The Anatomy of Grass

By Charles Walters

Wise old graziers who manage to keep a disease-free herd year after year have a truism: “Worse than overgrazing is not grazing at all.”


Reclamation absolutely depends on it. So does maintenance. Grazing for health requires enough grass leaves remaining after a grazing sweep to enable photosynthesis. Urine and manure gifted the soil by tight herds, most of it stomped into the soil, the carbon dioxide flush is more than ample for rapid regrowth. This CO2 flush stays in the canopy of the grass to feed the pores. Saving soil moisture is dependent on the stomata valve being closed before all the soil moisture is transpired into the air.

The marijuana grower with a clandestine indoor operation often relies on fertilizing the air. Accordingly, he pipes CO2 into the growing chamber to achieve lush growth. The growth arrives, sure enough, but the quality suffers.

The 1948 Yearbook of Agriculture thus defined grass, and for several hundred pages examined grasses from Main to Florida, California to Washington, and all parts in between. Unfortunately, these descriptions do not come to terms with the real anatomy of grass or explain how and why grass uptakes more nutrients than all other crops and why it is absolutely necessary for herd health.

Cows eating pasture grass forage.

When we say “grass,” we usually mean forage. Others use the term as slang to identify cannabis. The golfer won’t call a putting green “grass” — it’s a “green,” period! John J. Ingalls, an early seeker, gave a speech that was a paean to bluegrass, and when Ann Wigmore starting juicing grass, the anatomy of grass took on new dimensions. It is a function of literacy for a reader to comprehend the meaning of a word according to the context of its usage.

Much like the average farmer, I thought I understood grass, this after a dozen years in farm journalism. But that was before I met Dr. Charles Schnabel. He presented for publication a short article entitled “An Ecological Sputnik.” The title denotes the era. Schnabel died a year or two later, but he gifted me his research findings, some of which are quoted below.

“Ecology deals with the unusual relations of an organism with its environment,” Schnabel wrote, “this as a prelude to an autopsy on grass that has most cowmen shaking their heads. To understand all the relations of an organism, including maintenance with its present environment, we must follow ecological clues clear back to 250 million years ago. Man’s survival depends on finding out what started and stopped the explosive planet growth which made the fossil fuels possible.”

Almost all ecologists agree that planet Earth must have supported a thousand times more plant growth than it does today. Coal beds and oil deposits didn’t just happen. All fossil fuels have one thing in common. They are a consequence of reducing conditions. Those same conditions prevail today in water-logged soils which have produced paddy rice for a thousand years without the addition of nitrogen.

Rice paddy field

Paddy rice soils get their nitrogen from blue-green algae, the algae that forms green rice oil. In other words, biological nitrogen fixation is a purely reductive process. The plan here is that reductive conditions should be maintained around the roots of farm crops, especially grass.

Schnabel tried his theory on rye, one of the cereal grasses. He grew his crop on summit silt using simple extraction. This revealed a possible production record of 21.78 tons of dry grain per acre. This rye plant was grown with seaweed.

During a tour of the Kika de la Garza Ag Experiment Station near Westlaco, Texas, an agronomist lionized certain fertilizers but pronounced coal nearly worthless. That’s not what Charlie Schnabel’s tests indicated. He found coal and oil shale worth more as fertilizer than as fuel. As Dr. Carl Oppenheimer of Austin, Texas, has demonstrated with his blend of RNA bacteria, coal and even crankcase oil can become a source of useable carbon after these microorganisms are done with it. Investigators often create more questions than answers. What were the variables that governed record production at one spot and a completely different result a foot away? The flip answers are always available — not so easily identified are the variables that dance before our eyes.

Farmers are always on the hunt for greens that make the connection between chlorophyll and gain. They turn to alfalfa, a time-honored forage. Yet a morsel of alfalfa meal from 5 percent to 20 percent of the poultry ration ignores the kidneys. There is always a but! The principle of alfalfa is in the leaves. Accordingly a 15 percent protein crop can be fed at higher levels than alfalfa leaves with 30 percent protein.

These few asides are presented here to call into question the idea that anything green is a gift from heaven. As a matter of fact, all the vegetables have been tested, not only by Dr. Firman Bear, but by hundreds of researchers. None improved the record of alfalfa. Spinach, mustard, turnips, collard greens, and two varieties of lettuce have proved no more effective in regeneration than their respective ashes. Alfalfa proved twice as effective.

Alfalfa leaves

Simply stated, all chlorophylls are not the same — whether flat or saponins, etc., they instill biological differences in the plants so dazzlingly we are required to note in the expertise of the greatest nutritional expert on planet Earth, the cow.

It was serendipity that gave early researchers the clue that kicked open the door to the chlorophyll-vitality connection, when immature wheat and oat grass chop was accidentally fed to poultry. The immature grass-fed birds averaged 94 percent production while control birds reduced production from 45 to 32 percent during the test months. The test hens remained free from degenerative diseases.

Grass, not corn chop or silage or protein bypass, accounts for bovine health, and the grass-fed cow knows it. Even the friendly dog goes to grass when its blood needs rebuilding.

These are rules that ought to be posted on the shaving mirrors of cowmen, and cowwomen, if you will:

1. Dehydrated grasses must contain 30 percent or more protein. Lower quality grass will debilitate the animal.

2. Grasses must be cut just before they joint. Proteins and vitamins in grass peak immediately before jointing and fall rapidly after jointing.

3. Grasses must be quickly and carefully dried in order to preserve vitamins and color.

4. High protein grasses must comprise 20 percent of the ration.

5. The ration must not contain more than 3 percent meat scrap.

6. Livers previously damaged by meat scraps do not recover. Are poultry tests useful when discussing grass and pastures? They are if we are to understand the benefits and some of the shortfalls in pasture management. Simply turning poultry out in pasture is not adequate because the grasses are at the proper stage too short a time and perennial grasses hardly ever contain 20 percent protein. Even when the grass is available, few hens consume the required eight pounds of fresh grass per month on a range.

Pastures are generally populated by various species of perennials, some of which retain their reserves in the grass’s joint at different times. The bovine, as nature’s finest nutritionist, sorts out the bits best suited to maintain health and milk flow, always choosing the best unjointed grass available for its lower row of teeth.

There was a time when the bison was present in vast herds from the Great Lakes to northern New Mexico. The buffalo ate only grass and in captivity generally refused alfalfa hay. The horse, sheep, and grazing wildlife thrive indefinitely on quality fresh grass.

All these animals seem to realize the value of young grass. “They have always eaten all of it as stupidity would permit.” Charles Schnabel told this journalist. “Otherwise we would have come to biological and economic destruction long ago.”

There is irony in this. Agronomists search the globe for better crops and have untapped a full measure of the universal crop, grass. Thus all the cereals are at the bloom stage when they have lost 50 percent of their biological values.

In Unforgiven, I pointed out that the unpaid work force of an animal population alone is capable of harvesting all the untilled acres, always using its intelligence to harvest at exactly the right time if given a chance.

The definition of grass

The word grass supposedly evolved from an old Aryan root, ghra-, to grow. It is related to “grain,” “green,” “grow,” and the Latin gramen, grass.

The Oxford Dictionary gives the primary definition of grass as “herbage in general, the blades or leaves and stalks of which are eaten by horses, cattle, sheep, etc.” This ele­mental usage is reflected, for example, in the Bible (“. . . all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass”). Now, however, grass primarily refers to the natural botanical family of grasses (Gramineae or Poaceae). Grasses belong to the seed plant subkingdom (Spermatophyta) and thereunder, 1. to the subdivision of angiosperms (Angio­spermae) with rudimentary seed (ovules) enclosed in an ovary, and 2. to the class monocotyledons, the embryos of which have one seed leaf, or cotyledon.

Source: Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature