My husband and I are buying a farm with 30 acres of previously-hayed pasture, along with all of the necessary haying equipment. It's a part of a 63 acre parcel, and the hay isn't why we're interested, we want to use it in the future as pasture in our diversified grazing system, and we'll see what happens when the vision coalesces. But my question is what to do THIS season. We're in zone 7a outside of Charlottesville, VA. Here's the question:
While we're observing and getting used to our land, designing our dream, etc., what is a good use for this land? We're not terribly interested in haying, though it's certainly a viable option to either hay it ourselves or arrange with a neighbor to do so. We're not real psyched about haying it, and we won't have enough animals to efficiently graze that area this season. So, what is the best use here? Let someone hay it while we figure our ideas out... experiment with haying ourselves.... find someone who wants to responsibly graze it with their animals (my favorite option)... What happens if we just let it grow? Does anyone have any suggestions for a creative use? If we just let it grow without grazing, could it be a problem in the future? I feel like it'd probably be really tough to deal with next year if it just grew wild this year.. but I don't have experience with cultivated hay. Any thoughts?
Slowly introduce better and profitable grasses. Build soil in the process via key line plowing and earth works. Plant trees while you're waiting. They won't get in the way. Grow organic feeds. Grow up. Literaly. Microbreweries love organic hops. They will buy the rhizomes for you. Establish perennials, wind breaks, and observe and record. Observation is key. Rent and lease the labor. Build a cob oven, raise grass and bake bread. You're right, there's plenty of people who would like your fields for their goats.. Harvest weeds and sell them as wild salad mix. Harvest wild medicine. Dig out rocks and lay them where they benefit. Lessen your harvest labor by teaching small scale grain harvesting. Wanna know how to raise a 30 dollar rooster? Charge that much for small animal butchery classes. But yea, no reason why you can't go fallow, and focus energy on improving the soil/land.
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
posted 5 years ago
As I see it, the first decision to make is: do you want the resources/nutrients/SOM to be captured in place or exported off the farm?
If you hay it, you exchange (via a couple of different avenues) the nutrient for money. If you don't own the farm out right, there is a strong arguement for haying it this season for maximum net income and rolling the money back into the property. However, if you have everything paid for and are really opposed to haying it (either yourself or some other arrangement), then the next best idea is to allow the soil to feed itself. Either let it sit fallow (low return low effort), chop and drop it with existing species, or replant and let a different pasture establish.
Everything else besides the essential question of exporting a crop or recycling the nutrient are details.
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
posted 5 years ago
...and congratulations to you both on your purchase. It is good to see people realize their goals.
What are your livestock plans for next year? If you plan on livestock before next summer, some hay will be a good thing to have.
Bales are also convenient (although pricey) way to gather mulch and compost ingredients.
You could mow it and leave it lay, maybe. Depends on the mower and thickness of hay.
What kind of hay? Not haying could kill some of the species. That could be good or bad.
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Hello from the other (west) side of Afton, otherwise known as Harrisonburg. I'd personally explore a relationship with a farmer to have them hay your fields for you, and keep half the hay. Hay is great if you're doing anything. Mulching!!! Imagine an acre with square bales set end to end and left to rot for a few seasons! Google Ruth Stout (spelling?) for strawbale gardens. I'd be very tempted personally to run chicken tractors on it personally but it sounds like you're looking for less labor?
I would side with you in having someone graze it in an appropriate fashion. Being grazed is better for pasture than being left fallow. Depending on what the make up of e pasture is now and what you want it to look like in the future, you might want to go in behind the grazing and sow with your preferred pasture species.
Another option might be to get out there with a no till drill and plant a crazy diversified cover crop that you just leave to winterkill, and then roll it in the spring. Let all that litter on the ground provide fertility and soil protection and let nature decide what comes up out of it next year, and graze that.
I'd second the advice to have it grazed. Is it a single pasture of 30 acres, or subdivided?
You ideally want high impact on smaller areas, for shorter intervals. You will get more even grazing and less selective foraging from your livestock. If not subdivided look at getting a section of movable electric fencing you can use to concentrate your animals.
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I agree with having that field grazed (either by you or someone else) appropriately. It should really help with keeping the pasture healthy and productive. We have about six acres of hay ground that I am currently transitioning to grazing with livestock. Last year we took it out of hay production and I rotated a few head of cattle through with electric fence. It seems to be working out well for us so far. I think if your plan is to eventually move into raising your own animals on that land there is no time like the present. Start small, learn and observe, but most importantly START!
You could run some Spring-to-Fall stocker cattle (10-20 depending on the fertility and Summer rainfall..)
You could have someone cut and double windrow the grass in Fall if you just want some mulched lines to establish some trees too
I will just throw in here if you leave it to it's own devices, the field, being in the eastern deciduous biome as it is, will begin to revert to the forest from which it was removed.
Also, if you continually remove hay (or any crop, for that matter) from the land without returning any nutrients you will have depleted the soil. You might want to take a look at Holistic Management and Alan Savory.
Furthering Permaculture next to Lake Ontario.
Wow you folks are all so awesome! Thanks for the replies Sorry I've been slow answering your questions, between getting ready to move, working full time, travelling for a wedding, and inspections to finalize purchase details it's been a really busy spring for us so far!
The pasture is not subdivided, and has historically been cut once and then grazed for the rest of the season, although I don't think the previous farmer was very responsible about rotating his stock. The last few years he's just let a neighbor hay it, getting 3 cuttings.
What we're thinking is this: We've made friends with a neighbor already who's agreed to help us hay it in exchange for about 1/3 of the hay. In this way we can learn the equipment and process under someone with experience. We'll also have lots of hay to use in all of the establishment-phase stuff we have coming up. We'll definitely do a single cutting, and then we're hoping to figure out some grazers to keep on a strict rotation. Only downside there is that we aren't able to give ourselves over to the farm full-time this year, so we would need (this season) to find someone else who's interested, and obviously we have standards about how we want it grazed/rotated, etc. We will have some chickens rotating on the pasture this year as well, but not enough to utilize it fully. So we're crossing our fingers that we'll make some friends that are into mob-grazing and need some extra space! If we don't end up with grazers, I think we'll probably drill-seed some sort of cover crop, or pasture improvement species, but the jury's still out. I think we have decided though not to let it fallow. Since it is such a huge resource we want to make sure we're taking good care and keeping options open.
I'm so excited to get out to the farm! We close on April 23rd, and are planning to homestead it this year while we observe, and it's so hard not to get ahead of myself dreaming about the long term farm paradise of my dreams when I know I need to be patient and really take it slow and just keep my senses tuned-in in the short term. But we'll have chickens and pigs this year (the remaining balance of our acreage is hardwoods so we'll get a few and rotate them through the woods) and *hopefully* some grazers, and a nice garden (turns out there's ~50 row feet of abandoned asparagus!!!) and enjoy life on the farm. As we get our plan laid out I'll keep posting for feedback and ideas. Thanks again everyone! We are new to the area and even though this community isn't directly local it feels great to have a community that is so responsive and positive. Cheers friends!