Question of the Week
I am interested in producing sod for the wholesale market in Pennsylvania. What should I take under consideration in terms of soil requirements, seed, etc.?
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A: The depth and uniformity of the soil is critical. In Pennsylvania, fields that are located on the flood plain next to the bigger rivers—Susquehanna, Schulkyll, Delaware—have some of the best soil types for growing sod. As an added bonus, every few years these fields get flooded and covered with several inches of sediment. Cutting sod means removing three-quarters of an inch of the top "A" horizon soil and having Mother Nature replenishing that layer is a real advantage. In addition, rivers provide a source of critical irrigation water.
The ideal soil is sandy loam followed by silt loam soils. Heavy clay soil is a poor choice because it is difficult to cut and heavy to lift for harvest, transport, and handling, especially when moist, which is necessary for the sod to stay "live" for that critical 24- to 36-hour window when harvesting, shipping, and installing. The ideal site would also be very level with few or no stones in the top four inches. Much of the sod being purchased for athletic fields, parks, and commercial and high-end residential projects has to be grown to exacting specifications including grass species, stones, being weed-free, etc. Some states such as Michigan have specifications for the production, sale, and transport of sod.
Other critical requirements for sod production are a sod cutter, small grain drill or seeder, fertilizer spreader, sprayer, fork lift, and irrigation system with access to water. Irrigation and moisture levels are critical for both production and harvest of sod. The type of grass you grow would be largely dictated by the type of customer you are considering. The type of sod installed on athletic fields is a very different blend of grasses than what residential or industrial projects would need. Several central Pennsylvania sod farms grow a variety of two or three sod mixtures for different client types.
The ATTRA publication Sustainable Turf Care is a good resource for additional information on turf. Its emphasis is on soil management, species diversity, and cultural practices that enhance turf growth and reduce pests and diseases by reducing turf stress. It also looks at mixed species and wildflower lawns as low maintenance alternatives to pure grass lawns. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=80.
In addition, if you're a beginning farmer, you should find the ATTRA publication Evaluating a Farming Enterprise useful. It can help you develop an enterprise that works for your property and your goals. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=277.
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Answer: Most of the differences between paddock systems for sheep and cattle will be based on diet preferences, pasture composition, fencing, and grazing habits. Sheep tend to browse, preferring forbs over grass while cattle diets consist primarily of grass. Sheep have a higher preference for leafy forage over stemmy ones, when compared to cattle. For both species, the best pastures usually contain a mixture of grasses and legumes. It is recommended to have more than one species of grass and legumes in your pasture. It is important to remember that each paddock needs water and shelter.
Fencing for the two species is accomplished differently. Perimeter fencing is most commonly permanent fence, either electric or unpowered. Cattle can be fenced with non-electrified barbed or woven wire. Perimeter fencing for sheep or multi-species normally requires woven wire. Temporary fencing of pasture paddocks for cattle can be accomplished through the use of a single line of polywire and "tread in" temporary posts. While some graziers are successful in fencing sheep by this method, most are not. It all depends on the stocking density (number of animals per acre) and how well the sheep are trained to the electric fence. Alternatively, electric nets effectively keep sheep and goats in and predators out. The electric nets can also be moved very quickly. As with all powered fence systems, an adequately sized fence energizer and a well-constructed fence are paramount to your success.
More information on fencing techniques and stock-watering systems can be found in the ATTRA publications Paddock Design, Fencing and Water Systems for Controlled Grazing, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=249, and Rotational Grazing, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=245.
Diet Preferences of Sheep vs. Cattle
Sheep prefer a forage diet of 40% grass, 40% forbs, and 20% browse, while cattle prefer a forage diet of 60% grass, 20% forbs, and 20% browse.
The stocking rate is the number of a specific kind and class of animals grazing a unit of land for a specified time period. The carrying capacity is the maximum stocking rate possible while maintaining or improving vegetation or related sources. Both are often expressed as Animal Unit Months (AUM).
Definition of Animal Unit (AU): 1,000 pounds of body weight
Definition of Animal Unit Month (AUM): Amount of forage that an animal unit will consume in one month.
The stocking rate for your paddock will depend on animal species, quality and quantity of forage (total available forage), and animal demand for forage. Therefore, the stocking rate for sheep and cattle will differ.
Multi-species grazing (cattle and sheep) is an excellent management strategy. Not only is pasture utilization improved, parasite control is enhanced to the point that in many areas of the country, chemical dewormers are not neccessary. This is especially true if the grazing management techniques of adequate pasture rest, residual management, and short paddock grazing periods are employed.
For additional information on pasture design and utilization, consult the following ATTRA publications:
Pasture, Rangeland and Grazing Management
Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System that Works
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Answer: Frothy bloat refers to a condition when a ruminant consumes forages that produce a frothy gas in the rumen and the animal cannot pass the gas. The rumen gets so full of gas that it eventually presses against the heart or lungs and the animal expires. Legumes such as alfalfa and clovers can cause bloat. In Montana, for example, alfalfa hay from first and second cuttings will generally not bloat cows, but alfalfa hay from third cutting can. Clovers and alfalfa in pastures can also bloat cows. Birdsfoot Trefoil and Sanfoin are legumes containing tannins that do not let the frothy gases form, hence no bloat.
Whenever you look at a cow, always critically evaluate five areas: eyes, ears, rumen, udder, and manure. After a while, this will become second nature to you. The rumen "triangle," or paralumbar fossa (see www.merckmanuals.com/media/vet/figures/DIG_cannulation_of_rumen_cow.gif for a useful graphic) should be not be expanded; if it is, the animal is going to bloat or already bloating. The following link shows what a cow looks like when she is bloating: www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/g2018/build/graphics/g2018-1.jpg.
The paralumbar fossa is also known as the "death triangle." Besides checking for bloat, it is an easy way to check if a cow's feed intake is normal. If you see a severely "dished in" triangle, the cow’s feed is incorrect—either you are under-feeding her or she is off her feed for some reason.
To treat bloat, use Therabloat from your vet. It comes in a two-ounce vial. Pour the vial into a 16-ounce soda bottle, add about 10 ounces of water, and drench the cow with it. If you have not drenched a cow before, it is probably best to call your veterinarian for assistance, as it is possible to get the fluid into her lungs by mistake. It does not hurt to keep the cow walking for 30 minutes. About 10 minutes after administering the drench, the cow will start to belch. Generally, in one hour, the bloat is relieved. This treatment must be administered before the cow is down. When she is in a prostrate position, your chances of saving her are reduced. It is not a bad idea to have vial or two of Therabloat on hand at all times.
Inserting a needle, knife, or trocar into the rumen via the paralumbar fossa is not recommended to treat bloat. While effective in relieving the bloat condition, this procedure also almost always causes peritonitis, which is an intense systemic infection that is often untreatable. Peritonitis will kill the cow in about three to five days.
To prevent bloat, you can feed a bloat block that the cow can lick on. It is a molasses base, so intake is generally assured. The key to prevention is also to always keep feed in front of the cow—keep her full.
For more information on ruminant nutrition, see the ATTRA publication Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=201 .
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Answer: There are several things you can do to reduce the need for deworming. Providing your cows with excellent nutrition, practicing rotational grazing, and breeding for parasite resistance can reduce your dependence on deworming medications. All animals will face some parasite burden. Your goal should be to deworm only animals that actually need treatment— that is, animals that are showing signs of parasitism.
There are several natural compounds that have been used to organically treat cattle, including garlic, tannin containing plants like Sericea lespedeza, copper boluses, chicory, and wormwood.
If you are certified organic, then you must check with your certifier before treating your animals. You must ensure you are treating with an approved substance. You should also check with your local veterinarian. He or she can perform a fecal egg count on your animals, letting you know the parasite load and what types of parasites your animals have. You may find out that your animals aren't actually in need of treatment.
If your cow is on pasture, incorporating a three-pronged approach into your grazing strategy will reduce worm infestation.
A common cattle parasite, the Brown Stomach Worm (Ostertagia ostertagi), will locate two to three inches up the grass stem within six days of exiting the manure pat. Dividing your pastures into paddocks and exiting the paddocks with a five- to six-inch residual height of grass will greatly reduce the ingestion of infective larvae. Additionally, moving cattle to a new paddock at least every five days significantly decreases the chance of infection. Furthermore, instituting a pasture rest of greater than 35 days will decrease the survival of the infective larvae. To accomplish this, you will need to divide your pasture into at least eight five-day paddocks. In areas of rainfall pasture, more paddocks will have to be added during the drier parts of the summer when the grass growth is slower in order to maintain your 35-day pasture rest.
In contrast, continuous grazing ignores all three of these management controls. Consequently, cattle are subjected to the parasite levels that can easily overcome the animals' ability to resist infection.
For more information on parasite control, see the following ATTRA publications:
Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats
Irrigated Pastures: Setting up an Intensive Grazing System That Works
Integrated Parasite Management for Livestock