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Unabashed Gloating Over the Success of my Intensive Pasture Management!

 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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For the past several years I have been working hard to improve my pasture management skills for my 3 horses. Last year I added 2 new sections to the pasture (about an additional 3 acres) and began an intensive grazing rotation among the fields. Last week I turned my horses out onto the last field in the rotation: an area just to the east of our wood-line (for protection from the west winds). I estimate I will have 4 weeks grazing on that field. If my calculations are correct, I will only have to spend $157.50 on hay this year to feed my herd ( I do not feed grain)! I am so excited. Three years ago my hay budget for the Michigan winter was $750!

For the coming year, I'm ready to experiment with pastured chicken. I plan to have them follow the horses through the rotation. I hope I can find some success... If I do, the cost savings on purchasing chicken meat for my freezer will off-set any hay I would have to buy. Oh.. how fantastic it is to scheme, put forth the effort and find a little success. My thanks to the many contributors for sharing their successes and, in doing so, helping me to acheive mine.
 
Cj Sloane
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Before & after pics?
 
Chris Stelzer
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Congrats! That is quite an accomplishment in reducing hay feeding costs. If you can build up enough of a grass stockpile you can skip hay feeding in the winter all together. But, you have done a great job.

Chris
 
Alison Thomas
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It's great when it all comes together isn't it. Sometimes it's hard to have that faith in the beginning for the 'experiment' but oh boy, it feels great when it pays off.
 
kent smith
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Do you have any suggestions for reading regarding pasture management? We bought our place this past May and started rotational grazing and trying some different things for pasture improvement. This pasture does not look like it was used for several decades and needs some help. However, after just one summer it is already looking better. We have 2 steers out on small paddocks, plus we have raised a batch of broilers and turkeys in moveable pens. I have been following advice from Joel Salatin's books, but I would love to learn more on pasture management. I want to lime the pasture this spring to see if it will cut down on the moss that grows in parts of the field and to keep up with frequent animal moves over the field again, but other than that I am not sure what else to do. right now we have enough snow on the ground that the steers and birds are in the barn and a small just outside the barn so they are eating the hay that was baled off of the pasture. Great to see a pasture success story. I too want to add a couple more acres to the field. the whole parimeter has encroached into the field and we have a large brushy over grown area between the field and the creek that runs through the place. I look forward to suggestions.
kent
 
John Polk
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Those chickens will do a lot more for you than just filling your freezer. They will dig through the horse pucky (thus helping to break it down, and spread it for you). They are digging through it looking for the fly larva. The larva is great protein for them, and guess what? Your horses will have fewer flies next season.

You should get the chickens onto the pasture a week to 10 days after the horses get there. If you wait longer, the flies will hatch and fly away.
 
Katy Whitby-last
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Can I ask how many acres you have in total for the horses. I am trying to come up with a plan for our pasture as we only have 6 acres and 2 horses.
 
Chris Stelzer
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kent smith wrote:Do you have any suggestions for reading regarding pasture management? We bought our place this past May and started rotational grazing and trying some different things for pasture improvement. This pasture does not look like it was used for several decades and needs some help. However, after just one summer it is already looking better. We have 2 steers out on small paddocks, plus we have raised a batch of broilers and turkeys in moveable pens. I have been following advice from Joel Salatin's books, but I would love to learn more on pasture management. I want to lime the pasture this spring to see if it will cut down on the moss that grows in parts of the field and to keep up with frequent animal moves over the field again, but other than that I am not sure what else to do. right now we have enough snow on the ground that the steers and birds are in the barn and a small just outside the barn so they are eating the hay that was baled off of the pasture. Great to see a pasture success story. I too want to add a couple more acres to the field. the whole parimeter has encroached into the field and we have a large brushy over grown area between the field and the creek that runs through the place. I look forward to suggestions.
kent


Yes. I wouldn't lime the soil. I would suggest that you concentrate on improving the soil. The organisms will lime your pastures for free, if you create an environment where they can thrive. To do this you will need to MOB graze your cattle. This means that your cattle are grazing in a small area, and you are moving them frequently. You don't need to lock them into a really small area, just experiment and see what works. Second, you will need to create "litter" on the soil surface. This is essential. This also means that you are not grazing all of the forage in any given paddock. Try to trample 40-50% of it onto the soil surface. This is the food that your soil life needs. And if you feed them you will start to "lime" your pastures. Additionally you will need to ensure that your paddocks have enough time to recover before you come back into that paddock again. The time period for this depends on many things. Some places it's 365 days, others it's 60, or even less. You can also get more litter onto the soil by bringing in hay, feeding it to your cattle and letting them trample, poop and pee on it. If you can get junk hay for free, this is great too.

So, in conclusion you need to get litter onto the soil surface and you need to move your cattle. After a few years of this you'll be surprised at the results. And, no expensive commercial fertilizer to purchase!
 
John Polk
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Anybody interested in improving pasture could learn from this man:

YouTube
 
kent smith
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Location: Pennsylvania
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up until the snow covered the ground I was moving them every two days. I use temporary electric fence to section off the pasture. I was going to move the steers everyday but I found that the space that they would graze and trample in a day was too small for two steers. When they were young they needed enough space to move around and kick up thier heels. However, a two day space did give them enough space. Last summer when the grass was growing i could keep the steers in an area to let the rest the the pasture grow so it could be baled. However, by late summer early fall rather than trying to get another cutting I let the pasture grow so that I could have pasture to section off to graze up until mid december. I do not let the sward or soil get damaged or torn up but grazing too heavily. In real weedy parts there was some plants the the steers did not touch, so after I moved them I went out with a weed whip and cut these unwanted plants back before they went to seed. I have always heard that harrowing is good for the grass. Any other suggestions? I would also like to find some good books on pasture management, any suggestions?
kent
 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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Chris is correct. I did not add any commercial soil amendments to my pastures I used time and the insight of others. I do not have a book, per se, to recommend as reading material because I subscribe to Acres USA magazine and it has been having very, very good articles on pasture management, growing the best grass, soil management, etc. Definately worth the subscription price. Acres does have a book store where you can purchase books the Acres Staff have reviewed, too. I do know they have some specifically for raising beef on grass.

When I moved onto my property 8 years ago it had been a fallow farm field for over 15 years and I didn't know anything about managing squat! Fortunately, I didn't have any money for applying fertilzers, weed suppression chemicals, or seed. And, because I didn't I just left things alone (except for fencing off one pasture for the horses). What I noticed in the first two years was that the field was shedding water in vast quantities, there was a moss growing between the grasses in the field and I would be left with bare ground far too quickly if I let the horses go too long on the pasture. I didn't like the amount I was spending on hay, either. So, I added another set of pastures and tried rotational grazing. Only, I didn't really use rotational grazing correctly. I over-grazed the fields and still had tons of water shedding and moss on the fields (holding down the soil thank God!).

Finally, mercifully, I stumbled across Acres, USA and started applying the knowledge I had the ability to use. I started off the with the most simple solution first: don't over graze a field. I will not allow the horses on a pasture, or section of pasture, unless there is at least 6 inches of grass available for consumption and I will move the horses off a field before the grass is shorter than 3 inches ( I have a pre-measured stick). I, also use temporary fencing to confine the horses to certain areas within each pasture. That way I get two or three areas to rotate to from within each of my larger fields.

I, also, wanted to increase the inventory of native grasses and reduce the weeds (but not to erradicate the weeds because I had noticed the horses prefer the weeds at different times of the year). I started allowing the spring grasses on some fields go to seed and other's I would let go to seed during the fall. I would cut the tops off the weeds just after majority of them had come out of flowering stage and were moving into seed development (we have bee colonies who need the pollen and nectar from those weeds).

The first thing I noticed happening was, water was not shedding off my fields so quickly (some was actually going in!). Then, the moss started losing ground to mammoth clover... then the clover to the grasses. Now, the fields are grass fields with a healthy mix of weeds (but not too many). The unusual thing I've seen happen is the emergence of a milkweed colony in a couple of patches. The horses don't eat that and I don't worry about it. I did have a friend tell me I could eat it when it was young and that is was delicious. We're going to try it this year.

Anyway, I'm going to push the envelope a bit further this year and see if I can get my stockpile up to the point that I don't have to worry about hay at all. That would really be something! Oh... I forgot to mention I have about 7.5 acres under pasture. To improve the health of the fields some of that is going to be converted into a forrest gardens complete with hugels to help that last bit of water remain useful.

 
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