Johnson grass is like candy to cows

Johnson grass growing in the pasture
Johnson grass growing in the pasture

When I was growing up here, we had grass that was about 2-4 inches tall. It covered about 50-60% of the ground. In the spring and fall, we had fescue, and in the summer we had coastal Bermuda and crab grass. Besides that, we had weeds. When we started managing our animals to maximize our soil fertility, we saw the grass explode not only with health but with variety. Some of that variety was always there, we just couldn’t see it due to it being eaten down so low. Some of the variety has been small pockets of preferred grass expanding its hold as we manage.

What you see pictured above is one such example. I’d never seen Johnson grass grow above 4″ before. I’m sure there was a patch of it here or there but it was kept short like everything else. That first year I was amazed to see it get as tall as me during the summer. When I turned the cows into the paddock where it was growing, I found out why we never saw it before. Most grass the cows eat the top 1/3 and move on. So if the grass starts at 10″ tall, they clip off the top 3″ and move on. Only by keeping them in the paddock longer will they eat the grass lower, which is why we move them. With Johnson grass, they eat it right to the ground immediately. I pointed this out to my contact at Wake County Soil and Water and told her how much I liked the Johnson grass since they like it so much. She said that I was lucky, because it’s the bane of row crop farmers, something they struggle to get rid of. That’s when it occurred to me where I’d seen it growing before and it was indeed in fields of planted crops. I wondered what kind of fertilizer they used to cause grass to grow so tall. Turns out it wasn’t the fertilizer but the grass itself.

Cows in pasture with tall grass
14″ tall regular grass, and 3-4′ tall Johnson grass.

Rather than kill it, we are trying to grow more of it and this year I’m finding more patches of it than ever before. It’s not getting a chance to be quite so tall as that first year as we are moving the cows around the pasture faster than before so they are mowing it down. But it’s healthy and vibrant and a welcome sight when I’m cruising the pasture.

It’s so much more fun to see what nature grows for you rather than spray, till, plant, and see if your grass comes up.

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