December 27, 2016

Hope For the Pasture?

After last summer's heat and drought I thought we'd lost our pastures. Every one of them was dry and brown by autumn, with no grazing for any of our grazing critters: goats, chickens, or ducks.

One of our two paddocks for the does. Even though there
is no green forage, they've been on acorn hunts every day.

It's pretty discouraging to think we'd have to start over, especially since that's a far cry from my original goal to work on soil and forage improvement in a rotating manner, focusing on one area per year. It seemed as though all our work was for naught.

Rain at the end of November and throughout December finally moistened our hard parched soil. That meant time to start working on the pastures again. I bought seed and conferred with Dan. We had a lot to do. Imagine my delight,  then, to be walking through the doe pasture on my way to feed the bucks and to see this.


Grass is starting to grow again! I thought my pasture was completely dead! I planted cool weather orchard grass a couple years ago and it looks to be making a comeback. I started looking around and also found -


clumps of seedlings! Trouble is, I don't know what these are yet: from seed I planted? from random seeds in the barn mulch? from weeds I'm trying to get rid of?

I also found some yarrow that had survived.

Yarrow that survived the summer heat and drought.

I don't just plant pasture forage (grasses and legumes), I also plant herbs, root crops, greens, etc.

The girls inspect dead echinacea stalks and seed heads
before I scatter the seeds. Jessie (white one) ate a few.

One unwanted that survived the summer was several patches of ground ivy.

Ground ivy (Creeping Charlie). A little weather worn from the cold, but alive.

This stuff almost completely took over the doe pasture two summers ago (click here to see how the pigs helped with that). In my research I read that it is sensitive to soil boron, and that an application of borax can deter it.

Used as a source of boron for both soil and goats.

I tested this idea last summer along a fence where ground ivy was growing and discovered that it was true. Instructions in this article say to make a solution of it and spray it on. I couldn't get it to dissolve, so I lightly dusted the ground ivy with borax right out of the box. Sure enough, it died back where I'd sprinkled the borax.

The problem with the borax treatment is that other plants can be sensitive to boron as well, which could create barren areas in the pasture. On the other hand, if the ground ivy takes over again I could lose the entire pasture again. Hopefully I'll just kill off the ground ivy and the rest will thrive. My soil is actually boron deficient. This comes up in soil tests and in the goats. Lack of boron in goats causes joint problems which can be detected by a "clicking" of the knees. When that happens I start adding borax to their feed, "as much borax as will adhere to the tip of the finger" according to Pat Coleby. That clears up the problem.

Even with new growth appearing I will still spot seed bare areas and mulch as much as I can. It's time to clean out the doe barn so I'll plant and mulch the barest areas with a deer and turkey forage mix of wheat oats, and Austrian winter pea, plus some brassicas and other herbs and greens.

The light areas are where I've replanted and topped with barn mulch
(an idea inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution).

January and February are typically our coldest months so I probably won't get much growth until early spring. But at least it wasn't as bad as I feared, and I'm thankful for that.

Hope For the Pasture? © December 2016 

30 comments:

Goatldi said...

Leigh do you have native grasses? Here in our area we have them aplenty. In fact when you visit my blog and take a look at all the green from the blessed rain we have had in the last month or so that is all native. Of course when summer hits since we don't irrigate it goes brown.

But with the solar and the amount of land (42 acres) irrigating isn't an option. I have given thought to seeding the areas the goats and chickens are in when we are lush with rain and seeing what happens. You have given me some good ideas and I am so glad that things are better off than you first thought!

Leigh said...

That sounded like a really good idea so I started doing some research. I found several informational PDFs and a couple of sites selling seed for native grasses for the SE. But yikes, the prices! Seeding rate for a mix is recommended at 18 pounds per acre. One seller has it on sale for $600 for 25 pounds! Regular price $900. Another site offered 25 pounds for $850. Or I found a site that offers individual seed at an average price of $200 for 5 pounds. Kind of knocking me out of the box at the moment. :(

Dani said...

We have a drought at the moment - it is so bad. We have had to buy in hay for the alpacas - oat and barley. Thank goodness the local farmers sell their "left overs" - don't know where we'd be without it...

Renee Nefe said...

Glad to see that the pasture is "Not Dead Yet!" (part of a song from Spamalot. ;) unfortunately, the puns and musical references fly around here.

Jason and Michelle said...

I'm glad you have something growing. Ivy is horrible.its as bad as blackberry plants.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Exciting stuff Leigh! Our pastures were in horrible shape and now after having livestock on them, rotating livestock, seeding, etc etc we hope to see results this spring. it's hard work to grow decent pastures, took us twenty years to get right on the old place, hopefully our learning curve here will be less steep.

Goatldi said...

Wow the prices. We have what grows on its own. No seeding needed. However our property is part of a very large acreage cattle ranch from the late 1800's. And we are surrounded by thousands of existing acres of free range cattle. So we have the advantage of "self seeding and fertilizing " as it was. I wonder if you couldID the grasses as they may come up as your place greens up?

Leigh said...

The prices! I know! I need to find some good ID sources and start looking around to collect my own seed. One of the sources did say that our wiregrass is a native. The only one I have and the very invasive thing I'm trying to get rid of! If the goats loved it that would be one thing, but they aren't fans. An occasional bite here and there is okay, but anytime I give them wiregrass hay they look at me as if to say, "Is that all you've got?"

Leigh said...

Being able to get oat and barley hay is great, Dani! Dan and I were discussing hay last night, and we may need to rent a moving truck and make a trek to get a huge load of hay. It's worth it to have good quality hay (something I have a hard time finding around here).

Leigh said...

"Spamalot," oh no! LOL

Leigh said...

Sounds like you need goats! LOL They'll bring that stuff under control in a hurry.

Leigh said...

Oh Donna, I hope you write some good blog posts on this topic! I hate to think that it will take us that long, so any tips to help get us there will be appreciated!

Mark said...

It's wonderful that you can get some indication of growth of December! We warmed up just enough to get rid the snow we had, so now it's clear frozen ground. The chickens, at least, appreciate that. More snow on the way tomorrow, which is also good since we'll have the granddaughters Thursday-Saturday and they love to go sledding with Papa.

Mrs Shoes said...

You're so lucky to live in a climate where you can grow & manage all year round....
Our growing season can be quite short, and winters are bitter - pasture management is a bit more tricky when 5 months has them frozen, a month or two under water for the melt, then summer hits.
I am amazed & impressed with what you're able to do on 5 acres - Good on you!!
So happy to have found your blog this year (have become a regular reader)!

Saundra said...

Boron will dissolve in boiling water. It will stay in solution for a few hours. That way you have better control, by spraying the weeds, and reducing 'drift.' I live in a boron rich area of CA so I attack the same weeds with vinegar. Regards, Sandy L Love your blog.

Kev Alviti said...

Grass takes some killing, It can be wet here for months but it still comes back!
I'm planning on trying to stop weeds creeping into certain areas next year and I think I'm going to do it with a band of comfrey around my plot. I'm thinking 4ft wide will stop anything trying to grow accross it and I'll be able to use it for mulch and making comfrey tea in the veg garden. thats the plan anyhow!

Lynda D said...

I dont have any intelligent advice or experience so i'll just say you have a lovely covering of mulch. Well Done. I have hundreds of tomato plants coming up everywhere at the moment, my weeds look a little different to yours.

Goatldi said...

I have been buying my hay in large amounts for a long time. One find someone you can trust who grows and knows their stuff. Find someone who will load on site. I know it is very different in all regions of the country but I think some things are just important no matter where. I try to buy hay twice or three times a year in the Spring (prefer second cutting or first) then again around late summer. If need be late fall. This is alfalfa which I know not everyone can get elsewhere. And it is large bales 120 lb. When I had a large herd 50+ animals my hay guy would deliver retriever loads and I would have him set it on pallets and we tarped. Then we moved twice and had a hay barn in both places. Ask me how much I HATE tarping hay.

Leigh said...

Around here they advertising 60 lb as "large." LOL And most of what is on offer is somebody just baling a weedy neglected field and then calling it cow quality hay. But this is not a truly agricultural area. Most jobs are in manufacturing, and their farming sense seems to have long been laid aside. Several times I've gotten hay so bad the goats wouldn't touch it. Mostly what is available is fescue or bermuda. Alfalfa is imported and runs about $17 a square bale. Now sellers are tending to want to sell a minimum amount, which makes me all the more reluctant to buy.

I go for the big round bales rather than the small squares. I don't have a feeder for the rounds, I just tear them down. The tight ones are a bit of work but the price savings is huge: $10 for a 60 lb square versus $65 for an 800 lb round. Trouble is, we can only get one round on Dan's pick-up. Until the Little Barn we had no place to keep more than one round at a time, anyway. We made a large enough hay storage to hold six rounds, although we have no way to transport that many!

Leigh said...

Mark, good to hear from you! I used to love to go sledding! Ice skating too, but we never get to do that. Your grandkids will love it!

Leigh said...

Only until summer hits, LOL.

We're still trying to manage our five acres in a way that we feel is productive and nurturing to the land, but it's a struggle. That's one of the reasons Dan can't wait to get the house done - it takes a lot of time to do the repairs and upgrades. They are necessary, but it's always a balancing act and the scales always seem to be tipped one way or another.

Leigh said...

Thanks! I tried hot water but not boiling water. Spray would certainly get it on the target weeds better than a sprinkle. It's not a huge concern because as I said, we're boron deficient. OTOH, I don't want areas of accumulation!

Leigh said...

Kev, that sounds like a great idea. I will be watching to see how it works! Sadly, I think I lost all my comfrey last summer. It really doesn't like our heat and I couldn't keep everything watered well enough so I know I'll have a lot of losses next year. :(

Leigh said...

Lynda, your tomatoes are amazing, especially your wall! And it's interesting how weeds can vary so much, isn't it? My dad actually likes the ground ivy because when it takes over the lawn he doesn't have to mow it, LOL. Actually, I think it's an attractive little plant and if the goats would eat it I'd be happy to have it. It's supposed to curdle milk as a vegetable rennet, so I need to try that next year.

Kev Alviti said...

The is a type delevoped for drier conditions as well not sure where you'd get it though.

Leigh said...

Do you have the scientific name for it? I can get three strains (that I know of): Symphytum officinale, Bocking 4, or Bocking 14. I planted true in my hedgerow and will have to wait and see if it survived. I originally started out with 25 Bocking 4 crowns, 25 more the following year, but have had trouble keeping them alive. :(

withhimalone said...

I miss my goats so much, they are such funny little critters. *big smile* Thank you for sharing about the grass seed you selected as well as the borax at work for being a weed killer. I appreciate it. In our new place, we have a lot of goats heads - weeds with very pokey seeds. They are dreadful! I will have to try to use the borax in the rod beds that are already here and maybe plant a new back yard in the spring. We have three dogs and two growing blessings ages eleven and nine who use the back yard a lot then the pokey seeds come in on the carpet and hurts our feet in the evenings. Have a great day. Sincerely, Mommy of two growing blessings & so much more!

M.K. said...

I really believe that nature recovers in almost all situations, and that even a serious drought won't keep those seeds from coming up :) I've worried about my chicken yard. They have cleared it down to dirt. I do wonder if it will every come back -- but some of that new greenery is seeds that blow in and germinate. Good news for all of us!

Leigh said...

We're getting a nice bit of rain right now so we'll see if the borax works! Most sites say it will kill the ground ivy but not the grass. I hope that's the case!

Leigh said...

I agree, although it doesn't always recover as we'd like or even in a predictable way.

Chickens are really hard on the ground! Useful sometimes, but I agree their yards always look so barren. We do rotate the pasturing of ours, assuming they cooperate. :)