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High Density Pasture Management on slopes.

 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Hi,

I looked all over the forum. Not much about pastures. I hope I chose the right section to post in.

So, some of you may have watched geoff lawton's video about rotating pastures, and I used to be in touch with Greg Judy until his email got hacked and I lost touch with him.
All that knowledge seems to apply to flat or manageably slopy areas. We live in the hills of Costa Rica, and our property has 5 pastures, but some of them have an inclination of probably 50ยบ, and I am the only one who is convinced about permaculture; the other monks (I live in a Hindu monastery, so people who live here don't necessarily have agriculture among their goals or background) want to see that stuff works before they approve the investment. So, you can see my predicament. I tell them that if we subdivide our huge pastures into smaller ones, let the cows graze until the grass is half as tall, meanwhile the cows will be concentrated in one area and poop in it, and trample onto what they don't eat, then it will all become mulch and topsoil, and the next time around the pasture will be better and better, and the grass root network will slow down erosion, and more varieties of grass will pop out (that's what everybody says, I still can't understand why. Maybe they say that for what used to be prairies or pastureland in the past, but our pastures used to be tropical forest, so...).
Anyway, "the opposition" says that with the cows packed like that on a slope, they might fight for food and fall and break a leg; or they say there is no way to see when they eat the grass down to half its size, because they'll just make a mess of the area with their hooves, and trash the pasture with their concentration, whereas now one cow will go one way, and one the other.
We really don't have a big herd. We have two Jersey milkers, who graze in the day, come back at 2pm for the pm milking and stay in the barn all night. Their sons are two oxen, who live in another barn, they are still young (2 years in Sep) to graze with their mothers and not steal some milk (or at least we don't want to find out, they may be old enough), so they graze from 2pm until their mothers go out in the morning. Then there is an older ox, and the Jersey/Zebu bull who is the sperm donor. The bull can only be contained in an electric pasture; a fixed one, with concrete posts and a metal wire. I bought the portable electric pasture kit, but nobody wants to replace the electrified string so often up and down a steep slope. So, if I ever convinced them to do some rotating, it would have to be among fenced, permanent, small electric pastures.
Given that the bull can only associate with the 3 oxen, and the two cows only with the big ox, we will never have more than 3 or 4 cows per lot.
My question is, does anyone of you have experience or theoretical knowledge of what it's like to do this pasture management on slopes?
Once I asked Greg Judy if I would have had to get a back hoe to terrace the pastures. He told me to rather borrow the neighbor's cows and they will make it so spongy with mulched and rich top soil that I won't need to spend money on the back hoe to avoid erosion. Also, cows don't graze vertically, so they'll be creating on-countour terraces just by stepping while grazing.
"The opposition" say they have practical experience of the cows trashing a pasture, especially in the rainy season. That's another stumbling block: in North America the growing season doesn't coincide with the rainy season, but here the time of the year when the grass grows fast and lush is also the time in which it rains so much that if so many cows step in the same area, a pasture turns into a mud hole; which is exactly what most pastures look like in this region by the end of the rains, in October.
I said there will be some destruction and reshaping at first, but in the long run HDPM is the way to go, because every year we keep spending hundreds of dollars to reseed some pastures. That's another point. I tell them to let the grass go to seed, so it seeds itself, the cows will contribute to it, and benefit from the higher starch, but the peones tell us the cows discard older grass. I don't know what pasture grass is like in non-tropical areas, but the local kinds are basically canes, like thin sugar cane, if allowed to grow fully, or some looks like rice.
It's really hard to juggle my knowledge of pasture management which is only theoretical, with the local beliefs and stubbornness, and the ignorance of everybody else here who is playing farmer, but we all come from urban backgrounds.

Thank you for any help you can give!
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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You may not be able to let it go to seed like Judy or Salatin do--tropically grasses are very different that way.

As to the creating a bog--how will they if they only are in an area for a day or two? It is the continued traffic that tears it up and makes cow paths. Your lane-ways will need to be carefully managed or they will bog or erode (notice Geoff had that problem, too).

IF IT WERE ME: I would set up a single small paddock in the morning--cows get first dibs (because they are in milk) and then juniors get the same paddock for the night. SIZED CORRECTLY so the the oxen still have good availability of forage. Not ideal, but setting fence is a pain.


This video series talks about tropical grass management (but I don't remember where in the course it was--but the whole thing is worth a watch): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJinY9-FBic&list=PLCeA6DzL9P4uYcD60vRixgK_gF4qMOwUs

This video has Salatin talking about managing slopes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCu9S1AwEwA

 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Thanks!

I'll check out the links in a while, but this was already helpful. Setting fence, you mean a mobile electric one? If we ever implemented a rotation system, we'd have to turn our 5 huge pastures into many paddocks, but all fenced by permanent wooden posts and electrified metal wire.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Yes, portable electric. IMO, you can't effectively manage completely fixed paddocks. How do you adjust the size if you change the number of stock, or the rainfall or temp changes, or ...?

A few permanent laneways and fences are needed, but the fewer the better. The more flexible you can be in setting paddocks, the better you can manage the land and animal health.

You will always get paths along permanent fences, so they better be set on contour whenever possible. Any laneways not on contour will need water bars and rock to control erosion. If it is so steep, it will become terraced steps--just like national park paths used to be.

Where we had to put in terraced steps, we used concrete parking curbs to make the edge of the step. People used to use railroad ties. If you can get rot-resistant wood, using posts or mill slabs would be better. I would use locust or osage next time here.

 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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I guess the idea was that with the size of the paddock being fixed, the only variable would be the duration of grazing. Our herd will always be quite contained. We have two milkers because the bull sneaked on us, otherwise one at the time is fine. We are only 6 most of the year. Also, we are vegetarians, so any animal who is not providing milk, is providing dung and urine and is a member of the family until they die. Hence the need for the best producing pastures, because we can't extend our property as the herd grows, albeit slowly. One of the Jerseys in our property in North California has been going 4 years lactating without having to calf again, and that's our hope and plan.

Making paths and steps is another thing I've been putting some thought into, because every year we have to get a back hoe and a road leveler to re-do our roads that go up and down the side of the hill. Also, every year the local workers dig small gutters across the road to have the rain flow into the bigger side gutter, which is becoming deeper and deeper.

My intuition is that everything should be done on contour, as you said, and look more, in case of steps, as mulch boxes, where the rain and its flow get broken and weakened by the surface of the mulch. Any insight about that is also greatly appreciated.
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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The sepp holzer books and videos have great examples of terracing sloped areas for grazing and production - this should also keep things manageable for light equipment and will slow the erosion of damaged areas.
My pastures are mostly flat with a small area of 50 degree slope - without terraces, the cattle damage the slope quickly if they walk on it, but mostly they prefer to stay on the flat land.

 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Yikes, so now it does sound like there is no way of keeping cows on a slope unless we terrace. There is no way I can convince the rest of the group here to do groundwork merely based on my idea (it never matters how many people around the world adopt it, it always comes across as my idea, like I just dreamed of it).
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 89
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Just an observation, I have really enjoyed this thread. May I suggest that our colleagues have provided some great resources .. Their knowledge amazes me. but I would like to address an underlying issue. That is I believe that your order requires a consensus, am I correct? And you don't feel you are being understood? I think you need to step back a few steps. How much knowledge do they have of permaculture as a theory? Or is their experience from day to day knowledge with bits thrown in? Perhaps some simple workshops that give them time to digest this new wholistic way of thinking is needed. Is there some one local.. Not you, as you will be seen as bias. That could deliver some training? Or are there some videos you could down load ie 101 basic permaculture then Slowly build up to Joel's ideas. I am sure others can suggest some. This will provide the proof and legitimacy that you are seeking. I am a social worker and I have worked with consensus community groups before. This is much harder at first, but once they understand, they will fly. This is a major shift in their thinking and can affect the groups security especially re protecting their land, I am sure they are worried about doing harm, therefore why change as change is scary. Another tool that the group can work on together is drawing a map of your land with all the contours on it, then mark in what type of terrain it is.. Ie damp year round and shaded, eroding, shale, etc. keep this pinned up where all can see on a daily basis.. this will help them visualise exactly what they are dealing with and have a true picture of the land, (they will have to check this info by walking the land, as they might not be accurate.) this will help them work with nature and not against it. How ever tempting it will be, you must let them do this together, not you.. Only advise occasionally. They know your passions re this and they will hand back responsibility to you once they understand.. They may be a bit more involved as well. Remember this is a whole order commitment to change, so give them time. Good luck Giselle.
 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Thank you for your kind words, Giselle. The problem is that our place and project wasn't conceived as a permaculture... anything. Just a place where we ourselves have our spiritual lives, maybe have yoga retreats once the infrastructure is in place, and since it's convenient and cheap, and even "in" to be self-sufficient, why not, let's do everything organic and sustainable. But that's about it. One monk takes care of the cows, one of the altar duties, one of the cooking, one of the gardening/agriculture, etc.

Technically, I'm the altar guy, but I also cook and do gardening. I don't know if it's my bad luck, or I really don't understand as much as I learn of permaculture, but so far I tried to make so many rocket stoves, and none of them worked. In the youtube videos anybody just makes a tube shaped like an L or a J, and voila, you could melt metal in that flame. I tried to make the solar dehydrator in Paul's video, the third model, and the "topdraft" is just stagnant top hot air, and the vent at the bottom doesn't create any suction. I began a little bit of rotating pastures two years ago, but we only made 4 experimental paddocks, the locals wouldn't get the system into their heads, nobody else believed in it or cared about it, I am always so busy and stretched thin and also couldn't follow up and keep it happening, so in people's minds that also got filed as a waste of money and failure.

So, that's to give you some background. There is a permaculture project here in the country, maybe more, and the people who live there are committed to it; if something doesn't work, they get together and make it work. Here it's just me with my "half-baked youtube knowledge".

I would love to have an expert come here, have a look, and say a few authoritative things, especially of the kind that affects the wallet, like: "Oh you want to terrace here, or the erosion will cause you to spend money on grass seed every year", or "You want to make a pond up there, so you won't have to buy more solar panels in the summer just to run the pump for irrigation". But these people cost money. So, my only hope is win their trust with small projects and small successes. I did create a series of swales on a hillside where we have a lot of fruit trees, but my vision was to carpet the hillside with a local clover-like legume, grow leguminous flower bushes between fruit trees to give more nitrogen, attract pollinators and birds, etc, but the person in chief, so to speak, only wants to see nicely spaced fruit trees growing out of a green carpet.

Anyway, I don't want it to sound too much like a sob story, but it's hard. That's why with this pasture management, I really need to come up with a business plan, so to speak, where I can confidently tell them a time-frame or a deadline by which they can expect a certain result. Maybe calculate how much we'll spend in minerals for the cows, explain it's a once only thing because the nutrients will get recycled perpetually. Calculate how much we'll spend in barbed wire or electric wire. I don't even know. What I still don't know, by the way, is how big a paddock should be, or rather, how much area a cow should be given. My guess is that at first I'll have to either start with bigger paddock or rotate them very fast, because the quality of the soil is poor, but later there will by much more and better grass out of the same area. But what size are we talking about? Everybody always tells me "it depends".

For example, the bull is confined to a big electric pasture, which is grazed to the ground, so we cut two sacks worth of grass from another area and feed him. I guess I could measure the area that got chopped to fill those two sacks and multiply it by the number of cows?

I guess I should finish watching the videos R Scott suggested before I panic.

Thanks again, though, everybody!
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 89
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Hi Sergio, ok your request for someone to come to you made me think.....you need to SEE permaculture with cows in your environment and terrain. So my suggestion then is you really would benefit from hands on training at a permaculture farm that has cows in Costa Rica. So I found http://ranchomargot.com Rancho Margot takes volunteers .. Therefore learning would be free... and I am guessing you already have the skills they are looking for. Would you be able to leave your community for a short time to learn? You clearly have a vision, but you are lacking the skills. There are two other permaculture training farms in Costa Rica but they don't appear to have cattle. .. This is what their be site say.....Within these living fences you will see ten acres of land dedicated to chemical-free crops interspersed with trees and shrubs and cattle grazing around one of the twenty-five pastures maintained for their diet...... They are clearly experianced. What do you think? I still believe with your comments though that you have a huge challenge even after your training to educate your order. THAT will have to wait for another day, but I am happy to give you pointers later if you wish. Regards Giselle

Ps you really have me thinking tonight lol. Ok another place to learn hands on knowledge re rocket stoves etc is Wwoofers.. Have a look at http://wwoofcostarica.org or http://www.wwoof.net/ note it will cost you $16 dollars a year to join .. Do you know about them?
 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Thank you for going out of your way, Giselle!

The chances of me leaving are quite slim. I already have to go to Nicaragua for 3 days every 3 months for visa purposes, and that's already quite taxing for the remaining 5 on this huge property.

I'll still check out your links. Once two of us did go visit a so-called permaculture farm in the South after dropping one of us at the airport. If anything the others will see I'm willing to be properly trained, or they'll see for themselves that it does work elsewhere and in this area.

Meanwhile, I played around with Google Earth, I really can't give you an idea of how big our pastures are, but it seems to me like quite a bit of land, with roughly 100 days rotation cycle. The basic idea is to have a central corridor in each pasture with access to water and shade from each paddock. It seems to me that each paddock is enough for 1 to 3 days (two Jersey milkers in the am, and two Jersey/Zebu oxen in the pm. I'll fit the big ox somewhere. Maybe he can stay the whole day, cuz he's big). The corridor and the enclosures are in white. The perimeters of each pastures are colored. Some of them are too awkward to subdivide, so we'll just leave the cows there for a week or so, as long as the grass can take it. The enclosures will be electrified, but not with the cord, rather with electric metal wire running between permanent posts. It seems the most feasible thing, given the nature of the terrain, and how little anybody else feels like struggling with portable fences.

I may have forgot something, but here is the picture of our pastures. Oh, the blue one on the right is only for the bull (Nandi). Each enclosure is a lot of land just for him, so if it lasts 3 days, his pasture will have a 24-day rotation cycle.

One thing I don't understand: even if the grass is not chomped to the ground, but only half-way, doesn't it get stressed out having to regenerate itself without going to seed?

Pastures.jpg
[Thumbnail for Pastures.jpg]
All pastures
Nandi's Pasture.jpg
[Thumbnail for Nandi's Pasture.jpg]
Bull's
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 89
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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When cows eat grass, their tongue sweeps out in an arc, wraps around the plant parts, then pulls them between the teeth on the lower jaw and a pad on the upper jaw. The cow swings its head so its teeth can sever the grass. It then grinds the food and mixes it with saliva before swallowing. The lips, teeth, and jaws of a cow make it difficult to get closer than 2 inches (5 centimeters) from the soil. They eat most efficiently when the grass is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) tall. At that height, cows can snip the grass and don't have to pull it into their mouths. This allows them to concentrate on arranging the feed into a bolus for swallowing. Any time the feed is longer or shorter than about 6 inches, cows have to work harder for each mouthful of food. When eating efficiently, cows can take about 80 bites a minute, 8 hours a day with about 12 hours for rumination. That often adds up to more than 130 pounds (59 kilograms) of food each day. ...... So no the grass is not stressed to much, it is bad for the grass to be shorter. So rotating the cows when the grass gets to 4 inches makes effient use of the paddock/field..then it is time to move them. That why smaller paddocks/fields work better as it gives each smaller paddock time to recover. Electric fencing is the easiest to achieve this. .. As for size it's a bit of trial and error at first.. Start small then slowly get bigger until it is obvious that the grass is not being eaten uniformibly. Note cows will not eat grass near their own poo.. So this wil take a bit of observation to work out the right time to move them.. It will get easier. Also the weather will impact when you move them as grass grows at different speeds through the year. But you will end up with great grass.. And happier cows. This link is as easy as you can get for paddock planning. I hope it helps. http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CBEQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wikihow.com%2FManage-Pastures-Using-Rotational-or-Managed-Intensive-Grazing&ei=p56BU7ApyNaSBY-ugIgB&usg=AFQjCNGvBKGLOx0V2BbmE09bPODBqDnbPQ&sig2=JCwwzccVtQKL7zvgB8ic1A you can also use the measure feature on google earth to workout the size of your land. Also if you are reseeding your land regularly then you are overgrazing the land, you need to move the cows off sooner.. 4 inches is the minimum you should leave of grass other wise you end up with plugging and tramping the grass. Giselle
 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Thanks for the link. I left it open for my godbrother who actually takes care of the cows.

One thing I don't understand. Don't cows graze at 6 inches no matter how tall the grass is? Now I need to research the average weight of Jerseys, and then figure out what kind of grass we are using.
I'm slowly getting this together. Still going through R Scott's videos.

Thank you all!
 
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