Strolling Through the Pasture April 2013

The pictures in this post are about a week old and are already out of date.  This week we have highs in the 70’s and good chances for rain each evening.  You can almost watch the grass grow right now.

I am grazing my cows on remaining stockpile.  Mostly though, I’m packing them into a small area and feeding them hay.  I’m pushing carbon into the soil mostly on countour to the hill slope.  Will it work?  Well…it should.  We’ll see.  Maybe you’ll see the difference in the pasture over the next few years.

Normally I start taking pictures as I leave the house.  I’ll start todays’ walk by the horse barn instead.  Last month I took a picture of a down locust tree in a sea of fescue nubbins.  We burned the tree then overseeded with clover, orchardgrass, timothy and two kinds of rye grass and here’s what it looks like now (though the camera is pointed more to the right).

AprilPasture1

The horses ate it down to the nubbins but it’s coming back well and it’s coming back with additional diversity.  The real miracle here was that the horses showed me around 20 or so honey locust saplings.  BTW, the picture above is almost the same shot as the one in this picture.  I’ve cut a lot of hedge in the last year.  There is a lot more to cut…and this is just one of my hedge forests.  Many of the stumps are sprouting so I’ll have an ongoing supply of thorns and firewood in 5-10 years.  Also, a pair of rabbits are living in the brush pile we built last year, though I only see them when I am out walking at night.

AprilPasture2

The plan is to allow this to sit idle until July or so.  Once the drought hits I’ll have a stockpile of grass for the cows to tromp and eat through.  There are about 2 acres here.  With luck, that will be just the bridge I need to allow my main pastures to recover fully.  Then we’ll graze this again over the winter.  Next year we’ll allow a different patch of land to go.  This builds up carbon over time, allows ground-nesting birds to have a home and helps us keep our cows fat.

AprilPasture3The top of the hill was also grazed by the horses but not as intensively.  It’s still a thick mass of fescue but was well pounded by running, playing horses and heavily manured.  Good enough.

AprilPasture4But there are still clumps of moss growing on the North face of the hill.  Where there is moss there is not grass.  Where there are hooves there is no moss.  I need more hooves…more pressure…to allow the grass to compete.

AprilPasture5On the topic of hedge, below the cemetery I cut out a single hedge tree that fell over and continued growing.  One tree, laying on its side, killing grass over a 40′ circle.  This tree was the source of the pile of wood featured in a recent Facebook post.  There is still an equal amount of wood waiting for me to cut now.  I have opened up more area for grazing and rid myself of a sick tree but cost myself small game habitat.  That’s why I build brush piles.  Quail and rabbits need shelter.  If I won’t allow dead and dying trees to create that shelter naturally I have to do it myself.  I also can’t continue cutting out undesirable trees without replacing them with something else or planning for their regrowth .  More on that in a future post.

AprilPasture6

The cows grazed their way through the bottom in January.  There wasn’t much out there for them to eat as it was a serious weed patch, as was most of the pasture before we began.  We spent an afternoon pulling sprouts out with a tractor last winter.  This year it was just graze and let it grow.  It’s growing.  But I’ll need some pressure to keep the weeds at bay and give the grasses a competitive advantage.  To be honest, I’m a little worried.  Goldenrod, ragweed and burrdock are clearly dominant down here.  I don’t want it to look like this:

AprilPasture7There’s a little wedge of pasture West of our house by the road.  When you come to our farm, this is what you see.  Looks great, doesn’t it?  I need to get a tractor in there to pull out the snags and rip out the sprouts but the whole thing is a thorny mess.  Just like the bottom used to be.  It’s an awful lot like work.  I try to let the cows do as much of it as I can.

AprilPasture8The pigs are in their final pasture position before shipping on Tuesday.  You can see the kind of disturbance they create.  That’s what we hire them to do.  Right now I’m not grinding their feed.  Among other things, they get cracked corn, roasted soybeans and whole oats.  The oats are still whole when they come back out.  In a few weeks I’ll have a rich, strong stand of oats on my slope for the cows to graze through…thanks to the pigs plowing, manuring and seeding.

AprilPasture9The layer flock is in the same fence with the broilers on the alfalfa field.  You can see an outline in the picture above showing where the chicken tractor had been moments before.  The layers rush in to scratch through the manure and to gobble up any feed the broilers wasted.  Both this and the neighbor’s alfalfa fields look purple right now from all the henbit blooms (and buzzing with bees).  The hens bit the henbit here.  None of it is left within the fenced area.  The alfalfa is nibbled back but recovers quickly.  Doing this may be risky in terms of the lifetime of the alfalfa stand but we not only get 4 cuttings of alfalfa here, we also get 500 chickens per acre and …I don’t even know how many dozen eggs, not to mention the fertility the birds put back into the soil.  Am I hurting my alfalfa stand?  I really don’t think so.

AprilPasture10Back to the cows.  Molly is chewing here cud in the sunlight.  Life is good.  You can see the distant hillside still recovering from the pigs who were there until October or November.  I see this less as a problem and more as a matter of time.  There is manure, carbon, seeds and living plant roots out there.  With help from cow hooves I’m sure the scars will heal quickly.  I present the grass in the foreground as evidence.  Those same pigs were there in August.  The cows aren’t scheduled to return to the cemetery hill until late May or even June.

AprilPasture11Mostly fescue but it’s growing.  There is a fair amount of clover mixed in as well.  We’ll get there.

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2 thoughts on “Strolling Through the Pasture April 2013

  1. I really need to take the camera and do what you’ve done. We have very neglected pastures. They were previously cut for hay but are loaded with briars and weeds. Some good grass but at this point we’re not sure what all is there. Thanks for the info!

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