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adding diversity into an already existing sheep/cattle pasture

 
Joe Paul
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Hi all, we currently have a pasture already sown with seeds for sheep/cattle (plantains and rye grasses) and are grazing sheep, cattle, pigs, and geese on this successfully. We wanted to explore the possibility of adding a lot more diversity to the pasture to make it more sustainable and offer a wider range of grazing for all these animals - how does one go about doing that? Do you just sow over-top and hope the additional seeds will take root? Is there a certain list of seeds one should consider when starting to make such a transition?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'd look into native palatable perennials and grasses. These help native wildlife, especially in areas where a lot of native vegetation has been displaced by domestic varieties. Many kind of birds, butterflies, etc depend on native food plants.

These might need special care to establish, for instance you might need to scalp a portion of the pasture, fence it, and seed heavily with the natives, removing the fence once they're established (possibly as long as a year after seeding).

We've only been able to establish natives by taking this kind of extra trouble.

 
Joe Paul
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So are you only doing it one patch at a time? We have 12 acres more or less which isn't huge but that seems quite a lot of work depending of course on the size of the patch we are trying to isolate.

If we seed over-top our current pasture, will they not grow with the rest or will the current pasture out-compete?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, we're doing little patches at a time. In my experience, if you just try to overseed the existing grasses, they'll outcompete the native seeds. I wasted a lot of money on seeds trying to do it that way before I figured out I had to isolate the patch from competing vegetation and grazing.

Seeding little patches also makes the project more affordable, because dang those native seeds are expensive!

 
Travis Johnson
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You did not say where you are from Joe, but if you are in the northern half of the country some people have had luck frost-seeding existing pastures. It really depends on the grass seed you use as some do well with frost seeding and some do not. Basically frost seeding is where you broadcast spread seed over a given area in early, early Spring when frost is still in the ground. As the ground freezes and thaws it draws the seed down into the soil where it germinates when it warms up enough and you establish your diversity without resulting in time consuming tillage.

It is a pretty common practice and a lot of information can be found on it on the internet of course. It may or may not be something you are interested in.

Just do your research well. Frost seeding is specific to certain grass varieties while sheep are pretty picky in what they eat.

 
Joe Paul
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Hi, I am in New Zealand we do get frosts around here so will certainly research further into what you suggested. Thank you.
 
Travis Johnson
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They now make a grazing corn that you can add to your pastures that really increases the energy levels of the sward. That is diversity to say the least. I have never used it though.
 
Joe Paul
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When people talk about diversity of pasture and grasses, what are they trying to achieve exactly? As many different species as possible? Is there a list of suitable fodder that will be utilized by all animals?
 
Tyler Ludens
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In our case we're trying to grow meadows instead of pasture, because our agricultural activity is wildlife management. So we're trying to plant things that are helpful to the widest range of animals from insects to deer. People who are planting strictly for domestic herbivores will have a different list of plants.

 
Joe Paul
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That is an interesting way to look at it. If you are growing a meadow - how much of that is ultimately grazeable for the herbivores?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Quite a bit - we graze sheep, and the deer also graze (especially the exotic axis (chital) deer. There are many palatable native plants in this region. We're planning to add more forbs (herbaceous plants) in the future, as these will benefit the birds and things more, and many of them are gone from this land because of previous overgrazing.

Of course native plants will be much different where you are!
 
Joe Paul
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May I ask how you planned on transitioning from pasture to meadow? Was it done in stages or all at once?
 
Tyler Ludens
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It's a long process which began when we got some sheep in order to obtain agricultural status on the land, which took 5 years, and then a year later we qualified to transition to Wildlife Management, with a focus on songbirds (we also manage for amphibians, but they don't spend much time in the meadows ). Much of our grass was non-native King Ranch Bluestem, but most of that died out in the horrible drought a few years ago, and the native grasses are taking over. I plan to pasture chickens in paddocks to clear small patches in which to plant native seed mixes which contain species with seeds for the birds. I expect it will take 5 - 10 years to get our fields looking as we hope, with native grasses interspersed with clumps of wildflowers and wildlife food plants. We also hope to encourage more meadow edge habitat by fencing to allow native shrubs and small trees to regrow. The browsing pressure from our sheep and the insane number of deer here makes it difficult to grow anything without fencing. Our hope is that eventually there will be such density of high quality native food plants that we'll be able to remove some of the fencing and everything won't get eaten down.

My husband thinks I'm dreaming to believe we'll ever be able to remove the fencing. We're trying to design fencing that isn't too visually intrusive, using concrete reinforcing wire.

 
Joe Paul
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Very interesting. So the plan is:

1. Use chickens to clear patch of dirt
2. Re-seed as necessary
3. Keep that fenced out until patch is established
4. Re-peat until complete

Is that correct?

 
Tyler Ludens
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That's the plan!

 
Joe Paul
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Thank you! If it is not too much trouble - I would love to see some pictures of your progress...
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh it's so ugly, but sure, I'll post what we have right now. I don't have the chickens on the field yet because I need to refit an old coop to be mobile, and get some more fencing. But I'll post that as soon as it's in action.

 
Joe Paul
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That's be awesome - thank you!
 
Scott Strough
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Joe Paul wrote:Hi all, we currently have a pasture already sown with seeds for sheep/cattle (plantains and rye grasses) and are grazing sheep, cattle, pigs, and geese on this successfully. We wanted to explore the possibility of adding a lot more diversity to the pasture to make it more sustainable and offer a wider range of grazing for all these animals - how does one go about doing that? Do you just sow over-top and hope the additional seeds will take root? Is there a certain list of seeds one should consider when starting to make such a transition?
You could try this: http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/A3715.pdf

or this:


Both need adjusted to your local conditions, but there are resources available to help you. Probably the best is

https://books.google.com/books/about/Holistic_Management.html?id=7xZJHZ5aVH0C&source=kp_cover&hl=en

 
Tyler Ludens
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It's difficult to see anything, but here are some pictures of areas where I'm trying to create diverse edge between the meadow and the forest. The first photo shows an edge being developed between the east side of the house/food forest area and the meadow to the east. In the foreground are some divisions of native bunch grass that I'm propagating in the relative safety within the fence. Deer can still get into the house area, but not as easily. The second photo is edge on the west side of the house food forest area and the meadow in front of the house. The third photo is some edge developing across the meadow from the house. Though it looks like a lot of plants are growing, the unfenced part is dominated by less palatable species, with some more palatable herbaceous plants hiding behind the fence.

edge1.jpg
[Thumbnail for edge1.jpg]
edge3.jpg
[Thumbnail for edge3.jpg]
edge2.jpg
[Thumbnail for edge2.jpg]
 
Travis Johnson
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Nice job on the less intrusive sheep fencing; I could barely see it! At least I don't think I am blind yet! It looks as if you went without the traditional fence posts too unless I truly am blind? Have you found it to hold up well to sheep pressure? One thing a lot of people do not realize about deer is that in order to clear a fence, as graceful jumpers as they are, they need a clear take off and landing zone. Take away the landing zone with a double fence and they are deterred with a fence that does not have to be 8 feet high (and an expense to match). Just a thought as you said deer are prolific there. Maybe your fence style would work strung up in double rows

How do you find your sheep to take to the native grasses you have planted?

I certainly would not say I have gone to the depths you have in growing native species, but a local NRCS Conservationist created a special blend for our area and despite intensive sheep studies on the contrary, I have found with rotational grazing the sheep graze it just as well. It is the one thing I love about Permiculture Living: observation beats detailed analysis every time. Paralysis by Analysis I call it. I am not sure I am getting my lambs to ideal weight in the least amount of days, but then again I am not fighting nature either. That is worth something!



 
Tyler Ludens
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The fencing is concrete reinforcing wire, which has that weathered rusted look that blends in. I either make small round "bubbles" that hold up on their own, or fasten it to trees, or use a few T-posted painted the rust color. The deer don't want to jump into the small enclosures.

The native grasses were here originally, except for those Eastern Gamagrass clumps which I grew from seed. I plan to transplant more of those out into the meadows once I have a larger population of plants. The sheep eat the native grass but they really prefer to browse shrubs and trees. We have to keep an eye on them because when they get bored with the grass they'll pick some innocent tree to eat, and have killed many. Another purpose of all the darn fencing is to give more trees a chance to grow.

I think managed intensive grazing could benefit our place, but I don't have the personal resources to set it up.
 
Travis Johnson
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I hear you!

That was how I got started in sheep farming. My wife insisted that if we get livestock again, she had to have a pet sheep like she did when she was a kid. I looked into the cost of fencing one silly sheep and then started researching the marketability of sheep instead of beef cows. After that, sheep only made sense, but man is the cost of sheep fencing expensive. I typically say bad words when putting it up, however I try to keep in mind that once done, it is a 30 year fence and try to take stock in that.

When I first started raising sheep I tried so hard to install fencing that worked and yet was easily removable to aid in rotational grazing, but nothing worked. The NRCS asked what I did to keep them in check and I said, "Nothing, I can't keep them in so now they have free range of the whole farm." (My farm is situated kind of funny so that all of my fields are located well away from any roads.) They said, "You can't do that", to which I said, "Then you get me the fence to keep them in", and so they did! I have added on plenty of fence since then, but honestly it was a huge help in getting started.
 
Tyler Ludens
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We'll be phasing out sheep as these pass on to that Great Pasture in the Sky. There are plenty of deer to graze the meadows, plus those chickens I plan to run in paddocks. But the sheep have been kind of a failure except to help us get agricultural tax status on our land. They were never tame enough to be pets, are a huge pain in the butt to shear, and they kill too many trees (including most of my old orchard).
 
Joe Paul
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Thanks for posting those pictures Tyler - quite helpful to see.
 
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