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Fertilizing pastures.

Rules of thumb:

1. Mature beef cattle will produce about ten tons of manure each year (dairy breeds about 12 tons).

2. Fifteen tons of manure spread evenly over one acre would be a layer just over 1/8 inch thick.

3. Cattle urine is the equivalent of adding about 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the area it saturates (about three square feet).

Assume one is running 25 mostly mature cattle on 40 acres. Over the year they should deposit about 250 tons of manure or about 6.25 tons to the acre. While this sounds like a lot, bear in mind when grass yields are given, they are generally expressed in dried, harvested weights. The green plant itself will be about three times its dried weight. Thus, if a field will yield five tons of hay to the acre per year, it should yield about 15 tons of green material when efficiently foraged by livestock.

If the 250 tons were evenly spread out on the 40 acres, it would produce a layer less than 1/16 inch thick. Not much, but fresh cattle manure has a NPK value of about 8-10-8, in addition to calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper and other trace elements. The manure will be further complemented by the urine also deposited.

In open pastures or even in rotationally-grazed paddocks, the manure will be fairly widely distributed. However, there may be times when you intentionally want to concentrate the manure and urine.

If you are interested in improving your pastures on a cyclic basis, you can restrict cattle to a small area, say 10 to 15 to an acre, and basically feedlot them during the winter with hay. At the same time, look around for free or very cheap sources of organic material to be spread around this area, such as spoiled hay bales from farms in the area, tree trimmers needing a place to dump some loads of clippings for free, or sawdust hauled in by the pickup load. When the layer is deep enough, move the cattle out and have the area limed, deep disked and seeded to a variety of pasture grasses. If this were done to two, two-acre areas per year, a 40-acre pasture would be renovated on a 10-year cycle.

A significant benefit with purchased hay is that, in addition to the nourishment in it, it also contains various minerals and trace elements from the soil where it was grown. Most of these will end up on your soil. A drawback to this technique is increased susceptibility of the livestock to flies and other pests, but these should be minimized by winter weather.

The above would be more difficult to do with other livestock as they simply don't put out the volume of manure which cattle do.

Make hay feeding easy

The October 1991 Farm Show: Best Ideas (P.O. Box 1929, Lakeview, MN 55044, $11.95 per year) showed a round bale feeder made by Matt Luce of Rockwood, Pennsylvania. Mr. Luce took a used school bus, cut out the panels under the windows (leaving the struts) and the rear panels, and then removed the seats. A swinging bar across the back provides side-to-side stability.

To load it he pushes in four or five round bales and drives it to his cattle. When the ground around the feeder becomes muddy, the bus is simply driven forward. Since the roof and windows remain, the bales are kept both dry and accessible. Any hay his cattle cannot reach is simply pushed forward with the next loading. Limit feeding with this arrangement would not be possible as the first ones there would eat their fill.

While Countryside readers may not need to feed four or five round bales at a time, this concept would also work with smaller vehicles such as vans or small school busses, particularly if you purchased your hay off site, as these vehicles could be driven on public roads. The concept should also work with square bales.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:668
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