pasture

Doug
By Doug on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 9:45pm

I haven't seen this mentioned before, but am interested in experience/ideas others may have.  I have a few acres of land that has been mowed for a few decades and previously was used to raise livestock.  Dominant soil type is gravelly loam, but has been depleted over the years.  I would like to know how to regenerate it for pasture land on which I could graze a couple beef cows, maybe some goats.  Any ideas out there?

Doug

20 Comments

Nate's picture
Nate
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 5 2009
Posts: 461
good post

After listening to the Wichner interview regarding sustainable agriculture (especially in normally dry areas) I came away disappointed.  During the past week I have been talking with a colleague regarding replicating a tall grass prairie in California.  It's been said a tall grass prairie can add about 1 inch of topsoil per century.  The eventual goal would be to run cattle on the property without any chemical inputs. We both have property to do this on and about 1 hour before I saw this post called Prarie Moon Nursery regarding seed mixes.  They were helpful - they can put together custom blends for different soils and rainfall environments. 

http://www.prairiemoon.com/

Another friend frequently attends local grass-fed beef meetings and has told me that no one in this group strays far from traditional ranching practices. 

Sounds like a fertile field to plow...........

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
Thanks Nate

I was aware of Prairie Moon but didn't realize I could get customized seed mixes from them.

Doug

kmaher's picture
kmaher
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 5 2009
Posts: 78
From what I've read and

From what I've read and people I've spoken with, putting animals on the land with a controlled rotation and a significant rest period will revitalize a pasture quickly.  I've been doing this since the summer with some sheep and pigs and it's already obvious where I've moved the animals through.  The regrowth has been pretty good and I am definately an amateur.  Greg Judy gives a good overview of this topic in this talk of his

.  I think this is really exciting stuff.  Let us know how you do.

                 Kevin

LiamLeClair's picture
LiamLeClair
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 4 2011
Posts: 1
pasture

Great contributions! Doug, you may not have to make any amendments to the soil. You can always bring a soil sample to the local cooperative extension for analysis. They will make recomendations regarding pH and NPK additions. However, compost is always my answer for sandy or clay soils and it sounds like you are already planing on adding natural compost creators. rotation is key and consider green manure crops in the legume family. Cheers!

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
Thanks guys

Kevin, indeed, that is exciting.  Scaling it down to my small acreage is going to be a challenge.  His tip of starting with sheep makes sense.  Working with wooded acreage is a good idea too, I have more wooded land than cleared.

Liam, my soil is pretty acidic so may need to add some lime.  But, what I've noticed is that the area that stays moist because of springs grows lush grass regardless of the soil.  I would prefer to avoid fertilizers so compost sounds good.  I'm working on scaling up my composting so that I can use it for larger areas.  I've got a book entitled The Complete Compost Gardening Guide that has a lot of great ideas.

Thanks again guys, this could turn into a very educational thread.

Doug

kmaher's picture
kmaher
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 5 2009
Posts: 78
Doug, I had the chance to

Doug,

    I had the chance to talk with Greg Judy last year and he strongly suggested starting with sheep since you can have six or seven sheep for every cow you could have.  Joel Salatin has some good things on moving pigs through the forest.  I'm planning to do that as well.  I'm going to thin the forest a bit and then put the pigs in to jump start a savannah type landscape.

    I believe Greg Judy also told me that he'd seen people "mob graze" with as few as two cows.  They just kept them in a very small paddock and moved them often.  That might work well with a small number of sheep on a couple of acres.

                                                   Kevin

earthwise's picture
earthwise
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 832
Building soil

Doug,

I was/am in a similar situation as you describe: needing to build up the topsoil ina a couple of acres and not willing to wait for a century or two. My search for info led me to conclude that the process can be accelerated by simply adding organic materials to the soil surface. Many really smart people contributed to my forming this conclusion, all with variations on the basic premise, but ultimately leading to the same place: vegetative matter applied to the ground and lots of it. Composted is better and faster but non-composted is good too. This is a case where quantity is as good as quality. This can be acheived by livestock grazing, but laying down compost jumpstarts the process.

I tried to retrace my steps in my so-called 'research' , but it's been a while. I did find this link, however and I hope that it proves to be helpful to you. It has more links included within that also were helpful to me.

Good luck.

http://www.subtleenergies.com/ormus/tw/Dirt_First.htm

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
Slow food

A couple years ago I attended a "Slow Food" conference in Vermont on an old estate (may have been a Vanderbilt estate) overlooking Lake Champlain where they practice a variety of experimental agriculture methods.  Salatin spoke there as did Bill McKibben.  I had a chance to talk to  the head gardener.  He showed me a way of enclosing pigs and moving them about.  He used a portable electric fence powered by a battery and a single wire about a foot off the ground to keep in young pigs.  They would root up the ground, aerate it, fertilize it and eat every bit of vegetation (with the notable exception of burdocks, which seemed to prosper from the pigs' efforts) in the area.  Then he would simply move the pen elsewhere (although I don't know how he herded the pigs to the new site) leaving behind a very fertile plot for growing crops.  I've thought about that a lot and wished I had a chance to do the same, as you say, in my forested areas.  Maybe I will this coming year.  We should compare notes.

Doug

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
Earthwise

I've been learning that lesson myself.  One of the experiments I'm trying is making a kind of lasagna pile in my garden.  I layered grass clippings and mulched fall leaves and topped with a thin layer of soil and am letting it set over the winter.  I also grew some green manure in part of the garden over the summer, cut it down and covered it all with some rotten hay bales I found in a field.  A lot of this is based on your basic premise of putting a lot of organic matter on the soil and see what happens.  I'm going to try no till gardening in some of the areas of the garden that I've prepared.

It certainly gets the creative juices flowing.

Doug

nigel's picture
nigel
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 15 2009
Posts: 91
Start with a soil test. If I

Start with a soil test.

If I may make a suggestion you mentioned lime. Try the pelleted lime, much easier than powder for paddocks, especially if you are using a tractor and spreader.

Pay attention to the soil test for trace elements, and if you do need to fertilize then make sure you add the trace elements that your soil is deficient in. Manganese, magnesium, phosphorous and so on.

If you are going to fertilize, NPK, google what it means, but they are the big three.

If you like organic, then a manure spreader (you can get them to pull behind cars now) and a couple of tons of chicken manure. Don't forget to keep livestock off a manured paddock for about 2 months.

If the paddock is still growing, let it grow long enough to get a seed drop. Nothing improves grass like letting it drop seeds.

Have a read about SOD sowing, or direct drilling, it's where you don't plough the field but you might do a light chop with some discs and then drill in the new seeds.

The best pastures in my area are always ones where there are lots of different types of grass for the whole year. Rye, oats and clover for winter. Kykiku for summer. Throw in some fescue, a few different types of clover that grow at different times, and so on. Basically, don't go to the local produce store, find someone who runs lots of livestock on the smallest bit of land (dairy farm) and ask them what their best pasture mix is. I say don't go to the produce store because I asked for 20kg of their best pasture mix and they sent me home with 20k of rye grass. It looked a bit funny when all the seeds were the same.

If you really want to get exotic, look up lithic mulch (great for adding trace elements), and bio char. Some farmers reckon that a paddock needs to be burnt every so often, they could be right, don't see it myself but they could be.

Good luck.

PS, most farmers will let you make your own mistakes and learn from the experience, they do it out of kindness rather than cruelty, but sometimes it can seem the other way around. Oh and don't listen to anyone drinking beer. A real farmer doesn't have any money to buy beer with so doesn't drink to often. :-) Sad but true.

NZSailor's picture
NZSailor
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 4 2008
Posts: 60
Salad Bar Pasture....

Hi Doug,

I've got a video Joel Salatin did a few years ago where he talks a lot about having a whole variety of plants growing in pasture.  Good for the animals and soil.  I don't own this book but it looks like a worthwhile investment that might explain it in more detail....

http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/salad_bar_beef:paperback/associated_articles

We are slowly moving our farm towards Joel's methods and away from the superphosphate fertilizer that is so typically in use around us.

Good luck.... Chip

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 393
second the motion on Salatin

I'm reading Joe Salatin's book "The Sheer Ecstasy of a being a Lunatic Farmer" now.  CM interviewed him a little while ago.  Seems like a pretty simple system that he has developed.  His description of what he has done on his own farm is pretty amazing.  Increasing levels of fertility and amazing levels of production, no industrial farm inputs.  A truely sustainable farm.

He has 100 acres, don't know how that would scale down to a couple of acres.  He seems pretty down to earth, I bet if you contacted him, he would be willing to give you some advice.  

grassfarmer's picture
grassfarmer
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 10 2011
Posts: 4
Regenerating pasture

We have been doing management intensive grazing (MIG) for a few years now.  The concept is to put many pounds of beef in a small pasture area using electric poly wire fencing, say 12-24 hrs then moving them to the next paddock for the next time period and letting the previous areas rest for 30 days or more.  

This basically mimics the buffalo on the prairie.  Buffalo did a good job of building soil.  Size of herd does not matter, just adjust paddock size to accommodate herd size.  

First you MUST get your soil tested, I use Midwestern BioAg out of Wisconsin.  They have soils consultants on staff.  The staff is extremely knowledgable.  They specialize in balancing soil nutrients to help soil biology.  

I recommend not using university extension offices, my experience is they are primarily funded by chemical and fertilizer interests.  NItrogen, phosphorus, and potash is pretty much all they recommend with some lime added to correct soil PH.  Soil PH and NPK fertilizers are only a small part of the solution, they will usually recommend fertilizer types that typically harm soil bacteria.  

As I mentioned before proper soil nutrient balance which includes micro nutrients  are best, these feed soil bacteria and are the way to go in my experience.  

Many beef graziers will let their pasture get more mature (seed heads on grass) then start grazing.  To a long time fresh grass grazier this first sounds wasteful, but when put into practice you immediately notice the benefits.  The cows seem to stomp much of the grass into the ground, looks terrible, after a couple weeks you notice the stomped grass and manure breaking down into NEW SOIL!  Worms come back! Over time  Lots of worms!  The best fertilizer you can get!  Wonderful process, if done properly you can build 1 inch soil per 3-5 years or less.  

My first step would be soil test, then apply recommended soil amendments as you can afford them.  Also this system takes time to learn (weather, grass recovery, herd health, are all variables) you WILL make mistakes, just keep after it and the results will come.  Sun shines, grass grows, cows eat grass, we eat beef, can't get much more sustainable than that.

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
Concensus wins

OK, first task is to get soil tested.  Would you guys suggest sending in a sample mixed from various parts of the property or just a sample of an area I consider representative of the whole?

Doug

grassfarmer's picture
grassfarmer
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 10 2011
Posts: 4
soil testing

You need to wander around your property and take samples from the first 12 inches in depth,  we use a soil probe. Before we had probe I took shovel put it through sod into soil, opened ground and scraped the side of hole to get sample, make sure you get a sample from top to bottom. Approx 10 samples per acre, put all samples in 5 gal bucket and mix. take around a cup or two of mixed soil put in ziplock, and send sample to reputable soil lab. cost will be approx $30 for a proper test which will tell you or your soil consultant all you/they need to know. preferrably no more than 20 acres per sample.

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2771
testing

grassfarmer wrote:

You need to wander around your property and take samples from the first 12 inches in depth,  we use a soil probe. Before we had probe I took shovel put it through sod into soil, opened ground and scraped the side of hole to get sample, make sure you get a sample from top to bottom. Approx 10 samples per acre, put all samples in 5 gal bucket and mix. take around a cup or two of mixed soil put in ziplock, and send sample to reputable soil lab. cost will be approx $30 for a proper test which will tell you or your soil consultant all you/they need to know. preferrably no more than 20 acres per sample.

I'd like to thank everyone for your advice and opinions.  Now I can't wait for spring to really get my hands in the soil.  In the meantime I need to get some fencing, the soil tested and upping the composting.  This thread has been very educational.

Doug

SPAM_kd6iwd@gmail.com's picture
SPAM_kd6iwd@gma...
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 17 2011
Posts: 12
grassland improvement and soil development

The Savory Institute has a good website devoted to the science of soil management and grazing animals. They have impressive accomplishments in improving the soil in desert areas by intensive grazing designed to mimic the behavior of large herds of herbivors. This stimulates soil development and grass growth. The website gives most of the pertinant information so I will not repeat it here.

Best Regards

Jim

AndyR's picture
AndyR
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 27 2012
Posts: 10
Depletion

Its important to understand that in natural systems everything cycles.  The reson soils become depleted is that the cycle is interrupted and the nutrients are removed from the soil.  There is a fixed amount of some elements like phosphorous, kallium and calcium in the soil.  These have been mined by the pasture and then removed as hay, beef or milk etc.  If you want to restore depleted soils you will need to return these elements.  Grazing with livestock does cycle nutrients, until you remove the livestock then the nutrients are gone, eventually flushed out to sea.  

To create a sustainable pasture all the nutrients that come off the pasture must be returned to the pasture, through sheep, cow or humane manure.  

Cover crops can add carbon to the soil, which they have created by cracking CO2 and H2O through photosythises.  Legumeous plants also aquire some of their nitrogen from the air (but not all).  This can be added to the soil by grazing or green manuring.  But essentially these are the only elements that can be added to the pasture by grazing, rotational or otherwise.

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1844
Reversing Desertification Via Intensive Rotational Grazing

Came across this sweet little TED Talk video presentation by Allan Savory.

I think this should be right up your alley.

Allan Savory: How To Green The World's Deserts And Reverse Climate Change (February/March 2013)

http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html

Or if you want to watch directly on YouTube:

Poet

kmaher's picture
kmaher
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 5 2009
Posts: 78
Poet,     Thanks for this

Poet,

    Thanks for this post on Alan Savory.  One of the most promising ideas out there in my opinion.

                                                                        Kevin

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments