Cattlemen’s Association discusses Ag Center, Equifest
By Stephanie Johns
Attendees to this month’s Morgan County Cattleman’s Association meeting learned about creating ideal pasture conditions, the status of the Agricultural Center, and Equifest 2013.
Susan McCullar of the Cattleman’s Association introduced Chris Agee, Forage Agronomist with Pennington Seed, Inc., as “the authority in the Southeast for forage.”
Agee shared a presentation on “Pasture Improvement and Management” that began with a picture of an idyllic vision of a horse in a lush green pasture followed by a more realistic picture of a pasture with no forage but plenty of manure.
He said that one needs to consider weed control, paddock layout, grazing management, grass selection, and pasture establishment when planning forage for one’s livestock.
“There’s a trick to it,” he said. “There’s an art.”
The first step to improve forage is to conduct a soil test. He recommends conducting a soil test every three years, except when haying, which he said requires a soil test every year.
Test results will include pH. Agee noted that this area tends to run acidic and that optimal pH is about 6.5.
“Using lime will raise pH,” he said, noting that the ratio to follow is 2 tons of lime per one acre of land. Apply the lime now as it takes four to six months to become active.
Agee said that weeds in a pasture actually indicate other problems. The first step in treating weeds: identifying the weed(s) and using the correct herbicide(s).
“If you’ve got 60 percent weeds or more, it’s probably a good idea to start over,” he said.
He noted that there are grazing restrictions: after using a herbicide, there’s a certain number of days one must wait until animals are allowed to graze it. The length of wait time depends on the type of herbicide and the type of livestock – beef, dairy, lactating dairy, or animals to be slaughtered.
As to pasture design, Agee recommended a brochure created by Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University, and the University of Kentucky titled “Maintaining Healthy Horse Pastures.”
One critical mistake cattlemen make is overstocking pastures with livestock. He explained that 1 animal unit (AU) equals 1,000 pounds; a typical horse rates 1.5 AUs. Three acres will satisfy one horse with no feed or supplements added.
Agee recommended that cattlemen allow their livestock to graze down forage to 3 inches in height, rotate the livestock to a different pasture, and then allow the 3-inch growth to grow to 8 inches before allowing livestock to feed there again.
“Horses are spot grazes so clip avoided forage to reduce competition,” he said. He then showed a time-lapse video in which one pot of grass was clipped shorter than 3 inches and a second pot was clipped to 3 inches. The video showed that the pot with the 3-inch grass regrew forage much faster than the pot with the shorter grass.
For Morgan County, Agee recommended Bermuda and fescue grasses.
“These could give year-round grass,” he said, noting that Bermuda grass is a warm season grass while fescue grass is a cool season grass. “A good rule of thumb is 70 percent warm season grasses and 30 percent cool season grasses.”
Before planting the grass seed, Agee said to smooth or firm the seed bed. Then broadcast or drill the seed. He recommended using a cultipack.
“If I only owned one piece of farm equipment, it’d be a cultipack,” he said.
One attendee asked for suggestions to improve a rough patch of land rife with soil erosion. Agee said that planting annual ryegrass – a “no-fail crop” – would be ideal in that situation.
To get rid of thistle, he told attendees to use a herbicide called 2, 4-D. He said those wanting to get rid of thistle could also use “biological control” (i.e., bugs) as he has seen “good success” with them.
“The little critter gets in the seed heads and eats out the embryo and keeps it from making seed,” he said.
Carol Williams of the Agricultural Center Committee then shared details about the county’s Ag Center.
She said the Ag Center was a dream of theirs beginning in 1980 when they wanted a place to show livestock locally. The county donated some land and Fred Stancil started the building process. They held auctions and bake sales as well as sold advertising signs to raise money for the center, which was built in 1989. Since that time a second set of stalls was built.
The Ag Center has hosted clinics, sales, shows, Equifest, auctions, rodeos, safety camps, practices, and meetings.
“It’s a multi-purpose facility,” she said. “It’s functional for a wide range of people.”
Williams noted that the Ag Center started off strong but they lost some people. Revenue taken went to pay the bills but eventually the center could not sustain itself. The county took over maintenance of the Ag Center.
A couple of improvements already are in the works: a new sign for the Ag Center has been delivered and they are replacing lights as the ones at the center do not do well in cold weather. Also, the county has agreed to clean up the parking area.
She then noted several items that would improve the center: replacing old advertising signs with signs from new advertisers, and upgrades to the PA system, the concession stand, and the restrooms.
While Williams said the arena isn’t wide enough for some equine events such as barrel racing, they are “very reasonable” when it comes to renting out the center. She added that people are welcome to ride their horses there; there’s a $5 fee per horse.
When asked about widening the arena to make it more roomy for barrel racers, Williams said that it would involve moving light poles and taking away more parking spaces.
Equifest 2013 will be held April 20. At this time there are several spots open on that committee as members are rotating off.
McCullar said that Equifest is a lot of fun, “It’s a great way to share our love of horses.”
Rennie Nestor said that Equifest is a place for nonprofits and saddle clubs to come out and raise funds for their organizations.
“It’s really good people, a good event,” she said. “People love it.”
Printed in the October 4, 2012 edition.