With the plan to be a rotating paddock system of the most nutrient dense, diverse pasture I can manage, how should we go about this? I'm thinking pull the cornstalks in October, till in some compost in the spring, sew with cover crops (suggestions?) then maybe till them under and sew in whatever we want to use for pasture. Will that work? I'd love some ideas on good pasture plants, too.
1. Why not chip the corn stalks and use them as mulch? They easily decompose in a years time.
2. What kind of soil do you have there? Moist/dry? Clay/sand?
I think what I might do before I shred the corn is to broadcast a mixture of many native grasses and forbs (palatable pasture plants) among the corn and then run the shredder, to cover the seed with a layer of mulch.
BTW, can people please put their location under their name? Thanks!
The soil is probably a bit on the wet side, as it's a low-lying area close to a stream. I don't know if it's more sand or clay, my guess would be sand but I need to check into that. We've only been out there once, and viewed four or five properties before settling on one, so we didn't have as much time to test and explore as I would have liked.
This is Amish country and I believe the former owners are an Amish family, so the corn was grown rather conventioanlly, but probably with fewer chemical applications than a factory farm. It's feed corn, sown in rows in tilled soil. I don't know if it'll be cut down by the time we get back up there in October, but I would guess yes.
H Ludi, what sorts of "native grasses and forbs" are we talking about? I'm really starting from scratch here, I know nothing about what makes good pasture. I've been around horses my whole life, but they're generally kept on bluegrass or fescue.
jacque g wrote:
Why not ask the sellers to leave the field ready to fallow? Presumably, they will be harvesting the corn with horse-drawn equipment. Also, they would be the best experts to start with on asking about good forage species for the area. You'll want a grass/legume mix of some kind.
H Ludi Tyler wrote:
I don't see why you'd need to till it. If you're just using hand tools, a scythe should work on the corn stalks. Just cut them down and leave them as mulch.
I posted a couple links above of information about native grasses for NY.
Chop and drop.
You said the soil is likely wet. How wet does it get over winter? Some farmlands can be a virtual flood zones in the winter. Is your land above or below the stream? Does the stream flood? Have you been able to observe it through 4 seasons? Is there an undercover beneath the standing corn? Bare ground, weeds, grasses, etc. How early can the land be seeded next spring?
The mulch will help but I'd be concerned about erosion over the winter, especially if you have much bare ground, and would want to get some forage started ASAP to help hold the soil together. Talk to your neighbors and local extension agent. If possible, start the dialog with them now, from your current location.
It can be done, two acres isn't that much. Continue gathering information in order to minimize wasting your efforts since you have such a small window of opportunity this fall.
For some good info on corn (maize) roots, read this:
There are a lot of videos on YT on Cover Crops.
Cover crops will help in soil building adding nitrogen, breaking up hard pan and add organic matter to the soil.
How can you seed that large area with only handtools?
Look at Seedball making - they should do well if you have relatively moist soil.
This looked like it was going to be useful but the website is mostly broken: http://forages.org/index.php
I'm putting so much thought into this not just to improve my soil and grow healthy pasture, but also because I'm not planning to supplement the sheep with feed at all during the growing season. In the winter they'll recieve only hay (that we'll be growing ourselves, eventually) and vitamin supplementation for the pregnant ewes. So the pasture has to be of the highest quality. I'm keeping them in a rotating paddock system, and will be rotating our chickens right behind them, so it also has to provide forage for chickens.
I looked at the chicken paddock article here on this website, and it suggested the following plants: mulberry trees, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, sunflowers, peas, lentils, siberian pea bush, chickweed, dandelion, amaranth, nettles, kale, and sunchoke (just to name a few). I have no idea where I could obtain seed for a lot of those, how well they'll grow together (will one or two species push the rest out?) or if they're healthy for both sheep and chickens. And maybe a pony - my son wants a pony. Obviously I'll need to keep a close eye on my pasture and stock and make sure they're not overgrazing it.
Has anyone here kept livestock on mixed pasture like that? Is it working out for you? Does it reseed itself well and regrow every year?
A large variety of pasture crops ensures that something will be growing at any point of the year.
biological farming, Allan Savory, holistic management, Acres magazine.
I won't suggest pasture species as our climates are radically different, but I'd recommend doing very careful research regarding stocking rates.
If you...harvest...the right % of your stock before winter, you should be fine getting them through on your own hay.
What are the winters like?
I'm not a native speaker so I roughly translated what they are called in the german language.
The opposite of them are old race sheep: Those are normally less trouble to hold but won't grow as fast, won't produce as much wool and milk and have (from a production aspect) unwanted properties, too. Some people can live from 100 old race sheep when you know someone who knows people who like special stuff. Most people need at least 300-400 power bred sheep to be productive.
As far as I know you can hold 6-8 sheep on 2 acres all year round - without aditional foodering. Is anyone disagreeing? When you think of a medium productive pasture, I mean.
so best way to establish green pasture is to put seeds of various plants, mostly from poaceae and fabaceae family that sheep like and will eat....some of those would be:
red and white clover
different kinds of lolium
festuca ovina or festuca rubra
and so on... be careful legumes are not more than 30 or 40% since animals have digestive problems if they eat only that...
Why do anything?
The corn will be harvested by the time you return in October likely (or shortly thereafter). Whatever is native will grow best there anyway, instead of trying to grow something that was recommended by someone halfway around the world in a totally different climate.
So you might ask around for what kind of forage seed the locals prefer, or if you possess the virtue of patience just let it naturally self-seed. Quite honestly the only difference between a pasture and a crop field is the pasture hasn't had the soil disturbed in a while. It takes time, and even if you worked it over extensively and seeded it heavily, the first year isn't going to be the best by far.
But that's just my two cents worth. What I would do and what you want to do may be totally different. Best of luck regardless.
The little bit of pasture we have now, which will eventually be converted to a hay field (I don't want the stock on that side because our stream runs right through it) is covered with this tall grassy stuff that puts up yellow flowers stalks. I have no idea what it is, or if it's poisonous, so until I can identify it I'm not keen on seeding it into the paddocks.
Pigs. Get a few pigs and fatten them up on the corn. They'll tear it down, fertilize/till the ground, and put on some good weight in the process. Then you can sell them at a premium.
Either while they're doing that or after you can seed the area with a winter cover crop. In the spring start sewing your pasture of choice after doing some light shredding/incorporating of your cover crop.
However, if you want to have pasture for next year, you will need to seed something, as you are planning on. I haven't had to do what you are doing as the place we had (and my ex still has) in New Hampshire came with a hay-field that we turned into pasture (much easier to go from hay to pasture than from row-crops of any kind to pasture). What I would suggest is to do some internet research and find people raising sheep in the Northeast who are farming organically and using Intensively Managed Grazing, then ask them what their pastures consist of and what they would recommend you seed into yours. I can make some guesses at what their suggestions will be, but better to talk to them.
As for the corn that's already there, if there are still people living on the place and farming it -- as in, that's this year's corn on the field -- I imagine that by the time you get there at the end of October, your field will just contain dried brown stubble, rather than corn-stalks. I would seed around that and rake the seed into the soil, and leave the stubble in place for the winter to help prevent erosion. Come spring, the stubble should be starting to break down somewhat. You will need to clip your pasture a few times next year to encourage good root systems to grow and to encourage the spreading plants to spread out and cover the ground; just clip above the level of the corn stalks. By the time you bring your livestock in in 2013, the corn stubble should have pretty much rotted away.
If the former owners do leave standing corn stalks, I would start the same way, seeding around the standing stalks and scratch the seed into the ground with a rake. Then go around with a machete or a scythe and knock the corn stalks over as close to the ground as you can. Leave them to protect the ground until next spring. If they are going to be in the way when you clip the new growth next summer, you will be able to easily pull them up then (the roots will have rotted) and put them on a compost pile.