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How To Fertilize with Mulch a Six Acre Hayfield with One Small Piece of Equipment

 
Marilyn Paris
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Location: Hillsdale County, Michigan
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I got this liberating idea while milking the goats this morning. I get most of my great ideas when my brain is in alpha/theta waves every time I milk. They never come when I am working on a problem. Call it intuition. I am learning to act on these ideas even if they don't make sense. This one actually does make sense so I already know it will work. Here is a little background before I tell you my plan.

I have a 60" zero turn mower with a bagger that I used all last year to bring green chop to the goats every day. I also collect and make haylage and also dry a little with the extra I have time to cut that day. I only cut extra what I can safely make into hay on time according to the weather. I do everything by hand because all I have for equipment is this zero turn mower with a bagger. Ah, but I have one more piece of equipment that one would never think of as something to use on all that acreage that needs fertilizer from time to time. It is my 19" Ego electric lawn mower.

Here is my plan for this summer...

After I mow my 1/8 of an acre every day with the big lawn mower for collection, I will go over the same ground with the little electric mower in mulching mode. I mow with the big mower at the highest setting which is 5". The little mower's highest setting is 3.5". That 3.5" isn't the best plan if I was taking from the land. It is a whole different story when I am giving back. That 1.5 inch difference, I daresay, is going to be good enough to mulch and therefore fertilize the whole field this year and several times.

I should back up a little and tell you how terribly deficient this whole property is and how I know this plan will work. The only plants really green out in the hay field is where I spread diluted kefir every day and where I spread diluted urine. I mapped it all out with flags so I know where I put what. The urine worked a couple notches better than the kefir according to the color green and speed of returned growth. This method of fertilization is slow going and futile concerning the entire 6 acres. I will not be able to cover the entire area any time soon. It would take years. I only have so much milk to make the kefir and of course only so much urine. And it takes way too much time doing it by hand anyway. Mulching is a whole better idea but didn't know how I would be able to do it on such a grand scale and nearly effortlessly until now.

This is how I know mulching with the little mower is going to work.

All last summer when I cut a little grass/alfalfa for the purpose of making haylage, I spread it on a small are of the lawn to dry for a few hours close to where my "silos" were. Naturally, I wasn't able to rake every last blade of grass when it was time to stuff it in my "silos". I noticed after a month that this whole area grew faster than the rest of the lawn. In fact, it is still quite green even now, while everything surrounding is brown and dormant. Today is January 17, 2016. I am in southern Michigan. You would expect most everything to be dormant this time of year. You would not expect anything to still be green unless something special is going on.

So this year I am going to give back to the land instead of take, take, take like everyone else does around me. My behavior last year was really no better than these farmers surrounding me! Well in some areas a little better. The kefir and urine areas are doing well but not nearly enough area was or could ever be covered by that method. The issue is now solved.

I have one more thing to say. I am so grateful to be able to share ideas like this will fellow goofballs who understand. My friends and family think I am crazy. They think I work too hard. They say I need more equipment. They don't understand why I don't want more equipment. I don't work at all. This is my hobby. And, oh, the satisfaction I get from watching plants get greener with just a little effort on my part. Marilyn
 
Su Ba
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Yes, right on !!! It will work.

Now based upon my own experiences on my homestead farm, I'll relate what I've seen and my thoughts about it.....

Mulch blocks the sunlight from the soil surface. This in turn helps retain moisture in the soil. It also keeps the soil cooler which appears to be preferred by my grasses and pasture herbs. I believe it allows soil micro-organisms to live closer to the soil surface, thus being available to decompose those grass clippings.

Grass clippings created in place via pasture mowing appear to provide considerable plant nutrients. Pastures that I've mulched this way are far more productive even without to use other fertilizers.

Pastures where I've mowed the grass stubble into clippings mulch gave a high rate of regrowth which is far greener and lusher than non mulched areas.

Mulching pasture stable definitely helps control unpalatable weeds in my pastures.

My only question is that you plan to mulch 1 1/2" of stubble. That may be too difficult by hand and produce too much mulch. You'll have to test it out and give it a try. I guess it depends upon what sort of plants you have and how densely they are growing.
 
Marilyn Paris
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Location: Hillsdale County, Michigan
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Those are very good points! And it is good to know that someone has already done this and knows by experience it is good for the crop and soil organisms.

About the 1 1/2 inches. I believe I already did this by accident because I didn't have the bag attached. I couldn't find any grass clippings. I didn't see any evidence of smothering.

So here is my new plan in case you are right and the 1.5 inches is too much all at once and could smother. I could easily set the zero turn mower to 4.5 inches or even 4 inches when collecting the grass/alfalfa for the goats. My hay field is orchard grass and alfalfa mix and yes the orchard grass grows better when it is cool.

I already pushed my mower across my hay field when it was higher than 5 inches and it wasn't hard to do. The Ego is a great mower. I did it one time. I didn't do that anymore because I didn't like how close it was cutting. Recovery might not be as good than if I mowed higher. But the Ego's highest setting is 3.5. The Gravely's is 5 inches. I was trying to get away from constantly using the gas mower and use the electric mower instead. I decided to go with the higher setting.

However, 3.5 inches is the acceptable height all the commercial farmers cut their alfalfa. So I won't mind doing that if it is going to add fertility. I know using the mulching mode on a lawn doesn't seem to smother anything when I have done that. I don't remember if I was putting down 1.5 inches at the time or not. But the lawn is way denser than the field. But it is a different species of grass and no alfalfa in the lawn. So like you say I'll just have to play around with it.

Marilyn, hoping to have cake and eat it too or maybe a permie would say, hoping to have pie and eat it too. Cut some grass for the goats and cut more from the same spot on the same day for the critters in the soil
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Awesome. Great to see that you are using both your intuition and your observation.
 
patrick canidae
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You should be frost seeding in a couple pounds of medium red and medium white clover every early spring. This will fix all the nitrogen your grasses need. By mowing higher, you can also influence species. Orchard grass, timothy and fescues will all be more productive than short blue grasses typically brought on my lawn mower collection. I'd be broadcasting a few pounds of these species every year as well. The taller the shoot, the deeper the root, and the more carbon food web available below the soil.

Other than making hay/haylage for deep winter cover I can't understand why you would waste so much time and labor to lawn mower green chop. Good quality electronet from Premier 1 can be set up in minutes, and with a little over seeding of clover you could make a much more productive, profitable, and ecologically sound livestock enterprise.

https://www.premier1supplies.com/fencing.php?mode=detail&fence_id=87

As far as finding green this time of year, I do consulting for folks clear up to Alpena, and in regions that aren't under deep snow stockpiling green forage clear through the spring thaw is rather easy. Tall fescue, orchard grass, winter wheat and grazing kales and collards could keep you out until there is a hard ice crust over forage or snow over a foot deep.

Your idea of returning organic matter to soil, and clipping high to allow faster solar capture is capital. I would just use the livestock to do it instead.

Of course, timing kidding for late spring/early summer and having dry does in a low calorie maintenance phase in winter when forages are of lower quality is really key to making a forage system really sing in the Great Lakes.

 
Su Ba
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Good suggestions! I don't have any experience in Michigan myself.

On my own homestead I started out with two problems that caused me to chop greenery and bring it to my sheep.....predators and lack of predator-proof fencing. While I owned two mowers, I didn't have the money to put up more fencing immediately. Electronet simply doesn't work against stray hunting dogs, my main predator problem. I've since learned that electric fencing isn't all that effective for my sheep and goats either. They have busted through it multiple times, so I can't even go that route for cross fencing. Even though I've managed to install more fencing now, I still bring green chop to the flock most mornings because that way I can utilize grassy areas that they cannot access, plus it brings the flock to me for daily visual inspection.

Do you know if clovers would germinate and grow in a subtropical setting? I've never tried it here in Hawaii. Actually, I've never even thought about trying it before.
 
Marilyn Paris
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Hi Patrick,

I have goats, I do not have sheep, I do not have cows. I had all three at one time and I know what it takes to keep them all in good condition. Sheep and cows can live on pasture. Some cows. Sheep are the best at it in my experience. My sheep stayed fat on pasture. My cow was a Jersey and she got skinny just on pasture. We had to supplement. No way around it. There were not enough hours in the day for her to get enough calories from grass. She "milked off her back" as some of my goats do. Maybe if we had brought the cow grass she would have done better on a grainless diet. It takes them a lot less energy if they can just chow down after someone else does the work (the lawnmower).

Goats cannot live on pasture. They will starve on grass, even on the lushness of summer growth. The natural diet of a goat is browse, not grass. We feed hay year round. Maybe I am exaggerating on the starvation word. Maybe wethers can live on grass, but my milking goats could not and also keep up good production. And their condition will certainly go down. Ask me how I know. To me a skinny goat is a starving goat and I don't tolerate it. Go to the fair some time and judge for yourself. Then come here and take a look at my properly fed goats.

In summertime, my goats have all the grass they want and they still come up for green chop and hay. And I have to mow their area! I have to keep my goats in good condition. I have to keep them in milk production. Your idea may work for sheep but not goats. Not my goats. Call them spoiled. It is not hard at all to bring them green chop every day.

All that said. I have only been at this new farm for one year. It was blank, a bean field. I can plant anything I want and I started with seeding by hand a mixture of orchard grass and alfalfa on six acres. The sky is the limit for whatever I want to plant. And I am going for forage trees, mulberries for example. Oh, how they love mulberries. Not the berries, the trees. I am going to grow hundreds of mulberry tree for them and like you say, let them do the harvesting. My plan is to plant over 1000 trees and shrubs here next year. Probably closer to 2000 trees and shrubs of many varieties. This could be goat heaven if there was enough browse. So I need the fast growing varieties. It took only 3 days for 30 goats to mow down 1/4 acre of densely grown shrubs and brush in an area I needed cleared. You could not walk in there. Gone in 3 days. It took 30 days for some to grow back before I let them in there again. All gone in one day and that didn't feed them enough. In a pasture situation, if it is soiled or walked on a goat won't eat it. Can you say "picky eater"? No thanks. Too much waste. I would rather keep them off, keep it clean, harvest it all and feed it that way. I love to mow. Good thing, eh? It doesn't take long to bring them their green chop every day.

This post is in the wrong place for sure.

Marilyn, who has been raising goats for 40 years and I know a little bit about them.
 
Marilyn Paris
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I'm with you Su Ba. I didn't address the predator situation here because I was stuck on nutrition. Electronet is out of the question here. I can't trust it to keep my goats in or predators out. I use combination panels for all my fencing. It is a sure thing. Combination panels resemble cattle panels except the spacing of the wire at the bottom keep kids in. My kids can walk through a 6 X 8 inch hole until they are six months old! Last I priced them, combination panels are $35 each. I am in no hurry to buy more of it right now.

BTW, mowing and bringing the goats their green chop is not a waste of time. I do not waste time. I get a lot of my original ideas when I am mowing. Also when milking the goats. It is my meditation time. It has something to do with the Alpha/Theta brainwave state you go into doing certain activities. Mowing is time well spent even if I wasn't feeding the goats with it.

Patrick, does red clover fix enough nitrogen for the grasses in your experience? Or do you need to have white clover in the mix?

Marilyn,
all new to what to grow in a pasture/hay field
 
patrick canidae
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I can appreciate your management preference. Your trait selection for your herd and your style may not lend it self to grazing.

However, well managed and selected goats can graze. I used to manage over 1,000 of them. They did not starve on grass. Very few high producing dairy animals can produce on all forage. There aren't enough calories to support any highly productive, single trait selected dairy species. 30,000 pound holstein, 20,000 pound jersey, and 3,000 pound+ dairy goat lactations will need grain or very high tdn forage sources, most likely from farmed annual species. At the peak of lactation curves, these animals all milk down and become quite low in body condition, even under a high grain, high fat, high quality alfalfa TMR blend. Body condition is then rebuilt as the lactation curve drops and calories can be partitioned to adipose tissue instead of mammary tissue.

The all forage producers that are in business now have had to select for lower production per animal in order to maintain health and reproductive efficiency traits. 10-12,000 pound lactations on low cost, low labor grazing dairy cow set ups producing for a high value specialty grass fed market, for example.

It's a matter of preference of management. I can quickly cull non-selective eaters, animals with poor dry matter intakes and inadequate rumen capacity to excel as grazers and line breed a profitable grazing herd in just a generation or two.

The browse forest sounds like a ton of fun. Are you going to cut and carry or fence and browse?
 
Marilyn Paris
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I hand milk. I cull for ease of milking and personality. To me personality is everything. If a goat doesn't like me, out she goes. I have had to rehome several of those even though some were my highest producers. And I will keep an average milker just because "I like her" and she likes me.

With my method of feeding, I can keep most of my goats in good condition even right after freshening. They might be overfat to begin with. Nigerians and their crosses are easy keepers.

I am going to fence and browse. The fence is already there. I am going to fence them out in the same area. Plant the trees and make them drool for a year or so before I open the gate for them. They don't need all that area anyway. They don't eat all that grass and I have to mow it. Might as well plant trees and shrubs there.

None of this is hard. I only have 40 goats and I will have 20 less come spring. Goat sell really good here in Michigan. They didn't sell so good in Ohio. People here like the looks of my goats compared to other farms they have visited and come back for more when they need one. And tell their friends.

So my herd is quite manageable even now. But I only need the milk for my kefir grain business and I don't need 20 extra pets.

Were your 1000 goats meat goats? Because that's a whole different story compared to a dairy goat. Same in cattle.

Seems to me this is way off topic.

Marilyn

 
patrick canidae
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I prefer a 3 or 4 way mix of clovers. Dutch white is a lower producer, but can withstand intense management. Medium whites tend not to lignify and stay high quality even when it gets taller, and medium red is a dog gone good producer.

To get adequate N for grasses and forbs, about 30-35% legumes appears to be optimum in most of the middle of the country.

I've actually managed a large grazing dairy herd, and owned a modest meat herd and brush control herd of a few hundred head.
 
Mike Cantrell
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Hi Marilyn!

I like your idea for mulching.

I'm just up the road in Jackson. Do you have equipment to transport your goats around? Here and there, my acquaintances get to talking about clearing brush, and lots of them have had the sense to wish out loud, "Sure would be nice if somebody had a goat-rental business where they'd bring them to you to eat up all your brush and then take them home afterward." Ever considered it? On the one hand, it might be a big headache, but on the other, getting paid to feed your herd might be nice!
 
Marilyn Paris
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Mike,

Well, Howdy neighbor.

I'm glad you like my mulch idea. More information came my way late last night, same topic. Google searches never end. I feel I hit the jackpot. I came upon an old, forgotten farming book called Farming with Green Manures: On Plumgrove Farm by Caleb Harlan, which nails down the idea that you can mulch pasture without harm. Just the opposite. It is free fertilizer and probably all you will ever need. The whole book is in a PDF file online and I am reading it as I have time today. I also have a copy coming from amazon.com. Someone reprinted it! Seems hay mulch is better than manure to put out in fields. This is music to my ears because this is very doable for me using mowers as my only tool. I love to mow. I wonder why is that? Does anyone else here love to mow?

I do not take credit for learning about this book. Of course, after being awarded an apple for this post, I had to brag to my friends and family. Plus I want to promote permies.com every chance I get. Getting the apple was my opportunity. My pen pal in Maine knew of that book but could not remember the name. She did remember a quote from it. I know how to use google better than she does and I found it first. We were both thrilled to find it not only online but also in print.

Thanks for getting this thread back on topic by telling me you like the mulch idea. I thought it was brilliant and just had to share. Here comes the off topic part.

Now to answer your question about leasing my goats. It crossed my mind. Especially when I had a bunch of wethers I didn't really care about. No way would I let my milkers or dry prego goats leave this farm. They would have to sign a contract if anyone died or got hurt, which is more likely, because goats have nothing better to do than to think of novel ways to get hurt. They would have to pay upfront for any potential damages like a security deposit. I'm sure no one would then be interested. I'd rather sell the goats outright for such a purpose. I only have two goats now that qualify for that job. Two wethers not quite a year old and ready for butcher. My freezer is full; I don't need them. They are for sale.

Marilyn,
who has a Ford Ranger in which I can haul about six goats at a time.
 
R Scott
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Everyone says they want to rent goats to clear brush, but once you mention fences they lose interest.
 
Su Ba
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Patrick, I'd totally love asking you questions about pasture development, maintenance, plants, etc. I'm not good at it and am still struggling with my pastures.

I requested a new forum topic to be created dedicated to pasture discussions. I suggested it for the GROWIES forum, topic "Pastures". I'll watch to see if the "ones in power" create it for us.

I have many questions about the use of legumes, including the various clovers. I don't understand the benefits of one over the other. Nor the concepts of including forbs and which ones. Nor the value of various grasses. I'm still struggling with pasture rotation schedules, fertilization, sun vs shade, wet vs dry, though I'm getting a much better handle on it.
 
patrick canidae
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Su,

Here a couple of links. The biggest difficulty for me is not knowing what species you are allowed to use versus what would be "invasive" or introduced.

The Aussies have done tropical grazing for along time on the hot, wet side of their hunk of rock.

http://www.tropicalforages.info/

http://www.heritageseeds.com.au/products/species/clover/

Some info from your own state

http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/CoverCrops/whiteclover.pdf

http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/forages/overview.html

If you can't get net fence to work, you have poor quality net fence, an inadequate charger, or a poor ground plane. I tend to find most have all 3. The exception to this is the fact goats get horns and ear tags stuck. Although, they do this in other fence and items enough it's a wash to me. I have tried all the net fence brands available in the US, and refuse to use anything other than the Euro imported stuff that Premier 1 retails out of Iowa.

If you aren't cranking out 6-8K volts, you really don't have the right fence set up. I have had up to 1800' of net fence hooked up in one configuration, and could carry 8K volts all night while using a solar panel over good dry cells to a 9 joule output fencer. This in a humid environment with green grass touching more of the bottom couple of wires. I do mow, weed eat, or otherwise hack out paths to reduce drag from material, I drive in at least 2 6' ground rods, and I use t-posts with pvc pipe sleeves at all corners and changes in angle to keep the fences very taut. I am appalled at the sloppy, crooked sagging net fence configurations I often see online and in real life.

For very small groups in safe environments, permanent fence or panels is much less labor intensive, but much less flexible for expansion.

Coyotes and stray dogs crawl over or dig under woven wire and barb and panels with no problem at several of the sites I have managed or worked at in the past. Good, hot e-net made my guard dogs jobs much easier.
 
Dana Jones
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Marilyn Paris I just got sheep and I have lousy pasture. I am reading a book I bought from Acres USA Magazine titled Grass the Forgiveness of Nature by Charles Walters. It is fantastic. It details which grasses and forbs to plant, what they do, nutritional value, plus a whole lot more. It is very informative. I have considered rolling out hay in order to get some mulch on my sandy soil. It was a good hay year, so maybe there will be leftover hay that I can buy cheap for that purpose.
 
Marilyn Paris
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Hi Dana,
Charles Walters, the one man army. I love him. I've read quite a few of his books but I haven't read that particular book. Tell me if he mentions that grass is the only plant on earth that can pick up all 70+ minerals if they are in the soil. This makes grass better than kelp, which cannot do that, but which exists in the ocean where all the minerals are! Other high end foods are sweet potatoes at I believe 67 minerals and tomatoes at 56 minerals. Tomatoes at the store have about 12 minerals because that's all they put in their hydroponic solution. No wonder they taste the way they do and spoil so fast.

Back to the topic we started with. Here is an update on my patch of grass where I was drying my grass for a day before picking it up for haylage or hay, which left quite a bit of grass because I couldn't rake it all up. I'll call it the mulched area. We had some close to 0° weather a week ago and everything went dormant. By dormant I mean, it is not green anywhere I look...except... drumroll, ...the mulched area. It is still green in that spot. I should also mention that there is a large section of my hay field that I had treated with diluted urine and right next to it diluted kefir. It is all mapped out with flags so I know where I put what. When the whole field was brown and dormant, that spot was green also until this cold spell. Now it is brown out there, as would be expected in winter. As far as the color green goes, it is more important to mulch with grass than to fertilize with nitrogen. That's my observation. Marilyn

 
Hans Quistorff
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My thoughts on the mower mulch is that it supports 2 or more important soil organisms. It provides food environmental protection for worms and fungi and probably many others. I have observed the the blades of grass will recover from freezing and thawing but when the crowns freeze they go dormant. So the extra density of the crowns where fertilized and the protection of the crowns by mulch can make the difference.
We used the same system of mowing and feeding the forage when we were milking 20 goats. We were also testing the milk for butterfat and production. We got the best production results with red clover hay in the winter. Alfalfa hay the goats would eat the leaves off and leave the stems There was very little left in the manger with red clover hay. We planted our hay field then to red clover and fescue. When passing through the goats would browse the blossoms. The red clover seed in the hay passed through and thus got planted when we took them on walks to where we had brush to browse.

I currently do not have any animals except worms and moles to keep my soil draining. I cut my field with blade I designed.and use it to mulch my berries and gardens.

Then I intensify the mulch this way.

The field gets mowed again as you propose with the riding mower which mulches the stubble.
2 acre field.jpg
[Thumbnail for 2 acre field.jpg]
Notice the mowing pattern. Wife likes to ride the mower.
 
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