The grazing season is in full swing at Whiskey Creek Angus, and the bulls are in with the ladies. We rotate our two herds of cattle to different pastures about every four to six days depending on the growth of the forage. The tree seedlings we planted last year are doing well because of the ample rains we have received so far this summer. It brings a smile to my face when I observe a tree growing out of its shelter. Maintenance of these forest buffers is especially critical during their first year. Read on to find out what’s happening down on the farm.
Riparian Forest Buffer Maintenance
We planted 3,000 native trees and shrubs along the streams on the farm in December 2021. We used five-foot tree shelters to protect the seedlings and put nets over the top to prevent birds from jumping down into the shelter. The shelters are very narrow, so if a bird goes down into the shelter, it dies because it cannot fly vertically to get out.
I never thought I would have to take so many bird nets off the tree shelters this early. As of July 16, I have removed 251 bird nets because tree seedlings were popping out. If the seedling can’t get through the bird net, it will be deformed. It’s imperative to leave a one-inch hole in the center of the bird net so the terminal shoot of the seedling might find it.
One of the most aggravating problems with a tree shelter is when a big weed grows inside it. I lost track of how many shelters (maybe 30) had to be taken off to remove a weed that was taller than the tree seedling. Ragweed is the worst offender this year, followed by Horsenettle.
The Evolving Pastures
Plants in the pastures evolve with the growing season, and now, in midsummer, Thistles, Ragweed, Chicory, and Horsenettle thrive. In late summer, Queen Ann’s Lace will thrive. It’s a constant debate as to when to spray to reduce weed pressure since the chemical that kills the weeds also kills Clover. We won’t spray this year because there is so much Clover. We will just have to tolerate the weeds.
Clipping the pastures to remove the seed heads of the grasses and the weeds is a common practice to invigorate the grass and reduce viable seeds from weeds. Fortunately, we have a 15-foot, batwing rotary mower that expedites this process.
At Whiskey Creek Angus we have several fields that do not have any trees to provide shade for the cattle. In those fields on hot days, we put up a 20′-by-20′ portable shade structure. Moving it around gives our cattle relief from the hot sun throughout the day and makes sure that the manure gets distributed. The structure is just the right size for our herd of 18 heifers.
Fledgling Grassland Birds
As I was hoeing thistles in one of the pastures we can’t mow because it’s too steep for a tractor, I saw movement on the ground through the tall grass. It was a fledgling Grasshopper Sparrow trying to get away from me. The tiny brown ball of fuzz couldn’t fly yet, but it was trying real hard. What a treasure. I heard the parents’ buzzy song nearby. This little bird is going to make it, along with all the other grassland birds that were lucky enough to nest in the fields that we don’t mow or that we delay mowing—about 69 acres or 46 percent of the farm.
Other grassland birds successfully nesting at Whiskey Creek Angus include Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Kingbirds, and Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Good morning Bobby,
I just read your report and enjoyed it. Ben and I are seeing lots of fledglings at our feeders and enjoying them so much. You mentioned grass fledglings you find in your fields. My question is how long should we wait to mow down those thistles as Ben hasn’t started that yet? I may need to encourage him to wait even longer.
Tuesday Club member. (Tell Jeanne hello for me)
Faye, thanks for your kind words and comments. You are safe to mow now. Most, if not all of the grassland birds have fledged by now.
I love reading about your respect and care for the earth and its plant and animal inhabitants. It gives me hope in these troubling times.
Thank you, Becky. These are indeed troubling times.
Great read, so proud of your work and knowledge and respect for the land.
Thank you, Charlie!
Thanks Bobby for showing folks how important it is to remove those big weeds from tree shelters. When the ground is opened up during the planting process for the seedling, more likely than not there will be weed seeds in the disturbed soil just waiting their turn to see the sun. Weeds thrive in treeshelters just like trees do. When vegetation emerges from the top of a 5 ft tube in the first year, it can very easily be a weed. If that weed dominates the tube, the little seedling underneath it may not have the clear path to the sun that it needs and can languish until the weed is removed.
Spot on, Joe. Thank you.
Loved “Jeanne in her office”, and this story. I think the pointer about the bird nets was enlightening. In parks here in Maryland, I’ve seen the tree shelters, but I don’t believe any were covered with the bird nets. Will go observe, then leave a comment if needed.
Thanks so much, Sarah. Good comment.
Thank you for another inspiring updated from Whiskey Creek.
Fun to see the tree planting update and I appreciate the practical advice, which I hope to apply along Stewart’s Creek in the next few years.
Thanks so much for stopping in, Joy. Good to hear from you. Let me know If I can be of service.
Hi Bobby – bless you for your diligence in caring for your buffer! That’s make or break stuff in our experience. On the “weeds inside tubes” challenge: Stroud Center has tested and now uses as standard practice a granular pre-emergence herbicide (Snapshot, but others exist) to prevent weeds in tubes. It prevents germination of the seeds in soil and those added by bird droppings from birds perching on tubes – often problematic invasives. “Organic” option is to lift tube high enough to pull the weeds by hand.
We got off herbicides for use OUTSIDE the tubes a few years ago (use stone mulch instead). We’re now testing whether pea gravel or crushed stone INSIDE tube can replace the pre-emergence herbicide use. But two applications/year x 2 to 3 years on a 4″ diameter area is NOT a lot of chemical to assure that tree plantings succeed to do their critical work.
Keep up the great work! Thanks for your continuing modeling and communicating on key stuff!
David, thanks so much for stopping in with your comments. Good stuff, my friend. We did a section with gravel mulch and the trees are doing great. Will look for a pre-emergent granular treatment. We have treated all the areas with herbicide around the shelters and will do it again in a couple of months.
Great work as always Whitescarver’s, such an inspiration, including your recent conservation easement signing.
I have to say though I still prefer a double sickle mower for the weeds and don’t think we could possibly over mow (mow to often) pastures at this time in history that includes so many invasive botanicals. Keep up the good work folks. If you get a chance watch our documentary at: http://www.somehowhopeful.com, let me know what you think sir, leave a comment on the website please. Thanks for all y’all do for the natural world.
Thank you, Jason. Love following your work.