Posts Tagged ‘Manure’


Though the most common grass used for hay in New England might be Timothy, another very common component of baled forage around here is Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata).

Orchardgrass (photo by Missouri Extension)

Unlike Timothy, which takes a bit of care to get established, Orchardgrass often finds its own way into pastures and hayfields.  Propogating both by seeds and by tillers that spread from its dense, clumped bases, Orchardgrass competes well with other grasses and weeds as it seeks new soil.  As its name implies, Orchardgrass is tolerant to shade (surviving even in less than 40% sun) and thus can be found commonly between trees in orchards or woods as long as they are not overly dense.

Identifiable both by its distinctive seedhead and its leaves, which are folded at the base, Orchardgrass is an increasingly-popular species both for pasture, silage, and hay.  In addition to its self-propogation properties, Orchardgrass is a robust producer in the vegetative state, outperforming Kentucky Bluegrass and Timothy while being more palatable to livestock than other high producers like Reeds Canarygrass.  Orchardgrass also is tolerant to close grazing, and as long as the base and tillers are left behind, regrows vigorously after close cutting or chomping that would kill Timothy.

Orchardgrass is not only more shade tolerant, but also can handle a wide range of soil pH and is more resistant to drought, and heat than Timothy, Kentucky Bluegrass, or even Smooth Bromegrass.  While it may stop growing or go dormant in these conditions, it springs back quickly with a bit of watering and Nitrogen.

Though it can handle infertile soils, Orchardgrass thrives in high-Nitrogen environments.  In a lightly-managed field, it will be common to find the strongest stands of Orchardgrass in the places where livestock frequently deposit manure, or where those nutrients collect during rainfall.  This is where we find most of it at the Flying T Ranch – in the low areas of our pasture as well as on the portion of our trails that get at least part sun.

Given good fertility, Orchardgrass will produce large quantities of Digestible Dry Matter (DDM) while simultaneously providing quality nutrition and energy.

Downsides include the fact that Orchardgrass also can out-compete legumes in its area, lowering the overall energy yield for a field.  Orchardgrass also becomes less palatable to livestock as it matures. 

However, palatability is all relative.  Back when we were in Texas, we didn’t buy “hay” for our horses.  Instead, we bought “coastal’ which of course is a type of “hay.”  Coastal (Bermuda Grass) made up the bulk of the horses’ feed, because what most large herbivores need the most of is roughage, and boy is coastal rough.  Our horses loved the stuff, though they obviously picked through it for the flake or two of alfalfa we’d add for energy and protein content.  Even the most mature Orchardgrass can’t hold a candle to the coarseness of a good bale of coastal!

Note: This is the second installment in a series I’m writing for a class in Forages and Grassland Management.

Whispers of Hope

In my last post, I told you about “the question” that every girl seems to ask at some part in her life: “Can we get a horse?” I also discussed Rookie Parent Mistake #1: assuming she’d get over it.

Well, she didn’t get over it, and so when we received our next assignment to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, we knew there would be plenty of places to test the seriousness of my oldest daughter’s horse dreams.

After arriving back in country and getting to Texas, we visited a few of those barns, finally deciding to volunteer at Whispers of Hope Horse Farm. “Whispers” is a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic riding at no cost to physically and mentally challenged youth. Mary Elizabeth Pearce, with the help of her devoted and ever-patient husband Louis have run this ministry for decades, and said they would be happy to have some more help on the farm.

Mary Elizabeth, like other hippotherapists, has found that horses can help kids meet the the challenges of everything from Down Syndrome to autism to spina bifida. The riders experience physical, emotional, and mental rewards. According to her, kids with impaired mobility benefit from the gentle and rhythmic movements of their bodies with the horse, as well as increased balance, muscle control and strength. Other kids with learning or mental disabilities are motivated by riding to increase concentration, patience and discipline. Beyond this, the kids form relationships with both the horses and volunteers, which Mary Elizabeth says can help improve interpersonal relationships when psychological and emotional disabilities are present.

Mary Elizabeth has up to 30 horses at any one time to run this program. 30 horses is a lot of mouths. I’m not super smart on animals, but I do know that every mouth is just the opening of a tube that has to end somewhere. And though I’m not a biologist, I did major in mathematics, and using those higher-level skills I can tell you that 30 horses results in the conversion of approximately 600 pounds of feed and 500 gallons of water into 1,200 pounds of manure PER DAY.

My best hope in the end of horse enfatuation lay in a muck rake, a shed full of empty plastic trash bins, and half a ton of horse poop. Just to make sure I didn’t have to do this all over again in a few years, I also volunteered her younger sister to help out.

That was Parent Rookie mistake #2.