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Rebirth/regeneration of old pasture

 
David Herington
Posts: 2
Location: Piedmont NC
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This is my first post in the forum, so please be gentle with a newbie.

My wife and I are in the process of buying a cabin with 6 acres of land in the North Carolina Piedmont. 3 acres of this property is fenced pasture, on a hillside sloping to the northwest. The pasture is somewhat overgrown with weeds and brambles, although there is also a lot of grass present. I'm not sure when the last time it was used but it must be at least several years. My hope is to begin planting a variety of fruit and nut trees on this part of the property, using swales and Hugel culture, hopefully I will succeed in producing some good crops of fruit and nuts organically and sustainably.

My question right now though it is what is the best use of the pasture land as it currently exists. I would like to get it cleaned up, get brush the grass cut regularly and clean out some of the brambles. I had thought of trying to find someone locally who needs hay, to cut the field in exchange for the hay. However, after asking around, I'm not sure anybody's going to be interested in a small acreage such as this. Since I have a full-time, 50 hour per week job, I don't really have the extra time nor do I have the equipment to take on this task myself. Unfortunately my wife would not be able to do much physical work, because of health issues. So I thought that another solution would be to get some grazing animals, such as donkeys or sheep, and subdivide the pasture area into paddocks, and they could help take care of the overgrown areas. At first I thought about goats, but I'm a little bit worried about them escaping, and also as I understand that they tend to be browsers, not grazers, so I'm not sure they would be very happy eating the grass. The animals, should we get them, would no doubt quickly become pets, so it would be pointless to plan to raise them up and then send them off for slaughter, it just wouldn't happen once we got attached to them.

So,Permies, what advice can you give me? Thanks
 
Erika May
Posts: 14
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I do not mean this in a mean way. I am asking you honestly: if you work 50 hours a week which you feel is too much to take time to deal with the problem and your wife is physically unable to (right now?) then why are you taking on such a big time commitment as a neglected farm? I understand dreams, but do you have the capacity to take the time to build mounds? Will you have the time to spend time throughout the year just watching the way the sun moves over your property? Do you feel you can manage this without it becoming a massive burden?

People who want hay are persnickity about their hay: they don't want weeds, they don't want bramble mixed in, and the guys who mow want the land perfectly flat. If it ain't that, then you are best off with animals. I've read about improving orchards simply by cutting the soil open with a disk to increasing depths to airate the soil and improve the growth of the grass thats already there.

Then it becomes an issue of time: do you have time to rotationally graze animals? A mix of animals is usually best. Goats will eat brambles, but if you don't have a terrible problem with brambles get only one or two and they will always find something. Then choose either a sheep or cow to munch on the grass. A mini donkey could be fun: you could get it to hitch up to a cart and pull. Donkeys make good pets: sheep, not so much. I hear they tend to die alot for most people (not yet for me! knock on wood!), and most don't have that interesting a personality. That is, if you just want to keep it pasture.

However, if you want to reseed or are planning on turning it into an orchard anyway, you may just want pigs to rototill everything out then plant green manures until you get in the trees.

Animals get out. They just do. They have 24 hours a day to do nothing but eat, sleep, and figure a way out. Most rural communities know thats the case, so you shouldn't worry about getting sued. However, if you make your place where they want to be, they won't bother trying to escape. If you make your animals feel like your place is "home" they will come back. I train my animals to certain sounds they know means treats and they come running. The only issue I have had with escaping animals was when my gilt didn't want to be in her tiny paddock anymore...but once we got her comfortable again we haven't had issues (expect when she walked through a hold in the fence...but she happily walked back inside with me).

I hope that was some help. Good luck.
 
Amedean Messan
pollinator
Posts: 928
Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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David Herington wrote:

My wife and I are in the process of buying a cabin with 6 acres of land in the North Carolina Piedmont.



Where at, I live in Alamance County.
 
Erika May
Posts: 14
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One more suggestion: maybe you could rent that pasture to a farmer who is looking for a place to run their animals for a season, or rent a farmers animals. Some folks set up their own fences and it wouldn't be a worry for you to deal with. Let them take care of it!

I found a goat off craigslist I will be rehoming for a few months while goat's family gets moved and resettled. Won't need to pay for him, he's just gonna visit for a while, do some work then go on to live with his family again. There are lost of people around who need temporary placement for their animals while they move or deal with family stuff. You may be able to help someone out, but make sure you stipulate you need them to set everything up and draw out what work you are willing to do and not willing to do.
 
Jay Hayes
Posts: 62
Location: Missouri
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Hey David,

Welcome to the forums.

I have two suggestions.

If you have a hankering for ungulates I would suggest giving hair sheep a shot. They are a shedding variety of sheep (you don't have to shear them). They are cold hardy, fairly parasite resistant, a good combination of grazer and browser, and cute as fuzzy little buttons. I have experience with Dorper x. Katahdin crosses which weigh about 50-60 pounds and are very personable, and would probably make lovely additions to your family. They are small and docile enough to pick up and transport in large dog cages if need be so you wouldn't need to purchase much to have a few.

This is what worked in a similar situation on a friends farm in Missouri. In an area of about 5 acres of over grown pasture (think 10' tall 1 inch diameter hardwood trees and brambles), my friend attacked the non-grass vegetation with a weed whacker that had a metal saw blade attachment. All the woody material was cut and burned, cool season grasses were seeded, then the hair sheep were turned loose. They ate the woody sprouts all through the spring and summer while they grazed among the grasses. This year was year 4, post conversion, and there were no longer any sprouts coming up. It seems as though the sheep successfully wore out the roots of the trees and brambles and now it is pasture once more.

The one big caveat with this is you would need good woven wire fencing with several strands of barbed wire on the top, and possibly a guardian too. If you were looking for pets I would suggest looking for some older ewes(if you aren't breeding don't take a ram, even if someone gives it to you). Most producers need to get rid of these on occasion when they get to the upper end of the breeding age. The meat market only pays well for lambs so the older gals are usually cheap and can be hard to get rid of.

If you don't really want the bother of animals I would suggest asking anyone around who has a tractor and brush hog if you could hire them to mow the pasture for you. It might cost you 100-200 bucks but someone will do it if you pay them to much for it. Have them mow it in early to mid-summer before the weeds and brambles are seeded out. Mowing it once a year for a few years will likely cure most of your ills. But sheep are more fun...

J
 
Pierre de Lacolline
Posts: 37
Location: New Hampshire; USDA Z5
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As Erika mentioned, it doesn't sound like your pasture is in any kind of shape for cutting hay. I personally wouldn't pay for hay that came out of that field, and I might not even be interested in hauling free mulch hay if it was all full of weed seeds and brambles.

Jay's suggestion of paying someone to come in and mow/brush-hog is probably your best bet. This will help keep the woody stuff at bay. You may also want to overseed with a pasture mix. A soil test will tell you what kind of shape the soil is in, and what you need in terms of nutrients.

As far as trees, swales, and hugels go with working full-time-plus, I suggest setting some very small, achievable goals. If you haven't done any of this before it's a lot more work than you might expect, especially if you don't have any help and no machinery. A good starter project would be to measure out, say, a 6'x10' area, build a hugel bed there and plant a fruit tree with a couple of smaller fruiting shrubs and some ground cover. If you have deer/pests you'll need to figure out fencing/protection -- 40' or so of fencing is manageable.

This is a large enough project that it will be satisfying to finish, small enough that you can actually see progress and achieve it, and it will give you a good idea of how much time similar future projects are going to take. (It also gives you a chance to make mistakes on a small scale so that you can make corrections the next time around. I did some plantings -- in what sounds like a similar situation to yours -- a few years ago that I would definitely do differently today.)
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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