Collect More Sunshine to Grow More Grass

Last week we looked at the miracle of turning sunshine into $ starting with an understanding of how plants grow. Now let's talk about how we work with our animals to make sure we're catching all the sunlight we can so we get as much forage as possible. Let's manage for our "Light Interceptors." We all know that there is more solar energy when the sun is higher in the sky and the days are  longer, and there is less when the sun is lower in the sky and days are shorter. We also know that sunlight determines the daily potential photosynthesis for a plant. We can think of the leaves of the plant as solar collectors, gathering energy so the plant can grow, and the roots as the "batteries" where it stores energy for future use. (Note that cool season grasses are a bit different. They store very little energy in their roots, but the length of the roots is an important indicator to the health of the plant. We'll cover cool season grasses in greater depth down the road.) We can manage how much energy we're collecting and storing in our plants and roots by how long or short we graze in relationship t

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6 thoughts on “Collect More Sunshine to Grow More Grass

  1. Hi

    I couldn’t get my fields grazed this spring, so the grass has all gone to seed. Fescue and white clover. (Today is June 3, 2013). I would really like to know if I should bush hog all of it now. If that would let it go to leaf again, ad a little material to the soil, or because the dormant time is coming, if it wouldn’t help. I’m still hoping to get enough cattle on to graze this summer. There is a small herd that I’m moving around, but they don’t seem to find this seeded grass palatable.

    Thanks for any help,

    Sarah in Blacksburg, VA

    1. Sarah,

      Sorry to be so long replying but I have been out of the office most of the month.

      I the case you describe I think bushhogging is a good option. It will stimulate regrowth, the thatch will insulate the soil and feed the soil bugs, and allow light to get back to the legumes. Cattle do a better job but sometimes we just don’t have them where and when we need them.


  2. Thanks Ed, that’s helpful and I look forward to you next articles!


  3. Ed,

    Thanks for writing this, it is a great help. One question I had was what you mean by “grass head” in the 7th paragraph. Are you referring to a seed head or the handful of grass plant leaves that tend to poke up higher than others, or something else altogether? And what is it exactly that causes the tillering?

    Thanks so much for contributing to this great new grazing resource!


    1. Andrew,

      Yes, I was referring to the seed head.

      I will address your tiller question in our next series of articles on plant “morphology”. That is the fancy way of saying “what does the plant look like”.

      Thank you for your comments and questions.


  4. That picture of the grass is really great when you blow it up. Thanks KV. And good article Ed, even though I’m not exactly following the science and am still learning all the site specific nuances of grazing management. This early season grazing is a complex beast and finding balance with the plants, animals and wallets is always a challenge. I always wonder if I’m doing the right thing. GW

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