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Little Things Mean a Lot

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Lyrics from this popular 1953 song talk about how a person does not have to spend large amounts of money to make a big impression on another - it's the little things that count. I was reminded of this recently as we were working to get a field study planted. We spent a lot of time making sure we had the little things taken care of that will make a big impact on success or failure in the field. Here are a few of the little things that come to my mind that can wind up making a huge impact on success or failure in your operation.

Get out of the truck
It is darn near impossible to assess cow body condition, weed pressure, insect pressure, disease pressure, forage availability, seed emergence... with a windshield view. It's amazing how many wrecks you can avoid by spending quality time in the field.

Use pre-emergent crabgrass control when sprigging bermudagrass
When sprigging bermudagrass on sandy soils, crabgrass can be a huge competitor which can cause delayed bermudagrass coverage or failure. Using a pre-emerge control for crabgrass can be the difference between stand establishment and the additional cost of re-establishment.

Clean equipment
Pulling drills out of the shed, filling them with seed and heading to the field is a big mistake. Grain can sprout in cups, spider webs can plug drop tubes and bearings can freeze, and all these little things can prevent seed from getting from the drill and into the ground. The same holds true for sprayers. Nozzles plug, many of the chemicals we use corrode rubber and metal, and residual chemical left in a tank can kill a crop. Cleaning is a little thing... but it can mean a lot.

Calibrate, calibrate, calibrate
Herbicides and seeds are not cheap. Putting out the right amount at the right time can make all the difference. Calibration of spraying and planting equipment takes time, but it will make you money. After a piece of equipment has been calibrated, re-check it in the field as things can change with field bounce.

Verify seed depth and seed to soil contact
Many forage crops have recommended seeding depths of ¼" or less, which, especially in no-till, is an extremely difficult depth to control. Once in the field, get out of the tractor seat and look for seed. Planting too deep can result in uneven emergence or complete failure to emerge. Check depth when changing from sand to clay soils, and make sure you have good soil closure around the seed for optimal germination.

Use good seed and good sprigs
Planting seed without knowing seed germination or vigor is asking for trouble, as is sprigging bermudagrass sprigs that have been sitting exposed on a truck for 24 hours. This little item can definitely save you a re-plant and a whole year of production.

Conduct soil and forage tests
Supplemental feed on average is 62 percent of the cost of running a cow for a year. Depending upon the product, fertilizer prices are averaging $250-$550 per ton. Soil and forage tests cost about $10 each and are the only way to accurately calculate feed supplement or fertilizer application. Spend $10 up front to save hundreds of dollars on feed and fertilizer cost. It's a little thing that can add up to a lot.

Make a plan and stick to it
Plan your forage grazing, forage establishment, breeding program, marketing program and seedbed preparation. Develop a whole farm management plan and stick to it.

This list is far from complete, but, from personal experience, these are some small practices that make a big difference. If you have others and want to share, e-mail them to me and I will work the best tips into a future column.