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Farming forever

By Roger Samson

Wendel Joyce, manager of the Macdonald College farm, was the invited speaker for a REAP-Macdonald conversion workshop on December 6, 1989. The Macdonald College farm is quite large, 500 acres. Wendel dealt with the history of the farm and also talked about some of the more recent additions such as the microaeration system used for liquid manure. The rest of the evening was spent in discussing some of the constraints of the farm and some suggestions were made for developing a conversion plan.

Some of Wendel's objectives for the farm for the next few years are the reduction of chemical inputs, a cut back in corn acreage and an attempt to maintain a year round ground cover. The planting of windbreaks is a long term project in which he hopes to get students involved. The farm's basic objective is to produce enough feed for the dairy cattle, beef and sheep. Wendel pointed out that there wasn't enough land to grow feed for the piggery as well. In the future, he is hoping to increase the use of the farm as a teaching tool and to have some sustainable agriculture research projects done on the acreage.

The inventory of the farm consisted of the following:

Farmland Hectares
Arable acres 143
Permanent Hay 52
Permanent Pasture 13

Livestock Inventory

100 Ayrshire and Holstein cows

75 heifers and calves

35 steers

100 ewes and their lambs

70 sows

1200 pigs at 100 kg (yearly output)

Some of the practices that have been or are being implemented include:

- The composting of solid manure and application to sod fields.

- The managing of liquid manure with the microaeration system and irrigating it on fields in order to reduce compaction.

- The reduction of herbicide use in 1989 corn was achieved by purchasing a rotary hoe and a row crop cultivator.

- The acceleration of the alfalfa hay rotation, the area of freshly seeded hay in 1988 and 1989 was twice that of previous years - Seeding down was performed under cereal silages in 1989 as a means of reducing weed pressure and increasing first year dry matter production.

- Multiple species mixtures of hay are being sown with mixtures of alfalfa, bromegrass and orchard grass planned for 1990

-An intensive grazing system is being developed for the sheep with the help of Caroline Morin, one of the students present at the seminar.

Wendel was looking for suggestions as to how the farm program could be further improved. He suggested that winter cereals and cover crops could perhaps be included in the rotation on some fields. The pasturing of sheep would come first and then possibly later with the cows. However, he expressed some concern that it may be too risky to pasture cows as the college farm is between two major highways and some cows have a special knack for escaping. Wendel then put forward his thoughts on an appropriate cropping program for the farm.

Some of the constraints to be taken into account are:

Teaching and Research: The farm cannot be treated simply as a "normal" commercial operation because of special restrictions on crop types and land use due to course projects and/or research.

Labour: Farmhands are university staff and therefore most work is accomplished on a Monday to Friday schedule and holidays are taken during the summer.

Soils: Quite variable - ranging from organic muck to sand. The topography ranged from rolling to swamp. Heavy concentration of stones limit the working of some fields.

Manure: Rudy Dallenbach (the retired farm manager) mentioned that the farm's livestock stocking was slightly higher than the available land should have supported. Parts of the farm also border large residential areas which precludes spreading of manure. Other fields are quite a distance from the barns which makes manure hauling an expensive and time consuming task.

Crop Choice: In the past, corn was the main feed for livestock experiments which created a large demand for corn in comparison to other crops. Now, researchers are interested in including high quality legume forages in the dairy ration and corn meal, minimizing the requirement for corn silage. Because of research projects of Macdonald College's Soil Science and Engineering department, some of the fields have had to remain in continuous corn for lengthy periods (23 years one field).

Other more common problems were also mentioned:

- The need for good timing of weed control on all the corn ground.

- Winterkill of alfalfa.

- Lack of fencing.

- Lack of windbreaks.

- Quackgrass control.

- Lack of equipment (some would have to be rented or borrowed if a more diversified cropping system were to be used).

- High level of grain feeding to the dairy cows (up to 40 Ib/day of high moisture ear corn and soybean for high producers). On a dry matter basis this represents a level of corn and concentrate feeding relative to forage of:

-50% for cows producing 30+ I/day

-35% for cows producing 20-30 I/day

-35% for cows producing under 20 I/day

Crop Rotation:

The biggest problem was that the length of the rotation of hay and corn was too great. A typical rotation on the tillable land on the farm was 3-6 years corn followed by 4- 7 years of alfalfa. Two rotations were suggested for shortening this period. The method of alfalfa establishment could be direct seeding or seeding down under a barley crop to be used for silage. In both cases a second crop harvest of alfalfa would be available in the seeding year. The second rotation would be used on better drained fields to avoid winterkill on the cereal.

Rotation 1

Year 1. Corn

Year 2. Corn

Year 3. Barley silage (seeded down)

Year 4. Hay Year 5. Hay

Rotation 2

Year 1. Corn

Year 2. Barley silage

Year 3. Hay

Year 4. Hay Years. Winter triticale/oil radish or white mustard catch crop

The first rotation would improve productivity since two corn crops would be grown every five years and four cuts could be taken from the hay in the final year. The main problem with this rotation would be that weed control would be more difficult as there is very little possibility of cultural control of quackgrass (i.e. competitive crops with large root masses and timely cultivation).

The second rotation would be more balanced hence developing a more ecologically-oriented dairy system:

- It would provide more ground cover thus reducing soil erosion and nutrient leaching.

- Better opportunities would exist for controlling perennial weeds without herbicides since a period of short cultivation could occur before or after seeding of winter triticale.

- Triticale would be useful because it provides some insurance against drought on sandy soils; it would spread the labour load during the October and May rush and provide a good supply of straw (which is currently purchased along with many truckloads of shavings). OAC Trillium should be used due to its high yield and good lodging resistance.

- A brassica catch crop could help suppress weeds and improve nutrient cycling.

- The June labour load necessary for cultivating corn would be reduced since there would be less corn acreage. Thus the conflict between hay making and cultivation would be reduced because the winter triticale would have replaced some of the corn acreage.

- Overall annual weed control with this rotation would be good since a winter annual (winter triticale), summer annual (corn), and undersown spring annual (barley) would be grown.

Because of the tremendous variability in the soils on the farm the best way to deal with the large land base (without getting totally overwhelmed) would be to divide fields according to their proposed use. The four classifications would be:

1. Permanent Pasture: Fenced

(alfalfa seeded) - hay-hay-winter triticale: on productive land with few drainage limitations and light soil types. Some windbreaks would need to be established to prevent snow from blowing off the fields to improve the winter triticale survival. Approx. 87.5 hectares (is. on average 17.5 hectares would be in each stage of the five year rotation)

Once established these two rotations would have a dramatic effect. Outlined below is the overall hectarage which would result if the rotations were implemented as suggested. Almost 75 % of the corn would be first year corn after the conversion as opposed to 25 % being first year at present.

Similarly, hay stands will exist for three years under the new rotations whereas presently half the hay exists for more than four.

Feeding:

The key to reducing feeding costs on the farm will come from reducing the age of the hay stand (increasing the amount of legumes) and cutting at the bud stage. The short rotation will deal with the winterkill problem that can be associated with earlier cutting. Once forage quality (intake, digestibility, and efficiency of utilization) are improved both the high moisture ear corn (HMEC) and concentrate can be reduced in the ration. The forage being fed to the milking herd should have around 65% digestible energy and 20 % protein. Some rough guidelines for feeding could then be:

- 26 lb HMEC + 15 Ibs cone. producing over 45 l/day

- 26 lb HMEC + 10 lbs cone. producing 37-45 l/day

- 26 lb HMEC + 5 Ibs cone. producing 30-37 l/day

- 20 lb HMEC producing 20-30 l/day

- 14 lb HMEC producing < 20 l/day

Both milk production and butterfat levels should increase if the cows were switched over to a higher quality forage ration with less grain and concentrate feeding. Grain and concentrate feeding are no substitutes for high quality forages as a means of achieving major gains in milk production.

Feeding suggestions for the beef and sheep could include:

- Growing a corn-soybean silage mixture on approximately 4 hectares to improve silage quality for finishing steers.

- Triticale could be blended into the finishing ration.

- For late lamb finishing and ewe flushing fodder rape could be seeded to enable fall grazing.

- Triticale would be an excellent feed for ewes in winter as it can be fed whole.

Soil Management:

Arable fields over 12 hectares (30 acres) should be divided in half. Currently there are 3 fields in the 13 to 16 hectare range. Reducing field size could ease management and reduce soil erosion.

A chisel plow should be used for late-fall tillage of the oilseed radish in year 5 of rotation 2. It would also be suitable for almost all situations excepting sod before a fall cereal, breaking up old sods, or on heavy soils going from corn to corn.

Weed Control:

Rotary hoeing and cultivation in corn should be performed at the following intervals (depending on weather and crop growth):

- first rotary hoeing, 5 days after planting

- second rotary hoeing, 12 days after planting

- first cultivation, 24 days after planting

- second cultivation, 36 days after planting

Because of the lack of ability to control quackgrass, in rotation 1: C-C-H-H-H, Round-up might have to be fall applied on the third year sod or atrazine on corn at a rate of 2 kg/ha in an 18 cm or 7 1/2" band. Banding should be performed with the planter rather than using the cultivator or field sprayer.

Fertility:

Nutrient deficiencies should not be a problem if manure is used efficiently and the crop rotation is accelerated. Liquid manure applications could be used extensively on grassland hay and, to a lesser extent on second production year alfalfa hay fields. Custom liquid manure applications could be used on the more distant fields through use of a truck carrying manure to a trough, which would then feed the traveling irrigation gun. For corn production the main use of manure should be:

Rotation 1. Corn-Corn-Barley silage and Hay-Hay-Hay

Manure spring irrigated on the second year corn

Rotation 2. Corn-Barley silage and Hay-Hay-Hay-Winter triticale/Oil Radish

Manure applied both before or after planting of oilseed radish in year 5 of the rotation. The oil radish acts as a nutrient relay system for the corn to be grown in year 1 of the rotation.

Copyright 1990 REAP Canada

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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