Forage Diversity

I’m a rancher, not a farmer. I fully admit it. Animals come easy for me. I love animals. Plants not so much. I love plants, don’t get me wrong, but the biology behind plants (and soil) is not something that I had found interesting enough to really educate myself on–not a passion, so I really have to make myself learn it. I’ve always known I preferred ranching to farming. Ranching in western Colorado, and on limited acreage forces me to farm. It was really brought home when I had to irrigate Winchesters (see: First Cutting Down).

I really decided to start learning a little more when I realized that I didn’t like to raise cattle in the conventional method–as I had been taught–and wanted to go more “how God intended.” The first book I read was Holistic Resource Management by Allan Savroy. I learned so much from that book!

One of the important things I learned was about bio-diversity and having multiple species of plants on a piece of ground. The interactions of the different species enhance the soil and one species helps another species. Little did I know, Cox’s was already doing great because it had not been reseeded or fit up in so many years (45+).

We have different grasses–most of which I can’t identify, Jer has identified a number of them (I still depend on him for the farming knowledge)–and both alfalfa (Ranger) and clover (medium red?). Along with that, we also get the foxtail, ragweed, thistle, and other “undesireables.” Another important point from the book: Mother Nature hates bare ground and will put something there. Generally what goes there are “undesireables.” Most people call them weeds, I prefer “forbs.” A weed by definition is something that is not wanted in a particular area–clover, in a field where someone is trying to grow a monoculture of alfalfa, would be a “weed.”

I believe one of the reasons we get such good crop off Cox’s is because of the diversity of species and our management. We put the cows on the pasture above the hayfields in the summer; and usually have to start pasturing a portion of the upper hayfield in mid-late summer. We generally take 2 hay cuttings from the field, and grow a 3rd but graze it and then use the complete place for fall pasture that we section off in paddocks.

We try not to start feeding hay until January, but sometimes (like last year when we doubled the herd overnight), we had to start feeding hay in mid-December. When we feed hay, we fork hay off a round bale from a moving tractor and feed in strips so that the cows are on fresh ground and the manure and waste hay are trampled into the ground–more organic material, ya!

I was disappointed that the new seeding on Winchester’s was going to be a mono-culture of alfalfa. We convinced them to let us put a cover crop of oats on; and I’m pleased to see that because it was only disced and not plowed, a bunch of the grasses and forbs (ok, so weeds) came back. Mother Nature hates bare ground. Ironically, the reason the field was completely refitted was because a portion had been taken over by tumbleweed (due to us living in a desert and the previous caretaker not irrigating or managing properly). The thought was to eradicate the tumbleweed; I don’t know if the strategy will work or not. And I believe that I could have saved Winchester the $1,000s to refit the field, simply by managing the field properly (cut before the tumbleweed went to seed). He didn’t know us, though, and had people mismanage it for so long…

It will be diverse and increasingly diverse over the next few years, I’ll take what I can get.


Clover amid grasses and foxtail on the edge of Cox’s field (didn’t get cut with hay). 6-4-2016


Grasses and forbs at Cox’s. 6-4-2016


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