Forage artist plans for success

The first thing you see when you drive down the lane toward Mike Hoopengardner’s livestock barns is a sign proclaiming the family as local soil conservation honorees. That’s not bad once you learn the family just began to convert their acreage from cropland into all forages about four years ago.

One of the smartest moves they made was to contact Robbie Zupancic, one of two grassland specialists employed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana. It’s not every day when someone with his training gets to put together a system from scratch.

Key Points

NRCS specialist helped a family develop cropland into forage land.

Warm-season grasses provide pasture when most pastures dry up.

Forests of 10 acres or more can be placed in the Classified Forest program.

“We basically told him what we wanted to do, and asked for help in how we should go about establishing pasture that would be most efficient for our goat operation,” Hoopengardner says. “Zupancic really got excited and came back several times to see how we were doing, and offer more advice.”

Two-grass system

What Hoopengardner wanted was a system that would deliver pasture for his goats and llamas as many months out of the year as possible. Zupancic advised Hoopengardner to plant cool-season grasses, some with forages included, and then three species of warm-season grasses. He did, and he saw the payoff this summer.

“The warm-season grasses can be difficult to get started, but it’s worth it,” Hoopengardner says. “This summer when everyone else’s pastures dried up, we still had plenty of green grass where the warm-season species are planted. We went right on grazing.”

To seed grasses, Hoopengardner rented an 8-foot Brillion drill set up for seeding grass seed from the Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District. Henry County SWCD is one of several districts in the state that rent various tools. Many districts still offer drills for rent, especially in areas of the state where pasture and livestock are most important.

He also followed other advice offered by Zupancic, including making sure soil fertility levels were up to par for the species that he wanted to raise. Soil sampling is the best way to determine how much fertilizer and lime is needed before you seed a forage crop, experts say.

What impresses Hoopengardner is the staying power of the warm-season grasses under drought conditions once you get them established. He did some digging this summer and found that roots ran as deep as 3 feet for some of the warm-season grasses.

To maximize efficiency he uses the paddock system, rotating animals instead of turning them loose on a large acreage at a time. He also maintains one small hay field so he has hay for the short periods when he can’t pasture animals.

Forest component

The property already had 7 acres of woodlands on it. The family planted 1,500 trees on an adjoining 3 acres, giving them 10 acres of woodland.

That allows them to enter the Classified Forest program. It requires a minimum of 10 acres. That land is assessed at a much lower rate for property tax purposes.


Good mix: Brown now, warm-season grasses were green last summer.

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.