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Serious chop 'n drop

 
Travis Toner
Posts: 33
Location: Tokyo
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I have yet to buy my piece of land (In NW LP Michigan, mind you), but I've been seeing a lot of opportunity to buy heavily forested 20 or so acres on hilly topography. My thinking was that I could selectively cut down certain trees to let sunlight in for starting up new layers underneath the existing canopy and use the wood for extensive hugulkultur beds and store the rest for future firewood needs. I would gently slope the rows of beds away from the contour so water isn't trapped in the beds towards the top of the hill. I would also invest in 7 or 8 foot deer fencing for about an acre of these intensively farmed beds with more of the annual food crops. I was thinking that the decomposing stumps left over would provide an extra bit of future fertility and I could have a go at mushroom cultivation on them.
The one problem I think about is if I wanted some pasture for grazing, it would be up to me to establish this too.

What are your thoughts? Foreseeable issues?
 
Chris Dean
Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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One problem I can see is 20 acres isn't that much for grazing, especially if you are using 1, 5, 10 acres for something else. To keep the land healthy you need a balance of grazers per pasture, and they need to be rotated. No rotation in a small area means they eat everything to the ground, rotation in too small an area means the grasses don't have a chance to recover before the animal is back in there. This does depend on what type of animal you're talking about of course.

I just see a lot of 10-20 acre plots around me that look so poor because of heavy grazing. Several years of this plus rain means topsoil is washed away, and here that means exposing rocks. We joke that these places are growing a lot of really nice rocks

As for the bed rows, I only know theory because I've never done it. Depending on how steep your hillside is and how much rain you get building beds aimed downhill would create flooding, I would think, with those beds acting like chutes for water to hurtle down. Swales on contour can be connected by allowing for overflow into one another, and the swales above also feed the swales below underground, so you're not just trapping water at the top. That's my thinking on it, but someone who's done something similar might disagree.

Have fun and good luck!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9421
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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You might be interested in looking into silvopasturing, which is the management of forests with grazing animals.

http://www.silvopasture.org/

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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where are you buying in the LP of Michigan? I'm in the wedding ring area..myself..

with the chop and drop, the last couple years I've been dividing rhubarb and comfrey and putting them around my gardens and esp putting on near the base of every one of my fruit trees (esp the comfrey)

this past fall and then a few in spring, I cut roots out of the comfrey and placed just tiny bit near each fruit tree, some are coming along really nicely now..and I'm looking forward to the beautiful mulch they will make around the trees..

In my forests I have placed trails through the woods (see my blog below) some got messed up with flooding and trees down and have to be redone, but they gave me access into my woods ..which now I'm really enjoying..I just finished innoculateing some stumps and logs with shiitake and I just ordered lions mane mushroom plugs from fungi perfecti, also I am getting naturally occuring oyster mushrooms, shaggy manes and morels. It is really wonderful when you have a forest at all, to be able to enjoy it, it took me nearly 40 years to put trails through the woods and now I wish it had been one of the first things I had done..sure makes it easy for this 60 year old lady to access her woods
 
Travis Toner
Posts: 33
Location: Tokyo
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Tyler, that is really great. I had no idea that there is such a good use for coniferous forest, something I've been doing my best to stay away from. I will have to spend some serious time with that site.
My original intention was not to have more than 2-3 cows, but I don't feel I have a good grasp on just how much area they need. I'd be willing to settle for a different milk producer if it comes down to not being able to afford big enough a piece of land for cows.
I wouldn't dare try beds on a steep slope, I was thinking of making the beds kind of like what I think you were getting at, where each bed is almost like a brick, interlocking much like laid bricks do.

I'll have to shelf that note about making paths. I'd also like to start a seed mix of various legumes, nitrogen fixers and soil builders (including comfrey) as soon as possible and broadcasting. I've been looking at anywhere from East Jordan, Kalkaska and over by Benzonia. I'm pretty open about where, and I hope to buy land in a few years, I'm stuck saving up cash for the time being, so I don't have to take out any loans or have a mortgage.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9421
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Carrying capacity of land varies tremendously, and it's very easy to overstock if you don't know what you're doing. Down here it takes 20-50 acres per cow ( one animal unit) to support them sustainably but lots of people put more than that, especially people just getting into "ranching." They try to "ranch" on 20-50 acres. Sorry but a proper Texas ranch is at least one square mile.

Your state agricultural extension service should have information on carrying capacity of land in the county you're looking at, but most estimates of carrying capacity are for pasture land, not forest, so the information might not be that useful.

info about animal units: http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/forages/bjb00s17.html
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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I'm in northwestern Missaukee County south of Fife Lake and E of Manton, W of Lake city...there are 3 properties with homes for sale on the road I live on and I could send you links to them..One has a 2 story house on a walk out basement and open land mostly..good for cattle, there are cattle in the area..the other two properties are in Wexford co (just across co line from me) and they both have outbuildings ..one has a larger pole barn..both are larger homes and the acerage of both includs some wooded land..some open..

http://www.trulia.com/property/1084626041-11242-W-Simpson-Rd-Manton-MI-49663

this one has connecting land available and is MOSTLY open..the price is highly negotiable..as they really need to move all of these properties..likely would take close to 100 grand for it.

http://www.harmonhomes.com/real-estate/homes-for-sale/Michigan/city/Manton/page/3

this is 2 doors east of us, nearly borders a small creek and has woods and some open land ..once was planted to blueberries.

http://realestate.yahoo.com/Michigan/Manton/11866-e-12-rd:9e39be1d87518f113f22ff84bb1543
this one is also just west of us, it is NOW for sale by owner and they may be desperate to sell ..all 3 are..so offers should be made lower than asking prices..this home has a huge pole barn besides an attached garage, it is bordered on 2 sides by roads, one is a 2 track trail and the other paved..low traffic...lots of woodsy areas along the 2 track trail.
 
Brandis Roush
Posts: 37
Location: Central Minnesota
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Ditto what everyone else said on the grazers. But the farther North you go (very generally speaking...) the fewer acres you need per animal, so depending you might have enough to keep 2. But if you do, make sure you read a book or take a class on pasture management. It's serious stuff, especially for milk producing animals, because producing milk every day for 9 months out of the year takes a lot of energy. Anyway, I know in NE the general rule is 5, and I think here (MN) you can get away with 3 acres per cow. I didn't click the link about forest management with grazers, but there is an orchard in SoCal that keeps animals to maintain their trees- they fence only the trunks I believe and keep goats to prune what they can reach and chickens to manage deadfall fruit and pests... I don't know if that's the same thing. Goats would do much better on wooded land, though, as they are brush eaters more like deer, although then you would have to be careful they didn't kill trees by stripping the bark or kill any vines you try to establish. Chickens, however, would be awesome. No, they don't produce milk, but they're easily my favorite farm animal (next to horses, but I can't have one of those here ) and do well in woods. I know some people would be wary to keep chickens in woods, but mine graze in the woods behind my house all the time and obviously prefer the cover of underbrush to any open area. And knock on wood I've not had any predator problems. Sheep are also an option, although they aren't brush eaters (I don't think... I used to keep sheep so I should know that, but it was before my enlightenment and they were kept in pens and fed sheep feed, so I don't...) and would require some actual pasture, and I hear sheep milk is an aquired taste because it has a higher fat content (but it makes great cheese...).

Otherwise I think it sounds like a great plan... there are a lot of advantages to starting with mature trees, especially in a natural setting. My property is kinda like that. At least the spacing is natural for most of the trees, although they've been mowed around probably most of their lives so all of the understory is gone (with a few exceptions). So I'm starting the same way on a much smaller scale (probably 1.5 of my 3 acres is wooded). I'm not removing any trees yet though, and that is a lot of work. For now I have sufficient gaps to develop guilds in the most important places (the walnut and apple trees) and the less food intesive guilds (the oaks, which are more crowded) will come later. Also, I can't imagine the wealth of beneficial native species you would find in that kind of setting- I'll bet you could find lots of understory to keep as well!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9421
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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My sheep, Jacobs, are brush eaters.
 
Travis Toner
Posts: 33
Location: Tokyo
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Brandis, I would like to focus on native species to the Great Lakes region, so that's encouraging. I have never tried sheep milk, but I'll have to change that.
I read the section about converting existing forest to silvopasture, and I am always weary about controlled burns (especially in a forest), but I've read about people getting the help of the local fire dept standing by, and the help of people who has done that sort of thing before. I like the idea of doing dairy sheep in silvopasture, since the sheep milk is more "concentrated" and stocking rates are higher for sheep. If I were to get chickens in the habit of returning to the coop each night, with a bit of help that is, I think that I wouldn't be overly concerned about predators.

Those seem like some nice places, Brenda. Although we've been looking at some properties that are a bit less expensive than that, if we can help it. I've came across a few properties in the Kalkaska area, without a major home structure, that are unzoned, which is awesome. Although, I keep reading different things on what that means in our state (whether your free to build whatever, or whether your just held to the general state or national building codes).
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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we are unzoned here..but that doesn't mean that you don't have to obey the laws..however...if you have a quite private area you can often do a lot of things without permits..

we had to have a permit when our house burned and we had to replace everything (wells, house, elec, gas, etc.) however..when we do smaller things like remodel, sheds, decks, ponds, outbuildings..etc..we haven't ever had a permit...and we just don't inform
 
andrew curr
Posts: 288
Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
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Tyler Ludens wrote:My sheep, Jacobs, are brush eaters.
all sheep love browse
Idont know who came up with the ridiculous idea that sheep /cows eat grass
 
J D Horn
Posts: 155
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No burn! Mulch! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPAprMgmWNQ

Don't know what your budget is for clearing land, but check into forestry mulchers in the area.

Or go goat on it!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvEHREkGK6M&list=PLW7HfLOnaDZ8PfsTHAcQgzR5S9UJIaW8K&feature=mh_lolz
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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If you have a canopy it is intercepting most of the sun energy. Even with canopy gaps, most of the productivity is going into tree crowns and boles. I would expect you'd multiply your animal unit rating many-fold in a forest. Most silvopastoral systems I have read about involve planting short rotation forestry, with pasture carrying capacity declining as the stand develops. Canopy gaps can be rough, since even though you have some light, you are still competing with tree roots for water and nutrients. I get the whole synergy thing, but ecosystems are finite. Since you haven't bought, and it sounds like you want to live in a savannah, perhaps you could go from old field to savannah rather than converting forest. Alternately you could become a forest dweller nibble in canopy gaps, and grow more fungi and forbs, and kill deer for meat.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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