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Woodlot to pasture conversion: dozer or critters?

 
Connor Ireland
Posts: 23
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Howdy, I'm a big fan of the forums, its moderators, and heavy posters. I've been a reader for 3 years and a true adherant for 9 months, since I bought my spread. I heat w/ a RMH, garden in hugelbeets, and have 3 vertical feet of a cobb house. I want to thank Paul and anyone who ever resonded to my posts. I only ask that responders here mind the question at the bottom of the post, rather than the rambling body of it.

In a few weeks my neighbor will help me timber my land, 3 or 4 acres of it, primarily for boards and timbers and heating. I want to convert it to mixed pasture for sheep and cattle. Neighbor man is certain that the surge of undergrowth will drown out my grasses and herbs, and that discing will be necessary. To disc I will n eed to dize out the stumps. Dozing alone will cost something like 5 - 8 hundred dollars, though our operator has a gentle touch: he can nose out the stumps without scraping every inch of the soil. Then we would disc and broadcast. I hopefully could do all this and then focus on other things, while pasture establishes.

The other, much slower option, is to sew turnips and yams when the trees are felled. Then in the spring, I run goats in solar, step in 'lectic fencing, for vegetation. Then I run pigs through, they dig up all the turnips and plow the soil in the process, I work in grass and herb seeds by hand as the pigs advance.
With this method, all the rocks and stumps stay in place.

Dozer Pros: One pass and I'm done. Stumps are out of the way, dozer man could even place huge hugelbeets with them, or maybe even terrace some of the sloped parts while he's there.
Dozer Cons: Costly, machinery will compact the soil, soil surface will be exposed to erosion and pitted where the stumps were lifted.

Critter Pros: Meat for home consumption, poop, stumps rot in situ
Critter Cons: Need to feed, need to buy step in fencing, need to supervise, its more meat than I can use. Stumps stay in the way forever.

Caveats: I have a big access problem, there is private and state land on the back edge, and a (nearly) impassable hollow on the access side. I can get an occasional easement or occasionally tresspass through the back edge.
I don't have electricity, don't want it. So I can't freeze four hundred pounds of meat.
I'm poor, but what money I do have is meant to improve this land.

***

What would you do? This is sandy ozark soil, with lots of big rocks throughout. Maybe it would be healthiest as wood lot, but there's LOTS of unmanaged forest land all around me, and the state buys up more every year. So I would like to have a little oasis of light and grass.

Thank you in advance.
 
Kay Barry
Posts: 8
Location: Pendleton County, WV. Zone 6A
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Connor - let me caveat my response with the disclaimer: I am no expert and won't be attending my PDC until March, but I have a similar situation to yours on our land: lots of trees, difficult access, and a desire for some open grazing space.

That being said, we are looking at hiring some equipment to clear trees/brush and stumps out of the prime level areas too. I have also considered the issues you face about soil compaction whether this is the "right" approach from a sustainability point of view.

Currently, I think hiring equipment for the initial scrape and hugelkulture bed digging is the right one. I expect that I will spend the next several years trying to undo the compaction from the heavy equipment through the addition of deep digging, addition of amendments, and allowing a few forage animals their run of the land to add their own fertilizer and keep down the pioneer brush species.

IF, after my PDC training in March, I realize that this is completely the wrong way to go, I will come back and tell you! I'll be curious to hear what our instructor recommends.

Cheers!
Kay
 
osker brown
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
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Another option for the stumps is innoculation with mushroom spawn, they won't break down any faster but you'll get a lot of food for a long time.

There are other ways to preserve meat than freezers, like jerky, canning, or on the hoof. If you can't deal with lots of goat and pig meat, what are you going to do with the sheep and cattle? Also, I believe some sheep and cattle breeds are more adventurous eaters, I know highland cattle will eat brambles, brush, conifer seedlings, etc. How are you planning on fencing in the sheep and cattle? Step in electronet might not be the best for pigs and goats, it may be cheaper to just put up the fencing you plan on using for sheep/cattle and add some electric lines for the goats/pigs.

Making hugglebeds seems like a bad excuse for machine use to me. Uncompacted soil will hold more moisture, leaving stumps in the ground will increase humus, good pasture management will also increase moisture capacity.

Just some thoughts, I have an obvious bias against large machines.

peace
 
Billy Nelson
Posts: 16
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I would go with the dozer option, Connor. If one is available, request that the job be done with a wide-tracked, Low Ground Pressure (LGP) dozer. Designed for use in swamp land, LGP dozers do not compact the soil anywhere near as much as do dozers with standard narrow-width tracks. While you are at it, the dozer can carve out a nice wide access road through the area you describe as a nearly impassible hollow.

Of course the dozer can also create instant hugel beds to the size you specify, such that you can embark on all your projects in a much shorter time frame than would otherwise have been possible. Given the skill of the dozer operator who will handle the job for you, all that clearing of stumps can be done with surgical precision in a manner that leaves that all-important top soil largely intact.

Finally, if planning permission is a consideration in your neck of the woods, a dozer will expedite the landscape changes you have in mind, such that the entire project can be done with long before any officials get wind and show up with their notebooks and measuring tapes.

I love the smell of diesel in the morning. It smells like progress.
 
Connor Ireland
Posts: 23
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Osker: The lore around here and further south through the state is that goat meat doesn't preserve well, that it goes nasty with methods that would be fine for oher things. I know I could put up whole pigs.

The cows (sheep) would primarily for the soil, secondarily for dairy, the beeves would be a windfall. Yes, its a lot of meat to handle, but I've got some experience with charcutrie and related areas.

FENCING: I would like to be able to put some grazing pressure on the goats/swine, so they could really do a thorough job. I will probably set up much larger paddocks for the ruminants, with five strips of barbed wire or something to that effect, which would definitely NOT do the trick for swine/goats.

MYCO: I love this idea. I would have a couple hundred stumps out there, enough mushrooms to dry and store, take to market, whatever. Pigs love mushrooms, too.

Billy: The hollow has a very rocky coldweather creek going through it. A road is something I hope someday to have, but it will involve a culvert and pouring concrete, lots of grading, filling, it would be enormously expensive. It would be better to describe the hollow as a gorge. Really, access problems are probably the best reason to consider avoiding machines, since any road I make won't last ten years. These access problems are also a good argument for leaving the area as a woodlot, to be perfectly honest with you/myself.

KAY: I guess when I think of it from a sustainability perspective, petro-machines make sense when they are used to accomplish something that will increase total fertility. Like terracing, okay that makes sense, and those terraces will be around for hundreds of years, intot he time when we presumably won't have access to these machines anymore. But dozing, just so you can haul in ammendments, double dig, mybe even find yourself discing and plowing in the future. I'm no expert either, but I imagine these discussions are important to have. There isn't enough arguing on this forum!
 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 208
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
18
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Hi Conner,

I echo you sentiment about the people running this forum. It is amazing in many ways. I am most often too busy doing permacutlure to read it... which is a funny predicament. but its winter now in WA and I have surplus time and thus want to give it away to the forums here.

I get asked a lot of questions similar to this, because it is essentially my primary work to convert native forests into more diversely productive permaculture food/forage forests

It seems to me you are looking to make a massive disturbance and change over a dense forest ecosystem in a more-or-less steady state grazing operation. is this the case?

I reckon that there are two basic strategies for changing over land,

1.) change it all at once, using a lot of energy in a relatively wasteful manner.
2.) change it gradually, using the natural flows of energy to do most of the work,

Depending on which route you desire to go, the strategies are very very different.

I almost always recommend, and choose for myself, the latter option. Why? because I fear massive disturbances of the whole ecosystem. Because it takes A LOT of observational knowledge to do it well. particularly in when you are talking about deforestation, because you are essentially removing huge amounts of stored energy and nutrients.

How long have you known this land? Have you seen similar things done to land like that? In this vein I suggest doing a smaller amount and seeing what happens.

One option is to take trees down more gradually, use the biomass for lumber and fuel (like you were saying), also use the biomass to make hugelkulture mounds which can be plated as hedgerows. the hedges will provide supplemental food for you an animals, and will be a fence to keep cattle and sheep out. if they are intelligently placed along the keyline and contours, they will also help check erosion problems which may arise from taking out the trees.

If you fell the forest gradually, you can utilize goats(or other browsers) to feed off of the foliage from the fallen trees, capturing that energy and nutrients and sequestering it into useful forms (ie meat, milk and poop) that are of direct benefit. and with very minimal work

inoculating the stumps with appropriate mycellium is a great idea so long as you do it well. I have not had much success with this method, primarily because of our seasonal drought tends to kill a lot of mycellium.

gradually, you will convert the forest into a more open area, with living fences, and a lot of sequestered biomass.

hope that helps,
Andrew
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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How much of your land is forest?

About how old is this forest?

Soil is?

Types of trees?

I would only bring heavy equipment in if the land is already bad to begin with, otherwise I would use animals and natural processes to clear multiple patches in the forest. Cutting down all the trees is silly.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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So you have 4 acres of land that you clear cut the tress off.
This area of forest most likely has little seed bank of weeds just tree seed, so there is really no weeds that are going to come up.
And you spend that extra 800 and reseed one month after your 1st seed you will have really good pasture.

I would then have a pasture of goats, because they prefer the shurbs over grass, then hogs to digg up a few root crops that you seeded and a few stumps.

The following year, I might discontinue the goats and bring in sheep. Leaving just sheep and hog, Later in the year I would bring in the cow.

So with 4 acres you could have 3 cows and 3 sheeps and 3 hog.

1 cows/acre
6-7 sheep/acre
? hog/acres.

However if you plan on dwarf animals or heavy feed supplements that number could increase alot.
 
laura sharpe
Posts: 244
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well i think the idea of permaculture is to not only plant things in a given way but to steward the land in a given way...not only the land you are on but the entire plant. Less use of fossil fuels is nice. I do not know how quickly you want or need this entire thing to get done but in a slower process, you have more time to think about exactly what you want done.

how about peeing on the stumps and making smaller beds over each . If weed seeds pop up all over the place, feed them to someone so what. If you turn the earth, you will simply expose a different set of weed seeds.

You could do a combination of clearing part and doing the rest some other way. This way you gain experience in both and know what you would like to do in the future when this problem arises.

You could sell the animals instead of butchering and keeping. There is also the good old fashioned, butcher in the fall when the weather cools and smoke it. there is also the option of buying one of the alternate fuel fridges but those are not cheap, perhaps the money from the sale of animals can be saved up to make other viable storage options.

Above all, make yourself happy. If you would hate to sell a pig, dont raise a pig. If you would be happiest using a bit of fuel and getting it done now, well this is your land. Above all, I praise your commitment to making a smaller footprint on this planet than most.
 
Connor Ireland
Posts: 23
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Bengi: Thanks for those specific numbers, that kind of info really helps. I had been wondering if the goats would selectively take out the fragrant sumac/greenbrier over the bluestem grass. And its probably true that I don't have too many weed seeds, most of the underbrush is rhizome. So that's nice, because I would be clearing all at once (when I could get the heavy equipment in) and then changing it over more slowly.

Jordan: Of my seven acres of land, less than one is cleared. It was dozed a long time back, the topsoil is very unhealthy, basically red clay just an inch down. It only grows lespedeza and sage grass.
Everything else is forest, but much of it is steep, and I'm hesitant to clear it for fear of erosion.
Soil is sandy loam. There is grey clay and red clay if you can get to the subsoil, but generally things get very rocky within two feet of the surface.
Hard to say how old the forest is. There are old home sites all around these hills, and I can inferr some things by looking at them. Small patches were cleared for gardens, and hogs were ranged in the woods. But this was in the early 1900's, there are low rock walls and rusted fence all over the area.
Based on the size of the tree, the oldest _straight_ tree I have is sixty years old, the oldest crooked would be a couple hundred. But I don't know if the land was pulped (clear cut) or just continuously select cut over all this time. I see stumps that are less than twenty years old, and stumps that look to be fifty.
People say that the land all around here was wheat starved a long time ago, cleared and abandoned around the turn of the last century.
Some heavy equipment will be fairly necessary to skid the logs out. I want the timber from cutting the trees, I'll leave the slash/tops mostly in place . . . unless you think that will compromise my future pasture goals.

Andrew: Yes, I am hoping to convert from forest to permanent scrub land and pasture. I hope to improve soil more rapidly with warm weather grasses and ruminants.
Due to easement issues, the timber will all be taken at the same time. So that aspect of the disturbance will be abrupt.

I have only known this land for 10 months! I came here in early spring of '12. Personally i have never overseen a conversion of this type, but locals tell me that this is how it has always been done in this area. When they didn't use tracters and dozers, they used mule power to clear. Pasture is the only agriculture practice around here.
Seasonal drought is a big problem in my area . . . maybe if I smothered the stumps in wood chips up to their necks they would be able to survive dry spells.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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If you have dry spells then you should build swales to capture and infiltrate all the rain that you do get.
I would also fill these swales with dead leaves/trees/etc. they act as sponges to store the water for the dry season.

Swales are so important in your dry spell area. So go machine happy.
Clear the timber, dig/trench/swale. then plant pasture seed mix.
Then nut/fruit trees, these will help with mineral cycling, shade, extra food to harvest for you and food drop for animals. Water infiltration.
Then maybe chicken, followed by cow and lastly sheep.
Sheep will eat young nut/fruit trees.
 
pete jacobsen
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Connor, I know this topic is a bit old, but our situation is enough like yours that I wanted to post. We got our land last spring as well, 66 acres SE of Oregon City. In our case, it had already been logged. What we are doing is laying the slash between stumps and building HugelHills on top of that. Some of the "hills" are a bit wavy to pick up a wayward stump, but we'll be planting on them this spring. For us, our tractor, even with the backhoe attachment, was going to wear itself out digging out those stumps. Getting someone with an escavator - i.e. big machine! - was going to be very expensive. This way the stumps are just part of the Hugelkulture.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We have cleared twice (20 acres and 40 acres) with livestock. A mix of pigs, sheep and poultry. We cut off the lumber back to the old field stone walls and then broadcast seeded by hand. We cut the stumps low to the ground and left them in - that is a lot of nutrients I want to keep in our soil. We are also on steep land so I don't want to disturb it too much and cause erosion. The next year we fenced and let the livestock graze the forages and the regen from the stumps. It takes about ten years to turn it into classic fields - the second area is slowly improving now. See:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2009/08/02/field-clearing-grapple-skidder/

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2010/09/15/frost-seeding/

It does take a lot of livestock to do the job. This isn't something for just a couple of goats or pigs. But in the process we raise a lot of meat. We have about four hundred pigs on pasture - this is our primary farming product.

Cheers,

-Walter
in Vermont
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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Did I mis-understand? Will you be living there or just coming by sometimes? It sounds like it's not ready for you to live there (limited access, etc.).

Something I haven't seen others mention on here is protecting your stock from predators. Sheep and goats seem especially vulnerable. How often can you go to check on them and the fences? If you move them around with the electric fencing, are you going to haul in water or what? IMHO, keeping livestock on new land where you are not living is pretty hard and risky, especially if it's really out in the country - think bears, cougars, on top of coyotes, dogs, and vandals. If you don't have a lot of cash to spare, how about planting it to draw the kind of wildlife you'd like to eat, posting it, and then just hunting? You could then treat the area like the Native Americans - plant crops that need NO tending (like nut trees and fruit trees like mulberries that need no spraying, etc.) and just pop by whenever you want to glean.

My Dad used to hike on Fort Chaffee a lot. One of his observations is that deer hunters are really lazy - they don't go very deep into the woods or in to any areas that are thick with underbrush or briars. The result is that there are huge herds of deer - numbering in the 40's and upwards, hiding out in those kinds of areas until hunting season is over. So for a personal hunting aspect, planting the perimeter to APPEAR impenetrable will keep all those deer in there ready for you to harvest. You may be able to attract wild boars as well, from what I hear they are a problem in many areas of AR. Some say the older males have taint but I've read in Foxfire of people eating very large, old boars and thinking them delicious, so the taint may be myth.

If you are going to be living there, the goat idea seems promising - they love greenbrier and lespedeza. They will also eat a limited number of dry, dead leaves. If you had more money, I'd recommend running a larger number of hogs on the land and feeding them instead of grazing them (too many to live off the land), to get the manure and ploughing action. Do that the first year, then in the fall plant clover, annual ryegrass, and your pasture grasses, opting for native grasses because they have deeper roots and are more drought tolerant. The native grasses die out quickly if you keep animals on them but if you use rotational grazing they seem to do pretty well. But that's more money for fencing and more water problems - unless you harvest water from your roof and save it for during the dry season. If it's hilly you could just put the waterers below the tanks. My goats have picked certain trees they like and have stripped the bark off of those, the rest they are leaving alone. In other words, goats will clear underbrush, tree seedlings, vines, etc. and in fact they prefer that type of forage over grass and clover, assuming there's enough to eat, but you can't count on them to clear everything unless you kind of starve them into it, and then you'll have to worry about health problems.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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If you go with minis then 3 cows/acre once it's good pasture. If you bring in hay the animals will seed and fertilize for you - you wont have to buy any.

We asked our logger to flatten out an area for pasture (pre-permies days) and he scrapped all the topsoil off so be careful!

My breeds are not picky/good at foraging (mini Belted Galloways and Black Welsh Mountain sheep). I started with goats but this breed of sheep is much more interested in the browse then the goats were. Breeds that are good at foraging are also good escape artists...
 
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