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Seeking feedback for a covercrop to improve pasture.

 
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I'd like to improve my pasture. Zone 6, SW Missouri. A lot of clay and rock. Most of my soil is decently dark / fertile, but very compacted. I have five sheep and a goat on it now. In the future I may add chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys or rabbits. (Or some combination.) My grass is primarily fescue. The flock has eliminated most weeds. Used to be ragweed and another similar looking, but unidentified weed, so thick I couldn't see across my ~one acre pasture. Now that's gone. I find that once they eat the grass down low, it has a hard time catching back up. It gets super low in the winter, and during the drought we usually have mid to late summer. During very active growth, it gets ahead.

I know sheep and goats are better off eating at least 6" above the ground. I also know they have no intention of eliminating my thistles. I'm tired of spraying. I don't want the poison, it's not very effective, and it costs too much.

I'm hoping I can improve all of this by broadcasting a cover crop mix into the pasture. I have no experience with diverse cover crops. At greencoverseed.com, I came up with a potential mix:
Mung Beans (1.75), Red Clover (3.5), White Clover (3.5), Hairy Vetch (1), Lentil (1), Orchard Grass (3.5), Pearl Millet (1), Browntop Millet (1), Turnip (.5), Rapeseed (.5), African Cabbage (1), Plantain (.5), Buckwheat (3), Sunflower (.75)
Numbers in parentheses represent pounds of seed per acre.

The smartmix calculator did not take into account that I already have a fescue pasture. Nor did it tell me if I could broadcast this into the pasture as they graze it, or if it needs time to establish before they graze.

I have two pastures, each about an acre. I do rotate during active growth. I'll probably close off one pasture tomorrow. I also have a third pasture, about an acre to an acre and a half, which includes a semi-wooded lot. (The tree lot is around the size of a football field, maybe a bit larger.) I'm afraid to start them on that pasture though, because of the rampant poison hemlock. Some sources say it's fine, some say my whole flock will be dead in about three hours.

Specifically, I'm looking for feedback on my covercrop mix, how to adjust it, how to use it to best advantage. Can a mix like this smother thistle and / or poison hemlock? Maybe in combination with chicken tractoring? But any other advice is welcome. I hope this was the right place to post. I'll understand, though, if this gets moved to the pasture forum.
 
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I would suggest this first- make a 6ft ring in one of the pastures. Something the animals can't get to. It could be 4 tposts and and wire, or a cattle hay ring with fencing tied to it. You might be VERY surprised to find how non compacted and fertile your ground is when its not grazed heavily like what is likely happening now.

In ruff terms, it takes just as long for 2" tall grass to grow to 4" tall as it does for 6" tall grass to get to 12". Once you get to that low grass its very hard to recover without removing the animals. Thats why animal count and rotating is so important.
 
T Melville
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Just now, when I shut them in the barn, I closed the gate to the west pasture. I might flip-flop them again after doing bad things to the thistles, but either way, there will be about an acre they can't access. I'll try to remember to get some before and after pics.
 
wayne fajkus
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I use whatever deer foodplot mix is available in spring and fall. I was surprised last fall that my sheep did not eat the turnip greens.
 
T Melville
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wayne fajkus wrote:I use whatever deer foodplot mix is available in spring and fall. I was surprised last fall that my sheep did not eat the turnip greens.



Not bad! My local farm store had Imperial No Plow a couple seasons ago. I think I'll check in with them again. That would make a great base to add a few things to. It'd save me tracking down so many kinds of seeds.
 
wayne fajkus
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The fall mixes seem better than spring mixes(and cheaper). The base seed is either oats or rye grass. Past that is has clovers, brassicas, peas. Some of which fix nitrogen.

I broadcast them after a rain. I thought the peas wouldnt make it but they came up and are still out there. I also see clover flowering right now. Im happy with the results of doing nothing but broadcasting on wet ground.
 
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What size is this pasture? If comparatively small ( a couple of acres) and you really want to get rid of thistles without chemicals, you might consider a thistle puller. The right tool make the work a total breeze. We made huge improvements in our pasture just doing a few minutes each time we went out there.

This is my tool of choice:  Fiskars Thisle Puller

We also have noticed that when the grass gets heavily overgrazed in winter we get a bumper crop of thistle seedlings in the spring.The short grass and small patches of bare soil give perfect conditions for germination.  We now rotate the sheep off for the winter and return them when the grass gets going in spring. We have also notice more diversity in the pasture over the past few year as the soil gets longer rest periods.
 
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Rapid rotation of animals is one of the keys to preventing compaction.
Many times pastures are far larger than they should be which ends up with animals being left on one plot for far to long which results in compaction instead of trampling (which loosens the soil).
If you have just a few animals the pasture should be set up so they are moved at a maximum of two days for one paddock.

If you are wanting birds to come in then plants that form seed heads like the millet family are a fairly good choice, if you don't want lots of birds then leaving out the millets might be a good idea and substituting Yellow clover and other tall growing plants could be done.
Alfalfa is always a pretty good choice when you have animals that can tolerate the high protein.

As Wayne brought up some of the best pasture augmentation is by using feedplot mixes, then add other items as you see fit.

Redhawk
 
Michael Cox
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If you can get hold of it, look into sainfoin. It is a nitrogen fixing legume but does not have any of the bloating problems of clover/alfalfa. It also has a very long flowering season and make a lot of nectar for your local honeybees!
 
T Melville
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T Melville wrote:I also have a third pasture, about an acre to an acre and a half, which includes a semi-wooded lot. (The tree lot is around the size of a football field, maybe a bit larger.) I'm afraid to start them on that pasture though, because of the rampant poison hemlock. Some sources say it's fine, some say my whole flock will be dead in about three hours.



One way or the other, my decision on this will be made for me in the morning. I just caught Scooter (the goat) leaning over the fence, eating hemlock. If he's alright tomorrow, I'll have to finish the fencing, but then they'll be on pasture that hasn't been grazed in at least four years. Plus that pasture is probably biggest of the three.
 
T Melville
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The "before" pictures:
26-04-2019-12.35.32.jpg
[Thumbnail for 26-04-2019-12.35.32.jpg]
West pasture, 4/25/19
IMG_20190425_232952.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20190425_232952.jpg]
Middle pasture, 4/25/19
 
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Michael Cox wrote:If you can get hold of it, look into sainfoin. It is a nitrogen fixing legume but does not have any of the bloating problems of clover/alfalfa. It also has a very long flowering season and make a lot of nectar for your local honeybees!



I've not heard of this before, thanks for mentioning it. Seems like it could be a great addition to my lawn conversion project.
 
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