April 24, 2018. Of Pastures & Cows
Greetings from Woodapple Farms! The big news on the farm this week was the arrival of our own bull. We’ve begged, borrowed and leased breeder bulls for many years, but all of our convenient option had dried up. So, it was high time we invested in our own bull, in this case, a three year old Beefmaster bull that we named Romeo. We picked him up last week and he quite easily settled in as one of the herd.
The land we now graze was first cleared and grazed with cattle many decades back by an old Citrus County ranching family. This family cleared the land of its native xeric pine-oak forest to plant grass for grazing. However, they left some native forest intact also. Around the perimeter of most every eighty acres that they cleared, they left wide tree lines and understory vegetation as windbreaks. Additionally, any areas with more severe slopes were left uncleared and in native forests as not to disturb the ground cover and soil, which could lead to erosion of the land. Our forty acre parcel still has these remnant intact native forests for windbreaks and where topographical relief is greatest. After this, the land was owned by a farmer of seed, who combined/harvested both Argentine Bahia grass seed and zipper cream southern peas that he grew in a rotation, perhaps several years in grass before planting one year to peas. Interestingly, he did not believe in using herbicides, being philosophically opposed to spraying a chemical that killed plants on land he was tending to grow plants. I think he was ahead of his time. Dr Don Huber’s research with Purdue University has revealed that glyphosate (Roundup) “ties up” or otherwise reduces availability of key soil nutrients, which is detrimental to the long term ability of crops to maintain vigor and fight disease.
It seems to me that we sometimes treat pastures like lawns, and in our case, a big Argentine Bahia grass lawn. We unleash our will and determination to fight back the offending weeds and brush. Some of this is definitely necessary as both non-native and native invasive plants can displace valuable forage. A large rancher once summed it up to me as “an improved pasture, stops being an improved pasture, when you stop improving it”. On our dry ground, our biggest battle is with prickly pear cactus. We don’t mind a little in our pasture and it is even pretty in flower this time of year, but without being vigilant with a shovel, it would, and has at times spread too densely. In fact, we are a little behind with cacti duty maintenance right now!
Dogfennel, a native woody perennial weed, can be a problem in Florida pastures, but thankfully it is agreeable to the palate of the goats and is no longer a problem in our pasture. A very common invasive exotic plant we combat in forest and range lands is cogongrass. Thankfully, when we arrived two decades ago, we only had one small patch of cogongrass that we were able to quickly eradicate. Usually cogongrass gives more of a fight, but this patch was not yet well established. We eyed our first tropical soda apple recently, a very problematic invasive exotic weed in Florida pastures. It had no doubt arrived as an unwanted guest seed in a roll of hay; we quickly yanked it out, roots and all!
I am happy to have other desirable grasses and forbs mix with our Bahia grass, whether in our pasture or lawn. We even named one of our first goats, Commelina, after the blue flowering dayflower that could be found occasionally in our pasture. In our lawn, and maybe one day in our pasture, we have planted perennial peanut. While being slow to establish, especially given it has to compete with the deep-rooted Bahia grass sod, it has been able to spread across a good portion of the yard. We find the bright yellow blooms pretty – even if not conventional for a tidy lawn. It is also a legume with nitrogen fixation benefits, hence a good companion to the bahia grass. I guess this is our Florida equivalent to the fescue-bluegrass and white clover lawns of the north before the practice of weed & feed fertilizers unfortunately killed most of the clover. No weed & feed here, but maybe an additional weed or wildflower to be tolerated if you expand your horizons beyond a tidy lawn or pasture.