- Plant lifespan. Even perennial grasses have a lifespan. As a selling point, a blurb in a seed catalog may mention that a particular variety doesn't need to be reseeded for so many years.
- Usage. The best quality hay is cut before it goes to seed. Some farmers plow and plant for hay annually.
- Natural changes. Permaculturists will mention succession, the ecological concept which describes the changes in any given landscape over the years. This is very observable as new plants (often designated "weeds") spring up frequently, while other plants disappear.
- Livestock. Adding livestock such as goats will change the equation too. Goats will eat down what they love so that it cannot perpetuate itself. This is why rotational grazing is important, which points to having enough fenced areas to allow browse areas to rest, as well as knowing how many animals our land can support.
For homesteaders like Dan and me, the question of fitting a self-sustaining pasture into our overall goal of self-sufficiency is an important one. It means not only grazing and foraging for our critters, but hay as well. Having to buy tons of hay or hundreds of pounds of pasture and forage seed every several years doesn't suit, but then, trying to collect and save that much seed doesn't either!
Toward that end I've done some experimenting. For example, I've tried to let wheat reseed itself (see the entry for "winter wheat" in my June 2012 "Around The Homestead" post), and I've tried spot seeding bare areas with annual rye seed last fall (see "Winter Pasture"). While I was mucking out the goat shed the other day I had another idea.
Usually the barn cleanings go to making compost piles. This is great for the garden, but I also end up with things growing from seeds that didn't decompose. As I was dumping the wheelbarrow, I wondered why I couldn't just spread it over an area in the pasture. It would add manure and, perhaps, the seeds from the hay would sprout and grow in a place we wanted them to.
|Spread barn cleanings, can you see them? Corn stubble|
still remains at right. The buck barn is in the background.
Because seeds need to contact soil to grow, I rake back the leaves before spreading the hay and manure. When the wheelbarrow is empty, I rake up the leaves and use them as mulch in the garden.
|Three Speckled Sussex hens looking for goodies to eat.|
Of course, the chickens think this is all very grand. As soon as they see me spreading, they come running and happily scratch around. Because of that I wonder if anything will grow at all. The chickens may very well find and eat all the grass seeds I'm hoping will sprout. I have to remind myself that even if they do the land will benefit from the manure and wasted hay, which will add organic matter. And of course the chicken will benefit from having something to eat. There is no waste, no matter the outcome.
In a couple of months I will spot seed the bare places in all our pastures. I will use boughten seed, but I will still ponder how to maintain it with the means available on our own homestead. As with everything we do, it's trial and error, research, and try again. It's all one step at a time.
Related pasture posts:
- Two Soil Tests, A Comparison (the differences between a test from the cooperative extension service and a private soil testing service).
- Pasture Improvement, Phase 1: Preparing the Land
- Pasture Improvement, Phase 2: Remineralizing Our Soil
- Soil Remineralization Year 2
More Experiments in Sustainable Pasture © January 2014