Steel blades rejuvenate pastures chemical-free

Soil aeration machine can help farmers bring pastures back to life

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Glacier FarmMedia – Some cattle producers treat grazing land like just so much dirt, assuming nature looks after management. The pasture responds accordingly.

“People take grazing land and hay land for granted. They’re scared to put money into it. It’s usually a hot topic when cattlemen get together,” said RanchWorx agronomist David Benjamin.

“Rotational grazing and mob grazing are big right now. That’s where media focus their attention. They’re not focusing on pasture quality. A lot of pastures haven’t been touched for generations. Nobody knows the last time they were tore up and seeded down again. They’re in pretty sad condition now.”

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That’s the crux of the matter, said Benjamin. Too many ranchers assume they need to rip up the pasture or the hay fields and start from scratch if they want to improve performance. That is an expensive and unnecessary proposition.

No need to tear up pastures

“You can rejuvenate pasture and get better performance without ripping it up. That’s why RanchWorx is in business. We have some very heavy-duty specialized equipment that’s been engineered to aerate pasture soil and bring atmosphere to the roots.

“If you want better performance from your pasture, soil aerating is a good use of money. You get a better ROI (return on investment) than if you rip and re-seed.”

Benjamin said RanchWorx has a range of machines suited for different situations. The drums, spiked with blades six- or eight-inches long, handle everything from crushing and clearing pasture-choking brush to breathing new life into bald pastures. The blade is the one common element on all machines. It slices through trees and overgrowth and cuts six inches into the soil.

“If there’s not enough of the desired forage species in a cleared area, RanchWorx has a tandem drum model with a mounted hopper for broadcasting seed or fertilizer. Our experience has been that you may need seed, but it’s unlikely you need fertilizer.

“Once seeds have good soil contact, the sunlight and precipitation will aid in germination of new seed, or stimulate existing grasses that were in place amongst the brush.”

Unless the soil is badly degraded or grasses have been destroyed, healthy vegetation should start to come back within a year.

“Our basic machine is the single drum roller, which fractures the ground and breaks up the tightly bound up root systems of the grasses.

Once brush is cleared and the soil is fractured, sunlight will reach the desirable forage species that the brush and trees had been out-competing.
photo: RanchWorx/David Benjamin

“Our tandem drum is a heavier machine designed to manage all your brush control needs. Willows and aspens are always trying to encroach on grazing land. Even our single drum can do light brush management, but if you’re doing a large reclamation or rejuvenation project, the tandem drum is a very cost-effective means of getting rid of overgrowth and trees up to six inches in diameter,” said Benjamin.

“You kill off all those woody trees and brush, mulch it up and break it down so it’s incorporated into the soil. No need for chemicals. It’s two drums, but they’re tied together in one solid frame. With the tandem unit, the blades clear brush and aerate soil, all in one pass.”

Individual drum widths range from eight to 16 feet. When drums are assembled for maximum width, the total side-to-side measurement is 39 feet of violent slashing steel blades. Most North American farmers buy a smaller unit from 12 to 16 feet wide. Beyond 16 feet, the triplex of three drums can be used, which generally requires a tractor in the 500 horsepower range.

Benjamin said most farmers are reluctant to bring their pride-and-joy seeding tractor into a dense woody environment where big expensive tires will be subject to puncture.

“One alternative is to put narrow single tires on the tractor. A better solution I see is where guys go out and buy some used skidder tires to put on their tractor. Better yet if a guy’s going to be serious about pasture renovation for the long term, you can go out and get some pretty good deals on older skidders.

“A really hot topic right now is whether or not to use chemicals to knock back undesirable woody species,” Benjamin said. “Our equipment performs a lot of work in one pass and gets you away from the need to use herbicides. If it’s really dense, you’ll need two passes, but no herbicide.

“You’re going to have to really pour on the chemical to kill a woody species. They’re not like other weeds. And you need an aerial application. That creates problems of its own with neighbours and spray drift and possible chemicals drifting over to animals that are grazing during the application.”

Producers who want immediate decomposition will burn or pile chopped brush, while others let natural decomposition take effect. Some producers send in goats and sheep immediately after brush clearing to further expedite decomposition.

Two sizes for different size jobs

RanchWorx has two sizes of RanchTech Blades. The standard blades are six inches by six inches. The extended life blades are two inches longer. The weight of a RanchWorx Aerator behind the blades ensures they cut through brush and penetrate soil.

“When you mulch up small aspen and willow, you cut those roots down below the crown. Those trees won’t be back if you graze that land or put it into hay,” said Benjamin.

When using that same aerator in open pastures, hay land or cropland, only four inches of soil penetration is required. RanchTech blades have a targeted lifespan of more than 20,000 acres and have a lifetime warranty against breakage.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

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