Bennett Joffrion, Claesgens, Mark A., Twidwell, Edward K., Morgan, Johnny W. | 4/16/2005 1:58:21 AM
For years, South Louisiana has been known for good food, good friends and New Orleans. That continues to be true, but now it’s also known for producing some of the best hay in the country.
Beef and forage producer Carroll Charpentier said he’s been involved with cattle since childhood and, at 68, still loves the way of life.
Charpentier and wife Yvonne own and run a 150-acre forage and beef cattle operation just below Houma in the Little Caillou community.
"I try to keep between 40 and 50 head of mama cows. And we like to use the calves in the 4-H Jr. Beef Grazing project."
Charpentier said his cattle operation consists of cross-bred Angus, and his forages consist of common bermudagrass, red clover and dallisgrass and ryegrass.
"Prior to 1991, we thought we were raising some good quality forages, but when we had our hay tested, it tested very poor. Actually, we didn’t place in the state show, and we received only a participant’s ribbon."
He knew he needed to do better, so he got in touch with his county agent. After having his soil tested, he found out what he needed to do to improve his forages.
Barton Joffrion, the LSU AgCenter county agent for Terrebonne Parish, said Charpentier is very thorough and meticulous. "You look at his operation, and you see that it’s first class," he said, adding, "He’s very open to suggestions, but he’s going to really study something before he incorporates it into his program."
By following recommendations from the LSU AgCenter, Charpentier found that increasing his nitrogen level was all that was needed to improve his forages.
The recommendations started to pay off in 1995. That year, he won the Louisiana State Hay Show. He repeated that win in 2003. Between those years he earned national recognition for winning the Best of Show at the Forage and Grassland Council’s National Hay Show in 2000.
Charpentier said he always follows LSU AgCenter recommendations for planting his forages. "We disk the ground lightly, plant the seed and then cultipack the ground. Once the grass is established, we apply nitrogen at 160 pounds per acre." He said he applies nitrogen three times during the 150-day growing season.
The procedure he follows for harvesting ryegrass hay is to cut the grass and fluff it about 24 hours later. He lets it cure a couple of days and then bales it.
"On red clover, I cut it and try to fluff it when the humidity is on it so it doesn’t knock all the leaves off. I don’t let it get too dry. It normally takes a couple of days for that to cure, and that’s when I’ll bale it."
Charpentier cuts ryegrass when it’s in the "boot" stage. He said he’s found that his hay tends to test out the best at this stage. "I try to make a second cutting about 28 or 30 days after the first cutting."
He explained that he shoots for 13 percent protein and uses all of the hay he produces. "I’m not in the business to sell hay. If I happen to grow more than I’ll need, then I can put the cows on it and let them eat it."
He follows a controlled grazing program with 75 acres of pasture and 75 acres of hayfields. He uses electric fences to divide the pasture into 25 smaller sections. This setup allows him to compete in the 4-H Beef Grazing project.
"Once we prepare and plant the land, all the kids have to do is water the animals," Charpentier said, adding, "What you do is take four calves less than a year old and at about 400 pounds and put them on 2.5 acres of ryegrass for about 150 days."
Charpentier reminds any potential grower that no matter what management practice you use, you have to be a little bit lucky, too. "It’s not uncommon for the weatherman to say no rain for the next four or five days. But, like not long ago, we got the hay cut, and before we could get it up, we got a tropical storm with 12 inches of rain."
When asked if he could think of three things that would improve his operation, he said he’s already reached his goals in the business, so he probably wouldn’t change anything. As for the uniqueness of his operation, Charpentier said that management is probably the biggest difference between his operation and others in his area.
"I’m pretty much set in my ways, but I would have never been in the position that I’m in without the help of LSU AgCenter agents Shaney Hill and Barton Joffrion. Whenever I call the AgCenter office, I get good information."
Charpentier, who grew up on a cattle farm, said that other than two years in the Army with a stint in Germany, he’s spent his entire life in Terrebonne Parish. "When I grew up, we were poor and you had to have animals to survive."
Charpentier also is the president of the local cattleman’s association.
Contacts: Barton Joffrion at (985) 873-6495 or
Ed Twidwell at (225) 578-4563 or
Writer: Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or