Agriculture, Natural Resource and Community Development
MSU Extension Office- Flathead County is proud to provide a variety of resources and programs to valley residents. Below is a highlight of several of the programs that are currently taking place. For all Extension events go to our Calendar to see what is going on with Extension.
Land Stewardship Seminar Series provides landowners with tips and tools for managing natual resources on their land. Topics include soil health, pasture management, wells and septic systems, riparian areas, forestry, and noxious weed managment. The seminar starts in February and runs through March from location TBA. Cost is $125 per person, scholarships may be available. Contact the Extension office for details.
Flathead County Hay Producers Ranked Number One!
The Montana Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage Program continues to be important to Flathead County hay producers. Flathead County is rated number one in weed free forage production in Montana. The Flathead County agriculture agent inspects over 1,500 acres as a service to 22 producers of weed free hay and straw. This hay is needed by horse owners packing into the back country, riding at horse shows or rodeos and traveling out of state. This program is a preventative measure to reduce the introduction of regional "designated" noxious weeds onto private, county, state and federal lands.
For more information, please feel free to contact The Montana Department of Agriculture. The Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage Program Coordinator is Andrew Lam at 406-444-7819 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Land Stewardship Series-Pasture Management
So it is six o'clock, thanks for joining us for the Land Stewardship Series. This webinar series will cover a variety of topics related to stewardship and management of natural resources on your land. We typically offer this series as in-person workshops. With webinars we won't be able to dive as deep into these topics as we normally would but the idea is that you'll have a chance to hear from local experts on these topics and then find out where to follow up for more information and begin the process of educating yourself where your interests are. So my name is Samantha Tappenbeck. I'm the Conservation Program Manager with the Flathead Conservation District. I will be facilitating the webinar tonight. I'm also joined by my co-worker Haley Graf. She is the Resource Conservationist for the Flathead Conservation District, waving to you on your screen. So I'm going to cover just a few housekeeping items before we get started. By default your video and audio are off for this webinar, um if you have any connectivity issues just exit the meeting and then rejoin using that same link that you received when you registered. Um, this webinar is being recorded and the recording and any additional resources that we mentioned during the presentation will be available on our website and YouTube channel within a few days, so stay tuned for that. The webinar today will consist of a presentation for about 45 minutes and then we'll have a question and answer period and give you the chance to ask questions, uh voice comments and get some feedback from our presenter. If you do have a question or comment during the presentation please type it into the Q A box. So you'll find the Q A box at the bottom of your screen. It looks like two little chat boxes right next to each other and it says Q A. There is also a feature called the um, raised hand feature and that's useful if during the Q A you would like to voice your question or comment out loud to the group. Just press that little raise hand icon at the bottom of your screen. We'll be able to see that and you'll be able to unmute yourself and ask the question to the whole group so at the end of the webinar when you leave the webinar you will be automatically redirected to a survey and we really encourage you to fill out that survey. We would love your feedback. We want to hear from you so that we can learn from you about what you learned and improve these kinds of events in the future. It's also great for us to be able to report and track what people learned when we do these kinds of events. So our land stewardship series topic tonight is pasture management. Pat McGlynn is the Agriculture Extension Agent with the Flathead County Extension office. At this time I'll turn it over to Pat and Pat maybe you can give just a little intro of yourself as well before you get started, okay. Okay, hello everybody it's nice to be here um I hope you can hear me, sound okay? All right um I have, I was thinking while I was sitting there, I'm like oh my gosh I guess I have 40 years of horticulture experience, but when I started really learning more and more about pastures I became like an evangelist about pasture management because it's so exciting and I think a lot of us grew up knowing about trees and shrubs and things like that but grasses are such a different being and once we understand how different grasses are and we understand the way livestock affects the ground uh soil and we're going to talk about the physiology we can start to understand some of the challenges that we have here. So um, I just love talking about pasture management and it also ties up ties into so many different things on your farm or ranch uh your property and so without further ado I'm sure there'll be a lot of different side um directions that we could go with this talk and that's why it's exciting for the Conservation District to be able to capture your evaluations and also we'll have your names and emails so that we can follow up with other classes if you're looking for more information on certain topics because we could get into animal behavior. With this we could get into so many different things that will jump off of this so without further ado I'm going to jump right in with pasture management. My experience has been so far that most of
the time when we start talking about the physiology of the grass plant itself and like I mentioned before the soil light bulbs start to go off in people's heads and like no wonder um I'm having a problem with this or I'm having a challenge with that. I can't make this work because I haven't understand the physiology of the grass plant. So that's where I like to start and the physiology of the grass plants very different from a tree or a shrub because we think of our plants as storing all of their carbohydrates which is their sugars, their energy the food that they make.
We think of the other plants they store it in their root system down here but a grass isn't like that. What we a lot of times don't realize is grasses actually give up their whole root system twice a year. So a lot of times we can't figure out why is that grass plant what we call a summer slump right after the summer solstice. Right after June 21st when the day length changes our grasses just sit there and probably we think okay that's because that's about when we do our first cutting of hay or that's when our horses have eaten the grass pretty much down to nothing right and so we say that's the summer slump. Well it's actually not only the summer slump because of the temperature and our grasses are cool season grasses and it's really warm then but it's also because that's when the roots fall off during the summer and they've got to grow a whole new set of roots now. They do that in the winter but we're not usually seeing that grass plant in the winter so it's something to remember and then you say aha okay now I can start to figure this out because they store all their carbohydrates in the bottom two to three inches and then we're going to talk about the apical meristem. This is what you need to think about protecting all the time I you know if you came in my office I'd say it a hundred times you know you've got to protect this bottom two inches of your plant regardless no matter what else is going on this is what needs to be protected and um we have to remember that our plant needs these blades on here those are the little solar panels that's what's making the food that's making the carbohydrates that are going to go into this apical meristem. This apical meristem at the bottom of our grass plant is where everything comes from that's where our, it's the, I'll say the infant stage of our seeds and the flowers and seeds for our mature plant for the blades of grass that do our um photosynthesis and also for the tillering of the roots. Everything starts in the apical meristem. So that's where we're you know trying to protect this so much down here because everything comes from there and um the apical meristem over winters and that's why this is where it's storing all the carbohydrates. If you let your horses or cows graze that down to nothing in the fall it's got nothing because it shed its roots over the winter. If this is gone they've eaten it down to soil level you have nothing but a bare spot the next spring because there was nothing there for energy to put out new tillers or new leaves and that's when you end up with a weed problem. So that'll be the last uh talk of this series is weeds but you're opening yourself up for nothing can grow there except for weeds. We've already talked about the summer slump but that's why you know I stress so much that this is what we need to protect. This is what we're going to be talking about right now. If you went out and you wanted to see if your grass is healthy or not, you could give it a little tug and you'd start to see these roots should be white and growing underneath the soil right now. Because they should be putting that out and I should make a side note anybody who's got horses on their pasture right now shouldn't. Okay, any livestock shouldn't be on this damp soil right now. We're going to talk about that in a minute. Why so um, because it's not the time to have them out there ripping at the ground because the soil is so wet right now anyway. If you went out there and gave your grasses a tug and if they were really nice and healthy even though there's no green sprouts on them yet you should have roots. There should be the dormant plant should be there and we should have white roots and then you can tell they're ready to go for the spring. Another thing to remember is that our roots when they're growing always stay in proportion to the top growth. So when I'm teaching Master Gardeners about turf grass and things like that, if you scalp your lawn it's the same idea grass is grass so if you scalp your lawn you lose all your roots because the roots will stay in proportion to the top growth. If you let it get nice tall you're going to have really deep roots there is nothing better to reclaim soil than to put in a field of perennial whether you want to call it hay grass or pasture grass. The shedding of those roots and the breaking up and the the deep roots really build organic matter in a soil. So, when you're doing it right, you can really reclaim some poor ground by growing a good pasture and managing it right, or a hay crop, but it has to be managed right, but you can really build good quality soil because of this shedding of the root system just so you know, but I want to show you these pictures here because this is. If you, whether you cut it too short if you're haying and you've scalped it, you've cut it with a lawnmower, or you've let animals eat it down to nothing, you're losing roots and it takes a long time. This will show you the roots never, the roots never stopped growing and the plant is nice and tall. The roots stopped growing for 17 days. It's almost three weeks. If it gets cut too short, if the roots aren't growing, your top's not growing, so it's something to remember when we start talking about rotational grazing and people will say, “well how long will I have to wait in between”. It just depends on how badly the grass got beat up before you move the animals. They say, “well when is a good time to put the animals out there”, and it's when you're doing, when you're looking at your pasture, you've got to always be looking at what's the healthiest thing for the grass, and sometimes I mean, I'm a horse owner I totally understand this, but you've got to be deciding, it's always a balancing act between that animal and your land. But once the land is ruined you can never bring it back to the full carrying capacity, it's just something to remember, that if you over graze it or you buy a piece of land that's really been beat up, it takes a long time, and it'll never be pristine again. You'll never be able to have the same number of animals on there, the same crops if you till it, and start all over again. So it's best not to let it get damaged. So this is the stages of the growth of your grass plant and the best time for it to be grazed, is pretty much the same time as when we hay it. Um so, when you've got um, you know a good long root system. Here it is flowering but it hasn't gotten into the seed stage yet, because when we've got, if we wait too long it can get really stocky. The horses don't like it and the quality is really down. Um we've lost a lot of the nutritional value if we wait too late and they just trample on it. This oh my goodness they love it if you were to put them out there say a month from now when the thing, when the grasses just start to have a little bit of a blush of green to them, but they rip them out because they don't have any, there's no root system here. So say that grass plant only had three leaves on it and you threw your horses out, they ate those three leaves off that's it, it's not coming back, because it does, they just took off the apical meristem that was holding all the carbohydrates in reserve over the winter. That was all the energy that it had and now that's gone so now you've got another bare spot that's open for weeds. Um but when the the best time to graze is, you know, I'll show you about monitoring, if we say about eight inches, but it's after Mother's Day. So the animals should not be on the pasture this time of year. We need to wait till about Mother's Day, um roughly around here, but if it was eight inches tall and it was in the flowering stage, but not all the way to the seed stage, so and they also have had a chance to replace those sugars, they use so much energy to push out that new growth, and the new roots in the spring that they've used up their energy that's in that apical meristem, and they will have had time to photosynthesize. With you know, getting their little solar panels out there putting those carbohydrates back into the apical meristem and then be able to continue growing, um but if we let them eat it too quickly that's not going to be there, and if we wait too late it's not going to be as palatable. So this is the best time. One of the things that people always say about pastures is “you know I'm leaving all the manure on there because it's fertilizing the soil”, and that's a real misnomer, okay just so you know. Um, of course we know in the spring we need to drag that this is a great example of an overgrazed pasture. Look at all the dirt spots here, Right it's just bare ground because it's been beat, but the weeds you can see here that are not palatable. The horses have eaten the grass all around that and left those weeds. I had, I learned at one of these trainings, one time, um, the p is in the poo and the um, the, and let's see the p is in the poo and the um, that whatever it's sorry, but it was that the night the n is in the p and the p is in the pool. I'm sorry but the nitrogen is in the urine. Okay and um, the and mostly what you're getting is phosphorus buildup with manure so be careful you can drag it for so long, but then you're gonna have to get it off of there if it gets too thick on here, and you probably know that. Like in dairy areas where they keep putting the manure on the fields, they end up with a phosphorus buildup because nitrogen will keep moving through the soil, but phosphorus will build up eventually. So just be careful with that. Also, I made a note here that overgrazed land where you can see this bare soil can be 10 degrees warmer than grass filled. A pasture that has grass on it, and we have cool season perennial grasses here for our pastures, and also for our hay crops, and we want to remember that they want to keep their roots cool when it gets really hot in the summer. Not only are they, let's say slumping because they lost the roots, but they don't excel in the hot July, and August days because they're cool season grasses. They really grow fast in the fall and in the spring. This is when we want to graze. Um, it was funny they gave us a monitoring stick at one of the trainings, and I was like, this is a yardstick. It's a fancy yardstick so just take a ruler out there, and about eight inches is when you want to graze, but you want to graze it down to three inches. You never want to graze lower than three inches. So if you have a few of them that are getting right down to an inch, but then some that are taller you really want to get them off of there. You don't want anything grazed lower than that. Now just a little bit about nitrogen fertilizer is that grasses use a lot of nitrogen, and nitrogen is like I said the one nutrient that moves quickly through the soil, so you don't want to put it on in the fall because it hurts your um winter, I'll say you're winterizing. It, it hurts your cold hardiness so you don't want to do that in the fall, but you want to put it on as soon as the grass is calling for, or you know it's got new growth, and it's calling for nutrients. So if you can get it on there like in April, um or May before the dandelions bloom, is usually what we're looking for. Um it's really good every time nitrogen, not only moves through the spill, it moves through the plant. So it's going to the top growth of whatever it is you're growing, whether it's a hay crop or a pasture, and when you remove the grass whether it's by grazing or by haying you're removing that nitrogen. So, you've got to replace about 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre after it's grazed. So, you know after whether we call it a cutting of hay or um your animals have eaten it down to a certain point it's great if you can get it on twice a year, but once a year at least because you can bring back a beat up pasture if you irrigate, get the animals off it, but if you irrigate and you get some really good nitrogen fertilizer on there you can really do a lot. Your plants will start tillering. You'll get a lot of new growth, and all of a sudden it'll take off because a lot of times people say “well I can't figure out what's going on with my pasture”, but they haven't fertilized. The like ever you know so I'll say “well what did you fertilize last year” and they'll say “um”, and it means never so it's something you've really got to think about. This was just something, that um I've got a lot of animal behavior stuff that I could go over and maybe if we do a part two on this we can, but I did mention this before, and it's um, you really need to make sure that the animals are not on there too early in the spring. Your grass needs at least three weeks to get up and to grow and to get out some leaves to restore that energy that it used up from the apical meristem. Getting going in the spring, so keeping them off until about Mother's Day is a really good idea, and it's really warm and wet soil right now so if it sticks to your shoe you should not be walking on it. So we're going to talk about soil and some of the things that sometimes we don't think about as far as plants and soil. What I find is that um a lot of folks don't realize how much plants need oxygen. Um under or I'll say around their roots under their roots um under the soil and so our trees and our shrubs and our grass everything is breathing these roots need to have air. So our soil is about 50 50 soil and air spaces and those air spaces either have water or air in them, and a perfect scenario is when it's about 50 50. If it ends up that there's too much air and not enough water our plants are wilting, and if it's too much air, and no or I'm sorry, too much water and no air our plants are rotting the root systems, rot right off, and they can't take up they need oxygen for energy to pull up the water. So, our root our plants can look wilted like if you have a house plant, and every time it wilts you throw more water on it, same idea, it's actually drowning because it can't, it doesn't have any oxygen around the roots. So it can't take up the water that's there. So it's something to remember especially. I was talking to somebody just last night that has a lot of clay soil. When you have clay soil you have a real problem. Sometimes with that water percolating through and having good root structures so this just is a little bit about some of the differences in our soil, and here's our platy it's clay, and it has a different structure than like our gravelly soils or our sandy soils, and these platy soils, I'm going to show you some pictures, but when the animals stand on it, um and it would be the same thing if you drove a truck across damp soil right now. Same thing, you're compacting the soil and what you're doing is you're eliminating all those air spaces so the water can't go through it and there's no oxygen in there and then the roots can't get through it either. So this shows you, the first column here shows you what a healthy soil structure would look like. This is a perfect world you know, and so it's about 50 soil particles and 50 air. This shows tilling problems but this is where livestock has been standing on it. You know you have a tree out in your pasture and all the horses want to stand there, or um, I see this all the time where people have a really nice wood lot on their property, but then they let their horses in there, and they're like can't figure out why in about less than five years that the trees are all dead because the trees can't take this with the horses standing on it. It compacts the soil in this whole top structure here, and um trees need a lot of, they when you're in the forest that's kind of like they call it duff you know it's, it's fluffy it's where the oxygen is, you can't put soil on those roots and you can't eliminate their source of oxygen, and that's what you're doing. You start suffocating everything around there when you have compacted soil. This shows you how with normal soil you have your air and your water percolating through there, and again same idea when you have compacted soil, it all the grains get pushed together, and you can't get any oxygen through there. If you don't have oxygen in water you don't have a root system. This is heavy compaction. Your plants look really small probably. They've been eaten off but a lot of times it's they can't grow there. They just can't get their roots down into that soil so you've ruined the structure, um so again. You can't go backwards once you have really compacted soil. It's a real effort and you never go back to full carrying capacity. I had this picture, I had you know, coming one at a time, this is what we all want right. We want our horses standing out there and there's some alfalfa, and little trees and all this kind of stuff. This is usually what we get. It's a, it's a mud pit right, especially right now, but what I do like about this picture, and um, this is another thing I thought when I first started talking about this when I moved to Flathead County, and I talked about a dry lot or a sacrifice lot. People would go like I am not moving my horses I'm like well then you're going to have a pasture problem. You know I don't know what to tell you, but that's what you have to do. You have to say okay, I'm going to have a sacrifice area that I know that it's not going to be wonderful, but look at on the back side of this fence. It's beautiful grass and by keeping this horse in this area here they're protecting these beautiful pastures out here so there is a purpose for designing when we talk about our rotational grazing designs a lot now it doesn't have to look like a muddy mess like this, but it's an area where you're going to let the horses hang out when we're trying to protect the pasture. Again, the monitoring you can either do it by sight or go out there and just measure. Okay, eight inches you want to put them out there, and three inches you want to take them off. That's the basic premise. Now one of the things that I went over, the planning and zoning, and I'm like can we do something about how people are wrecking the land around here. You know and it just comes from lack of education, but there's a lot of areas in this county where there's no zoning. So you can put as many horses on your acre as you want but there's a very large area around here where you can have two animal units per acre and two animals in a two horses, for example or a cow and a calf, um would be two cows and two calves would be an animal unit. Um, that is way too much and because the recommendation here in the Flathead based on our rainfall fall and our soil conditions is one animal unit for 10 acres. So I know that nobody wants to hear that. They run you out of town if you say you know you really should have one horse per 10 acres, but two animals per um acre is insane okay and so I know that I hear this a lot with real estate agents because it is the rule or acceptable but when people don't know um this is what gets us in trouble sometimes. So just because you're zoned that way doesn't mean that that's the, the carrying capacity for your soil. So this is where we want to um help you get the right stocking rate on your pur on your property. The perfect stocking rate would be where the animals keep moving and they take a bite from every plant. Sometimes people say well you know horses grew well grew they you know they were in the wild and you have elk and you have buffalo and all these things that used to grow on the prairie. Well you know they were continually moving. They were not behind a fence and stuck in a little area so that they had to eat every single blade. You know the no blade left behind. They had to keep moving so when you just take a bite from a plant and keep walking no problem and when the animals are keep moving you don't have soil compaction problems either. So horses eat about three percent of their body weight a day. So that would be 30 pounds roughly of grass and um one of the things that I don't I think I had to pull it out oh no here it is um one thing that I do hear uh from folks is well I only put my horses up for a couple hours every day and that's probably the worst thing you can do. If you look at it from an animal behavior point of view because if you throw your horse out you know what it looks like when those horses just can't wait they're like standing at the gate for you to get out there and they want to get out on that green grass while they gorge themselves. I mean they don't get sick feet out of the gate and their head is down and they're munching wolfing down right and we've all seen them do that so they're tearing at the grass so they're you know really ripping at that the bottom and they'll always go for the bottom of the grass, I should have mentioned that too, because that's where all the sugars are stored right so they're going to go for that really low part of the grass. So they're going to be ripping at that like crazy and they're going to eat intensively for about three hours. They will come down and slow down they're eating after about three hours and after they've eaten about 11 pounds worth of grass if you leave them out there they'll um you know like say you left them out there for a couple days, they'd stroll and eat and stroll and eat after they you know got to the certain part, so it's better to leave, it's better for the pasture to leave them out there for a few days, and then move them um right, and even if you had to take them off for four or five days and then put them back out there again. So I know that the horses would like to be out there every day so if you want to make your horse happy but if you want to keep your pastures strong you won't let them go out there every day and rip the heck out of it. So um you know you have there again you have to have a trade-off. The other thing is horses don't like off flavors and a lot of the noxious weeds um that we have I'll say have a problem with, we have a problem with noxious weeds in the county but also there's some and I'll show you some pictures of some weeds that will kill your horse. Theyusually will not even go near those weeds unless the grass is all gone. So I have seen pastures where it's nothing but weeds and the people don't understand, they're like darn it, those horses got plenty to eat out there, I'm not giving them any grass and I'm not giving them anything else until they eat those weeds. Well number one they could die, get sick and die, um or they'll starve to death, before they'll eat them because some of those tannins will make them really sick, and um they know to stay away from them. If these weeds get cut and dry or if they're just so hungry they have to eat it, that's when we see um horses get really sick and um sometimes permanent permit disability or death. Uh don't put bird's foot tree foil in there or um like elsie clover and things like that but some of these can accumulate nitrates and some of them are toxic for horses, so be careful what you're planting around your horse pastures.
So again, um over grazing, um it never returns to original carrying capacity. I said that before and we need to make sure that our grasses have that apical meristem, and that they have leaves on them going into the fall. It can't overwinter if you've allowed the horses to be out there too late in the fall. Water access when we talk about the rotational grazing designs. I'm going to help you with that, talking about fences and things. I'd say the biggest challenge for most properties is where do I put the water, and so strategically placing the water in a central area where you can make that part of your, again, dry lot sacrifice lot is imperative, and you can do really nice. You know that they're going to be standing around where the food in the water is so something like this is great because it's got gravel. You can get their feet off there they're not going to get thrush, and you know they're going to be standing around there. This area here you can tell they keep coming back to it. Of course this is their water area, and it's all mucky because they're standing here all the time, and I’m going to talk about back fencing here in a minute. Yeah um I couldn't find a picture of back fencing with horses such as cows, so the idea though is that if we have um say water area or food area here, and it's centralized, and we can now put the horses out in a pasture, and they come back here to eat or drink. The idea is that when I take them off of that pasture, and I open up another pasture that they're not gonna walk over the pasture that they already over grazed again. So I’m trying to make myself perfectly unclear here but what we need to do is make sure we have our electric fence or however we're going to do this make sure they don't get back on this grass that they already chewed. When this grass that they've already eaten starts to come back up, it's short it's sweet and it's really tender. So these cows would want to come back over here as soon as this starts growing back up again, and if you had your water say over here somewhere, and you just said okay I’m gonna open up more and more pasture every two weeks and these cows or horses had to come back over the new stuff to get to the water. They're going to keep ruining this. It's never going to get a chance to get its leaves up to store energy to continue tillering and growing. So the idea is that if you're going to do this would be like what we call mob grazing or intensive grazing. You move the whole section every two days. I did that with my horse in a pasture one summer. Man that was a lot of work. I set it up differently the next time but I, I had it shaped like a pie so that I had um the electric charger in the middle and I kept making like pie wedges around a whole big field, and that was a lot of work because I could keep her in there for two days, and then it started to get down, and then I would have to move her, and I had that electric tape but it's a lot of work to move the horses every two days. But it was important to move both sides not just open up one side which had been a lot easier because I couldn't have her walking back over where that grass had already been chewed. I’ll show you some pictures here so the whole idea of rotational grazing plans would be to think about. Okay I’m going to have a, I’ll call it, a sacrifice area right, my sacrifice area, or my dry lot is where I have a shelter some kind of a for shade because I don't really want to have a tree there. Because they're going to ruin the tree by standing and compacting the soil right. So I want to have some kind of shelter for winter and for summer. I want to have their water tank and I’d really like to be able to feed them grass hay or grassy a hay in there if I can too. So you could either, this would be almost like the pie shape you could put a little coral right in the middle so you can have your tank here, and they, every pasture comes off of that corral, that sacrifice lot right, so that if they eat off of here they come in here, and they rest, and then you can move into pasture too. You can keep moving them around, but this is a place that stays the same, so you can have that sand in there gravel in there something like that, and you only have one water source this would be a different shape. Whoops let's see I clicked a different shape where I have shade, and I have water and it's long like an alley. Um I’ve seen this too, and then every pasture comes off of that alley again. This is my sacrifice area. I might have sander gravel in there. You know you could have just a piece of pasture that you're gonna say, okay that's gonna be all muddy, and whatever, and I’m not gonna put gravel or sand in there, but it's where I rest these. I’m taking care of these, and this is the place that I’m sacrificing. This is another one here where it's got a combination of an alley but they can always get back to the water. You just open one of these gates, right so the idea is that they can come back to the water from any one of these pastures. I’d say the number one question that people call and they say, can you come out and show me where I should put my water, and we can't do that really you know. We can talk to you about that but you'll need to decide where on your property, you can have water and you can run fencing from that. Because it's, it's all up to you how much do you want to spend on fencing. How many times you want to move the horses. I mean some of this stuff is once you've got the idea you can be really creative and come up with anything you want. This is a beautiful dry lot. It's got your shelter. I’m sure it has water over here. This is where they feed the grass hay and all of these pastures are now allowed to grow back. These are some of the plants that are really toxic to horses and I also I’m showing you these. I know they're a little small for you to see. You can find if you just google images. You can find all kinds of posters photos. Um all kinds of write-ups about these weeds. But there's something you should really familiarize yourself with. Because sometimes you don't have them in your pasture, but you might buy a load of hay, And in the winter you're looking through it you say you know something doesn't quite look right, and sometimes horses will accidentally get poisoned by having these dried weeds in their hay because they won't recognize them, and they won't taste the same. They don't always have those tannins and bitter taste once they've been in a bella hay for a while. So I would look at some of these and make sure that you know what they look like so that they're not in your hay or make sure you always do check your hay before you give them to your animals. We did have a horse last, I think it was, in the spring, no well we'll know, because the weed department got involved with it, but it was hound's tongue that was all in a um in hay, and that isn't even on here. But um some horses and animals will be a lot more susceptible. Just like some of us are more allergic to things or allergic to certain say bees, and horses are the same way. So if you see something that doesn't look like the alfalfa or the grass that you ordered. Be careful if it's dandelions thistle things like that they're gonna be fine but some of these plants and like the tnz ragwort stuff be, be familiar with that because that's something that's in a lot of hedgerows around here. So um, let's see when we were doing our workshop class we always wanted to give our students the takeaway messages, three main points, and these were ours from before, and it's never graze below three inches. Avoid soil compaction, and use a dry lot those would be my three. Main takeaway messages, one of the things that Sam mentioned was that we are going to have some resource materials available. There's a terrific Horse Pasture Management book that I found from Missouri Extension, and I was able to get the digital copy. And Sam’s going to put that on the website. But we used that and it says Missouri on it, but it's the same principles it's the, the design of the rotational grazing areas. It's the grass physiology and some about the soil compaction. So I couldn't find anything closer that was as good but that was a good one that will be available for you. Um this is kind of funny because to me is that all of the agronomists will recommend that you feed your livestock and your horses during July and August so that you let your pasture rest, and that's almost like sacrilege. In Montana you don't you know you have your horses out on, I got a tickle sorry, during July and August. But that's when your plants are going through that summer slump. And so if you can give them hay and supplement during July and August that's great. Um Noelle’s going to talk about the weeds on the next one. I think I strained my vocal cords, and then getting a soil test so you know how much nitrogen to put on is great. I mean 50 pounds per acre would be your minimum that you'd want to do, but there could be other things that are missing from your soil that you won't know without a soil test. And here's my contact information. If you have questions feel free to email or call, and now I’ll be ready for some questions thank you Pat for that really informative presentation. that was great. I know that I was sitting here jotting down like 50 questions to ask you, and I don't even keep livestock but I still have a lot of questions. Um so we have had one question come through the chat. I do want to encourage any of the folks in the audience to use that q a to submit any questions or comments that they have for you. I will kick us off by asking one of my own questions. Is there a minimum size acreage or area that you need in order to use rotational brazing. Well you know it just, I’m sorry, you know we have a joke in Extension and that the answer is always, depends. And it's so true because if you had sheep, and you had, I mean when people want horses you've really got to have 10 acres, I mean 20 acres would be better, um it's very difficult to have horses on 5 acres or less. But you could if you had a dry lot and you used it properly. But they'd spend most their time in the dry lot because it's so fast for a horse to use up. A horse actually counts as one and a half animal units if you want to be technical. Because they never stop eating they walk and eat all the time, day and night and they don't lay down and chew their cud like a cow does. They just keep eating. So if the recommendation really for our land is one horse per 10 acres, you'd need 20 acres. But the other thing is if you just let them out on 10 acres and you don't rotate them, then what you end up with is places where they like to stand, and that gets all compacted. And you end up with places where there's a lot of weeds. Um and so you really need to be managing them but they'll over graze one area they'll have places they really like or they don't like. So even if you had a small piece of 10 acres, you know if you could divide that into three pieces of three acres at a time that would be great. Um it's, it's all, it's all about fencing and electric fence is pretty easy because horses, I had like just that lightweight tape, and portable push in the ground with your foot um fencing and it goes pretty quickly and you don't need anything elaborate to move these guys. But um yeah, you just have to do it, yeah okay so we had a question from David Welch, and this came in earlier and so it was in reference to something that you were discussing. Um oh okay so the question was Pat is it the same with Llama manure and it seems like that question was about the nitrogen and phosphorus. Probably yeah, and the phosphorus yes, it's all manure it's, it's all manure. So you end up with a phosphorus buildup only. It's because it's the nature of the nutrients nitrogen will volatilize which means if it gets warm it'll be a gas. It'll leach through the soil and it's taken up and gone into the root system. Phosphorus and potassium bind to the soil particles and they don't move very much so it's more the nature of the nutrients than the actual type of manure. I mean you can always use some of that Llama manure or something in your garden or you know put a little bit on your fields but it's more of that habit of continually you know year after year maybe decade after decade of having that much manure on there that gets to be a problem eventually. And you'll know if you do a soil test, yeah and one thing that was brought up during our soil health and composting webinar a couple weeks ago was that if you do choose to compost your manure you have to be careful that you are using, um that you are feeding the animals with um hay or with feed with I guess grasses that have not been treated with certain chemicals. Because those can persist in the manure and then if you spread them on your garden or somewhere else on your property where you want the benefits of compost in terms of matter and nutrients you'll still be spreading those chemicals all over that. That's a really good point because sometimes especially when you get weed free hay I was the inspector for seven years for that. And people get mad at the farmer, and they're like you know we they shouldn't be putting herbicides on their hay. Well you know, you need to protect the national parks and the Bob Marshall wilderness, and all these places by using weed free hay. Um so if we're gonna protect one area you know they've got to control them and so sometimes they have to use herbicides. Well they don't know they're selling it to outfitters or they're selling it to people who have horses who want to go packing. They don't know that somebody's going to ask a neighbor if they can have that manure and they put it in their garden and it ruins the garden. It's really buyer beware and I know that every gardening class I teach I go over all those amendments. You've got to be so careful when you're putting straw in your garden. You've got to be so careful when you're putting manure in your garden. That it's not been treated and I wouldn't be throwing stones at the farmers. It's sometimes they've got something in there like say 240 and in a year it's not going to still be active and so you can put it in your garden after it's been in the compost pile. But some of these chemicals they, they have relabeled some of them like milestone you cannot sell that manure or it any nothing from there can go off of that property. It's got to stay on the property so if somebody was growing their own hay they can feed it to their own cows. But you know if you come and take manure off of a farm and you don't know what those animals ate, you could really be in trouble. So yeah, it's that's a good point, I’m glad you mentioned that. Okay, so we have a question from Erica Gerber, she asks “if I keep the horses off the fall can they go back on in the winter until march 1st.” Hey Erica, um it depends on the temperature. Because as soon as the soil gets damp, and the snow comes off, and you don't have a frost layer. They're going to start compacting the soil. So it all depends on what kind of winter we're having. And we didn't have the frost, didn't get very deep this year. So it just depends on if their hooves are starting to make a dent in that soil. I know my property, it's kind of a mud patch right now, and I always say if it sticks to your shoe get off it. And if you if, you have a tire track when you run across that piece of ground. You can see where the tire's been on your truck or something like that. Or you can see their hoof print you know the soil's too damp so you got to get them off. What is the best time to plant seed in your pasture? You know a really good time is late August beginning of September. That's the ideal time, and it also depends on, well in a way, it's probably the best time, even if you were going to intercede, with say, you were going to try to thicken up your pasture. I always recommend really giving it a heavy feeding in the spring and see how much seeding you need. Because sometimes unless you've got a lot of bare spots, sometimes that grass will actually be able to tiller and fill in really well. And what it needs is a few years of really good feed nutrients, nitrogen. But if you want to reseed, a really good time this late August. But make sure that you're not doing it on a field where you're going to let the livestock back in. Because that grass needs to be at least a month old before the winter hits. And we usually get some rain in September, and that's why it's warm enough for the seeds to germinate. It's damp enough usually to get it up one thing to remember is a grass seed, if you ever see a grass seed germinate, I can't do anything without my hands, um it looks almost like a wisp of your hair when it first comes out of that tiny seed. If that dries up at all for 15 minutes, it's gone, that it, it's not going to come back. So that soil needs to stay damp so whether you're seeding a lawn or a pasture, doesn't make any difference, that ground's got to be damp for that grass to get up. And so, September is usually a pretty good time. Because it's not too hot. Sometimes we get some rain, and you can get some grass seed up, but when it's really young and tender you can't have horses running over it or trying to bite it off. Because it's tasty and small. So it's something to remember, late August first week in September, perfect time to seed. Best time probably, and but don't have livestock on it till the next spring or summer all right. So Dave Bradley asks “if um can sheep be grazed in a forested area or will they also compact the ground too much like larger livestock.” Well you know livestock in general, and it, I hate to say it, depends, but it depends on how may I, you know how many are there talking about, like three sheep standing under a tree. Once in a while walking by, are we talking about, they're all going to be flocked up underneath a couple of trees and if they compact the soil. One of the things we have to remember, um when we do property, I’ll say property management, is that grass and trees natively grow in completely different ecologies. Okay when you have a forest, and you have a prairie, this is the conundrum. When people are trying to say, have a lawn right. You're trying to grow a shade tree in the middle of a lawn. You're trying to have a prairie and a forest together. If you think about it the microorganisms under trees are different. And I know this is, you just wanted an answer, right? You know but the, the ecology under a tree is different. So when you're putting livestock that are really, uh prairie growers, right. You know they, they need to be on grass. You can't just seed under a tree and, and get that without something's going to give either the forest is going to die, the trees a woodlot whatever. It is, you're going to die or the grass is really, not going to be doing well. Because you can't make the conditions perfect for what both of those species want. So it just depends on how many sheep. Are you going to keep them moving? Are they there just once in a while? Are they there all the time? How long are they going to stand there? So yeah, sorry that makes sense all right. So we had a question from Elysian McIntyre, it's kind of a two-part question. The first part is “how do I drain water in compacted soil?” And then the second part is, “pasture seed is very expensive could I just buy some sacks of rye barley oats etc from the feed store and spread that onto over seed each year.” Most, most of the seeds that you just mentioned are annual seeds. Um so, no they're not going to live through the winter. They're annuals, so most of that is, no. Um, as far as the type of seeds that you're talking about, um compacted soil, the only thing you can do is run drains through there. Um I know that there's areas out in like Kila and Whitefish, and areas you know over there that are really heavy ground. That's why I was talking about if you have heavy ground you've got to be especially careful about compaction. Because if you have gravelly ground or sandy ground it's going to take a lot longer. And it's going to take a lot more of a beating than when you have that plate structure of a clay soil particle that's going to compact together really fast. And it's also almost, well, it is impossible actually to ever get that to break up. That's why you've got to be so careful on ground like that. But the only thing you can do is French drains in, in soil that's been compacted and it's not draining. So Pat I’ve heard you know about certain cover crops that you can use that are like specialty compaction breakers. Have you seen anyone use cover crops to break up soil compaction with any success? Well those are like, there's these great big radishes that you can grow, and they really get down, and all that kind of stuff. But it takes years, and they're so expensive. The seed for that kind of thing, that mostly it's done in a garden situation in small acreage, like maybe an acre or two that you're maybe, you bought it and you want to put a garden in there, but you need to break that up, and you need to work on it. Um but, as far as like say you had a big horse pasture, five acre horse pasture, to put in some of these things. I, I can't imagine how much that would cost you. You know the best thing to do would put in a, a pasture mix or a hay mix. And then let that really take really good care of that for a few years. And that would by the roots you know if they can get down in there and start working at that, and then they shed their roots, and then they grow and then they shed their roots, and they grow they eventually work their way down into that. Um you know there's some prairie grasses that are grown for biofuels that the grass will get 12 feet tall the roots will go down 12 feet. And that's how I reclaimed a lot of old dairy land that had been abused by cattle out on the ground. When I was doing research at Cornell and it was putting in these, um you know blue stems, and things like that, but um you know, grasses are actually really good for the soil. Those radishes and some of those other legumes that they, they'll put in there are pretty pricey. I, I can't tell you exactly what that would be, but for a big acreage, and then you'd have to plow the whole thing, and seed, and all that, and that would be a lot of labor. But I suppose anything's possible. So we have kind of a good segue to this next question from Janet Turney. Uh “how long can a pasture go ungrazed? Should it be mowed?” Oh you could, you could mow it every year and not graze. It ever you know what I mean like, if the problem that um, one of the things that we have, and I’m is that, people sometimes want to plant an area 10 acres is tough. Because it's not big enough to buy a piece of equipment, 20 acres even is the same thing 10 or 20 acres say it's not large enough to warrant purchasing a tractor. Um that does a lot of like haying and all this other kind of stuff. And yet it's too small of a piece of ground for a farmer to come and want to, I’ll say farm it for you. So sometimes people have the idea that they want to plant it in native grasses and just let it be wild. Well that's okay for a couple years and then it becomes a fire hazard. Because you need to cut that or graze it or do something and get that off of there. Because what happens is the grass will get a certain height, then lodge you know, fall over, and then it's dry, and it's basically like kindling right. And we have so many problems with wildfires you can't just torch it. And so you need to, if you want to cut it that's fine, you could cut it once a year. But you've got to take it off of there. You know you rake it off of there. Find a way to get it off. Even if you gave it to somebody. But you can't just cut it and let it lay there. It becomes a hazard of all that, and it also suffocates the, the grass that's not, that's underneath. It you know, the new grass that's coming up can't get up from underneath that, that heavy foliage on the top it. Kind of goes back to what you were saying earlier about how you know our native whether, perennial species here are adapted to raising some kind of disturbance in some way. And so you know whether that was a large herd of bison moving through or maybe it was a fire that burned it. It's like those systems are naturally dependent on that kind of disturbance. And so if you want native grasses, great but figure out a way to mimic nature in that disturbance right, right. So a related question from Sean McDonough is, “what is your view on burning pasture land in the spring?” I don't think very much of it actually I mean because we've talked about this in our landowner classes before. And if you talk to the people who work with our native grasses and things, is that burning a pasture has no purpose as far as that pasture. And you can do more damage if you think about the way grass and our native forbs and the trees, everything that we have here is adapted for fire in August or September. And that's when we have a fire problem right? We don't have fires in the spring so a lot of times you are killing, um like new growth of grass. You can be killing all that new growth and all those are, we talking about our little protecting our apical meristem. That's what we want to do all the time right? Setting fire to it couldn't possibly, I can't think of anything worse. I know that you're removing some of that old growth on there. But if it's a pasture or if it's a hay ground, it shouldn't have really any top growth left on it, and you're hurting the grass that's coming up. And you know I don't know where people get this idea that the, the black ash that's left is really good for the plants. What they're doing is they're seeing the plant that it might warm the soil a little bit. So you might push the new growth a little bit. I’m just trying to figure out something that might be good, but they can see it quicker right? You can see those green sprouts because now you've eliminated any um old growth that's on there. But um I, I would never recommend burning a pasture. I can't think of any reason why I would rather, if somebody had a weed problem for example, and you've got too much old plant material on there, to be able to spray in the spring I, I prefer if you cut it and then you removed that grass so that you could get to the weeds in the spring. But a lot of times what people don't realize is that you're really hurting the good stuff and the weeds don't care. Our noxious weeds are so tough they will grow through just about anything. So it's almost like our beneficial insects right, a lot of times people are spraying pesticides all over and if you don't know what you're doing, you're killing the good guys. And so I kind of feel that way about fire. Is you know people have to get out in their ditches in the spring and then we end up with these runaway fires. Um what's up with that, so yeah, so I think the answer to this is probably uh it depends.But how big should a dry lot be for one horse, yeah it doesn't have to be that big. I mean um I’d say is it going to be just fresh air and exercise and, and now having a horse myself I’m like okay my horse is just turning 18, and I’m like she'd need a smaller area than if I had like a two-year-old colt. You know and so, if you had something that was 40 feet by 20 feet or something like that, that would be plenty. Um and how long are they going to be out there? Are they you know, out there all winter? They don't, they kind of just stand around in the winter anyway. Um you could get away with a smaller area. I mean, I, I certainly wouldn't go with like 15 by 15, that's almost like putting them in a box stall. So I’d want it to be a little bigger than that but I can really picture 20 by 40 would be great. Then if you decided to get an extra horse you could throw them in there for a little while too. So Erica Gerber asked a follow-up question um to her earlier one and um she was wondering if it would be all right to have horses on the snow in the winter or do they dig down and try to eat below that snow? You know they don't dig a whole lot. Um if the, and I’d say, monitor the horses because usually they're fine on the snow or when we have a really hard freeze, and the ground is of course hard, and their feet are not compacting the soil. Because the frost is in there and then you've got a layer of snow. They're usually fine I, I don't see them doing a whole lot of digging you'll see them dig down like if you've spilled some grain or something like that. But they're not rooting around too much out there normally. So as long as you're watching them, because sometimes they'll find an area like on the south side that you didn't realize that had all melted off. And now they've really trashed this one spot, that they're hanging on, but if it's all snow covered, I wouldn't worry about it right. We have so many good questions coming through I’m going to try to get to them all Nicole Sear asks “do you recommend rotational or intensive grazing with cattle and pastures that have lots of noxious weeds like Canada bissell musk thistle, hound's tongue? Would that be better than letting the cattle have access to the entire pasture and does it?” Well I, I wouldn't put them out on a pasture full of weeds I just wouldn't. You know because you really need to get rid of the weeds or get the weeds under control before you start grazing. An area um, even if you start working on one area at a time to manage those weeds, you know it's just that you're, what you're describing is a pasture full of weeds. And I I’d say that's so risky that I wouldn't want to do it just for the health and safety of my livestock. Now I know Canada thistle isn't that detrimental to the animals but on the flip side nothing else will grow around that. And that patch is just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. So I wouldn't even think about what's happening with my livestock until I got those weeds under control. I’d get out there first thing in the spring. I’d get on those weeds because when they're really small and tender, Sam and I were talking earlier tonight about, um what people you know like. What goes wrong with herbicides, sometimes people just wait too late. You've got to get out there, you know where they are right now right. So that means in April when they start to come up by April they'll be six inches tall but they'll be so tender that you can get out there with an herbicide and start really knocking them down. And they may take a couple treatments, but you have gotten a start on them. And some of the, you know, you'd read the label but some of those herbicides you can put cattle back out 24 hours later. But I would be focusing on the weeds before I start thinking about rotational grazing and livestock and all that. Yeah I think that pretty well answers Nicole’s follow-up question about the timing for herbicides relative to grazing cattle. Um but what you mentioned does bring to mind you know, that the timing of application whatever that treatment might be can vary a lot by which species you're trying to treat, and yes yeah, so um, definitely encourage you all who are interested to tune in for the last installment of this series which will cover noxious weeds. Identify, identification and control, but also want to encourage you to reach out directly to the Flathead County Weed Department because they have resources available for technical assistance to help you as a land manager develop an integrated weed management plan. So you can determine what species you have and the appropriate course of treatment and timing for that treatment relative to your land management needs. Um so, we have another question, um let's see we had a question come in from Mark Dunnigan which is “what is the best way to create a dry lot? and I think you might have touched a little bit on that already but if you have anything to add?” Well I think it depends on what your soil is, if you've got a sandy soil, and you just want to fence off an area or it's gravelly. If I had an area that had a lot of clay or is heavy ground I dig it out. And put a gravel base in there so that my animals aren't standing in dampness. If I, if you have horses you're going to end up with thrush, while you could with a cow too, but your dry lot needs to keep their feet dry. And so what, what do you need to do, to do that does it need a drain. Will they be standing in a certain area you know well getting it ready fencing a shelter a constant supply of water. And then we know they're going to be standing there. So
I mean in a perfect world you'd have drain underneath there. So that if it gets really wet it leaves there and goes off, I’ll say off one side of the property or another. And um you know like a coarse stone dust or a light gravel something like that for them to stand on. I mean not too rocky because you'll, the horses won't have shoes on that time of year, and they can hurt the bottoms of their feet. But if it was something that was a little more than a sand and you know a little smaller than a pea stone. That would be perfect. Okay so I will ask one more question and then I think we'll wrap it up. So Elaine asked “some patches of grass grow fast and horses don't want to eat it, is it best to cut those long areas to encourage them to eat it?” Well it's best if, if another horse has peed there or pooped there. Um they won't eat it or if it's all trampled they won't eat it. And so you always end up with some long pieces. So yes um, cut that, that would be great if you could go over the whole thing as if it had been, had, if you move them to another pasture. And you take some of that, but some of that will be relieved just by getting them off of there. Because again if you knock the manure clumps down and the urine eventually will leach through. Then you'll end up probably they'll eat it the next time they go around. But um, I would also always check to see what's there, is there maybe a weed in there, is there something else going on in there that maybe you didn't see before? That's a reason why, but sometimes if it gets trampled, you know like if Susie horse ran over that, and made a mess out of it, then I’m not gonna eat it. You know so, that can happen too all right. Well I think we could probably stay here all night asking questions and having this good discussion but I think for the sake of time we will go ahead and call it. People can feel free to email me too. Yeah so Pat's contact information is on the screen, take full advantage of that, and just want to remind everyone to please do take that survey that you will be automatically redirected to when you leave the zoom webinar. We appreciate any feedback you have to offer and please tune in for the rest of the land stewardship series. We will convene again same time same place next week. And um hope to see you there and please stay tuned for the recording of this to be posted on our website and YouTube channel. And reach out with any questions to our office thank you so much for joining me have a great day thanks Pat.