Once again, pasture being seen as resource

June 26, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

We have all heard the phrase, "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

I would be more inclined to see it the way Bill Murphy sees it in his book, "Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence".

While not a new book, it is an idea that is getting a second look. As the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun.

Ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats were made to graze. Man, with the help of cheap fuel, has found it necessary to carry the feed to the animal when the animal is perfectly capable of getting it for themselves.


We can all remember a time when an animal grazing was the rule and not the exception.

Well, what was old is new again. Pasture is once again being looked at as a resource.

As I have said in previous columns, the difference is in the management. Our pastures have gotten smaller and our livestock is moved more rapidly. With the advent of portable fencing and extremely efficient electric fence chargers, building fences now takes hours instead of days.

With our cool season grasses, our peak production occurs in spring and fall. We can stretch our forages by using legumes such as alfalfa and clover. In addition, we can grow warm season annuals such as sorghum, sudex and sudan grass to take up the slack in the dead of summer.

These relatives of corn can provide forage for grazing or mechanical harvesting. As their name indicates, they grow well in warm weather and are drought tolerant. All plants need water, just at varying rates.

It was never more apparent than last year, as I was reminded by a farmer recently.

We experienced dry weather with a rain stint in the middle of summer. The pasture responded to the rain but then went dormant again, while the corn kept on growing and produced a good crop.

This was because as a warm season annual, corn got the rain when it needed it and responded to the heat units. Conversely, the cool season grasses used the moisture but then shut down during the hot weather that followed.

Many graziers think if you switch to grazing, you will never feed supplemental forage again. That is a gross misconception.

In fact, you will simply feed it at different times. Winter is often thought of as the time to feed supplemental forage, but actually you may feed as much supplemental forage in a hot dry summer as you would during winter.

This point is why you should harvest your excess forage in the spring and stockpile your excess forage in the late summer and fall. Harvested forage can be fed anytime and stockpiled forage can extend your grazing into the winter.

During a recent farm visit, I was discussing with a couple of farmers my favorite grass which is orchard grass.

The older gentleman noted that orchard grass was not persisting like it used to. I told him my observation has been that orchard grass is succumbing to what I call "mower blight."

With the widespread use of disc mowers, we mow the grass too short. Just like with grazing, you should leave four inches of residue in the field when mowing.

So as you prepare a forage plan for your farm, don't forget your pasture.

Pasture walks

And mark your calendar for this year's pasture walks.

They will be July 19 at the Hendershot Brothers on Rockdale Road, Clear Spring; Sept. 20 at Long Delight Farm on Spielman Road, Williamsport; and Oct. 18 at Mark & Clare Seibert's Farm.

Additional details for all these events will follow as the dates get closer.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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