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Appalachian foothills cattleman bases operation on quality forages

Progressive Forage Grower Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 13 April 2016

For years, Chris Penrose, a producer living in the Appalachian foothills on a “hilly” farm, used his resources from the farm to manage other financial priorities (debt, college, etc.).

He says, “While I had for the most part quality forages in my pastures, the combination hay-pasture fields slowly lost nutrients as I used revenue from the farm to pay for other obligations, but I still had adequate quantity. Now I am starting to put more back into the farm through liming and fertilizing to improve quality.”

Penrose lives in an area where cool-season forages are most common. Annual crabgrass volunteers in the summer and some farmers plant sorghum-sudangrass to augment this. The primary grass is fescue, but stockpiling for fall and winter grazing has reduced its presence, and most pastures now have a nice combination of fescue, orchardgrass and bluegrass with several types of clover present as well. Frost seeding of red clover is a common practice Penrose uses in fields, especially where hay winter-feeding is provided and the soil is exposed.

Penrose says, “In my area of southeast Ohio, almost every farm is primarily forage based; whether selling hay or using livestock to harvest forages, forages are the foundation of the operation.”

Penrose primarily uses hay for his beef operation, but sells (or donates) hay to neighbors when they are in short supply.

His target grazing days are March 21 through Nov. 1. He then uses stockpiled fescue and orchardgrass for grazing from Nov. 1 to Jan. 1, and March 1 to 21.

For fall stockpiled grazing, Penrose simply has his cows graze what he has stockpiled until it is gone. For March stockpiled forages, he tries to have an acre per freshening bred cow with nice sod for calving. That translates to about 1 ton per cow for that 21-day period, and some years it extends to a month, and some years they do not graze it all before spring green-up, and then that field grows for hay production.

As a cash crop, the value of all dry hay harvested in the U.S. in 2015 was estimated at $16.84 billion, trailing only corn ($49.04 billion) and soybeans ($34.54 billion).

Adding in the value of haylage and greenchop, the USDA estimated the value of hay-based forages in the U.S. at $19.13 billion in 2015.

In the conterminous 48 states, grassland pasture and range represent the largest share of the land base. About 51 percent of the U.S. land base (including Alaska) is used for agricultural purposes, including cropping, grazing (on pasture, range and in forests) and farmsteads.

Penrose is proud to be supporting National Forage Week as part of his involvement with the American Forage and Grassland Council, as a member of the Ohio Forage and Grassland Council and as a producer who knows the importance of quality forages.

To find out more about National Forage Week, go to the American Forage and Grassland Council website and find out how you can participate.  FG

Hear from Penrose himself in the video below:

Lynn Jaynes
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