“Swath grazing” – pushing harvested crop leftovers into row piles up to 16 inches high to keep them within reach of cows – allows cattle to graze year-round, even in the middle of a North Dakota winter, and can save farmers as much as 24 cents per cow per day from mid-November to mid-March, compared with the costs of baling hay for winter corral feeding.
Soil scientist Don Tanaka and colleagues at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, N.D., calculated those savings based on data from a four-year research project. In each year, the scientists monitored 20 pregnant Hereford beef cows due to give birth in March. Nutritional needs of pregnant cows increase as pregnancy advances, so winter feeding of late-pregnant cows is one of the most expensive times in beef cattle production.
The researchers compared weight gains from cows swath-grazing on the residue of annual crops – oats/peas, triticale/sweet clover and corn – with gains with perennial western wheatgrass, and with bales of hay fed in winter corrals. Swath grazing also enabled cows to distribute their manure evenly over the landscape rather than requiring farmers to clean corrals. The manure fertilizes crops and improves the soil. (“Grazing Cattle Year-Round Pays Off,” by Don Comis, USDA Agricultural Research Service News Service, Agricultural Research, July 2008, www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jul08/cows0708.htm.
Supporting Small Farm Success with Shiitakes
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are good for you – and shiitake byproducts can be good for other crops. These mushrooms contain high-molecular-weight polysaccharides (HMWP), which may improve human immune function; and the compound eritadenine, which may help lower cholesterol levels.
Agricultural Research Service agronomist David Brauer at the Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center in Booneville, Ark., working with producers at the Shiitake Mushroom Center in Shirley, Ark., inoculated logs with spores from three shiitake varieties and compared yields with those of shiitakes grown on commercial substrates. Log-grown shiitakes had up to 70% more HMWP than substrate-grown shiitakes; and shiitakes grown on red and white oak logs had more HMWP than those grown on sweet gum logs.
Logs used in shiitake production generally provide good yields for around two to three years. Larger shiitake farms may have 3,000 or more logs on the premises, and retire around 1,000 of them every year. Brauer’s team chipped some spent logs, added urea and green grass clippings to the chips and composted the mixture. They found that nitrogen levels in the resulting compost were comparable to nitrogen levels in other purchased soil amendments, and spinach grew well on soil amended with the compost. (Urea is not approved for organic production.) Making recycled log compost can increase shiitake mushroom growers’ profits.
In 2004-2005, producers harvested approximately 9 million pounds of shiitake mushrooms, which sold for a mean of $3.21 per pound. (“Supporting Small Farm Success with Shiitakes,” by Ann Perry, USDA Agricultural Research Service News Service, June 25, 2008, www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)