October 22, 2012

Pasture Improvement Phase 2: Remineralizing Our Soil

At long last I can finally follow up on a post I wrote last March, "Pasture Improvement Phase 1". The goal has been to begin to improve the poor soil and forage in our fields, and establish a diversified, healthy browse area that will provide both pasture and hay.

In my "phase 1" post, I showed you how Dan scraped hundreds of sapling trees, blackberry vines, and poison ivy from that field. Later, I shared the results of two soil tests we had done. After that, it was simply a matter of finding the recommended soil amendments, tilling them in, and planting. Or so I hoped.

If I had wanted chemical fertilizers, I could have bought them easily at any local garden center. But I was looking for bulk dolomite, rock phosphate, sul-po-mag, manganese sulfate, cobalt sulfate, and boron, needing enough to treat half an acre. My problem was that none of this was available locally.

Just last week I was finally able to get the last of everything we needed. I eventually found dolomite in 40# bags at Lowes. My local feed store was able to order 28# bags of rock phosphate for me. Due to cost however, I was only able to get the minimum recommendation, which is about half the phosphorous our soil really needs. Everything else I had to order from out of state. The hardest one to track down was the cobalt sulfate. Even though I only needed 2.5 ounces, it is important for my goats. They need cobalt to synthesize vitamin B12.  I finally was able to order it from a pottery and ceramics supply house, because it is used for blue glazes.

On Dan's next day off, we measured everything according to the soil report recommendations...


... mixed ....


.... and broadcast the mixture over the field. These minerals will not only improve soil and plant health, but hopefully our goats's health as well. It is so much better for them to get their minerals from forage, rather than from packaged mineral supplements or mineral blocks.

The next day our neighbor came to till it in.

Hard to see in the sun and shadows, but that's him, toward the upper left

Tilling was important because some of the amendments are water soluble. If they hadn't been worked into the soil, the first heavy rain would have washed them all down the hill.


After that, we planted: pasture grasses, legumes, herbs, even root crops to feed the goats and improve the soil. For winter forage, I planted wheat, oats, annual rye, and Austrian winter peas. Because it's feasible in our climate, a winter pasture is a must in my thinking. Goats crave fresh forage in the winter. Another plus is that we'll need less stored hay.

Until the pasture is well established, we have to keep out the chickens and goats. The chickens especially, would love to eat all my seed.

Routing the chickens to another area with a bit of rabbit fence.

For the chickens, a short length of rabbit fence was run between the chicken gate and the gate to the front pasture. For the goats, something sturdier is a must.

What are they looking at? Riley, who is always an object
of great interest. Who is Riley? Click here to find out.

Dan ran a few t-posts into the ground and wired cattle panels to it. This corridor gives the girls access to the old corn and cowpea field from the goat shed.

This is a huge project checked off the to-do list. One that is a vital step toward feeding our animals from our land. We will tackle the other pasture areas, one at a time, with the same goal in mind. For now, I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief that this one is done. The only thing left to do is pray for gentle rains and watch it grow.

© October 2012 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

26 comments:

  1. Oh, gosh, I am so glad I read this. I have been thinking about our necessary pasture improvements, too... we have one whole area that is failing. I'll send some soil samples off so we can start our search.. thanks for the info!

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  2. Whew! That is a biggie! Congrats! I love that you planted root crops along with the more typical fare. I had the idea to plant some kale and pumpkin seeds in our chicken and goat fields as an additional treat for them. Plus, I think it would be fun to see those things growing all wild-like among the weeds :)
    -Jaime

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  3. Sweet! That's a HUGE check mark. Can't wait to see the results!

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  4. Mary Ann, if you want recommendations for organic soil ammendments, I recommend Kinsey Ag soil testing services. It costs $50 for a standard test, and I paid an extra $10 to test for cobalt. They give recommendations in organic or conventional. I can't recommend them enough!

    Jaime, I first got the idea from Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. I noticed Gene Logsdon talks about it too, in All Flesh Is Grass. It just makes so much sense, especially for goats!

    Tami, me too! Now's the temptation to worry however. Will it rain enough? Will it rain too much? Will the temps be just right? Did we do it right? I'm on pins and needles, LOL

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  5. I admire the work you put into having the best field for your animals. Looking forward to seeing it in spring!

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  6. Very impressive! Praying and crossing fingers that you have huge success with this :)

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  7. it looks as if the goats are already watching out for the new growth:) I don't have pasture, but I think most of my buckwheat seeds for groundcover were eaten by birds:( I could count the plants that came up in that area - from quite a large bag of fresh seeds:( which meant that I had to cover it again with plastic for autumn/winter, to keep the weeds from spreading:(

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  8. Martha, we have to. Our soil is so very poor, and the overgrowth from neglect was horrific. In the end, it's their health that dictated it. They simply aren't in top condition on what they eat here, and that was my main concern.

    Stephanie, thanks! Prayers appreciated. :)

    Bettina, I've had mixed success with buckwheat too. In the areas I get it established, I love it! Its attractive and it reseeds itself easily. :)

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  9. Ok. Ok. Now WE'RE going to have to soil test. I have been so busy getting the place cleaned up, but if I want a field to provide forage, I need to know what is under it.

    Thanks! As always, you and Dan provide clarity.

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  10. Wow, it seems like yesterday that you were sharing phase 1 with us.

    I'm sure it is a good feeling to get all of those goodies into the ground.

    I got a kick out of the goats all looking in the same direction at the cat, probably wishing that they could be 'out and about' doing their thing too!

    Have a lovely week! xo

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  11. Will you re-test the soil in a year or two to see how your efforts are working and if anything needs changing?
    It's certainly an important aspect of growing anything. Depleted soils even affect our veggies and other "people" crops as well as forage crops.
    Goats have such funny personalities and make it enjoyable to watch their antics.

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  12. Barb, I would recommend Kinsey Ag for the soil test if you want organic soil amendments. I'd also highly recommend Neil Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy. It explains the entire philosophy behind the remineralization method. He backs it up with results, which is the most convincing argument of all.

    Sherri, time flies! The goats are a hoot. Ziggy in particular never passes up an opportunity to give Riley a good head butt!

    Nina, it's recommended to follow through with repeat soil testing for at least 3 years. Since we are moving on to another area, I'm not sure if I'll be able to get this one retested next year or not. Maybe we'll just make the rounds and test one or two a year for awhile.

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  13. Wow. That's a lot of research & perseverance. congratulations. Can't wait to see how everything does.

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  14. Well done, you! That's a MAJOR improvement, one that will give benefits for years to come. Chiot's Run (another blogger - I don't want to plop a link in your comments, but you can easily Google) says that the most important thing you can grow is your soil. Get it right, and the rest will follow.

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  15. There's nothing like crossing things off the list, eh? Especially something this large! Those are some lucky goats!

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  16. You and Dan continue to amaze me with your organized way of doing most everything. I can't wait to see that field in abundant growth!

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  17. I hope you get a bumper crop. Do you know if you'll continue to need to improve this soil or are there things you can plant or do so that you're not having to work so hard for it?
    I am pretty sure that the reason we can't really get grass in our back yard is that it is planted with shade loving grass seed. But we have pretty bad soil on the yard too. sigh.

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  18. DFW, everything growing on the property is yellowed from nitrogen deficiency and purple from phosphorous deficiency. We had to do something!

    Debbie, I surely hope so. Yes, I'm familiar with Chiot's Run and have gleaned a very good tidbit or two. :)

    Badgerpendous, it's huge! Of course we have a few more to go, but this was the worst one so it's a start.

    Janice, me too! It was certainly a long enough time coming.

    Renee, thanks. It's recommended that we have follow-up soil tests for three years. Even with nothing being done, soil tends toward an acid pH, so this at least has to be monitored. Some of the minerals will last for years, but plants will utilize them and the goat will eat the plants. They'll give back to it with manure too! Bad soil is tough, but not impossible. :)

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  19. We have a similar situation with some of the land we just purchased. But rather than purchase all of the minerals and till it in, and then sow in new seed as well, we will be trying Greg Judy's process for healing pastures. It involves using grazing animals that you already want to purchase or have (for us it would be a steer and a couple of goats), in a high density grazing pattern. This is the technique that the Japanese use on their incredibly small farms, and it works great. It's too much to explain everything here, but you section off very small grazing areas with electric fencing/netting, and then move as they eat off the existing vegetation. The pulling effect on the plants, soil disturbance with hooves, and their dung will do all of this work for you. If you have area that doesn't have grass or anything at all on it, that's okay. You still section it off and either roll out some cheap grass hay in large bale form, or throw out hay from square bales (again, the cheapest you can buy) all over the section so that they 'graze it'. They'll eat the hay, which has seeds in it, and broadcast with their dung. By doing this, the earthworms and dung beetles will till in the nutrients for you. (This will re-establish your dung beetle population!) I plan to use a steer and a couple of goats. The steer will do the fertilization/mineralization of the field, and the goats will provide friendship for the steer and eat down the weeds that the steer doesn't want. You "kill two birds with one stone" with this method: You heal and reseed the pasture and soil, plus you raise the animals that you want too. You'll also be surprised that as the PH levels of the soil begin to come back, where they are suppose to be, that you'll have good grazing grass and legumes come back that you never knew were there! He's got a book too, that explains all of this in detail, if you want to check it out. It's called "Comeback Farms" by Greg Judy. You can get it from the Stockman Grass Farmer's magazine site. They have the best price for it.

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  20. Anonymous, sounds very interesting and I'd like to read more. Right now, were committed to the Albrecht method, and will likely see that through on this field at least. We have several more to go.

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  21. You can't go wrong following William Albrecht. I wish I had just a 10th of the knowledge that man had!

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  22. He was truly an amazing man. I learned about him from Neal Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy, are you familiar with it? That's where we get our soil testing done. And did you know there is a collection of William Albrecht's writings on the internet? If you haven't seen it, it's here.

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  23. I wasn't aware that his writings were available like that. Thanks for the link though! I plan to use it for sure. I found out about Mr. Albrecht as a kid, as I was raised on an organic farm. I still remember my Mom and Dad explaining to new customers what the word "organic" meant, as most people then had never heard of it before. We used horse-drawn equipment too and raised nearly everything we ate. 'I was a homesteader, when homesteading wasn't cool'... LOL! :-) I'm 40 years old now, and my wife and I just purchased our first home on about 21 acres of land, with about 8 of those acres being wooded. We plan to turn it into a self-sustaining homestead, much like I lived on as a child. Good luck to you and your family, and I wish you best in your endeavors!

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  24. Best wishes to you as well. Congratulations on your acreage and thanks for sharing a little of your story and the information. All much appreciated. Oh! And if you ever decide to start a blog, let me know. :)

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  25. Dave and I always wanted to do this but ran out of time. He did, anyway. It's important to know...east of the Mississippi the soil is depleted of selenium, totally, or so I've been told. It's important for kids and lambs, probably calves, etc. to have selenium supplemented upon birth.

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  26. Very good point about the selenium. And it was something our soil wasn't tested for, so I just assume it's deficient.

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