Last week we turned the cattle in to the pasture where I seeded millet in July. For reference you might also want to read Edmund Brown’s recent blog post as we both try to figure how to make this work on our Upstate NY grazing farms. I realize that this topic has limited interest, but I’ve got to keep harping on it because I’m convinced there are big dividends awaiting if we can figure out a way to grow annuals without over-investing in equipment and without diminishing our soil and water resources.
Last month I did a writeup describing the project as a failure, but interestingly about a week after I wrote it I noticed small millet shoots popping up all over the field. I’m going to revise my hypothesis to blame the failure on the design of the no till drill, and I’ll accept my share of the blame for being inexperienced with this piece of equipment. The long-delayed germination and subsequent inability to outgrow the perennial cool-season canopy was caused largely not properly slicing through the plant thatch.
The Haybuster drill has a set of double disc (or double coulter depending on who’s describing them) openers in front of the seed drop tubes and press wheels. Other drills have a better design: a single coulter in front to cut through the stubble, followed by double disc openers, the drop tubes, and the press wheels. I think my problem was that because I focused on getting a shallow planting depth (1/4″-1/2″ depth), I wasn’t able to get enough slicing action from the openers. The leading coulter design used by other manufacturers would allow for a deep cut through all the live plants and thatch, followed by a very shallow skimming pass with the openers. In retrospect, the Polyface video I referenced in my last post included a little side discussion by Daniel Salatin about the need for the extra coulter, but somehow I missed that the first time around.
I don’t think I could justify the purchase cost outright, and I certainly don’t have that money in my pocket right now, so I’m going to have to (1) quit trying, (2) figure out a way to make the Haybuster drill work, or (3) find some other rental drill. Obviously #3 is the my preferred choice, so I’ve started looking around. Healthy perennial pastures are always going to be the backbone of our grassfed beef system, but I think the wise use of no-till practices and annual crops can increase our forage production, improve our soil biology, and strengthen our drought resiliency, all because more species of plants will be active for a greater portion of the year.
Good news for other annuals: the oats and rape planting in the pig pasture is doing well. I think the cultipacker was critical to boosting germination beyond what I’ve seen before. If my four wheeler had been working at the time I could have used my broadcaster to get more consistent coverage, but I think the results are great considering the kids were helping me broadcast the seed by hand, so there was extra chaos in the process. After all the planting failures, when I pass by this field each day on my trip to feed the pigs whey, I get a deep sense of satisfaction looking at how well the oats are growing. As of today they are up to the middle of my calf, so I expect them to be knee high or better when the cattle are turned in.
Finally, here is another pasture cropping video, this time from Greg Judy. He’s making it work in a hard drought and only grazing the pasture down to six inches. A big difference is that he’s working with Kentucky 31 Fescue, a grass we don’t deal with much around here (for better and for worse).