A little background: My girlfriend and I (soon to be fiance, ssshhhh!!) live near Sacramento, CA and are both biologists by training. I work as a consultant helping folks get through the tremendous environmental regulations we have here, and my girlfriend teaches biology at the college level. She has about 200 acres of land with a small house, stable, and pole barn in the Carson Valley, just barely on the CA side of the CA/NV border (about 20 minutes south of Carson City). The property is not occupied (hasn't been in about 15 years), but we spend most of our weekends out there fixing the house and generally trying to get things back into order, with the hope that we will be able to move out there full time in the near future. The property is largely irrigated pasture, and is grazed (cattle) and produces hay.
One of biggest issues we have been having is controlling sagebrush. The higher portions (in relative terms--maybe 5' higher than the lower portions) of the property and areas near the structures don't get irrigated, and sagebrush just takes over. We have been removing it by hand around the structures for fire reasons, but that just doesn't seem like a viable method of control over a 20-30 acre swath. Preferably I'd love to be able to use livestock to keep it back, but I haven't been able to figure out what might actually eat it? We have considered a small goat herd but have heard mixed thoughts on how this might work.
Does anyone have any suggestions on removing dense stands of sagebrush and generally keeping it under control once removed? Perhaps trying to figure out how to get irrigation on to the higher fields is our best bet?
Thanks so much for any thoughts!
The problem I see for you would be that you don't live there. As such goats would be a bad idea for you. They require a fair bit of oversight as they tend to get into trouble and die very easily.
That's just one option, a lot depends on what your real long term goals for the property any yourselves are. If you haven't already, you might want to look into silviculture as well, lots of good techniques there.
Michael Newby wrote:What timing for this question, Geoff Lawton just addressed this in his latest video. It's really more of an overview, not too in depth, but it gives hope. Unless you have the ability to plant immediately afterwards I would advise against pulling out any large areas of brush at once. I'd probably look at making some swales starting at the high point of the property. Once the swales were in place if I could I would interplant as many relevant plants as I could get my hands on and do annual or twice a year chop-and-drop with a lot of the material going into the swales. The sagebrush will protect the young plants as they get established and can then be phased out over the years as the new plants really take hold. For larger acreage I'd probably try to mow/grind the brush to 6" or so above ground level in the early spring to get a large amount of mulch on the ground to help retain the moisture that came in the fall/winter/spring. If you have the time you can make seedballs to broadcast around the area or you can just direct broadcast seed. Look into dryland pasture seed mixes that include some kind of N-fixing plants in the mix as well as any native grasses/forbs you can get. After a few years of establishment phase you should be able to start mob-grazing some of those cattle in there on what will probably be a far superior forage than the (more than likely) standard managed pasture.
That's jut one option, a lot depends on what your real long term goals for the property any yourselves are. If you haven't already, you might want to look into silviculture as well, lots of good techniques there.
I saw that video and agree except the OP was saying it's a fire risk. I can relate to that and could see why he would be pulling it up near the buildings.
Perhaps the OP can think about pulling it up, dropping it, covering it with cardboard and straw and such until he is more able to plant what he wants in the area. At least it would help control the brush and prepare the ground a bit better.
@Michael Newby - Thanks very much for the link, I subscribed to Geoff Lawton's site and it looks to have lots of useful info. I will see what I can find as far as less intrusive plants (native or otherwise) that may do well to fill in the gaps left by clearing. The problem with trying to find good replacement plants is that not much can survive out there without significant irrigation (most of the property is flood irrigated), as the summers are warm and very dry.
Thanks for the helpful tips!
One trick that worked very, very well was to make a "noose", and use a truck to pull the sagebrush out by its roots. I took a chain, and attached a length of 3/8 cable to the end, along with a metal loop clamped on. Basically made a giant adjustable noose out of the cable that we could throw around a couple of plants and yank them out with the truck. Not super quick, but less back breaking that a pick. 1/4" cable would have been easier, but I used what I had.
I still love the idea of using goats or other livestock, and as we will be battling the stuff forever I will try this and report back. Unfortunately, as pointed out, we can't really do this until we are living there full time. If only there were jobs...
Thanks for all of the thoughts!
Keep plugging along at it, it will be worth it in the end.
I would advise not clearing all of the sagebrush. I absolutely agree about the fire danger removal, especially considering the big fires you've had in the region in the last few years. Follow firesafe recommendations to the letter and then some. Those folks who haven't experienced a runaway sagebrush wildfire have really missed out!
That being said, develop a plan as per all permaculture design, remembering that this native plant is a keystone for many native birds and insects and there are virtually no native shrub species adapted to the Great Basin climate I can think of which could replace its function in the ecosystem. I lived in that area on the Nevada side once upon a time and remember many areas of sage were intermixed with bitter brush (Purshia tridentata) and some mountain mahogany ( Cercocarpus). As time passes and you settle there, you might consider including these as you thin the sage out.
You know well that if you clear the sagebrush and don't aggressively plant the species you want and ensure their establishment, you will most assuredly have a stand of cheatgrass. Talk about fire danger! I saw way too much of Nevada beat out and left to cheatgrass disclimax.
Good luck with your upcoming marriage and the development of a permaculture design for the property. It is a beautiful area to those who appreciate dry country and it is capable of supporting far more life than most folks would consider possible.
That said, my goats don't really seem to like sagebrush, though they will nibble at it from time to time.