October 22, 2013

Winter Pasture

If you've read my gardening posts for awhile, then likely you know that I am blessed to live in an area where I can pretty much garden all year long. Or at least harvest root crops all winter long. There are trade-offs for this blessing; our summers are often too hot and too dry for much of anything to want to grow. Besides a seasonal garden, we can also grow seasonal pasture, which means fresh forage for the goats all year long.

Newly planted annual rye

Pasture forage includes both grasses and legumes which are divided into warm and cool weather types, just as garden vegetables are.

Cool weather forage
  • bluegrass 
  • orchardgrass 
  • timothy
  • fescue*
  • annual rye
  • alfalfa
  • chicory
  • wheat
  • oat
  • various clovers
  • vetch
  • winter peas

Warm weather forage
  • bermuda
  • bahai
  • lespedeza
  • various millets
  • Egyptian wheat
  • buckwheat

These are possibilities in my region. There are other things liked by goats and used for forage and hay such as Johnson grass and kudzu, but these are considered invasives and so not a good idea to plant.

Other things that can be planted in the pasture area for forage include herbs (see my post "DIY Vitamins and Minerals For Goats" for an extensive list) and cool weather vegetables such as kale, beet, and turnip. In fact, I toss any old garden seed in with a pasture planting.

Fescue*, particularly tall fescue, is a bit controversial because it can be infected with an endophyte fungus which causes ill thrift in grazing animals including goats, sheep, horses, and cattle. Endophytes bind copper, selenium, zinc, and cobalt, which result in all the problems associated with mineral deficiencies. Endophyte free varieties of fescue are available, but apparently are not as hardy as the endophyte infected.

There are mixed reports on results from goats grazing fescue. Many, on some of the goat forums and websites, claim their goats do fine. Others have problems. For me, it may be a key to problems I've had. For example, almost all of Jasmine's problems, except the broken shoulder, pointed to copper deficiency. Fescue was the primary grass in our front pasture when we moved here and all my dark colored goats have shown symptoms of copper deficiency, for which copper supplementation doesn't seem to help. My white goats show no such problems, but their requirement for copper is lower than for dark goats. Learning about this has possibly been a major clue to a frustrating puzzle.

Immediate solutions include vigilant supplementation of selenium and copper and making sure animals are offered a large variety of browse to decrease the amount of infected fescue consumed. Long term, it means replacing the fescue with other types of forage. The good news on this front is that no pasture remains perfect for years on end. Grasses and legumes run their course, and pastures require maintenance and replanting periodically. Obviously, for us, this means not planting infected varieties of fescue as we work on our annual pasture remineralization and improvement plan.

My aim is to have both warm and cool weather forage in all goat areas, so that they have fresh grazing year around. Any that grows too tall can be cut and dried for hay. So far this autumn I've planted annual rye, wheat, oat seed, herb, and veggie seeds. I scatter the seed by hand wherever I find a bare spot, making sure there are no chickens around! I'll do the same in the spring with warm weather seed, which I believe I'd better start trying to find now!

Lastly, my resources for your perusal:

Winter Pasture © October 2013 by Leigh


Quinn said...

How marvelous to be able to keep a supply of fresh browse all year round!
I've been thinking about broadcasting some sort of seed in one of the little paddocks as an experiment before winter, but really haven't found the time to do the research to see if there's any point to it here.Your links will be a good starting point - thanks!

Farmer Barb said...

I just went on a pasture walk with an organic dairy farmer and learned to look at the world differently. The sheep seem to enjoy everything, but eat dessert first. I am sunlight deficient so my browse is different now than it will be in the spring. I don't know exactly how MUCH sunlight, so I will have to hold off on the seeding until then. I am grateful for your explanation of how you do it. All this first time stuff seems so daunting without an advisor!

Leigh said...

Quinn, I say give it a try. Small amounts of seed are cheap and who knows? You may have success! Even if you don't you'll have valuable experiential information, so it's worth it either way, I say. :)

Barb, goats are the same way! They eat what they like. Things at which they turn up their noses in summer, when there's more choice, is the very thing they'll fight over in winter, when pickings are slim.

I have to say it's something that has to be learned somewhat by trial and error. So many variables! I hope you post what you've been learning!

Theresa said...

Fescue can be a problem with horses and pregnancy also. Lazy sot that I am I just give the wethers a mineral supplement for our area. I think it was $7.00, bought in June and I till have between a 1/3 and a 1/4 of the small bag. Of course, these two are simply pets and not expected to do anything other browse around and be cute. :) And they do!

Nina said...

I do envy the ability to grow or harvest for almost the whole year. It's cold here. We have snow. The ground freezes solid for 4 or 5 months at a time, as much as 4 feet down in a cold winter. On the plus side, those first few mild days, the sun finally getting high enough in the sky to actually give us some warmth, are really, really appreciated by all. We have pretty distinctive seasons here as well, winter and construction.

Leigh said...

Theresa, from one I understand, that's one of the serious problems. Evidently, selenium deficiency causes the birth sac to be extremely tough, so that the newborn can't break it.

Nina, it's always interesting to me how we have different gardening challenges. I have to add that I truly miss the change of seasons. We get barely any spring or fall down here.

Unknown said...

No goats yet, hoping for springtime. In the meantime I've been learning about all the complexities hay. Taking my guy of Orchard (its super expensive $25 a bale) and switching to more of a blend to keep him as close to nature as possible. We are going to be throwing out seeds this year... :)

Leigh said...

Jen, that's exciting news!

You don't mean $25 per square bale??? We keep hay but I'm hoping with good year around forage we won't need as much hay. We did end up buying some. With all the rain this year our grass was pretty flattened down, which isn't good for a hand scythe.

So far spot seeding is working well! The chickens eat some, the birds eat some, and Ziggy eats some, but enough grows into grass to make a difference. :)

Shawn said...

Very interesting stuff. We are learning - though only in discussions at this point - about the need to rotate. Our neighbor is a cattle farmer and he has hayed our fields for his cattle for nearly 20 years. The quality has declined so substantially, both in nutrition as well as output/acre. After the third cut late this summer he "killed" the fields, tilled them and replanted some sort of winter wheat. I guess then the wheat is let to grow and then the same process and then a second type of grass is planted and then finally some time next summer his desired grass (don't recall what it is) will be planted allowing a rotation that he said would kill of certain pests, return certain nutrients to the soil, eliminate weeds and restore output!

All foreign to us - although we eventually want to learn! - but very fascinating!

Leigh said...

Shawn, we had no idea in the beginning either. Pasture planting and maintenance was a totally new concept and one we're still learning. Excellent reads on the subject include anything Joel Salatin and Sepp Holzer, also Gene Logsdon. It's great you have a neighbor for information too.

Anonymous said...

I really learn so much from what you post. I know it must have taken a lot of research, and love that you are willing to share with us. And THANK YOU for making it over to my new blog :)

Thistle Cove Farm said...

east of the Mississippi we have no selenium and must supplement. it drives me crazy to read animal husbandry books and that simple fact is overlooked. it's the difference between life and death.