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Bamboo as a Season Extending Forage Is Showing Promise

By   /  October 30, 2017  /  13 Comments

Cairncrest Farm in West Winfield, New York is experimenting with Bamboo as a forage for grazing when deep snow makes it difficult for livestock to get to stockpiled pasture forage. Brothers Edmund and Garth Brown started with a lot of reading, testing different varieties over a number of years for their resilience, nutrition analysis and more. Here’s the latest installment in their ongoing on-farm research project.

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“There is no one I’d rather farm with.” brothers Edmund and Garth said of each other. Our two
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About the author

Edmund Brown and his family live in upstate New York where they raise beef cattle, pastured pigs, and a few sheep. He enjoys learning about techniques to improve his grazing management skills.

13 Comments

  1. DWK says:

    Found out we have a bamboo forest growing in our county in Texas. The variety they are using doesn’t spread and from what they say it has pretty good profit potential.

  2. Donald Keller says:

    Hi Everybody,
    Whenever Bamboo for grazing comes up I feel it is my duty to remind everyone about Kudzu, Chinese Tallow tree, and [Insert Invader Species that you hate here].

    Please consider that we will all leave this planet (or our current farm) one day and what will that Bamboo do without us and our management?

    Thanks.

    • Edmund Brown says:

      For sure – definitely think about where it’s going to go because without management it does creep along year in and year out.

      On the plus side, it doesn’t spread by seed. So it is pretty easy to contain it.

  3. Gene Schriefer says:

    If left ungrazed, would bamboo hold it’s leaves all winter?
    How was this established? Sprig planter?
    How long before it’s establish would it be suitable for winter forage?
    Cost/acre to establish?

    • Edmund Brown says:

      Yes, it will hold it’s leaves all winter. They’re evergreen in climates just a little warmer than my location. Here on my farm the culms hold their leaves all winter, but do winterkill when it goes below about -10. In the spring the brown, dessicated leaves fall off.

      It’s established by transplanting rhizomes. I haven’t tried to do it on a broadacre basis because I wasn’t sure the yield would be worth the establishment cost. And I’ve been growing up a nursery for planting out. Buying in the rhizomes is a non-starter cost-wise.

      In my climate it could be grazed for winter forage the year of planting, but the yield would be very low. Year 2 would still be not so great. Only in year 3+ would the yield begin to make economic sense. I have ideas about how to transition a field into growing a bamboo winter stockpile, but that will be for future articles once I’ve actually done it successfully.

      Buying in rhizomes would be $1000s/acre to establish.

  4. Michael says:

    Interesting! Where do you get bamboo seed in quantity?

    • Edmund Brown says:

      The short answer is, you don’t. Apparently bamboo does flower every once in a long while (once every few decades). Typically it is spread by digging up a rhizome and planting it where you want a bamboo grove to grow.

  5. DWK says:

    How fast does the bamboo spread or does it? With a short growing season, I suspect it may not. This may be a good crop for our Texas climate, little to no snow and longer growing season. We may have a problem with deer competition here, unless it can be adequately fenced off. I like the protein levels.

    • Edmund Brown says:

      It’s spreading about 6-8 ft per year right now. To get it going on a bigger patch of ground I’ll need to spread rhizomes.

    • Edmund Brown says:

      That far south you could try the native cane – Aurundinaria gigantea. Canebrakes used to exist all over the place in riverbottoms in eastern North America. Cattle and hogs grazing them out though…

      • DWK says:

        Years ago I had a piece of property that had what the locals call Georgia Cane. It was originally planted for erosion control. The bad thing was no matter what I used (chemical or digging it out) I couldn’t kill it. It was gradually taking over my property and I ended up selling it. Sounds like you have a way to control the bamboo, what do you use?

  6. Doug says:

    Interesting article. Please expand on which species of bamboo you are using, and what conditions (dry, wet, sandy, etc.) it prefers.

    • Edmund Brown says:

      We’re mostly growing Phyllostachus bissetti. We also have a test plot of an unidentified Phyllostachus. I suspect this genus has the most potential in my climate, but there are others that might work under some circumstances – Sasa and Fargesia – to be specific.

      I don’t know about performance on various soil types except for where I’m growing my test plot, which is a gravelly loam. I have plenty of clayey ground to test it on next, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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