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Animal Health Notebook

We could cheaply thin brush and trees and grow more grass

High-density grazing and selective tree killing or cutting could keep some shade and drastically increase stocking rates.

Much of Tennessee is now covered with dense stand of timber. I live on the center of the southern hardwood industry. The problem is that the majority of these trees are of low quality and many are diseased.

With conventional set stocking cattle further damage the timber and reduce the value by another 30% or more. The general recommendation is to fence the cattle out and harvest the logs every 25 to 40 years! A few new ideas have arrived and are based on what our country looked like 300+ years ago when we had good-sized herds of buffalo and elk east and west of the Mississippi River.

Historians suggest the majority of thick forests actually followed the pioneers. Prior to the white man, trees were diverse and were spaced 25 or more feet apart and large game trails were common place. Tall, medium and short native grasses and forbs grew between the trees and wild cane grew in the creek bottoms in a vast supply. Herbivores got much of their late fall, winter and early spring feed from the cane. Kentucky got its name “cane-tucky” from the lowland winter green.

It is not that way anymore but on most eastern acreages 20 to 40% of most farms or ranches are in timber.

Pasture rent does not include timber land and low quality timber has a very small profit potential. Further south, pulp wood has gotten so cheap that paper companies are now selling large acreages after clear cutting. Native grass comes quickly after the clear cut and is quickly followed by brush.

Several years ago we installed one-wire electric fences around our wooded acres. When the weather got hot we would allow the mob access to a small plot for a few hours in the middle of the day for a few days each summer. Grass and broadleaf plants started coming in. We cut some junk trees in the areas to see what would happen and more grass came as we opened the canopy to sunlight. In some areas of thin tree stands we started counting 20 or more cow days per acre. Remember that the rent in these timbered areas is free. We were learning that high-density grazing controls brush.

Girdling is the act of cutting one or more circles through the bark and all the way around a tree when the sap is running in the early spring. The result is a dead tree and more sunlight reaching the ground. Add cattle in large numbers and high densities for short periods of time and grass comes in large quantities.

Millions of acres of the East could be producing thousands of tons of beef while improving log quality at the same time. We are missing the grass while looking at the trees.

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