Fodder and Pasture Plants
by Geo H. Clark & M. Oscar Malte, illustrations by Norman Criddle
This important information is from a beautiful 1913 text entitled Fodder and Pasture Plants by Geo H. Clark and M. Oscar Malte with color illustrations by Norman Criddle. It was originally published by Dominion of Canada Department of Agriculture. If you find it useful we will consider publishing the remainder of the test. SFJ
The dawn of civilization is closely associated with primitive agriculture. If we try to unveil the history of a race we often find it hidden in myths and legends. When it is accessible, we see that a people, after slumbering for centuries in the night of barbarism, advances slowly to the realization of higher ideals. The awakening is always connected with the cultivation of the soil, and agriculture is therefore the foundation upon which the progress of humanity rests. Its development depends upon the climate and the natural possibilities of a people. Climate is largely responsible for the fact that some tribes still follow the migrating life of the nomad, while others have settled down in fixed dwellings. In the warmer parts of the world, where it is easy to grow cereals and other plants, agriculture is much older than far north, where climatic conditions are less favourable.
At first only such plants were grown as would serve for human food; natural meadows and pastures provided for domestic animals. Even now there are large areas where no special efforts are made to secure food for stock. With increasing population, however, more ground must be devoted to cereals for human food, and the value of land rises. Natural pastures largely disappear and the farmer must grow other crops as food for stock during different seasons. The cultivation of fodder and pasture plants has reached its greatest perfection in temperate regions, where the animals cannot graze during the winter.
Compared with the cultivation of cereals, the introduction of artificial meadows is very recent. The oldest known were those of the Romans. Clovers, which form their most essential part, came into general use as late as the sixteenth century, since which time the importance of forage plants has been more and more realized.
Two groups of plants are used for fodder and pasture, viz., the grasses and the leguminous plants, representing two large families botanically known as Gramineae and Legminosae. All the plants dealt with in this book, except Rape, belong to one of these families. Rape belongs to the Mustard family, Cruciferae.
Name: When speaking of grasses one often includes such plants as Rib Grass, Poverty Grass and Cotton Grass, which botanically have none of the characteristics of true grasses. On the other hand, many people do not regard Corn and Millet as true grasses. Agriculturally a distinction is made between cereals and grasses, but botanically such a distinction is impossible, rye, barley, oats and wheat being grasses as truly as Meadow Fescue, Red Top and Timothy.
Seed: If with a sharp knife we cut through a corn grain, parallel to its broadest side, we see that a great portion of it consists of a white or yellow mass, in which the naked eye cannot discover any distinct structure. This part of the grain, which in Fig. 1 is marked End., is called endosperm and provides food for the young seedling. The remaining part of the grain is dull-coloured, and the naked eye can discern three distinct sections. This is the embryo or young plant before germination. It consists of a so-called cotyledon (Fig. 1, Cot.) which lies close to the endosperm, a terminal bud (Fig. 1, B.) from which the stem and leaves of the germinating plant develop, and a radicle (Fig. 1, Rad.) from which the first root is formed. The portion lying between the radicle and the terminal bud is the stem of the embryo.
Germination: When corn germinates the cotyledon acts as a sucker, turning the food in the endosperm over to the embryo; it remains enclosed in the grain during germination. The other parts of the embryo soon become visible. The radicle develops into a root and the bud soon displays a number of leaves. The primary root soon dies and its function is taken by secondary roots, which sprout from the lower parts of the stem. The essential features of this process of germination are characteristic of all grasses.
Root System: Most fodder and pasture grasses are perennial: that is, their underground parts survive from year to year. These surviving parts consist of underground stems, from which roots and overground stems develop. Sometimes they are creeping with long internodes, when the overground stems appear scattered and the whole plant forms a more or less spreading mat, as in Red Fescue. In other cases the internodes are very short. The overground stems are then close together and the plant develops into one of the bunch grass type, such as Sheep’s Fescue. Although characteristic of a certain species, the type may be modified by the soil. Thus, stiff, compact soil is apt to prevent the development of creeping rootstocks, and the plant may assume a more or less bunch appearance. On the other hand, bunchy plants often develop looser tufts in open, loose soil than in stiff clay.
Stems: The stems of the grasses, generally called culms, are hollow, except in corn, in which they are solid, but are closed at intervals by variously colored swollen parts called nodes or joints. The parts of the stems between the nodes are called internodes. Immediately above the nodes a small portion of the stem remains soft and continues to grow during almost the whole life of the plant, but the upper part of the internode soon becomes firm and stops growth. This enables the stems, if they are not too old, to regain their upright position when lodged by wind or rain.
Leaves: The leaves consist of two distinct parts. The lower encloses the stem like a tight case, usually along one side. It is called the sheath. The upper part, the blade, is generally long and narrow. Where the plants have sufficient moisture the blades are flat; during drought they are often rolled together and bristle-like, turning their upper surface outward. A plant which during excessive drought has bristle-like leaves may display flat ones if moisture becomes abundant in either air or soil. As the moisture secured by the root evaporates chiefly through the lower surface of the leaf, the rolling together of the blade during drought prevents loss of moisture and thus saves the plant from perishing of thirst. Where the blade is attached to the sheath there is generally a thin membranous appendage, of varying size and shape, called the ligule (Fig. 2, L.).
Inflorescence: The flowers are in inflorescences which, however different they may look, are always constructed on the same principle. That of Kentucky Blue Grass is typical (Plate 10). It consists of branches arranged in whorls at the upper joints of the main stem. When the branches are elongated, as in the Blue Grasses, Red Top, Fescues, Oats, etc., the inflorescence is called a panicle. When they are very short, as in the Foxtail Millets, the inflorescence has the appearance of a spike. Timothy (Plate 3) and Meadow Foxtail (Plate 4) inflorescences are extremely like regular spikes but even in these the type is that of the ordinary panicle. This is proven by the fact that branched inflorescences occasionally occur in Timothy. Even an ear of corn is a modification of a panicle, characterized by extremely short branches from a fleshy main stem. The panicles of many grasses are differently shaped at different stages of development. Thus, in Red Top and Sheep’s Fescue the branches spread during flowering and the inflorescence is therefore open and broad. When flowering is over, the branches close in toward the main stem, making the inflorescence contracted and narrow.
Spikelets: The ultimate branches of the inflorescence end with so called spikelets, a kind of partial inflorescence (Fig. 3). At the base of the spikelet are two sterile glumes (Fig. 3, Gl.), though Italian and Perennial Rye Grass have only one. Above them are a number of fertile glumes, called lemmas (Fig. 3, L.), which carry a flower in their axils. Each flower is enclosed by a delicate glume called palea (Fig. 4, Pa.) and consists chiefly of three stamens (Fig. 4, St.) and a pistil with two feathery branched stigmas (Fig. 4, P.). The number of flowers varies in different grasses; Awnless Brome has seven to nine in each spikelet, whereas Red Top has only one. In the latter the whole spikelet consists of the two sterile glumes (Fig. 3, Gl.), the lemma (fig. 4 L.) and the palea (Fig. 4, Pa.) enclosing the flower proper.
Fertilization: Before blossoming the glumes tightly enclose the flowers, and nothing is seen of the stamens and pistil. At flowering time the glumes generally open wide and the stamens and pistil are visible (Fig. 4.). Dustlike masses are soon produced from the stamens and carried away by the wind. This is the pollen which when caught by the branches of the stigmas, induces the lower part of the pistil or ovary (Fig. 4, O.) to develop into fruit. In wheat, oats and barley the pollen is generally transported to the stigmas before the glumes of the spikelet begin to separate; each flower is consequently fertilized by its own pollen. This is never the case with the grasses dealt with in the present publication. The stamens are not ready to shed their pollen until after the glumes have separated, and there is thus always a chance for the pistil to be fertilized by pollen from another flower. In many grasses such a cross-fertilization is favoured by the fact that the stamens and pistil of one flower are not ripe at the same time.
Fruit: After fertilization the ovary of the grasses develops into a fruit enclosing a single seed. Properly speaking, the grains of corn, wheat and rye are fruits containing a seed, just as the hazel nut is a fruit enclosing the seed. The hulled seed of Timothy is in reality a fruit containing a single seed. In most grasses the fruit remains enclosed in the glumes and the whole thing is termed seed. This is the case, for instance, in Rye Grasses, Fescues, Blue Grasses, Red Top, unhulled Timothy, etc., the seed of which, properly speaking, is a fruit enclosed in the glumes. The term “seed” being generally applied, it has been used in the description of the grasses to designate the fruit enclosed by the glumes, as it is generally found in commerce.
Agricultural Value: Practically any wild grass will serve, in one stage or another, as food for stock. Even the grasses of deserts, or other inhospitable localities, which are dry, woody and unpalatable the greater part of the year, may, when young or when refreshed by rain, furnish nutritious fodder or pasture. The value of wild grasses, however, is generally considerably lower than that of the cultivated sorts. The latter are better cared for, have readier access to food, less of a struggle for existence, and so are apt to grow more luxuriantly and yield a better quality of hay or fodder.
When attempting to cultivate a wild grass, or when growing a cultivated variety, one should consider its suitability to the climate and soil and to the purpose for which it is grown. Different grasses make different demands. All of course require sufficient food and water, but what is enough for one may bring another to the point of starvation. A water supply which produces luxuriant growth in a certain grass may prove injurious to another, perhaps closely related, species. Thus Sheep’s Fescue can make a comfortable living where Meadow Fescue would suffer seriously. On the other hand, Meadow Fescue and Orchard Grass would languish in wet and sour soil, where Bluejoint Grass, Meadow Foxtail and Fowl Meadow Grass would grow luxuriantly. It is therefore important to choose varieties to suit the locality.
Such grasses as Red Top, which have a creeping root system and grow from early spring to late fall if the weather is favourable, are especially fitted for pasture, as they stand tramping and provide green food the whole season. On the other hand, they are not good for hay, as most of the leaves are rather close to the ground. Timothy and similar grasses are less adapted for pasturing, as their bunchy growth and shallow root system make them liable to be uprooted or at least injured by trampling. But this type of grass furnishes excellent hay.
The development and duration of a grass are also factors to be considered. Some start growth very early in spring, and are valuable when early hay or pasture is required. Others, starting late, are rather slow and are desirable for late hay or pasture. Some gasses are short-lived and die after the first or second year; Italian Rye, for instance, may be used in a short rotation, but is of no use for permanent pasture. Most of the perennial grasses reach full development the second or third year after sowing, and are valuable when permanent pasture or hay is desired.
One variety is rarely grown alone, except when intended for seed, as mixtures of grasses or grasses and clovers generally give a higher yield of better quality. Orchard Grass, for instance, is generally grown with other varieties. If grown alone, it would be coarser, less digestible and less palatable. The farmer’s demand for the maximum yield of the best obtainable quality has led to the use of mixtures which give the heaviest possible returns in hay or pasture of the highest feeding value.
To obtain a heavy yield it is not sufficient to choose grasses which are heavy producers when grown alone. They must be adapted to the soil and climate and be able to thrive together and make the best possible use of every inch of ground. When hay is desired the worth of the mixture depends not only on the value of the individual grasses, but also on their ripening together. An ideal mixture is composed of species which reach the flowering stage at the same time. The proper time to cut for hay is generally during early flowering. If very early and very late grasses are grown together, the return will be comparatively small and the quality of the hay inferior. Which species should be used depends upon the soil, rainfall, and other factors.
Clovers are often grown with grasses because such a mixture gives a better balanced feel and does not rob the soil of as much fertility as would grasses alone, which are heavy feeders. A ton of Timothy hay contains about eighteen pounds of nitrogen, six and one-half pounds of phosphoric acid and from twenty-eight to thirty pounds of potash. This is rather more than would be returned to the land by a ton of ordinary green farmyard manure. If no fertilizers are applied, it is evident that continuous crops of Timothy would rapidly deplete the soil, and the same is true, in a general way, of other grasses. Leguminous plants accumulate nitrogen from the air and are of great importance as soil improvers. Clovers return nitrogen to the soil, and thus to a certain degree maintain its fertility.
Name: These plants belong to a large family of a distinct type, called Leguminosæ. Peas, Vetches, Beans, Red Clover, Alsike and Alfalfa belong to this great family–that is, the plants which farmers commonly term legumes and clovers. As generally used, the name “clovers” includes Red Clover, Alsike, Dutch Clover, Crimson Clover, Alfalfa, Trefoil, Sweet Clover and other leguminous plants. Botanically, however, only the first four are clovers in the true sense; that is, they belong to the genus Trifolium, whereas Alfalfa, Trefoil and Sweet Clover belong to other genera.
Seed: When splitting a bean or a pea, the two halves seem to be kept together by the seedcoat only. One of them has a smooth, more or less shiny surface, on which no special texture can be discovered by the naked eye. Near the upper end of the other half is a peculiar organ consisting of two distinct portions. The upper is a bud (Fig. 5, B), which corresponds to the similar formation in the grass embryo (see Fig. 1.). The lower, which lies close to the seed coat, has a thicker upper part (Fig. 5, St.) and a tapering end (Fig. 5, Rad.), the former being the stem of the embryo, the latter its root or radicle. By far the greatest part of the seed (Fig. 5, Cot.) consists of the two cotyledons of the embryo. A leguminous embryo has thus two cotyledons whereas a grass embryo has only one. But a leguminous plant has no endosperm. The function of the endosperm of a grass seed is to supply the embryo with food during germination. This function in a leguminous plant is performed by the two cotyledons, which are thick and filled with food.
Germination: When the seed of a leguminous plant germinates the bud (Fig. 5, B.) develops into stem and leaves and the radicle (Fig. 5, Rad.) into the root of the plant. The stem of the embryo (Fig. 5, St.) acts differently in different plants. In beans it grows in length and lifts the cotyledons (Fig. 5, Cot.), which gradually become flat and thin, above the ground. In peas it is short, and the cotyledons remain hidden in the soil for a long time, eclipsed within the seed coat.
Root system: Leguminous plants are annual, biennial or perennial. When annual, like Crimson Clover, or biennial, like Sweet Clover, the primary root of the embryo always develops into a taproot. When they are perennial, a taproot may be found, or the underground system may consist of a rootstock, from which the secondary roots are developed. With a rootstock the system is generally shallow and the plants depend on the surface soil for their food. A taproot usually penetrates to a considerable depth and the plant gets much of its food from the subsoil. Both secondary roots and taproots are characterized by small tubercles or clusters of nodules.
Stems: The stems of leguminous plants are erect or ascending as a rule. Only in a few cases, as in White Clover, are they creeping and able to develop secondary roots from their joints. Plants of this type form more or less spreading mats, in which individuals are difficult to recognize. The same is often the case when the stems, as in Flat Pea, develop from a spreading and extensively branched rootstock. In some species and genera, as in Flat Pea and Vetches, the stems are weak and are kept from falling to the ground by special organs on the leaves, called tendrils (see below).
Leaves: The leaves of leguminous plants are compound; that is, each leaf consists of a number of leaflets each completely separated from the others. The type – a leaf consisting of a number of pairs of leaflets and ending with an odd one – is that of Sainfoin (Plate 23). All other kinds are mere modifications of this type. Thus, when the leaflets are only three, as in Red Clover, Alfalfa, Sweet Clover and others, the well known trifoliate leaf is obtained. In other species, such as the vetches (Plates 24 and 25) and Flat Pea, the blades of the upper leaflets are not developed; only their ribs remain and they are transformed into tendrils, the function of which is to support the weak stems.
Everybody knows that the plants in a field of peas or vetches are sometimes so firmly tied together, when the stand is dense, that to pull at the end of a long row will move the plants at the other end. This is because the tendrils wind about the stems and branches of neighboring plants and bind them together. These tendrils are marvelous things. Rub one gently with a bit of straw and it will answer to the touch by bending. Give it an opportunity to grasp the branch of an adjoining plant and it will embrace the branch so firmly that it will be impossible to loosen the plants without breaking the tendril. It has the faculty of feeling and ability to act. Its sensitiveness is so great that some tendrils can feel a weight of only a quarter of a milligram.
Two appendages, the stipules are attached to the base of the leaf stalk (Fig. 6, St.). They are generally narrow and insignificant, but sometimes, as in peas, they are shaped like the leaflets and are almost as large.
Inflorescence: The flowers of leguminous plants are in clusters which, however different in appearance, are always constructed after the same principle. Sometimes they are long and comparatively sparsely covered with flowers, as in vetches (Plates 24 and 25). They are then called racemes. In other plants the racemes are short and the flowers crowded, as in red Clover and Alsike. The inflorescences are then called heads. It is, however, impossible to draw a sharp line between a head and a raceme, the inflorescences, for instance, of Alfalfa (Plate 21) and Crimson Clover (Plate 17) being as much like short racemes as elongated heads.
Flowers: The flowers of all leguminous plants are alike in general construction and totally different from the flowers of other plant families. The lower part (Fig. 7 Sep.) is insignificant. It is composed of five green, tooth-like organs, called sepals, connected at their base. The upper part, popularly called the flower consists of five mostly showy petals. One of these is much larger than the others and encloses them in the bud. It is called the standard (fig. 7, St.) The lateral ones are irregular in shape and are called wings (Fig. 7, W.). The two others grow together, forming a boat like organ called the keel (fig. 7 K.), which encloses the stamens (Fig. 7, St.) and the pistil. Nine of the ten stamens grow together in their lower parts, forming a tube that encloses the pistil. Each flower has only one pistil. It consists of a broad lower part, the ovary (fig. 7, O.) and a narrow upper part, strongly knee-bent and developed at its top into a stigma (Fig. 7, P.).
Fertilization: Fertilization in leguminous plants is never performed by air currents. In a few genera, such as peas and vetches, the flowers are self-fertilized; that is, the pollen automatically fertilizes the pistil of its own flower. In most leguminous plants, however, the pollen is transported from one flower to another by insects, which visit the blossoms for the nectar stored at their base. When the flowers are large and showy, the standard acts as a sign, announcing to the insect the location of the honey. In other species the comparatively small flowers are very numerous, and are thus visible at a long distance. Still others have insignificant flowers borne close to the ground. Such plants, like Trefoil, grow under taller neighbours, and are therefore more or less hidden. But in spite of their humble appearance and secluded position, insects are attracted by the fragrance of the blossoms.
Fruit: The fruit is a pod; that is, a narrow fruit with leathery or papery walls. When ripe and dry, the pod splits its entire length and lets the seeds out. Its two halves often twist like a corkscrew, sometimes with such violence that the seeds are thrown a considerable distance. In some species and genera there is only one seed, when the pod falls off without breaking up, but generally the seeds are numerous.
Agricultural Value: On well prepared land, stored with a fair supply of plant food, especially potash and phosphoric acid, leguminous plants yield heavy crops of great nutritive value, relished by all kinds of stock. Putting aside their value for soiling, leguminous plants can be used to advantage for either hay or pasture. Their suitability for fodder depends largely on their mode of development. As a rule their nutritive value is highest when they are in bloom or shortly before. If intended for hay they should therefore not be cut too late. It is true that sometimes the crop is larger if cutting is delayed until shortly after the plants have completed flowering; but, on the other hand, the hay is coarse and more or less woody. It lacks palatability and fat and milk producing constituents, and in spite of its larger quantity it is of smaller total value than if cut at the proper time. Late cutting also spoils the second growth. When Red Clover and Alfalfa, for instance, begin to bloom, new shoots start from the crown of the root. If cutting is delayed until these shoots are high enough to be caught by the mower, it is evident that the second growth will be seriously affected.
Some species, like White Clover, are suitable for pasture, as the tramping of stock encourages the plants to new growth. Others like Red Clover and Alfalfa, with a crown a little above the ground, must be pastured more carefully, tramping being apt to injure the plants if the soil is not in the proper condition. As the new growth starts from the crown, the plants should not be pastured too close, at any rate not late in the fall.
It is well known that leguminous plants enrich the soil. This faculty used to be attributed to their rather deep root system. It was claimed that the taproots gathered from the subsoil great quantities of food inaccessible to plants with shallower roots. The substances thus removed from the subsoil were said to be used in building up the superficial roots and the overground parts of the plants, which parts, when ploughed down, added this material to the surface soil. There is no doubt that plant food is removed from the subsoil and stored in the upper parts of the plants and that the above explanation should be considered. But the soil-enriching faculty of leguminous plants is connected with phenomena that render this explanation insufficient. Generally Alfalfa will not thrive on soil where it has never been grown before. The plants soon stop growth, turn yellow and finally die. If, however, some soil from an old Alfalfa field is sown on the land, a crop will be produced without any trouble. If the plants are examined, it will be found that the roots of those grown on old Alfalfa soil are provided with numerous nodules, whereas the roots of weak plants on virgin soil are destitute of them. Only quite recently have the origin and significance of these tubercles been understood. It has been proved that they are a kind of gall produced by certain bacteria. These bacteria live in the ground, attack the root hairs, break through their thin wall, and make their way to the interior of the root branches. There they propagate rapidly, forming masses within the nodules. Later on, most of the bacteria decompose and are used by the plants, which thus obtain additional food. As the bacteria are very rich in nitrogenous substances, the source of which is the air contained in the porous soil, leguminous plants are able to secure, indirectly through the bacteria, their nitrogen from the air. They are therefore able to accumulate nitrogen without robing the soil and, when dying, to leave a supply of nitrogenous substances for succeeding crops.
When soil from land where Alfalfa, for instance, has been successfully grown is put on a field, that field is supplied with the bacteria necessary for the development of Alfalfa. The amount needed is not large, two hundred pounds being sufficient for an acre. Instead of soil from old fields, artificial cultures of bacteria are now available at many botanical laboratories. These cultures, with directions for their use, are on sale in bottles at a low price.
Nodule-forming bacteria are necessary for the proper development of all kinds of leguminous plants. Bu this does not mean that bacteria which will serve for a certain plant will satisfy another kind. On the contrary, there are different species and races of nodule-forming bacteria, and each species or race is able to produce nodules only on a certain kind of leguminous plant. Thus the bacteria which works on the roots of Red Clover are different from those which produce nodules on the roots of Alfalfa and are quite unable to benefit the latter plant. In using artificial cultures of nodule-bacteria, therefore, care should be taken to procure the right kind.
SEEDING TO FODDER AND PASTURE PLANTS
The preparation of the soil prior to seeding with grasses and clovers is usually intended primarily for the benefit of the nurse crop. To get a good catch, it is important that the surface soil be of fine tilth, friable, well-drained and contain a liberal supply of decaying vegetable matter. The tender seedling plants require plenty of moisture, though they are injured by an excess. If the soil lacks humus and a hard crust is formed over its surface, growth will be stunted and the young plants will suffer from even a few hot, dry days.
Seeding to grasses and clovers should follow a cleaning crop that has had deep and thorough cultivation. The suppression of perennial weeds should precede the making of a meadow. Such a location as a clayey hillside, where the soil is apt to become hard after heavy rains, may be greatly improved by a light top-dressing of rotted stable manure, which should be incorporated with the surface soil by harrowing. On low, wet lands the best possible surface drainage should be provided, even for grasses that like abundant moisture. On the dryer prairie soils the subsoil should be packed to keep the moisture near the surface until the seedlings have grown robust.
Nurse crops are designed, in part at least, for the protection of seedling plants of grasses and clovers. When all the soil moisture does not have to be saved for the meadow, a light nurse crop screens the seedlings from the burning heat of the sun; it helps to suppress weeds until the grasses have sufficient vigour to compete with them; and it may give a return from the land while the meadow is developing. Wheat or barley is generally considered most satisfactory as a nurse crop. Oats, even with thin seeding, are later to mature and apt to make too much shade. Standing in a nurse crop, one should be able at any time during the growing season to see the young grass ten or twelve feet away. The nurse crop should be ready to harvest as soon as the grasses commence to tiller or stool out and the clovers or other legumes to develop new shoots or branches from the crown.
In districts where the rainfall is less than thirty inches, or not well distributed throughout the growing season, the nurse crop may rob the younger fodder plants of necessary moisture. In some seasons a good stand of Red Clover is difficult to obtain, partly because of the lack of humus in the soil, but also because the nurse crop, frequently oats, robs the young plants of the available moisture. If the meadow is of more importance than the nurse crop, it is advisable in a dry season to dispense with the latter; or, if planted, to cut it for fodder before the seedlings perish from thirst.
The depth of seeding depends on the kind of seed, the character and condition of the soil, and the moisture. It is said that no seed should be planted deeper than four times its diameter. When growing wild, fodder and pasture plants drop their ripe seeds, which germinate very near or on the surface of the soil. But nature is more wasteful than the farmer can afford to be; he should provide the best possible conditions for the development of a perfect seedling.
Method of seeding: When the soil is quite firm, as for spring seeding on fall wheat land, harrowing after broadcast seeding, if the land is reasonably dry, makes a good tilth and covering for the grass and clover seeds and is beneficial to the wheat plants. When seeding after deep spring cultivation, the fodder crop seeds may be sown by the seeder in front of the grain drills and then rolled and given a stroke with a weeder; if the subsurface soil is firm and the surface in fine tilth the grain drill may be followed by a weeder alone to level the soil and redistribute the seeds that have been thrown together between the drills. If the weather is favourable, it is sometimes satisfactory, although bad practice, to broadcast the seed after the nurse crop has been sown and depend on rains to cover and protect it during germination. Any method that will insure its even distribution and a covering of half an inch is preferable to surface seeding without covering. Heavy rains are apt to wash the seed lying on the surface into the furrows and ditches. Then, too, many kinds of grass seeds that require two or more weeks to germinate may be destroyed if exposed on the surface. Sowing from one to one and a half inches deep is sometimes recommended for Alfalfa and other fodder crops on prairie soils. In semi-arid districts Alfalfa for seed crop may be thinly sown in drills from twenty to thirty inches apart. If the soil is very dry the growth will be dwarfed, but their deep roots enable the plants to get moisture enough to produce a fair yield of good seed.
Implements are specially designed for sowing grass and clover seeds. Most grain seeders are fitted with an attachment, sometimes in front and sometimes behind the drill tubes, for sowing fodder plant seeds. If the surface is in fine tilth, and the grain drill is followed by a weeder or light harrow, to level the soil, the fine seeds are not apt to be covered too deeply, which sometimes happens in lumpy clay. The hand broadcast seeder, with a revolving disc to scatter the seed, is a satisfactory implement for most grass and clover seeds and is quite generally used. When seeding with mixtures, however, it has the same disadvantage as scattering the seed by hand; the heavier clover seeds are thrown so much further than the finer grasses that the distribution may be unequal.
Thick seeding, especially for meadows of short duration, is commonly recommended by seedsmen and experienced farmers. For hay the advantage, as a rule, is not in an increased yield, but rather in the finer quality of the crop. If soil and weather are favourable, a satisfactory stand of Timothy, Alsike and Red Clover, for instance, may be had by sowing four, three and six pounds respectively per acre. By sowing six pounds of Timothy, four of Alsike and ten of Red Clover, the chance will be better for securing a good stand of plants, suppressing the weeds, and obtaining a large yield of hay of good quality. The cost of the additional seed should be considered as inexpensive insurance of satisfactory results. Thick seeding is not recommended for a seed crop. Both yield and quality of the seed are inferior when the stand is too thick.
Quality of seed is an important factor in making a meadow. The rental value of the land plus the cost of preparing it are many times greater than the cost of the seed; but if only a small percentage of the seed is capable of germination and that which is vital is not true to name, or if it is infested with noxious weed seeds, the total outlay may result in a loss, or, worse still, in a positive injury.
The origin of growth of grass and clover seeds is often equivalent to varietal differences, usually in point of hardiness. Grass plants grown from seeds produced in a warm climate are more easily winter killed, and those from a moist temperate climate are more susceptible to drought than are thoroughly acclimated plants. Experiments with Alfalfa and Guelph show that northern grown seed, particularly that from long-established fields in the district, is more hardy than seed obtained from dryer or warmer climates. Red Clover from southern Europe or from Chili, although of satisfactory type, will not stand the Canadian winter as well as plants from homegrown seed. Competent seedsmen should know the origin of the grass and clover seeds they sell, and purchasers should demand seed of northern and, if procurable, of local production.
Varieties: Few Canadian farmers differentiate between varieties of the common grasses and clovers. In fact, varieties of Timothy, Orchard Grass, Western Rye Grass, early Red Clover, Alsike or Alfalfa are little known, and, with the exception of certain strains of Alfalfa, are not commercially available. Such varieties are of recent production, but the difference in point of earliness, yield or general quality is quite remarkable. As soon as reliable seed of the best varieties is available, farmers will find it profitable to use it instead of the ordinary seed of commerce.
Percentage vitality in grass and clover seeds is an important consideration and should receive special attention in the case of the finer grasses. Fully ninetyfive per cent. of the fodder crop seeds used in Canada consist of Timothy, Orchard Grass, Brome Grass, Western Rye Grass, Red Clover, Alsike and Alfalfa, and, with the exception of Brome Grass, commercial seeds of these kinds are seldom deficient in vitality. Good seed of Brome Grass, the Blue Grasses, Fescues and others of the finer grasses should germinate eighty per cent. or better; but commercial samples often contain less than fifty per cent. of vital seeds. Seed that will germinate eighty per cent. or better is really cheaper at thirty cents per pound than seed at half the cost, if the percentage vitality is commensurately low. Reliable seedsmen know what the vitality of their seeds is but purchasers of the finer grass seeds should buy at least a month before planting time and test their seeds. Sow two hundred average seeds of each kind in light soil in a flower pot and keep them slightly moist in a living room temperature in a sunny window for about three weeks.
Purity: The value of grass and clover seeds is affected most by the nature and amount of their impurities. Unfortunately it is difficult to obtain these seeds free from weeds. One hundred weed seeds in an ounce of grass or clover may not be detected, but the weeds are very evident in the resultant crop. The folly of purchasing the inferior qualities is not always clear from an examination of the seed itself; and although the weeds may be quite evident in the meadow their bad effect on the stock is seldom fully appreciated. The best available seed is always the cheapest in the end.
The suppression of noxious weeds in meadows is most effectively and economically accomplished by clean cultivation before fodder crop seeds are sown. Perennial weeds, such as Daisy, Thistle, Campion and Couch Grass, tend to increase in meadows. In a moist climate such annual and biennial weeds as Wild Oats and Blue Weed can be prevented from seeding and thus effectively suppressed by leaving the land in meadow for five years or more. In a dry climate weed seeds buried in the soil retain their vitality longer. Mustards, Ragweeds and other annuals may be reduced by seeding the land to meadow or pasture for a term of years, though it is scarcely possible to prevent occasional plants from ripening a few seeds each year.
After seeding to grass and clover on reasonably clean land, an early maturing nurse crop can usually be counted upon to check weed growth and prevent the seeds from maturing before the crop is harvested. The nurse crop should be ready to harvest or be cut for fodder within three or at most three and a half months after seeding. If weeds are not too prevalent when the nurse crop is harvested, it is better for the seedling grass and clover to leave a stubble four or five inches high. That will remove the seed stalks of the taller and more vigorous weeds and will enable the still tender fodder plants to gradually adapt themselves to altered conditions. Autumn weeds may be largely prevented from seeding by cutting with a mowing machine about a month after the nurse crop is harvested, and when Ragweed is prevalent this is especially important.
In the development of a meadow it frequently happens, as a result of unfavourable weather, irregular seeding, patches of too wet or too hard and dry soil, or a heavy nurse crop perhaps lodging in places, that the seedling plants suffer severely or are killed out in small areas. As soon as the autumn rains commence, or, if the soil is sufficiently moist, at any time after the summer heat is past, it is well to re-seed such patches quite thickly. If necessary, apply a thin dressing of rotted barnyard manure to cover the seed, to retain moisture and to insure vigorous autumn growth. If the killed out areas are large, it is sometimes advisable to use a sharp harrow to make a good seed bed. If the late fall is favourable and the re-seeded patches are well protected during the winter, they should make a fair growth, even for the first cutting, and succeeding crops will well repay the trouble and expense.
In addition to the suppression of weeds, close cutting with a mowing machine, not later than the third week in September, or about a month after the nurse crop is harvested, stimulates the branching and stooping out of the clovers and grasses, thus insuring a thicker stand and a more uniform growth the following spring. By removing the nurse crop stubble and the autumn weed growth, a cleaner and better quality of hay is secured from the first cutting. It is important, however, that this be done in plenty of time to insure a good top growth for winter protection. The last cut of Alfalfa should be made not later than the third week in August. After such autumn cutting the young meadow should not be pastured. Early the following spring, if the land is sufficiently well drained, the use of a heavy roller is often beneficial.
On the drier prairie soils, where a nurse crop may not be used, two or three cuttings with a mowing machine will suppress the weeds and conserve the moisture, but the crop should not be cut after the middle of August.
The lack of winter protection for young meadows is the most common cause of reduced yields and inferior quality of hay. During dry seasons, when natural pastures and fodder crops are short, the use of newly seeded meadows immediately the nurse crop is removed sometimes seems unavoidable, even when the seedling plants are struggling for existence and much reduced in vigour by their competition with a nurse crop that has robbed them of moisture rather than protected them. It is under just such conditions that pasturing is most disastrous. For every pound of forage taken from the young plants more than ten pounds are lost in the hay crop; the stand will be thinner and the quality of the hay poorer. The young plants should completely hide the ground and show a growth of six inches or more before the autumn season is past. Only when there is danger of smothering the crop from a rank growth of clover, which rarely occurs, is there any advantage in pasturing a young meadow the first year.
Grasses and other fodder plants should be cut when the crop has reached its maximum value, in yield and quality, for cured hay; the effect on the aftermath or succeeding crops should also be considered. The main natural function of the plant is to reproduce itself. Until its seed-bearing organs have been fertilized, it collects nutriment and stores it up in its tissues for the development and maturing of seeds. As soon as the flower is fertilized, the seed draws on the store of nourishment in the stems and leaves and the plant begins to harden. With some kinds of fodder plants, such as Blue-joint Grass, that depend largely on their roots for reproduction and bear few seeds, the hardening of the plant is less pronounced; but in nearly all the most valuable kinds the change from succulent and pliable tissue to brittle and woody stems and leaves is rapid and marked. Even before fertilization, many of the fodder plants, such as Alfalfa, Western Rye Grass and Timothy, commence to harden.
If cut before the flowers are ripe for fertilization, the plant will renew its efforts to reproduce itself, and the aftermath or second crop will subsequently be greater. When cutting is delayed until seeds have started to develop, the natural tendency of Red Clover and other biennial fodder plants is to die down; with Timothy and other grasses the effect is apparent not only in the aftermath but also in the crop of the succeeding year. In wild nature the next year’s crop would consist in part of young plants from seed which, under agricultural conditions, is frequently allowed to form but not to mature and drop.
From the standpoint of the quality of the hay, nothing is gained and much may be lost by deferring cutting until the bloom is well advanced. The yield per acre is slightly increased during the few days between early and late flowering, but that small increase is obtained at the expense of a marked depreciation in quality; and if the aftermath or succeeding crops are taken into account, the total yield is actually reduced.
When fodder crops that reach the early flowering stage at different times are sown together, as Early Red Clover and Timothy, the best time for the first cutting depends on the proportion of each. It will usually be found advisable, and in the end most economical, to cut when the early maturing clover is not more than two or three days past its best condition for hay-making. In dry, hot weather fodder crops ripen quickly, and a few days’ delay may then do as much damage as a much longer period would in cool weather with a moist soil.
For hay, cutting is best done by machine mowers. The harvesting of grass seed is commonly done with self-binders, the sheaves being stood together in small shocks to cure and ripen the seed.
Close cutting of hay is recommended. When the fodder crop consists largely or clovers and is heavy and lodged in patches, the cutter bar should be so adjusted as to get below the stalks, else the remaining stubble will be dangerous to the machinery in tending and raking and will leave a worthless roughage to be collected with the next hay crop. The advantage of a smooth surface, produced by the use of the weeder following the grain drill and by spring rolling across the furrows, is best appreciated when a heavy and badly lodged crop of clover is to be cut.
It is usually convenient to cut during that part of the day when the dew prevents the work of making and hauling. When, however, the clover crop is heavy and liable to collect on the divider when wet with dew, late afternoon cutting is desirable. Tedding or turning the green fodder should commence soon after it is cut. If the crop is heavy, tedding should be continued at intervals until the fodder is sufficiently cured to rake into coils and stack into small cocks. If at all possible, this should be done the day it is cut, or, if cut in the afternoon, the day after. Green fodder, when cut at the best stage for hay-making, usually contains about eighty per cent. of moisture. In good weather even a heavy crop of clover may be dried sufficiently in one day to be ready to put up in small cocks for further curing. The moisture in hay ready to store commonly ranges from twelve to fifteen per cent. A larger percentage would conduce to sweating and mow-burning. It is a good plan to cut until nine o’clock in the morning and then have one person ted and rake for the balance of the day; hauling and storing should proceed from nine o’clock until four or four-thirty in the afternoon, the remaining two hours or less to be devoted to putting up the freshly cured hay into cocks. Plans for hay-making are, however, often interrupted by showers, which add to the labour of curing and are often more disastrous to the quality of the hay than extreme dry heat.
Even during continued rain it is advisable, by tedding or turning with a fork, to keep the partly cured hay loose and open to prevent it from packing and becoming soaked. Its flavour and much of its nutritive matter are more liable to be lost if it lies in a sodden mass than if it is kept loose and open though wet. If the weather is dry and hot, it is important to cut and cure promptly. Hay dried by the burning heat of the sun is apt to lose much of its fine quality; it is best shaken out and dried by light winds. In dry, hot weather it is advisable to use the tedder immediately after cutting and at frequent intervals and to rake and cock while the fodder is still quite moist. Rapid ripening sometimes makes it expedient to defer hauling in favour of cutting and curing. It is then advisable to put it up in large cocks.
Because of the scarcity and cost of farm labour, approved methods of curing and handling have to be modified, and such implements as hay loaders substituted for hand labour and cocking. If hauling can be done from the windrow, as soon as the hay is sufficiently cured, good results are obtained.
Compared with the labour of hay-making by the early settlers, when cutting was done with a scythe, curing by turning with a fork raking with wooden rakes, and loading and unloading by hand, modern hay-making is not arduous. Ten acres of hay meant a fairly large undertaking for the pioneer farmer; his grandson, with less help but more machinery, can make light work of five times that area. When operating his machines he is not troubled with stumps and stones. His grandfather built fences with them. Seated on his tedder, he can shake out as much hay in an hour as his great-grandmother and her daughters could do in a day. The raking, loading and unloading are now largely done by horse-power.
The effect of meadow weeds: With the evolution of labour-saving machinery and transportation facilities have come the introduction and dissemination of farm weeds. The losses due to weeds in the fodder crop are not well understood. The farmer can estimate the depreciation in the yield of grain caused by weeds, but the total yield of cured hay may be actually increased by their presence.
Badly infested pastures are good places in which to study weeds. It will be observed that many kinds avoided by cattle are less objectionable to horses and are sometimes even relished by sheep. Some weeds, as Water Parsnip, are very poisonous. Others, such as the mustards, docks and daisies, are not dangerous unless consumed in considerable quantities or for long periods, when their poisonous nature is made evident by the chronic ill-health of the animals. When grazing, unless fodder grasses are quite depleted, live stock are not apt to consume enough weeds seriously to impair their health. When allowed to select their own food in fields, the animals, especially cattle, usually thrive much better than when provided with even more nutritious rations in the stable.
The acrid flavour of Wormseed Mustard, False Flax, Shepherd’s Purse and other members of the Mustard family is well known. They contain a strong irritant, the effects of which, if the weeds are consumed in quantity with cut feed, are best understood by those who have suffered under a mustard plaster. When fed for long on hay or grain that contains only a small quantity of the plants or seeds, the effects are less acute. They are first noticeable in the urine; the animal finally breaks out in deep ulcers, which, like those sometimes produced by prolonged applications of mustard plaster, are slow to heal.
Most members of the Cockle family contain saponin, which is distinctly poisonous, and although they have not enough to prove fatal to horses and cattle eating cockle-infested hay, they conduce to an unthrifty condition indicated by imperfect digestion, loss of appetite, lack of vigour, a hot skin and gradual loss of flesh.
Buttercups are strongly acrid and blister the mouth of animals; stock will not pasture where they are prevalent. When consumed in excess, or for a long period, they are said to cause abortion in cows.
Many members of the Sunflower family are known to be unwholesome, and some of them positively poisonous. Ragweed is a strong irritant. Its pollen is believed to cause hay fever. Ragwort (Senecio Jacobæa), which is common in some parts of the Atlantic provinces, has been shown to be the cause of the Pictou cattle disease. Like many other weeds poisonous to some kinds of stock and harmless to others, this is not injurious to sheep.
The objectionable flavour of weedy hay induces stalled animals, which have no option but to eat it or starve, to pick over their fodder and eat only the palatable part. To avoid this apparent waste, the cutting box is used to turn weedy fodder into cut feed. The feed so prepared is rendered unpalatable and often unwholesome by the weeds. Milch cows will eat only enough to allay hunger and will produce a gallon of milk of disagreeable flavour instead of three gallons of good milk per day. Chronic ill-health and a condition of unthrift in the live stock, particularly in cattle, is often found on a weed-infested farm. The value of a fodder crop may be reduced or even destroyed by weeds. In establishing a meadow then, it is most important to suppress objectionable weeds before the fodder crop seeds are sown.
The duration of meadows and pastures depends on the kind of farming, soil and drainage. For naturally well-drained upland farms under mixed crops, short rotations with two years in Red Clover and grasses are recommended. As soon as the hay crop of the second year is removed, the meadow may be ploughed and fallowed or the balance of the year to suppress weeds. An application of farmyard manure, shallow ploughed or worked into the surface soil, should fit the land for spring planting with a hoed or other cleaning crop, which may be followed by a nurse crop of cereal grains, and again seeded to Red Clover and grasses for two years of meadow and pasture.
Because of the scarcity of farm labour, less intensive systems of farming are popular in some districts. Large returns are obtained from Alfalfa with much less labour. Hardy strains, particularly of Variegated Alfalfa, are available, and when farmers get northern grown seed from the best strains they can count on satisfactory crops for years, provided the land is well drained and not infested with perennial weeds. In districts where the crop is protected by snow the danger of winter-killing is reduced. In the Niagara peninsula fields of Variegated Alfalfa of more than thirty years standing still produce large yields of fodder. Unless well protected, pure Alfalfa is apt to be killed out by severe winters and few fields continue to give satisfactory crops of more than five or six years.
In wet, clayey soils and river flats it is often necessary or expedient to leave the land to permanent meadows or pastures for long periods. It is difficult to prepare low-lying wet soils for cereals in the early spring, and river flats are apt to be badly washed and furrowed by floods unless retained by sods. The annual deposit of sediment from spring freshets usually maintains the fertility of river flats left in permanent meadow, and if the most suitable grasses are well-established large yields of good hay may be obtained for many years.
Fertilizing meadows of long duration is common in Europe, less frequent in the eastern provinces of Canada, and not at all general inland. A dressing of well rotted farmyard manure, applied in the early spring every two or three years is highly beneficial, and is the best way to maintain an upland meadow in good condition. The decaying manure manure spread over the surface forms a mulch that helps to retain the moisture. Clovers are often benefited by potash and gypsum or other form of lime, but are little affected by nitrogenous manures. Old meadows respond quickly to an application, at the commencement of the growing season, of nitrate of soda at the rate of about one hundred pounds per acre. On low-lying, naturally moist soil, good yields may be had by sowing eery two or three years three or four hundred pounds per acre of mixed fertilizer or bone meal that is rich in nitrogen.
Permanent pastures yield a small revenue when compared with thorough cultivation and alternate cropping. If used for soiling, ten acres of good Alfalfa will give as much nutritive fodder as forty acres in permanent pasture. The waste due to tramping is much greater in temporary pastures, such as Clover and Timothy, than in permanent pastures composed of grass mixtures, but the yield is usually much larger and the forage is more easily available to cattle. Permanent pastures are of greatest value for sheep. On land that is easily tillable and productive under alternate cropping, they are not recommended for cattle, unless it is impossible to procure labour to cultivate the land.
Reseeding and renovating are seldom necessary when proper care is taken of a meadow and natural Winter protection is provided. On some soils it will be found, however, that where several kinds of grasses and clovers are sown, one or two sorts will predominate, to the practical exclusion of the others. If a meadow of long duration or a permanent pasture is required, it may be necessary to supplement the kinds that have established themselves by re-seeding with other grasses. These must be selected with care and for a definite purpose; Red Top, for instance, might be chosen for bottom grass on moist lands where all other kinds except Timothy have been killed out. The seeding should be done in the early spring, and, if the land is dry enough, a sharp harrow, followed by a heavy roller, may be used to cover the seed and secure a smooth surface.
Hillsides and exposed places in newly seeded as well as long-standing meadows and pastures often need renovating and re-seeding after a severe winter. A liberal re-seeding followed by the harrow or roller, or both, usually gives satisfactory results. If the soil on the re-seeded patches is apt to become hard and baked, a light dressing of well rotted stable manure is necessary to insure a good catch.
Both new and old meadows are benefited by spring rolling, especially if they have been repeatedly frozen and thawed during the early spring.