I've been gathering up all my animal manures, wood chips, and food scraps and using chickens to turn the compost inside my chicken run, with pretty good results. Now I want to use this stuff to improve my pasture. Do I just walk around the pasture while tossing it in every direction? Is it just that simply? Is it okay to spread it around anytime of the year, or should I do it in early spring?
In traditional ag or farming they have a manure spreader. It is a trailer/wagon with a 'spinner' that turns off the drive from the ground wheels. Think of a large spinning lawn fertilizer with a really big hopper. They will spread manure spring or fall depending on what is being grown and weather conditions.
So yes, one can just spread it about as they can. The more even the spread the better the distribution of nutrients, but it is an imperfect science (you are going to have clumps, but the more even the better.) It can be tossed with a pitch fork, slung from the back of a wagon, sifted through a drag harrow, etc... You can do it whenever you like, but some crops don't like too green a manure. Depending on your crop it may be better to let it over winter, so it mellows and does not burn the plants. Myself, I am not a proponent of a field left 'idle'. I think a cover crop every season is a must. Pick a time when you have slack time in your planting rotation, plant a cover crop (green manure), fertilize with your compost, and plant a cover crop right in it. So yes, whenever it is convenient and won't slow the growth of a crop. By fertilizing the cover crop and then mulching the cover crop before next planting, you get the benefit of both manures/compost.
What are you browning in the pasture? What time of year? Can you mulch, then plant a winter clover or annual rye? What are winters like where you are?
Just to clarify, I'm not growing any crops. I'm growing grass for my two dairy cows and five sheep. I was not thinking of spreading fresh manure onto the pasture but finished compost. I just want to know what the best way to apply it. And how effective it could be.
The western Cascade foot hills is pretty good soil to start. Don't know how much improvement you will see; but it will certainly never hurt. Wether a forage crop of grass or a harvest crop the compost will improve the soil.
I like the idea of flinging it around the field, and then letting the chickens in there to spread it around and work it in a bit. That seems like a really good idea. Although you may not have a way of keeping the chickens protected . . . hhhmmm . . . do you have a chicken tractor? That would work. Also depends on how big the field is, I guess. Lots of ways to do a thing - but I think in general, just getting it out there, spread around as best you can, and letting the rain, soil critters, and animals work to get the compost into the soil is the simplest and least expensive way. Plus, you're not driving over it with a tractor and compacting the soil.
Kevin, are they eating it on the pasture or is baled and moved?
If they are eating it on pasture, they are pooping and peeing, improving the soil as long as it's managed and not overgrazed.
I'm a believer that there's no such thing as too much humus. If you don't have another use for it, I'd definately spread it on the pasture.
Back to the manure spreader, you can use manure or compost. It's such a fine layer that raw manure won't be a problem beng too hot. It wasn't cheap, but we collect 20 gallons of horse manure a day from stalls and this is the fastest best way to put it to use imo.
Joel Salatan uses an old fashioned manure spreader to distribute his manure as well as the wood chips he uses to compost the animal guts/bones/butchering leftovers.
Do you mob-graze/mob-stock your animals? That would concentrate the manure in a tighter space, and would make it easier for the chickens to find it and spread it for you. You'll find that you'll grow more bio-mass that way, and concentrate the nutritional benefits of the poop and urine in a tighter space before you move the cows to new grazing. Mob grazing allows the land to recover between grazing. A simple electric fence is all you need. A chicken tractor follows 3 days after the cows have been moved.
One bonus to mob grazing: it makes it easier for dung beetles to find the poo and to do their work. They drill a nickel-sized hole down into the ground, 12 to 14 inches deep. Then they ball up the manure, and push it down into the hole. They'll follow your "herd" from paddock to paddock as you mob stock them on new land daily. They are amazing permaculture soil engineers, getting that nitrogen rich poop deep into the soil, creating pathways for water and air infiltration, and feeding the soil life.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
In your context, you may look at a smaller compost spreader and ATV combo.
until then, i would do what you are doing now - manually spread compost onto the pastures.
as for the time of year, i think most of the time except late fall/winter would be good in your climate.
glad to see you have expanded into sheep.
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