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undercutting a cover crop
Posted by Charlie T at 2015-09-09 07:05:06
A recent Rural Heritage article (think it was about the Nordells) briefly mentioned a field activity called "undercutting a cover crop." Does anyone know what this is or what it means? I'm thinking it means to pull a drag with sweeps through the field prior to plowing down a cover crop. I'm interested to know more since I am still struggling to terminate cover crops. Terminating my rye this past June was almost comical--think it took about 5 passes plus the initial plow down to knock it down. That rye just kept growing! I now have a strong stand of clover in one field that I will either plow down this Fall or terminate next May. I am looking for some new ideas to make this termination go a little easier. Thanks,
Response by dbarker at 2015-09-09 21:32:02
Is it possible to graze your covers. If you graze rye heavy in the winter it will still come back in the spring, but will be stunted on start and be easier to plow. I have an organic neighbor that has a roller, it works. This year he had to roll some of it twice. I(not organic) had a field of weeds that got tall, borrowed a roller and rolled half of a field down, it worked better than I would of imagined.

Response by Charlie T at 2015-09-10 09:06:46
I haven't done it yet, but I really want to get some temporary electric fencing and have my garden grazed from time to time. I have goats, sheep, and donkeys to get the job done. I got a little worried, though, when a friend told me my donkeys would founder if I let them loose on a field of clover. So I need to do a little more research first.
Response by Mptclinics in Il at 2015-09-10 13:21:27
Donkeys CAN founder on clover, but so can horses. Cows and goats can also bloat on it. It's a matter of whether their digestive systems are adapted to it, and what the body condition is. If you have a fat and out of shape donkey, he is more likely to founder than if he is fit and worked regularly. One compromise we regularly use when we are rotation ally grazing a new, lush area, is to graze the stock on that new portion for a few hours, or maybe 1/2 day, then put them back on what they are used to. We will repeat that process for 2-3 days, until either the area is grazed sufficiently, or until Their systems acclimate and it is safe to leave them full time (for a big area). Just be aware that for donkeys, who thrive on lower quality feeds, rotating on lush forage can be damaging if grazed on a long term basis. They get obese easily, and can then suffer from all sorts of other issues. If you are dealing with a long term plan, it is best to set up a paddock where you can limit their feed for most of the day, and simply give them some grazing opportunities for a few hours each day. They will be healthier in the long run.
Response by dbarker at 2015-09-10 21:18:47
I would agree on the donkey grazing, I was thinking more along the lines of cattle grazing. When we graze it off it is normally rye and always cattle. We winter them on it and pull them in the spring. You would think that the clover would be easier to plow under than the rye, due to the height. Another option would be baling the first cutting off early and plowing at whatever height works the best.

Response by NoraWI at 2015-09-11 06:27:11
Sorry, but I don't understand why you would want to graze the cover crop off. Isn't one purpose of the cover crop to add green manure (nutrients) to the soil? If you graze it then you are removing nutrients that should have gone INTO the soil. BTW, equines (horses and donkeys, don't know about mules) can definitely founder on clover. Recently, I heard of a horse foundering after eating in a field of alfalfa after frost. That pasture had been grazed by sheep that, apparently, were immune to the alfalfa effect after frost. But the horse was affected.
Response by Jon Bonine at 2015-09-11 17:05:44
Why would you want to graze a cover crop? The purpose of cover crops is not only for green manure, but can be used for several different things, like weed suppression, capturing fertility, and building soil organic material. Grazing can fit into this with mob grazing in rotation. The material usually isn't lost, but changes form. It can be very helpful in drier climates to get that organic matter closer to the ground to be incorporated, rather than having standing residue.

I think the undercutting does have to do with using a chisel plow with wide sweeps, so as to cut the crown of the plant off, without disturbing the soil very much. Some people will then drill or plant right into the residue and let it act as mulch. As the root mass breaks down, it provides organic matter and fertilizer.
Response by dbarker at 2015-09-11 21:30:02
Nora, John,
I'm not sure what part of the country you are in but in MO you can plant rye graze it all winter long, and then let it come back in the spring. It will still grow green manure and you get the old fashion manure also. We've been doing it for a few years, and going to do a few hundred acres again this year. It Works...

Response by Charlie T at 2015-09-11 21:58:46
I do like the idea of getting my animals involved in crop rotation by grazing. As far as I know, the only long term sustainable crop rotation systems in history have involved animal grazing. I like that my animals walk out and graze for food, rather than me cutting it down, baling it, and feeding it to them on a dry lot. They even save me the trouble of collecting their manure and spreading it on my field!

Anyhow, think I will try pulling my drag with 4" sweeps through that field of clover a week or two before I plow it down. If it kills a few clover plants it will help me get a head start on terminating and incorporating the crop.
Response by dbarker at 2015-09-12 21:13:52
another thought would be to mow your clover with a sickle mower and let it sit for a few days, it should dry down enough to plow under, especially if you have a coulter on your plow. I don't have a lot of experience with clover, but would it be possible to plow it after the first frost. I'm not sure it that would kill/stunt it enough to make plowing easier.

Response by Dale Wagner at 2015-09-13 08:35:45
better use 12 inch sweeps on 6 inch centers

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