Farm Talk

June 26, 2012

Elk County hosts 75th ag tour

by Doug Toburen

Parsons, Kansas — The 75th Elk County Livestock and Conservation Tour was held recently in rural Elk County, Kansas.

Although a number of timely topics were discussed one common theme surfaced—water quality and its effect on cattle.

As nearly 50 attendees caravanned across the countryside one of the stops was at the Alan and Brenda Coble farm.

David Criger, Elk County soil conservation tecnician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the brush clearing and weed control measures taken to improve pastures.

The Cobles have done such a good job on their land they were recently named the 2011 Soil Conservation Award winner.

Alan Coble shared his experiences of putting in a pond tank watering system.

“After all the work we did we looked at the pond and wanted to keep it clean so we decided to put in a concrete waterer and fence the pond off from the cattle,” he explained.

According to Dane Varney, an NRCS range management specialist who helped with the project, fencing a pond completely off has a number of benefits.

“By fencing cattle out of the pond, erosion of the pond dam is reduced and water quality is increased,” he said. “We have seen cattle losses with poor water quality.”

Both Criger and Varney discussed the disadvantages of having cattle standing in ponds, citing research that showed the amounts of fecal matter in the pond and the disease that could be spread through the herd.

“By isolating the water supply water quantity and quality are improved in addition to improving herd health,” Varney explained.

According to him, the concrete watering system is gravity-fed and a rock apron was used in front of the system to eliminate problems with mud.

“Any type of watering system like this is a good conservation program and there are some cost-share dollars available for these systems,” he said. “In addition, you are extending your pond life and you don’t have to worry about cleaning the pond out as much.”

Varney closed by telling those on the tour that he is interested in keeping family ranches intact and practices like this help spread dollars and make that a possibility.

Doug Shoup, K-State southeast area agronomist was on-site at the next stop to discuss alfalfa management.

According to him, the last couple of years haven’t been too hard on alfalfa from a pest standpoint. The drought, however, was hard on yields.

“We did see some weevil problems but nothing major,” he explained.

For alfalfa establishment, the agronomist recommended looking at Roundup Ready varieties.

“Although Roundup Ready varieties aren’t necessarily new, there are several varieties available now that offer excellent weed control,” Shoup said. “Keep in mind they are pretty expensive, though.”

Shoup recommended producers evaluate weed pressure issues then make a price comparison by placing values on cost of seed, chemical, etc.

For those planning on planting alfalfa Shoup urged them to get a soil sample.

“The number one problem with new stands of alfalfa is not having the correct soil pH,” he said. “Getting this right in the beginning is the key to a successful stand.”

According to him, soil pH needs to be around 6.5 to 7.5.

Finally, he made some recommendations when it came to cutting height.

“Both cutting height and timing can reduce alfalfa stands,” he said. “Cutting too low, especially on new stands of alfalfa can damage the crown.”

The next stop on the tour was on the Dan Miller farm where that recurring theme of water quality was revisited. Miller showed tour attendees a pond he built and fenced off that features an entryway from which cattle drink.

The structure was built in 2007 and is a 10-ft. deep pit-type pond with no dam.

“After fencing the pond off I left a 15-ft entry way for cattle to walk up and drink out of it,” Miller said.

The entryway was dug down to the pond then textile was laid and gravel was put over the top. As the entryway deepens, welded wire panels were added to each side to keep cattle from having access to getting in the pond or walking around it.

As questions arose about the comfort of the cattle walking on the rock, David Criger once again addressed the crowd by saying, by accident they found it may not be comfortable for them to walk or stand on but it isn’t harmful.

“In fact, it actually is a benefit. Cattle seem to walk up get a drink and then walk back out to the pasture to graze,” he concluded.£