Thursday, January 12, 2012

Frost seeding horse pastures

It's cheap, it's easy and with a 70 percent success rate, you should frost seed pastures every year.Frost seeding is the practice of spreading seeds on frozen ground and then letting nature run its course.

To add white clover to pastures, Dan Undersander, UW-Extension forage agronomist, advised broadcasting the seed at about 2 pounds per acre. Broadcasting may be done with a hand spreader or even incorporated into a fertilizer application.

"We recommend that you seed in the spring, usually March, when the snow is off the ground and you still have freezing nights and thawing during the day," Undersander said. "It's best if the pasture is grazed or clipped down short so the seed goes all the way to the ground."

March 15 is typically the optimal time for frost seeding in much of Wisconsin and northern Illinois depending on the season. The farther north you are, the later the potential optimal date for seeding, he said. Frost seeding isn't limited to adding legumes to a pasture, added Jeff Miller, seed salesman with The DeLong Co. in Clinton. People also seed such grasses as perennial and annual rye and varieties of fescue and orchard grass.

"The biggest thing is getting the seed to the right spots on the soil," Miller said. "We can't always guarantee perfect results, but we can give ourselves the best chance of success."

As the soil freezes overnight and then thaws during the day, the seed is drawn into the ground, he explained. Broadcasting the seed in March and having it work into the soil during the early spring helps the seed take advantage of subsequent rain or snowfall.

Fertility also is an issue. Miller and Undersander both promoted having a soil test done and applying fertilizer accordingly. Miller added that a soil test every three years is generally enough as long as you have a good idea how much fertilizer is needed.

"You can often spread seed and fertilizer in the same operation," Miller said. A couple hundred pounds of nitrogen per acre can potentially double forage yield.

Weather is a big factor in frost seeding. Spreading seed on frozen ground and then getting heavy rains, for example, can affect your outcome.

"In that case, the bottoms of the hills are going to be pretty lush and the hillsides not so much," Miller said. Likewise, extended dry and hot weather can reduce success.

As for seeding cost, Miller said it depends on what type of seed you use, how much and if you include fertilizer and soil testing.

"If your pasture is already in pretty good shape and you're just trying to keep it that way, you're probably looking at $10 an acre and maybe less," Miller said.

If you're tackling a run-down pasture, more seed and fertilizer costs are likely. Miller said pasture restoration costs can run up to $25 or $30 an acre. Basic pasture seed mixes vary in cost from $1 to up to $2 a pound. Heavy seeding rates are around 10 pounds per acre.

Because frost seeding is fairly inexpensive and easy to do, Undersander and Miller both said the practice is worth doing every season. There's enough variability that if frost seeding doesn't work one year it probably will in following seasons.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

From plow horse to "War Horse"

A movie that tracks the book on which it's based while breathing life into the story beyond its words is what makes the movie "War Horse" something special for horse lovers.

"War Horse" the movie thrills and hurts and inspires and sends you out of the theater knowing you've just been taken on a journey you would not have had simply reading.

The movie is based on the children's book written by Michael Morpurgo and published by Scholastic in 1982, telling the story of World War I from the view of a British cavalry horse named Joey.

Movie director Steven Spielberg, however, would have nothing to do with a talking horse narrating a movie.

Instead, "War Horse" takes the perspective of the people with whom Joey touches as he moves through life beginning with a harsh, yet charming start as a plow horse on a poor tenant farm in rural England. It's on the farm where we meet Albert (Jeremy Irvine), a young farm boy who teaches Joey how to pull a plow.

The war keeps looming into the film, drawing closer and closer with each day.

Finally, when the movie goes to war, the deep-seated feelings humans have for horses are used to draw the viewer into the story. In a metaphor-a-minute pace, "War Horse" shows the terror and brutality of the war as people struggle to stay alive and to remain human in a place gone mad.

Holding it all together is the thread of the relationship between young Albert and the horse Joey. As the war begins, Joey is separated from Albert and sold to the British army to help pay the farm rent after a heroic effort to plow an untilled field and plant it to turnips.

Knowing how to pull a plow is what keeps Joey alive on the battlefield after being captured by the Germans at the end of his first cavalry charge. The people Joey encounters as he goes from the hands of the Germans to the care of an isolated French farm girl and her grandfather and back again to the Germans share perspectives of the war.

People are threatening at times but war is the real enemy in this movie. Each person Joey meets is trying to cope, to make it through another minute in a ghastly situation.

Albert joins the army hoping to find his horse. His journey through the trenches of the First World War heighten the tension and keep the thread of the story simple and compelling: boy falls in love with horse, loses horse, goes in search of horse.

In the signature moment of the movie, Joey is freed from his harness and goes on a wild gallop tearing into the brutal barbed-wire center of No Man's Land. There, hopelessly tangled and exhausted, Joey is aided by two soldiers, a German and a Brit.

Up to 14 different horses were used to play Joey in the filming of the story. Hundreds more horses were used in the show.

The entertainment trade press has said "War Horse" is Steven Spielberg's deliberate effort to earn an Oscar. Certainly, Spielberg knows how to tell a story and has used a very tried-and-true formula with "War Horse." The colors are deep and rich like old-fashioned film movies. Each frame is loaded with completely authentic and researched locations and props.

Is it sentimental? Unabashedly so. Sappy? At times. But make no mistake. This is a war story and it's when Spielberg takes us to war that we get the full treatment from this movie.

War scenes are graphic enough to keep "War Horse" on the edge of its PG-13 rating. It's no little kid's movie even if based on a children's book. Depictions of the final battle and last war in which cavalry were used in any large and meaningful way are as unsettling as they should be.