Queen of the Kingdom of Callaway
He said, She said
She wanted to make the farm natural; he wanted to make it pay. Switching from row crops to summer grazing granted both their wishes.
Like most of his neighbors, Clifford grew row crops such as corn, beans and wheat in the summer, and he fed light calves to 1,200-pound “fats” in the winter. His nearly 600 acres of flat, poorly draining, silt-loam Putnam clay did about as well as any similar farm in his neighborhood.
Since dropping crops and winter cattle feeding, however, his earnings per acre have increased. This is because his production expenses are low, his cattle are able to maintain a steady rate of gain during the summer, and cattle prices have been strong the last several years. He said that adding Eastern gamagrass with red clover to his grazing system helps make his farm more profitable.
“Native warm-season grasses are ready when European cool-season grasses like timothy and brome fade out,” Clifford said. “Even as dry as it was in 2005, my Eastern gamagrass stayed green.”
Although he appreciates other native warm-season grasses, he finds that only Eastern gamagrass will tolerate red clover. In fact, Eastern gamagrass performs best for both livestock and wildlife when it’s mixed with other grass and legume species.
Good for Life
It’s pure fancy to say that Clifford and Mary Ann Borgelt serve the queen of the Kingdom of Callaway. It’s also inaccurate—it implies submission and sacrifice. In fact, establishing Eastern gamagrass on their operation has helped the Borgelts achieve the freedom to enjoy retirement on their family farm with less work, more income and better health than if they had continued farming as usual.
It’s far more accurate to say that the Borgelts and their gamagrass sustain each other, as well as the natural community upon which we all depend.
Tips for Growing Success
Whether you’re a stockgrower, an acreage owner or a park landscape manager, you can use these tips to help ensure a good stand.
Get help. Your county’s USDA service center, which includes personnel from the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Missouri Department of Conservation, can help you find the seed, the equipment and even an experienced contractor to plant native warm-season grasses properly.
Kill existing cover and prepare the seedbed. Eastern gamagrass and other native warm-season grasses can’t compete against fescue and other non-native species. Use a non-selective herbicide to kill them, once in the fall and again in the spring before green-up.
Buy cold-treated seed. Eastern gamagrass seed has a higher dormancy percentage than other native grasses, and dormant seed won’t germinate unless it has been held in cold storage a certain length of time.
Install it at the right time, in the right way. The best time to plant is late spring or early summer. Plant large areas using a corn planter. Unlike other native grasses that have chaffy seed, Eastern gamagrass seed is about the size of corn kernels. Make sure to set the planter no more than 1 inch deep.