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Developing Pasture

 
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Hey guys
First post
I signed up for an account once I signed up for the VPDC. I am on module 4 (I think)

Anyway,

I'm located in New Hampshire, USA, zone 5a.

I an planning out for this coming year and I have decided that I would like to take areas that are already sort of crappy pasture and turn them into a silvopasture type system.

My first step is to improve what I have by working the land, then bringing in high quality perennial grass seeds, in order to start getting deep roots established.

In the pictures I attached, there is a blue line. To the right of that blue line is a pasture that really needs some help. In the center, is a pasture that is made up of mostly traditional yard grasses and weeds. Shallow roots that don't perform well in any bit of dry conditions. The grass doesn't go brown, but it doesn't grow. To the left is an area that could be part of the pasture that needs some improvement for grass to grow effectively.

The actual blue line is a sort of "edge" area, with a trench that runs through to divert excess water off of the property during rain (This needs to be harvested into a swale or pond, I definitely know that.)
The edge has thorny plants, some small bushes, ferns, etc. I am wondering if chickens would be able to successfully knock that down? If not, what? I am trying to not add new animals this year.
Or should I try using mechanical mean (tilling then grading) to accomplish this?

Once all that is knocked down and the earth is worked, I would go through with the high quality pasture seeds and then baby the area until roots were established.

The yellow line marks an area where to the right of the line is reasonably level ground, and to the left is just a junky area to walk on, there is a strip that gets overtaken by all kinds of random plants, and grass doesn't grow in (I haven't tried to do anything there yet). I am thinking grading that area so that I can get a reasonable pitch (basically undoing what the previous owners did), then taking the same approach with chickens/ducks to turn the area excessively, then go in with high quality pasture seed

I dunno what I'm doing so any input, advice, etc would be appreciated in addition to some thoughts on the question I asked.
Thank you!!

PropertyBoundaries.png
Showing the boundaries of the area in question
Showing the boundaries of the area in question
RoughPastureSetup.png
Showing the boundaries of my area plus a trench/edge, and the sloped area
Showing the boundaries of my area plus a trench/edge, and the sloped area
 
pollinator
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Location: Ashhurst New Zealand (maritime temperate - 9b with cool summers)
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One of the best ways to improve pasture is with managed grazing. Start with fences and water. Have a way to move them often so that you can leave lots of biomass behind. Start with small numbers and add stock as the soil quality improves and starts producing more forage.

Let the animals do most of the work, and limit your interventions to over- or undersowing with a mix of species to get more diversity in the root mass feeding the soil microbes. What sort of livestock do you plan on having?
 
Robert Neal
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Phil Stevens wrote:One of the best ways to improve pasture is with managed grazing. Start with fences and water. Have a way to move them often so that you can leave lots of biomass behind. Start with small numbers and add stock as the soil quality improves and starts producing more forage.

Let the animals do most of the work, and limit your interventions to over- or undersowing with a mix of species to get more diversity in the root mass feeding the soil microbes. What sort of livestock do you plan on having?



Chickens and ducks as a near constant.

I am interested in sheep, cows, geese, and pigs. Would be looking to add whatever I figure the land can support (likely sheep as my ruminant for management)

You're saying that what I need is probably already in the soil, and I just need to work on improvements?
 
Phil Stevens
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All the machinery is there. You just need to oil some gears and a way to set it in motion. Sheep are great for breaking in rough pasture and you could follow them with chickens in a tractor. Careful with free-ranging poultry, as they will preferentially eat all the herbaceous stuff and leave you with a grass dominant sward. You want a good mix of legumes and forbs for N fixation and deep taproots to bring up minerals, and chickens in particular are really rough on the forbs.
 
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My idea of a silvo pasture/savannah/prairie is one that is at most 25% trees and the rest pasture, but there isn't some legal definition of what a silvo-pasture and even if there was so what, lol.

I think that some diakon radish/tillage radish will help de-compact the soil. And then a nice foundational layer of 80% legumes. I think that rotational grazing will help improve the pasture too, and for that you could just get some portable electric fencing/netting, and move it daily, so that you have 28-49 mini-pastures. With that many "mini-pasture" you will be able to give each one at least a months rest that will help the "herd" with worms/etc and it will also give the "grass" enough time to recover and grow back.
 
Robert Neal
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Phil Stevens wrote:All the machinery is there. You just need to oil some gears and a way to set it in motion. Sheep are great for breaking in rough pasture and you could follow them with chickens in a tractor. Careful with free-ranging poultry, as they will preferentially eat all the herbaceous stuff and leave you with a grass dominant sward. You want a good mix of legumes and forbs for N fixation and deep taproots to bring up minerals, and chickens in particular are really rough on the forbs.



I noticed what my free ranging chickens did this past year and I'm not very happy about my lack of management of them. They ate my back field (the center area) clean of clover which I didn't really think they would do.
Those were freedom ranger meat birds, though. This year, I am probably only going to free range my layers, and I already have a maggot bucket setup for the spring, plans to get a small compost ring inside their (massive) coop (one side of the barn for 11 chickens), and hopefully I can find a food waste stream locally. I didn't really know what I was doing and was trying to keep feed costs really low without understanding the bird in a holistic sense. I've learned a bit and this year I'll do better.

On the bright side, once they exhausted the clover and what not, they moved to a weird dirt patch that got taken over by burdoch, feral lettuce, etc, and found a ton of snacks in there.

If sheep are a key here, I may bite the bullet and add two.... I already have fencing in place and a place for them to sleep.
 
Robert Neal
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S Bengi wrote:My idea of a silvo pasture/savannah/prairie is one that is at most 25%, but there isn't some legal definition of what a silvo-pasture and even if there was so what, lol.

I think that some diakon radish/tillage radish will help de-compact the soil. And then a nice foundational layer of 80% legumes. I think that rotational grazing will help improve the pasture too, and for that you could just get some portable electric fencing/netting, and move it daily, so that you have 28-49 mini-pastures. With that many "mini-pasture" you will be able to give each one at least a months rest that will help the "herd" with worms/etc and it will also give the "grass" enough time to recover and grow back.



That is a very good idea. The area in my pictures is probably 1.4 acres total. I'm not looking to support 6 or even 4 sheep on that area, maybe 2 with a little supplemental feed. If I could run a flock of geese or other smaller "mini rumanent) alongside the two sheep, that would be perfect.

I have been recommended Daikon raddish, and I definitely need some of that to decompact the soil, and increase water infiltration. I have an area on the left specifically that has almost no water infiltration and turns into a mud pit. Might be a good area to introduce ducks into though!

The center line of the middle area is actually a sort of driving path. Looking at older pictures on google earth, the previous owner drove down there a lot more than I do. Now the grass is taking over that area, and in summer of 2021 when it was very wet for the second half, it was a beautiful green sea with just a vague rock path. That makes me think I need to take more pictures as I go along.
 
Phil Stevens
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We have a similar amount of grazable area to you, it seems. Maybe a little less tree cover proportionally, and our climate is milder than yours. Our pasture pretty much stops growing for winter and we are subject to summer/autumn droughts that bring everything to a screeching halt. With that, we're currently grazing four sheep and an alpaca and at the moment have an almost ridiculous feed surplus. I've already cut and baled this year's hay crop and we keep getting just enough rain to keep things lush, which is unusual for the height of summer.

In a more "normal" year I think we'd be right at the nominal point feedwise. However, the pasture productivity is on a definite upward trend since I changed the grazing rotation to smaller paddocks and move them more often. The legumes (clover, lotus) and broadleaf species like chicory, plantain and burnet are showing a lot of resurgence since I cooped up the chickens. Overall it is about twice as abundant as it was 2-3 years ago, but this mad be partially down to the incredible excess rainfall we've had.

My interventions are mostly in the form of oversowing bare patches and throwing seeds around pretty much at random. When mowing with the scythe, I always leave patches of legumes in the hay paddock to carry on flowering and set seed, then use those to scatter around the property. I've also been topdressing with biochar, using uncrushed material and letting the animals walk over it to break it up and tread it into the topsoil. This appears to have really helped out one section in particular that got turned into a mud bog last winter. We no longer have problems with standing water even after torrential rains...it all soaks in within a day or less.
 
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