A spring recharge
Brian Lease is like most other graziers in that he depends on a hefty charge to maintain the electric fences that outline his paddocks. But he also finds that springtime in Missouri is a great time to charge up the paddocks themselves by no-tilling in some legumes.
“We’ve been no-tilling alfalfa into our paddocks for more than 10 years,” says this Clark beef producer. “It seems to persist really well.”
Lease has no-tilled legumes into paddocks as late as Mother’s Day with good results. “The great thing about a paddock system is that you can keep the grass grazed down so that the legume doesn’t get shaded out,” he says. Lease also has no-tilled a hybrid red clover (Redland Maxx) into some paddocks to boost the nutritional value of the forage.
• Central Missouri beef producer uses a rotational grazing system.
• Brian Lease no-tills legumes into grazing paddocks each spring.
• Rotational grazing helps boost organic matter in the soil.
He’s a longtime proponent of rotational grazing, and says it also has helped him to charge up a reserve in case of dry weather. “I tend to leave more grass than most people do,” he says. “I learned my lesson back in 1980, a drought year. I found out that you always need to be stockpiling for that possibility of drought.”
Leaving some additional grass helps to shade the ground, conserving moisture. “And I’m keeping more root system, so there is more root to pull up moisture from below,” he points out.
Taking this approach has helped Lease boost levels of organic matter in the soil as well, which also helps improve water-holding capacity. “Even if cattle are tromping some of the extra growth into the ground, it’s just another way to help the organic matter go up,” he says. “Our organic matter went from less than 1% when we started our grazing system to around 4% today. We have many of our paddocks served by energy-free waterers, so we can use them for winter grazing of stockpiled forage, or we can unroll hay on the ridges. It’s amazing what that has done to our organic matter levels on these farms.”
Even the water system gets a springtime charge as he turns on a solar pump to serve a couple of grazing paddocks. Acquired through a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, this solar pump delivers around 8 gallons a minute, powered by a 120-watt solar panel. “It has been trouble-free,” Lease says.
He serves on the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District Board, and is active in a number of conservation programs. One rented farm is enrolled in the Grassland Reserve Program, which emphasizes support for working grazing operations, enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity, and protection of grassland under threat of conversion to other uses. A grazing management plan is required for participants.
This article published in the May, 2010 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.