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making hay without equipment, haystacks, or other uses for pasture?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We have about 1.4 acres of pasture. We current don't have any grazing animals. We were hoping to have some geese on part of it by now but we don't. We have a potato patch in it, and have planted lots little trees around the perimeter as well as begun a fruit orchard in one section. Over the next few years we hope to have pigs on it, moving around in moving them around to till up more for more veg planting, we will be planting more trees, and will possibly also be adding goats into the equation. I am also looking into using part of it to build a food forest in addition to the traditional orchard.

However at the moment I don't want to waste it. We had a friend's sheep on it for a couple of months in the winter, which was great, but now with all of our various plantings, that would be very complicated - we'd need to fence off areas or individual trees, and frankly for the amount of good grazing they'd get (a couple of months for a small number of sheep) he doesn't think it's worth it. I have asked around to see if anyone would cut and bale it on contract but for the acerage no one's interested. So I'm looking into other options. I could possibly get someone with a ride-on mower to come and cut it for me. Then we could try taking it by hand. But then what? I have read a bit into making bales by hand and that seems like a step too far. I have also been reading about making haystacks. Obviously I know this is a real skill, one I emphatically do not have. but i was thinking, what's the worst that happens - the hay spoils - in which case it's still useable as mulch or as compost, right? (Well, I mean the WORST would be a haystack fire but I would monitor to avoid that, and it's not a hot or dry climate so I'm not too worried about that).

It just feels like we're wasting a resource right now which upsets me. We have plenty of other areas on the property that are wild and being left alone as habitat. I don't want to let the pasture revert to scrub, at least not yet. But I can't figure out what to do with it. Any thoughts appreciated!
 
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Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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not an easy situation, but good that you are looking at it with a keen eye.

I think the biggest concern is that if you just let it grow long and turn into scrub, you will potentially have huge rodent problems which may end up destroying your trees. I learned this the hard way.
Another concern is to keep some grass-free edge margin around your plantings, as pasture grass is super competitive and will really rob your more desired plants of soil nutrients.

Simply mowing and leaving it on the ground to rot isnt a terrible idea. Rake up what you can to use as mulch elsewhere.
From experience, using fencing to carefully graze animals around your trees is super labor intensive and the animals, IMHE, always seem to find a way to eat what you dont want them to.
Goats may be the worst offenders of all in this regard. Pigs too will hapily uproot your small trees and/or snap them off at their base. Geese will strip the bark off of young trees too. All in all, use caution.

The amount of total hay that you might be able to put up from your area seems pretty negligable, more work than it is worth in the era of tractor powered swathers and bailers. I agree with your neighbors that it wouldnt be economically sensible either to cut it for hay, or graze their animals on it. Even in a few years with lots more planitings, on 1.4 acres you will still likely have a lot of grass growing around your plants, and that grass will need to be dealt with.

I use a flail mower on a walk behind tractor, as this chops up the herbage so that it breaks down nicely on the ground. It is also very powerful so I can let the grass grow fully to maturity before cutting, so there is a maximum amount of root mass in the soil. A sickle bar mower would leave long pieces that would tend to not self compost in the same way. Maybe a self-bagging ride-on mower would work, but I think you would have to mow frequently to keep the grass short enough for the machine to be able to handle it. For larger clearing in grass, you could teather a heiffer or a steer. Ropes dont work out too well with goats and sheep, they seem like professionals at strangling themselves. But the slow mind of the cow works agreeably with teather grazing. I utilize this on larger spots, anything 20x20 feet or larger. But there are still lots of edges and such that I have to mow. So that is the solution that has worked best for me after years of trial and error, lots of stressed and stunted trees, and more rodent damage than I care to remember.

good luck! sounds like a beautiful project you are working on.

 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Wow, thank you for that very useful reply! We have only been here since September, and we have so many plans and crazy schemes but relatively little experience so feel like we're constantly at a loss. But in 10 years this place is going to be amazing

Ok, so I don't know the machinery you refer to. A walk-behind tractor - is that like a rear tine rotorvator tiller? We rented one of those to till up the potato patch. The rental place also has a 'flail mower' but I don't know what one is... more reading to do! I would love to learn to use a scythe but that seems like such a skill that I don't have a huge amount of hope - I don't do finesse that well!

I'm assuming that a push mower won't work on tall grass at all right? At the moment the pasture is grass (don't know what kind), starting to set seed heads, about 50 cm or so high on average, with a large amount of plantain, red clover, and a smaller amount of buttercup, thistle, and nettle.

I'm interested in the idea of tethering a cow, for sure, although we're not really in a position to take it on ourselves. There might be a few people I could offer space to though for this purpose so I will look into that.

I am aware that goats are super-duper escape artists. We're not absolutely committed to the idea but we're hoping to be able to keep a few dairy goats as, if managed correctly, we think the space could support them sustainably with little additional inputs. As it'll be a few years until goats anyway I'm playing lalala about the fencing... As for pigs we're hoping to start next year, but just with a few small ones for digging - with electric fencing. The reason we haven't yet gotten our planned-for geese is that I'm trying to work out the best options for containment/free-ranging from the point of view of protection from predators, crop and tree protection, and also stopping them from floating off down the river.

Anyway, maybe in a few months if we've made some more progress I will do a whole big post about our place! thanks again, i'll get reading some more.
 
Posts: 3366
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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A walking tractor is like the engine and wheels from a tiller, but the tiller comes off and you can attach all kinds of other tools--regular mowers, sickle mowers, flails, balers, just about anything. They are EXPENSIVE if you can even find one new.

There is a lot of value in letting it mature to the point the seeds are viable, both for the rootmass and the overseeding of the pasture. You can cut that much fairly easily with a scythe and rake it up with a pitchfork. Oldschool.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thanks. I definitely won't be buying any big powered equipment any time soon, but I can rent a fair range of stuff.

I would love to learn to scythe, as I said. maybe I should just have a go at that. I already have a pitchfork!
 
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