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converting brush to Pasture

 
Jerry Ward
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Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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I have 10 acres in S.E. Michigan with a creek running through it. Right now it is mostly brushy undergrowth with areas of mature trees. About 2/3's of the land is river bottom land so it is well watered. My long term is to always have chickens and alternate between raising a couple of pigs and a steer for meat. My question is how to go about converting some of this land into high quality pasture and how much would I need if I selected one of the smaller breed like a Dexter?
 
Chris Stelzer
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Jerry Ward wrote:I have 10 acres in S.E. Michigan with a creek running through it. Right now it is mostly brushy undergrowth with areas of mature trees. About 2/3's of the land is river bottom land so it is well watered. My long term is to always have chickens and alternate between raising a couple of pigs and a steer for meat. My question is how to go about converting some of this land into high quality pasture and how much would I need if I selected one of the smaller breed like a Dexter?


You have options for converting to pasture. You could cut it with chainsaws and other power tools, or use livestock to do it for you overtime. To really knock down the brush and change the species of plants growing you'll need very high densities of livestock grazing. Or, you can work with what you have and run livestock that will take advantage of the brushy species of plants. Are the mature trees oaks? If they are, the acorns are great at supplementing the diets of pigs as you probably know.

I guess it depends on what you want to do. It sounds like you only want a steer, some pigs and some chickens. I would get those livestock and start grazing them at your place and let them transform the landscape for you. This is probably the most cost effective, but will take longer to get to high quality pasture. I think it's great to a very diverse area to graze livestock, it sounds like you have that where you are now. Maybe the only thing you need to work on is getting some more grass species in the mix, which can start doing overtime.
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 188
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Chris Stelzer wrote:Are the mature trees oaks? If they are, the acorns are great at supplementing the diets of pigs as you probably know.

I guess it depends on what you want to do. It sounds like you only want a steer, some pigs and some chickens. I would get those livestock and start grazing them at your place and let them transform the landscape for you. This is probably the most cost effective, but will take longer to get to high quality pasture. I think it's great to a very diverse area to graze livestock, it sounds like you have that where you are now. Maybe the only thing you need to work on is getting some more grass species in the mix, which can start doing overtime.


The trees on the front half of the property are black walnuts and the back are pine and cotton wood.

I'm not opposed to some chainsaw work. I don't think there is much for a cow or pig to eat as it is very woody brush, maybe a few goats the first year. There is 1-2 acres of some kind of grass growing, it is what I would call coarse in texture and is growing in a area that is VERY wet in the spring.
 
Ivan Smith
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I also live in Michigan and have been running 2 horses and 1-4 cattle on pasture that is not great. The weeds are still king, anyway it is getting better. My question is can I just over seed these pastures in the spring and fall to put in more grass seed, and what would be your recommendation on the type of seed to use. Thanks!
 
Lm McWilliams
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Location: USDA Zone 5
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Jerry, In addition to the nut crop, you are aware that black walnuts are very valuable timber trees?

If they are too close together to allow grass to grow beneath, you could always thin the trees, creating
a savanah type environment, instead of clear cutting. Trees perform so many functions in the landscape-
sequestering carbon, bringing minerals to the surface via annual leaf-drop, aiding the hydrologic cycle, etc.

You may want to search for info on 'sylvo-pasturing' before making decisions about what to cut, and how
you want to develop the wooded areas of your land.

We also have wooded area we want to do more with, including silvo-pasturing hogs and cattle, and possibly
goats. (Or yaks? Or reindeer? A farm near us raises red deer, and will happily sell us breeding stock. )

The treeless portion of our pastures have had some trees added, with more planned: some for forage, like
willow and locust; some for nuts, such as hazel; and fruit trees. Plus the willow, locust, and hazel can all
be coppiced for firewood or fenceposts, etc.

Wooded areas can also be good sources of wild edible plants, or areas where you could grow mushrooms.

The bottom line is that I see woods as a resource, and am maybe too reluctant to cut down many existing
trees, because I know I cannot replace them for decades...

Great questions, and a very useful topic. I'm interesting to see what others have to say.

 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 188
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Yeah the value of black walnut wood is legendary. I'm going to have take out a few so the others can grow better and make some space. I've heard the term "sylvo-pasturing" in the past and done some reading on it but everything is related to larger tracts of land. That is the problem I'm having with a lot of the information I find, it is written for much more or much less property then I have. One of Geoff Lawtons videos shows what he did on 5 acres and I would love to replicate it on my 10 acres.
 
Renate Howard
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Location: zone 6b
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Goats or mini donkeys would make short work of your pines - if you get them be sure to fence off the pines you want to save. The needles are very high in vitamin C and it would make for very healthy livestock!

Highlands are cattle that browse more than other breeds. They don't grow too big, are easy to finish on just grass pasture, and aren't too picky tho they do need some quality pasture. I think they'd do well there.

Bigger pigs would be able to eat the black walnuts that fall, I don't know if the smaller kinds that are popular with homesteaders can crack them.

Ivan, You can seed with clover any time, I find it will start growing with one good rain and a couple days of heavy dew. It would be best to divide your pasture and keep them out of the newly seeded area until the plants get stronger roots or they'll be ripped out by your horses. Annual Rye is wonderful to fall-seed (in fact you can seed it now) - mine didn't die out over winter, instead it kept growing and was the cattle's favorite place to graze.
 
Brian Mallak
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Location: Central NY
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Jerry,
I have a somewhat similar situation with my land. While I have more acreage, I cannot afford to actually fill it to its capacity nor do I have the infrastructure to support that much livestock over winter.
So, what I am doing is using portable poultry fencing to create paddocks. Then I lead with goats (6 of them), and follow with a flock of chickens. I have also been planting buckwheat after the chickens. Looking into planting other weed suppression like crops (mighty mustard, barley, winter wheat etc).
Next year I will get some more live stock for a more complex lead/follow system.
The goats are clearing a paddock (120m) about every 10 days, but the most recent paddock has a heavier stocking rate and it is taking them quite awhile to mow it down.
Had to move the chickens to a new paddock as a result (19 of them).
+1 on the Dexters! I plan I getting a few of them in the next 2-3years.

Hope this helps!
 
Chris Stelzer
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Brian Mallak wrote:Jerry,
I have a somewhat similar situation with my land. While I have more acreage, I cannot afford to actually fill it to its capacity nor do I have the infrastructure to support that much livestock over winter.
So, what I am doing is using portable poultry fencing to create paddocks. Then I lead with goats (6 of them), and follow with a flock of chickens. I have also been planting buckwheat after the chickens. Looking into planting other weed suppression like crops (mighty mustard, barley, winter wheat etc).
Next year I will get some more live stock for a more complex lead/follow system.
The goats are clearing a paddock (120m) about every 10 days, but the most recent paddock has a heavier stocking rate and it is taking them quite awhile to mow it down.
Had to move the chickens to a new paddock as a result (19 of them).
+1 on the Dexters! I plan I getting a few of them in the next 2-3years.

Hope this helps!


Brain, that sounds awesome, how is that working out for you? Does that netting work for fencing goats? I've heard horror stories! haha
 
Brian Mallak
Posts: 16
Location: Central NY
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Chris Stelzer wrote:
Brian Mallak wrote:Jerry,
I have a somewhat similar situation with my land. While I have more acreage, I cannot afford to actually fill it to its capacity nor do I have the infrastructure to support that much livestock over winter.
So, what I am doing is using portable poultry fencing to create paddocks. Then I lead with goats (6 of them), and follow with a flock of chickens. I have also been planting buckwheat after the chickens. Looking into planting other weed suppression like crops (mighty mustard, barley, winter wheat etc).
Next year I will get some more live stock for a more complex lead/follow system.
The goats are clearing a paddock (120m) about every 10 days, but the most recent paddock has a heavier stocking rate and it is taking them quite awhile to mow it down.
Had to move the chickens to a new paddock as a result (19 of them).
+1 on the Dexters! I plan I getting a few of them in the next 2-3years.

Hope this helps!


Brain, that sounds awesome, how is that working out for you? Does that netting work for fencing goats? I've heard horror stories! haha


Chris,
So far it is working pretty well.
The goats eat down the brush, shrubs, and small trees, and some weeds and grass (4 Boer and two mixed milkers). I have 3 RIR (over a year old) chickens in with the goats for tick control. Seems to be working well!
The other paddock with the other chickens (French Freedom Rangers, about 12 weeks old) are doing well. The paddocks after both have rotated through are very lush and green, both grass and weeds. I then use a 5/8ths chain harrow to prep for a bed to plant Mannmoth Red Mangles and Forage Turnips for the livestock over winter. I did another paddock with sweet clover and yellow mangles but we had a dry spell for 10 days. The sweet clover has begun to establish itself. The mangles are just now coming up. I think the lack of rain and heat had something to do with it. The buckwheat I planted seems to be stunted as well. Only 3-5inchs tall, a yellow/red color and some are budding out flowers. The buckwheat that was under clumps of grass (effect from the chain harrow) seems to be growing better and much greener.
The fence is engergized by a solar/battery energizer. Puts out about 2.8-4.0k volts depending on the sun. The goats dont try to go over the fence, too small for the chickens, and they have not been bothered by predators. I have seen coyote in the area, and none have taken a goat or chicken. My dogs who have experienced a active fence have not gone near the fence since.

If you or anyone has additional questions, feel free to ask!
 
Chris Stelzer
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Brian Mallak wrote:
Chris Stelzer wrote:
Brian Mallak wrote:Jerry,
I have a somewhat similar situation with my land. While I have more acreage, I cannot afford to actually fill it to its capacity nor do I have the infrastructure to support that much livestock over winter.
So, what I am doing is using portable poultry fencing to create paddocks. Then I lead with goats (6 of them), and follow with a flock of chickens. I have also been planting buckwheat after the chickens. Looking into planting other weed suppression like crops (mighty mustard, barley, winter wheat etc).
Next year I will get some more live stock for a more complex lead/follow system.
The goats are clearing a paddock (120m) about every 10 days, but the most recent paddock has a heavier stocking rate and it is taking them quite awhile to mow it down.
Had to move the chickens to a new paddock as a result (19 of them).
+1 on the Dexters! I plan I getting a few of them in the next 2-3years.

Hope this helps!


Brain, that sounds awesome, how is that working out for you? Does that netting work for fencing goats? I've heard horror stories! haha


Chris,
So far it is working pretty well.
The goats eat down the brush, shrubs, and small trees, and some weeds and grass (4 Boer and two mixed milkers). I have 3 RIR (over a year old) chickens in with the goats for tick control. Seems to be working well!
The other paddock with the other chickens (French Freedom Rangers, about 12 weeks old) are doing well. The paddocks after both have rotated through are very lush and green, both grass and weeds. I then use a 5/8ths chain harrow to prep for a bed to plant Mannmoth Red Mangles and Forage Turnips for the livestock over winter. I did another paddock with sweet clover and yellow mangles but we had a dry spell for 10 days. The sweet clover has begun to establish itself. The mangles are just now coming up. I think the lack of rain and heat had something to do with it. The buckwheat I planted seems to be stunted as well. Only 3-5inchs tall, a yellow/red color and some are budding out flowers. The buckwheat that was under clumps of grass (effect from the chain harrow) seems to be growing better and much greener.
The fence is engergized by a solar/battery energizer. Puts out about 2.8-4.0k volts depending on the sun. The goats dont try to go over the fence, too small for the chickens, and they have not been bothered by predators. I have seen coyote in the area, and none have taken a goat or chicken. My dogs who have experienced a active fence have not gone near the fence since.

If you or anyone has additional questions, feel free to ask!


Brian that sounds like you are doing a great job and experiencing some success. I think that is a great model from someone to follow who is looking to do something similar. Do you have any pictures?
 
Lm McWilliams
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Location: USDA Zone 5
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Brian Mallak wrote:Jerry,
I have a somewhat similar situation with my land. While I have more acreage, I cannot afford to actually fill it to its capacity nor do I have the infrastructure to support that much livestock over winter.
So, what I am doing is using portable poultry fencing to create paddocks. Then I lead with goats (6 of them), and follow with a flock of chickens. I have also been planting buckwheat after the chickens. Looking into planting other weed suppression like crops (mighty mustard, barley, winter wheat etc).
Next year I will get some more live stock for a more complex lead/follow system.
The goats are clearing a paddock (120m) about every 10 days, but the most recent paddock has a heavier stocking rate and it is taking them quite awhile to mow it down.
Had to move the chickens to a new paddock as a result (19 of them).
+1 on the Dexters! I plan I getting a few of them in the next 2-3years.

Hope this helps!


Yes, Brian - as others have asked, pictures, please!

It's especially gratifying to hear about others who are using the muti-species approach in a
cold and snowy climate. (Watching stuff about smallholdings in England, or Australia, where
they are whining about 'winter' and the grass is still green...! <smile!> In those enviromnets,
we would stockpile forage and be able to go hay-free, or nearly so.)

Been intending to try the forage beets. Would love to hear how those work out for you.

Thanks for sharing the info on what you are doing over there.
 
Renate Howard
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Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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As for the beets, I planted Lutz beets in my garden along with some mangels/forage beets for the kids (they wanted to see how they turned out) and the Lutz beets outperformed by a LOT the forage beets. Just because they're for human consumption doesn't mean they aren't as hardy, I found out! Getting the quantities of seeds may be an issue, tho, unless you save your own.

I've been planting bare spots with the seed mixes for attracting deer which come with some forage brassicas. In some spots they are doing very well and the livestock I have really like them.
 
Andy Reed
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If it was me, and I wanted a great pasture to get started on. I would use the chainsaw, and depending on how big the stumps are either cultivate or use a digger then cultivate. Once you have cultivated and created a disturbance in the soil you should easily be able to spread on some perennial grass seed, with a mix of clovers. I tend to go quite thick with the grass seed as it helps with weed control. It's a bit of work, but I look at it the same as a swale or other earthworks, once established it will last a very long time with very little input. Try and do it, while it is dry, to avoid erosion while the grass is getting established (about 6 weeks in for me). Grass and clover don't need a lot of moisture to strike.

There are plenty of permaculture uses for the wood and stumps. Fukuoka recommended burying the trees to improve the soil structure, which I think is wise.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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