30%. At this level, it can fix or put back into the soil up to 330/lbs. of Nitrogen per acre per year. To tell if you have 30% clover stands growing in your fields, the field needs to look more like there is 50 - 60% clover at its peak growth in August.
Ideally, legumes such as alfalfa & clovers should follow nitrogen robbing crops such as corn. If you or your neighbor has the "we’ve always planted corn in this field" mentality. Ask them or yourself, how much fertilizer do you or they have to put on the fields year after year? I bet the cash amounts are staggering! If there is enough of a "rest period" between corn plantings, when you could plant alfalfa and clover and harvest that for 3-4 years, you won’t need to add chemical fertilizers to your soil the next time you plant corn. And if you can get on a good one year corn, 3-4 years legume rotation, you could almost eliminate your fertilizer costs, not to mention any pest’s such as corn root worm.
In mixed grass/legume forages, the legume seeding rate should be 4-8/lbs. per acre, with February "frost-seeding"/broadcasting being a more reliable method than drilling. If your only option is to drill your grass forages, clover should be sown into warm soil between April and August. Any later than mid-August in most parts of the country and you’ll run the risk of an early frost that will kill or at the very least severely stunt the establishment of the new seeding and you’ll most likely end up re-seeding the area next spring anyway.