March 5, 2012

Pasture Improvement Phase 1: Preparing the Land

I know I mention this frequently, but our place had been uninhabited and badly neglected for a number of years before we bought it. At one time someone must have kept livestock, but the fences have long since been knocked down by trees and rusted to nearly nothing. The property was maintained somewhat after the last owner passed away. We learned that the heirs, all out of state, asked each of the neighbors to mow a particular area of the place. Those who'd been asked to mow the front yard and acre to the west of the house, did so regularly. The one who'd been asked to mow the acre on the east side, just kept a strip mowed along the property line. A lot grew up in it during those years, so for us to make the best use of it means a lot of work. The overgrowth made a browse paradise for goats however, so this was the first area we fenced.

The field after we first got it fenced

This might have been okay for quite awhile, until we had problems with our septic system and needed a new leach field dug. That devastated the vegetation in the center stretch of the field.

The field after the leach field was made

When we did an annual master plan analysis, we decided to divide this field in half, using one part for growing grain, the other as pasture/hay for the goats. Of this part, we now had a huge bare spot at one end, 1000s of saplings at the other end, and a sea of poison ivy in the middle. We had our work cut out for us. This wasn't just going to be pasture maintenance or improvement, it was going to be pasture establishment. Before we could get to that however, we had two considerations: what to do with the goats in the meantime, and how to do it, because we don't have a farm tractor.

For the goats, we fenced in the acre west of the house, which had more grass. In fact our first year with goats, Dan cut it with his scythe to use as hay. For the tractor, all we could do was try to find one that fit our budget. We had a certain amount of savings when we bought the place, but of course that rapidly got invested in things like a roof for the house and fencing for the goats. Before it was all gone we looked at tractors.

Dan looked at used tractors for awhile, but was discouraged by their condition. Not to mention folks seemed to think their pile of junk was worth a gold mine. He finally found a Gravely two wheeled tractor that he really liked. It came with all the attachments and was in our price range, but the seller couldn't get it running. Rather than spend all that money on a nonfunctional piece of equipment in the hopes he could get it running, he passed. Next we looked into rentals, but discovered no one rents tractors. We discussed hiring someone to do it, but being a DIY kind of guy, Dan finally decided the best thing to do was to rent a skid loader. That way he could scrape away the saplings and vines.

Just getting started, a.k.a. "before"

Goats are more curious than brave when it comes to noisy things

Actually, this is not something Dan or I would have thought of doing. We were thinking of a more farmish approach, i.e. deep plowing. We were stumped when we could neither rent one, nor knew anyone who had the right attachment. It was the books we were reading that gave us the idea. Dan was reading Sepp Holzer's Permaculture, in which Herr Holzer describes using various excavators and other heavy equipment to create his now famous permaculture farm, Der Krameterhof. At the same time, I was reading Jeanne Marie Laskas' Fifty Acres And A Poodle. Their acreage was overgrown with wild roses, which they had scraped from the land in order to plant pasture. Well, we figured, if others could do it, we could too.

After, but we've still got a long way to go

This didn't do a perfect job, but it has given us a start. Much of the topsoil had already been turned far under when the leach field was done. Of what he scraped off, we've been pulling out roots and vines out of the piles, and using it to fill in a few holes and deep ruts left by the skid loader.

The chickens volunteered to serve on the bug demolition brigade

Once I've cleared away the wheelbarrow loads of saplings and vine roots, our neighbor will come in with his tractor and tiller attachment. He tilled our corn field for us last year, which broke up the clods pretty well. I also had a soil analysis done, so we will work on amending the soil as well. After that we can plant with a grass/legume pasture seed mix. All of that will be phase 2, but of course it's been raining again. No sense being impatient, since we've already waited this long; what I describe in a few paragraphs has taken place over three years. Mostly I just hope the seed can get established before our annual summer dry spell sets in. But, as Solomon once said, each thing in it's season.

Related Posts:
Two Soil Tests, A Comparison - Soil test results of this very field
Pasture Improvement, Phase 2: Remineralizing Our Soil


Clint Baker said...

Goats will make quick work out of the brush! Sheep will as well.

Theresa said...

A good cost saving alternative. Wasn't 50 Acres and a Poodle a fun read?
It is amazing how tractors hold their value, esp. these days with tight credit and people holding onto used equipment longer. I hope Dan finds his tractor some day, they are awfully handy ( and fun) to have around.

Dani said...

Looks like we're both on the lookout for a tractor :)

Seems you've done a good job in that area so far. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you are well on your way to some gorgeous and yummy pasture for your critters.

Judy T said...

You have been busy. Like you, we have been tackling things piecemeal. But I'm impatient. I want it all NOW and it's hard sometimes that we can't do it all at once.

Claudia said...

We just had a new leach field put in in front of our house - the old one was filled with roots from our Weeping Willow (which had to be taken down) We don't have equipment and I find myself looking at a sea of mud and ruts and wondering how I'm going to even it all out and reseed!

Sunnybrook Farm said...

It will just take time and if it works in your area, growing winter crops and turning them under. The farmers here stopped doing that and the ground is getting really hard packed. We had goats for a few years but I found that they were very destructive to any tree in sight and wouldn't eat the brush and weeds that needed to be eaten. The amount of money I spent on fencing and time wasted on them wasn't worth the trouble in the end. They were fun animals at times but so destructive.

Leigh said...

Clint that is so true. With sheep, I'm told the Shetlands are the best browsers. Other breeds seem to prefer to graze.

Theresa, it was a very fun read. That's very true about farm tractors and really, they should be thought of as an investment. We still would like one; if we can ever manage the right machine with the right funds at the same time. ;)

Dani, I hope you find a good one!

Stephanie, here's hoping. I'm learning though, to not count my chickens before they're hatched. :) Still, I'll be happy with what comes up and we can spot amend as needed.

Judy, we struggle with the same thing and then have to remind ourselves that it's a process. We generally have one outdoor project and one indoor project going on. More than that and Dan gets frustrated with too many loose ends.

Claudia, I'd be out there with a rake! Actually, I did find I could rake down quite a few of the ruts. Fortunately our neighbor's tiller will deal with most of that.

Sunnybrook, we thought about that but since this is going to be a permanent pasture, decided to just go ahead an plant it. As much as I like green manures, we don't have the equipment to turn under a half acre of anything! What you say about goats is true too. I reckon it depends on whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. :)

trump said...

Sorry ive been away for a while with my comments, and i hope to follow your home progress much better. Richard

Rea said...

You all are doing a great job there. I know reworking my front pasture was one of the hardest things I did too. Basically because what do you dow with the animals until that pasture is ready. You're doing well to have all that work done in three years. Thanks for sharing pictures of all the work you all are doing.

Woolly Bits said... had similar problems on a smaller scale. no big machinery would fit into the garden without destroying all our plantings - and smaller ones could only be bought, not rented:( or at least not in our area. we've finally bought a small Mantis 4-stroke, but of course that would be far too small for your acreage. and it's not for digging; we still have to do all that by hand....

Ngo Family Farm said...

Wow - what a project! Very inspiring. We have two fields that we rotate the goats through to keep vegetation down. One of these days I'd like to annex a small part of their pasture for a wheat field :)

Anonymous said...

Whew! Again you two have great stamina to keep on doing what's necessary to enjoy your lifestyle to the fullest.

The Mom said...

All this work is going to be so fantastic for you! Great idea to use the skid for doing the work. Here's hoping for the weather to cooperate.

Sam I Am...... said...

I fell behind reading your blog and I have to catch up! i learn so much from you so hopefully when I get my acreage I will know a few things already. I had a farmette at one time...about 20 acres but I was working full time and had plans for it when I retired...well....things changed and I had to sell but I'm back on my feet now, retired and hoping it's not too late if I could just sell this place now! You keep me hoping! Thanks for sharing it all.

Jocelyn said...

I am going to do some of this too! Would you mind sharing what type of seed you put down and (most importantly) how you are going to keep the chickens from eating it? That's my biggest problem, and I'd love any ideas you have.


Leigh said...

Richard, good to hear from you! I confess I'm always behind on my blog visiting as well.

Rea, thanks. Another problem I've had, is not being able to find much literature on how to do this. Our cooperative extension promotes grass hays I'm really not interested in (fescue and bermuda), so that's been another hold up. Have you blogged about your experience with this?

Bettina, I'm heard good things about those little Mantis tillers. Perfect for small spots. I have to admit Dan scoffed when he first saw them. But, I said, it would be a good size for me!

Jaime, I'm hoping all of the pastures are part of our establishment phase in homesteading. Once they're improved, we should have less work and only maintenance! That's my hope at least. :)

Heather, thanks! Ah yes, the weather. It's always a farmers worry.

Sam, oh, what a shame you had to sell that 20 acres. Sometimes life does get in the way of our dreams though, doesn't it. So glad you're back on track. I know there's a perfect little place for you out there somewhere.

Jocelyn, good questions. For seed, I found a pasture mix at Tractor Supply. I'm pretty much going to follow the advice from Fias Co Farm (who has a pasture seed recipe - here) and going for a blend of whatever grows well in our part of the country. Some of it, like alfalfa, is questionable because of our hot dry summers, but I'll include some in my mix anyway. I'm also adding herb seeds to that mix, to give my goats a good nutritious blend of grazing and hay. I'll post updates about our progress.

For chickens, we're going to have a wing clipping session right before we plant!

Mamaw said...

Love your blog. We are in hopes of getting a few goats too before long. I love seeing all your photos from your farm. Blessings!

Wild Maple Wool said...

Love it! There is just so much to learn out there! I truely appreciete all the time it takes to blog for us (esp. us newbies to farming)! I learn something new every visit!

And from one fiber lover to another I love your blog!

Samantha (Woodland Woolens)

Leigh said...

Teresa, thanks! You will really enjoy having goats. They add a lot to the homestead.

Samantha, thank you! I honestly just love to share what we've learned and hope maybe others can avoid some of our mistakes. :)