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Recommendation for pasture from -5C to +40C ?

 
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Hi!

We are in southern Spain in the province of Cordoba. Although we are in the mountains it gets pretty hot during summer and there is no rain for several months. The summer temperature can be as high as 42C (in the shade) and in winter night time temperatures go down to -5C for a few hours until the sun comes up again. Then it rises to about 10-15C but in direct sunlight it may feel like 20C.

At the moment we have a variety of naturally occurring grass on the land between the oak trees (quercus ilex bellota). Due to neglect by the previous owners the pasture is in bad shape but we see some improvement about about 12 months of planned grazing with cows. This spring a lot of grass grew pretty tall and we can still use it to feed the cows. It's like standing hay at the moment.

Now I'm wondering what species of grass we should have and how they can coexist.

We seem to have Raygrass and Bermudagrass. Raygrass is said to slow down growing at 25C and stops growing at 35C. As we basically have +35C all summer long from 14:00h to 20:00h that explains why we don't see any growth except a few leafs that want to come up. But then it may also be the lack of moisture. Bermudagrass seems to love the heat and I read it grows well at even 37C.

There is some fresh growth now. Nothing at the neighbors but our rotational grazing seems to have a positive effect.

My wish and dream is to have actual pasture during summer :-) I understand grass goes to seed and dries off. I do see new growth starting by the end of June. So now I'm wondering what might be the best course of action to improve soil and grass growth. I'm looking for ideas, food for thought, pointers to research, recommendation... anything that helps me thinking

Thanks

Stephan
 
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Hi Stephan. So I'm in America and I am unfamiliar with grasses native to your country, but we do have a few things in common. I live in Tennessee, and it's hot right now, averaging 95f or 35c. I have bermuda grass growing on my pastures too as it is a reliable warm season grass that grazing animals eat and can make good hay. What else is growing in your pastures besides bermuda right now? do you have any legumes, like alfalfa, lespedeza or sainfoin for example? Did you have clovers in the spring? Having nitrogen fixing legumes growing with grasses is very beneficial and will aid in grass growth and is also great forage. When you say "raygrass" do you mean ryegrass or is raygrass something unique to your region?

Stephan Schwab wrote: I understand grass goes to seed and dries off.



By dries off to you mean go dormant or did you mean dies off? Perennial grasses, such as cool season varieties, will be lush in the spring and then go brown in the heat of the summer. They're not dead, just dormant. That bermuda is perennial, but it goes dormant when the weather gets cool and greens back up the following summer. Annual grasses set seed and die, but the seed ensures the next generation for the following season.

One more thing, have you had a soil test done?
 
Stephan Schwab
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Hi James,

yes, I did mean Ryegrass. Sorry for the typo. :-)

We are in a special place of the Iberian peninsula where what's called "dehesa" is the dominant type of landscape. In the pictures you will see what I mean. Originally pigs, sheeps, goats, and cows were brought into these woods in a special order to take advantage of the acorns and grasses.

The grassy areas in a dehesa are pretty diverse. It's like a field of wild flowers with pasture grass. It becomes yellow, purple, white depending of what flowers dominate at any given time. There is no alfalfa but we do have clover. It grew well until the temperatures got too hot by the end of May. We also had a larger number of brassica rapa come up that grew pretty tall. There is also a larger number of wild asparagus showing up.

I should also point out that there is absolutely no rain at all for several months during summer. There might be the one thunderstorm and that's it. That's typical for this climate here in Andalucia. All around us there almost no green at all to be seen except where somebody waters a garden or it's the evergreen leafs of the oak trees.
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Typical dehesa view. This is our standing hay after it dried off when the temperature rose to 35C from one day to the next.
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Between March and May it grew that tall.
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After grazing the green area in the other picture this is what's left
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A bit of regrowth
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Stephan Schwab
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Ok ... I've looked a bit around, walked the land, read about grasses and have so far determined that we have a few patches of bermuda grass - the older neighbors call it "lawn grass" - but we seem to have mostly cold season grasses which went dormant after going to seed and when the summer heat started.

My theory is that due to selective grazing the cows over the years ate whatever was growing green during summer and reduced the warm season grasses. Left is everything for the cold season. As the cold season also sees almost all of the rainfall these plant species are able to grow quicker than the cows can eat and therefore have become the dominant species.

If my theory is true, then non-selective planned grazing should put pressure on the cold season grasses and take off the stress from the warm season grasses. When there is some rainfall the warm season grasses should be able to develop their root systems and probably over time grow in numbers.

Does that make sense? Please let me know.

Another thought is to seed warm season grass over the existing plants. I am thinking that maybe the cows could help with that and do part of the labor. At the end of February the soil heats up quickly and there is plenty of moisture. We could hand seed something like bermuda grass (or other grass, to be determined) in an active paddock and let the cows trample in the seed. Is that something that could work / is being done?
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An active paddock as of today
 
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My hunch is that even if the cattle have overgrazed and it appears that the warm-season grasses have all been eliminated, there would still be latent seed out there, waiting to germinate.  If you could keep the cattle off the paddock for an extended season and allow those grasses to recover, you might be surprised with what's still out there waiting to make its comeback.

Joel Salatin talks about the latent seed bank that brought his pastures back to full health: there were varieties of grasses and plants that he'd never seen before on his land that suddenly began to grow in his pastures.  The key, as it seems you are practicing, is carefully managed rotational grazing.  You've got to give the land a chance to recover between grazings.  

Perhaps a bit of research might go a long way toward showing you what your pasture could look like.  Is there someone in your area whose pastures have been well managed and where the diversity of biomass is lush, green and able to handle the harsh conditions/heat?  
 
James Freyr
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Stephen Schwab wrote:My theory is that due to selective grazing the cows over the years ate whatever was growing green during summer and reduced the warm season grasses. Left is everything for the cold season. As the cold season also sees almost all of the rainfall these plant species are able to grow quicker than the cows can eat and therefore have become the dominant species.  



I think your theory is sound, and planned grazing, especially managed intensive grazing, will give better improvement to pastures and forages over time compared to unmanaged grazing. Cows and other grazing animals, if they have a huge area to graze, eat the tastiest and their favorite things first. In unmanaged grazing the cows keep the grasses chewed short and they have difficulty recovering but putting cows in a fenced area for 24 hours, then moving them and doing this every day allows the grasses to recover and those grazed areas are generally fully recovered and ready to graze again 35-45 days later.

If my theory is true, then non-selective planned grazing should put pressure on the cold season grasses and take off the stress from the warm season grasses. When there is some rainfall the warm season grasses should be able to develop their root systems and probably over time grow in numbers.



When grasses are allowed to grow tall, they grow deeper roots, enabling them to reach moisture deeper in the soil. Grasses such as bermuda grass will spread, as it has stolons and rhizomes and will creep across the terrain on their own. Other grasses don't have stolons or rhizomes and only spread by seed. I think if you choose to get into managed grazing, and there are ungrazed paddocks or fields when the warm weather is arriving, mowing could be a benefit as it will allow sunlight to get down to the perennial warm season grasses that are waking up and also the warm season annuals that are germinating from seed helping them capture maximum sunlight, growing deeper roots.

Another thought is to seed warm season grass over the existing plants. I am thinking that maybe the cows could help with that and do part of the labor. At the end of February the soil heats up quickly and there is plenty of moisture. We could hand seed something like bermuda grass (or other grass, to be determined) in an active paddock and let the cows trample in the seed. Is that something that could work / is being done?



It sounds like you have a good population of cool season grasses and forbs including legumes like clover already. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeding more warm season grasses to establish a better stand. Yes, cow hooves can help improve seed to soil contact where they step. If I could offer a recommendation, it’s seed other varieties so there is diversity. Sorghum x sudan grass is an option, crab grass is another, both are warm season annuals providing lots of biomass for forage and hay. I have a warm season grass on my farm called johnson grass and it’s palatable for cows and also makes good hay. There are considerations to take into account when introducing new forages such as the sorghum x sudan or johnson grass, as these become toxic with prussic acid after the first frost/freeze of the fall and will kill livestock if they eat it at the wrong time. There are two ways to avoid poisoning animals from grazing these two forages: 1) cut it and make hay before it can freeze while still fresh. Once it’s dry enough to bale, it’s safe if it freezes; or 2) wait ten days after the frost/freeze to allows the standing forage to be grazed.

This is from Ohio State University and here is the link to the entire document https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2015-34/precautions-harvesting-forages-after-frost

Prussic acid content in the plant decreases dramatically during the hay drying process and the forage should be safe once baled as dry hay. The forage can be mowed anytime after a frost if you are making hay. It is very rare for dry hay to contain toxic levels of prussic acid. However, if the hay was not properly cured and dried before baling, it should be tested for prussic acid content before feeding to livestock.



Aside from seeding more warm season grasses if that is a route that you choose, I recommend seeding a warm season legume as well such as lespedeza or cowpeas for example if there is not one or more already present in the pastures. Cows will eat them, it’s adding biodiversity, they fix nitrogen in the soil and the other grasses will grow better.

All sorts of things can be done to help increase forages but some may be in vain if it just doesn't rain for several months. What I think will improve with managed grazing is soil organic matter, and organic matter holds water. I've read that for every 1% of organic matter increase in a soil, that is a half-inch of rainfall that a soil can soak up and hold. This takes time, years, and slowly but surely grasses will stay green longer going further into the dry season.
 
Stephan Schwab
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Marco Banks wrote:My hunch is that even if the cattle have overgrazed and it appears that the warm-season grasses have all been eliminated, there would still be latent seed out there, waiting to germinate.  If you could keep the cattle off the paddock for an extended season and allow those grasses to recover, you might be surprised with what's still out there waiting to make its comeback.

Joel Salatin talks about the latent seed bank that brought his pastures back to full health: there were varieties of grasses and plants that he'd never seen before on his land that suddenly began to grow in his pastures.  The key, as it seems you are practicing, is carefully managed rotational grazing.  You've got to give the land a chance to recover between grazings.  



Yes, that's exactly what we began to do as soon as we moved onto this land. We have moved physically there - we built a home - and started with 20 cows to do daily moves in small electric fenced paddocks of just 3000 square meters. The result is that new grass shows up in July which nobody around us wanted to belief. We had the first person come to see it.

Unfortunately, we are in season 1 on this. But it never hurts to think ahead and think about what might help to speed up the process of recovery.

Marco Banks wrote:Perhaps a bit of research might go a long way toward showing you what your pasture could look like.  Is there someone in your area whose pastures have been well managed and where the diversity of biomass is lush, green and able to handle the harsh conditions/heat?  



No. Absolutely nobody. The whole region - as most of Spain - looks dry and brown during summer. That's "normal" as the locals say. They say it's because of the lack of water. There are many water reservoirs around and there is water in the ground. The wells (just 7-8 m deep) don't dry out. From digging I know the ground is moist at 50 cm depth. The locals are asking the government for deep wells to provide drinking water to their cows.

We are not from around here so we try to ask a lot of questions, we have found a book that tells about livestock management in the dehesa some 100 years back and from that account it was green in summer ...
 
Stephan Schwab
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James Freyr wrote:
Aside from seeding more warm season grasses if that is a route that you choose, I recommend seeding a warm season legume as well such as lespedeza or cowpeas for example if there is not one or more already present in the pastures. Cows will eat them, it’s adding biodiversity, they fix nitrogen in the soil and the other grasses will grow better.

All sorts of things can be done to help increase forages but some may be in vain if it just doesn't rain for several months. What I think will improve with managed grazing is soil organic matter, and organic matter holds water. I've read that for every 1% of organic matter increase in a soil, that is a half-inch of rainfall that a soil can soak up and hold. This takes time, years, and slowly but surely grasses will stay green longer going further into the dry season.



In another thread I was asking for ideas to grow pig feed for summer. Cowpeas came up there as well.

We are step by step creating paddocks for pigs, cows and chicken in some sort of an integrated system. Each one has a water hole as a big wallow for the pigs, an area where the pigs are supposed to help us prepare the soil for seeding, an area with pasture for cows, pigs, and chicken. All in a managed rotation.

Those pig feed areas are upslope from the pasture areas so that water and nutrients can find their way into the lower pasture areas.

My big topic is "10x increase in biomass". My guys probably get tired from me saying it every day :-)
 
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