One Pasture, Many Crops
The ever-changing weather in Spring creates many challenges for us as farmers in Michigan. We have a small window of time when the temperature and moisture of the ground is at the perfect level for planting corn. The corn that we plant will be used to feed our pigs and chickens in 2022. However, before we even consider planting the Spring crop, it is necessary for us to harvest our winter cover crop.
Last Fall we planted our corn fields to rye. A cover crop is used to protect the soil during its barren months, creating organic matter within the soil. It also helps with lowering the need for herbicides during your spring planting.
Rye is considered a grass until it produces a seed head at the top of each blade. This is similar to corn, which is considered a grass until it produces an ear of corn. There is a 24-36 hour window of time from when rye goes from a grass to a grain. Since we utilize the rye to feed our 100% grass-fed cattle in the winter months, we have to carefully watch our crop to harvest it at the proper time, prior to the grass becoming a grain.
Once the window of opportunity opens, we cut the rye, rake it into rows, and bale it. These bales are then wrapped in plastic to begin the fermentation process. The rye will create bacteria and microbes when stored under the wet and dark plastic wrap. The fermented rye creates a rich, healthy food for our cattle to enjoy during the winter months when they are missing the fresh pasture.
After the rye is harvested and stored, we then can plant corn into the soil, alongside the rye. The perfect ground temperature for planting corn is above 52 degrees. If the soil temperature drops below 52 degrees within 24 hours of the seed germinating, we could lose 15-25 bushel to the acre. We are planning for the ground temperature to be at the right level early next week, but continually track it in order to make the most informed decision for our farm.
It's incredible to be able to utilize a single pasture to grow food for different species of animals on the farm. Many different variables can disrupt the system, but if we pay close attention to what nature throws our way, the end result can be beautiful.