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Pasture to permaculture, where to start!?!?  RSS feed

 
Suz Clarke
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Location: New Zealand
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We have recently purchased a property in the North Island of New Zealand.

North Facing, lots of sun.
7+ hectares of over fertilized pasture, compacted by dairy farming, grazing cattle.
10 Hectares of regenerating native Bush, estimate to be approximately 100 years old (once part of an active  mining community), some pretty big rimu trees in there, smaller Kauri and others.
One 365 days of the year fresh water spring, one we do not know if 365 days of the year and another that pops up after a few days of rain.
I would love to create a farm like Zaytuna but the land is more in between Zaytuna and Sepp Holtzer in that it is steeper than the 15 degrees recommended slope for swales.
Up top where there is flat land we have very high wind, down the bottom is 'wavy' land where wild pigs sometimes turn up to dig for worms. Our bush is at the edge of more than 100 Hectares of bush which is over the river from hundreds of hectares of bush so we have wild pigs, many birds including native and introduced, rabbits, deer farm deer that have turned feral (we see their poop but not their bodies)

I need to turn the over fertilized grazing pasture into under fertilized healthy pasture in amongst food forest and garden... to feed the humans and the animals that rely on the land.

Considering the mission ahead, my reason for this post is to ask for tips on WHERE TO START?
Excited and overwhelmed. I have read many words, watched many videos but never physically completed anything even close to a task such as this!

Thank you in advance for any information, tips and constructive criticism offered.
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Miles Flansburg
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Howdy Suz, welcome to permies! Is that a picture of the pasture you are talking about? If so it looks pretty nice. You may just have to adjust your grazing practices?  Have you heard of the work of Joel Salatin ?

 
Suz Clarke
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Location: New Zealand
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Howdy Suz, welcome to permies! Is that a picture of the pasture you are talking about? If so it looks pretty nice. You may just have to adjust your grazing practices?  Have you heard of the work of Joel Salatin ?



That's awesome, thanks heaps!
Since moving here, that is pretty much how we move the cattle and it is daily, difference being that it is 25 cows on a total of 7.6 hectares of pasture. The are rotated over four paddocks, each paddock gets a new break created daily so that the rotate over a month before repeating.
The troughs (water) is in a permanent position so the first break in each paddock starts at the trough.
Definitely think 25 cows too many coming up to winter.
As each new break in a paddock is made they can still access the first one, necessary so they have access to the water, this means each paddock has less than a month before they come through again.
I would love to be able to manage it so that they stay in the... what did he call it 'teenage' grass stage so that the grass can bounce back faster.
I noticed that throughout the paddocks there are chunks of grass having been ripped out at the roots by the cows. The owner of the cows grazing our paddocks explained that will be from over fertilizing (the roots do not have to grow deep to find food so they are very shallow and pulled out easy) or from a kind of worm/ grub (I can't remember the term he used) that eats the roots.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Suz,
Just a couple of thoughts to start with:

The grazing cattle are not yours?
Do you think you might do better at maintaining "teenage"grass if there were fewer cattle on the ground?

To see if I understand, the cattle move in to a new paddock, with only the end closest to the water available. Each day, they have access to a new strip of grass as well as the first strip.  That continues through the paddock until they are removed.  So the closer to the water it is almost as if being continuously grazed?

You might have a fair amount of compaction as well as the over fertilization the cattle grazer suggested.

Can you check the compaction? Can you take a shovel and just go one shovel deep, and photograph what is there?.... Maybe do this in an area that is in the last "break" as well as an intermediate, and one that is in the first break that is not right next to the water.

Take some of the soil and crumble it in your hand, to see how much soil aggregates you have? photograph that so we can see too?

And take a photo of the condition of the grass in the first break (again not hear the trough where the traffic is heaviest) as well as an intermediate break and the last break, where the cattle only spend a day.

Another resource for grazing would be Greg Judy, from the state of Missouri, USA.  He is a wizard at using cattle to rehab land.  Possibly you can find a talk of his on line, possibly I'll have time soon to see what I can dig up.

Other questions: what kinds of grasses do you have and is it only grass?  

It is an interesting project.  
 
Marco Banks
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One of the first rules of permaculture when you are starting a new project is to work in order of greatest permanence.  Thus, swales and earthworks are first.  Even on pasture land, swales will help capture more water and build fertility to your soil much faster.

Once you've sculpted the land, then getting the right pasture mix of grasses and plants would seem to be the next priority.  The plants will need some time to establish themselves before you're able to put livestock onto the land.  If you are planning to introduce trees and other perennial plants, you can either create a nursery where you grow them to size and then transplant them to the site, or use Mark Shepard's STUN method—sheer total utter neglect.  Frankly, I think the world of Shepard and his work, but a lot of perfectly good and strong trees die for lack of just a little bit of care and nurture.  I think there is a lot of middle ground to be found between STUN and totally babying your trees.  Yes, let the weak stock die . . . but putting a bit of water on your trees during the hottest weeks of summer is hardly creating welfare trees.

Finally, subdivide it into paddocks and rotational graze/mob graze it. 

Best of luck.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Good point, Marco, beginning with the most permanent first.  I think the ground may be too steep for swales, but maybe someone else posted their ground was "too steep"...I'msure Suz will clear that up.

The most recent interpretation of the STUN acronym I heard was Strategic Total Utter Neglect, which would be what you are describing, that you keep an eye on them and help once in a while enough to save those good strong, neglecting them most of the time.

I am a huge fan of Mark Shepard and his methods and successes at New Forest Farm. I know he has lectures online, and highly recommend them as well as Greg Judy, and Joel Salatin. 
 
Suz Clarke
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Location: New Zealand
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Hi Suz,
Just a couple of thoughts to start with:

The grazing cattle are not yours?
Do you think you might do better at maintaining "teenage"grass if there were fewer cattle on the ground?

To see if I understand, the cattle move in to a new paddock, with only the end closest to the water available. Each day, they have access to a new strip of grass as well as the first strip.  That continues through the paddock until they are removed.  So the closer to the water it is almost as if being continuously grazed?

You might have a fair amount of compaction as well as the over fertilization the cattle grazer suggested.

Can you check the compaction? Can you take a shovel and just go one shovel deep, and photograph what is there?.... Maybe do this in an area that is in the last "break" as well as an intermediate, and one that is in the first break that is not right next to the water.

Take some of the soil and crumble it in your hand, to see how much soil aggregates you have? photograph that so we can see too?

And take a photo of the condition of the grass in the first break (again not hear the trough where the traffic is heaviest) as well as an intermediate break and the last break, where the cattle only spend a day.

Another resource for grazing would be Greg Judy, from the state of Missouri, USA.  He is a wizard at using cattle to rehab land.  Possibly you can find a talk of his on line, possibly I'll have time soon to see what I can dig up.

Other questions: what kinds of grasses do you have and is it only grass?  

It is an interesting project.  


Hi, No, not my cows they are just making us a little bit of money while we make our changes to the land etc...
The 25 have gone now as the owner bought some new land and with winter well and truly upon us we will not grow enough to feed that many grass alone.
I managed to find a farmer with seven... seven ladies needing to be fed until it is their time to make baby moos. It was approximately 2-3 weeks from when the 25 left and the seven arrived, they came a week ago today... it was great giving the pasture a rest even just for a couple of weeks knowing it was going to be slow growing with the cold.

I will get the information you asked for, photos etc and get it on here. Also, thank you for the resources I will definitely look into!

Thanks heaps!
 
Suz Clarke
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Location: New Zealand
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Marco Banks wrote:One of the first rules of permaculture when you are starting a new project is to work in order of greatest permanence.  Thus, swales and earthworks are first.  Even on pasture land, swales will help capture more water and build fertility to your soil much faster.

Once you've sculpted the land, then getting the right pasture mix of grasses and plants would seem to be the next priority.  The plants will need some time to establish themselves before you're able to put livestock onto the land.  If you are planning to introduce trees and other perennial plants, you can either create a nursery where you grow them to size and then transplant them to the site, or use Mark Shepard's STUN method—sheer total utter neglect.  Frankly, I think the world of Shepard and his work, but a lot of perfectly good and strong trees die for lack of just a little bit of care and nurture.  I think there is a lot of middle ground to be found between STUN and totally babying your trees.  Yes, let the weak stock die . . . but putting a bit of water on your trees during the hottest weeks of summer is hardly creating welfare trees.

Finally, subdivide it into paddocks and rotational graze/mob graze it. 

Best of luck.


Hi
I would love to be able to put swales in, and even after learning the land was too steep for it I was still considering going through with it but have since changed my mind... I am thinking sculpting the land may be a little to risky so I plan to start with planting to reduce wind intensity. Being up on a hill we get blasted mostly by strong south-westerlies and during stormy weather, north-easterlies. Once we have created wind break rows in the correct spaces I will be able to erect my green house so that I can grow plants, a kind of small nursery as you have suggested to plant many more edible and nitrogen fixing plants, trees, shrubs, vines, vegetables... I managed to get some very affordable fejoa trees that are said to be very wind tolerant and also cattle friendly (they love to eat the leaves and the fruit) we have planted them (64+) and a few other fruit trees, just a start to the planned edible hedgerows that will hopefully become dense windbreaks. They have been fenced off with electric fencing to keep the cattle out.
There may be a couple of spots where we can create ponds in the future, I am not willing to do that until we have more than shallow rooted grasses to hold the land together.
I have not heard of the STUN method you mention, I will read up on it but my plan is to heavily mulch what we have planted so far and then leave them to it. I am not interested in high maintenance but I understand that is more of a long term thing, once given enough time to become more established.
When planting the fejoa trees, I found an area where the topsoil has completely eroded away with the impact of the rain and cattle leaving grass growing on the clay underneath... areas like that I will be mulching and fencing off temporarily where I can source free organic matter for mulching. Even branches, grass clippings, leaves, bark....
I would love to learn more about the right grasses to sow for what I want to create.
Long term, there will be no cattle.

Thanks heaps!
 
John Rickenbacker
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Your spread has some similarities to mine on a ridge top in the Allegheny mountains where I've lived for almost ten years now.  Here's some benefit of my experience.
- pay attention to soil depth and what that is saying about the vegetation that is happy growing there. 
- do systematic test plantings for a year for plants you might try to raise
- animal predation on plants is a heartbreaker.  Study and test deterrents.

A plant I like a lot to improve nitrogen, tilth, water retention, and nitrogen is Caragana arborescens.  It is used on windy plateaus in China to restore damaged soil.  It grows from seed with great courage and gorgiveness, transplants well, grows fast.  Once mature it yields seeds that are 29% protein (!!!)  The seed and the bush can be forage.  There is a catch - the seeds contaiun a lot of tannin that makes it not so tasty and impairs digetion of protein.    Ruminants seem to manage.  Ask paul stamets for a mushroom that will digest tannin.

Caragana has been used in shelterbelts in the prairies where it tends to invasive. Oh gosh, I didn't mention, it's a champion nitrogen fixer.

I am growing it here in rows on contour intercalated with mountain beach.  Talk about a heartbreak to grow - every animal is devoted to devour it.   My hunch has been to try beach plants (Myrica pensylvanica, sand cherry, etc.) to adapt to the wind, shallow sandy soil, and generally poor bramble-ridden overgrazed. 

I don't know your trees but they maybe correspond to our baldcypress.  That might be an interesting tree to try, for fine lumber ultimately and until then, great mulch.  In contrast to popular opinion, they do not need swamps or even damp soil to grow well, but rainfall counts.

I'm trying Ponderosa pine here as windbreak at highest altitude and to drill into the mountain and theoretically release mineral nutrients.  They are supposed to smell nice.

Quite a big response you've got already!  Lots of great ideas.  Best luck to you and keep us all posted!

 
Wyatt Bottorff
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John Rickenbacker wrote:
A plant I like a lot to improve nitrogen, tilth, water retention, and nitrogen is Caragana arborescens.  It is used on windy plateaus in China to restore damaged soil.  It grows from seed with great courage and gorgiveness, transplants well, grows fast.  Once mature it yields seeds that are 29% protein (!!!)  The seed and the bush can be forage.  There is a catch - the seeds contaiun a lot of tannin that makes it not so tasty and impairs digetion of protein.    Ruminants seem to manage.  Ask Paul Stamets for a mushroom that will digest tannin.


Do you think it could possibly be worth harvesting the seed and leeching the tannins through water?
 
John Rickenbacker
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Wyatt Bottorff wrote:
John Rickenbacker wrote:
A plant I like a lot to improve nitrogen, tilth, water retention, and nitrogen is Caragana arborescens.  It is used on windy plateaus in China to restore damaged soil.  It grows from seed with great courage and gorgiveness, transplants well, grows fast.  Once mature it yields seeds that are 29% protein (!!!)  The seed and the bush can be forage.  There is a catch - the seeds contaiun a lot of tannin that makes it not so tasty and impairs digetion of protein.    Ruminants seem to manage.  Ask Paul Stamets for a mushroom that will digest tannin.


Do you think it could possibly be worth harvesting the seed and leeching the tannins through water?


Definitely the seed can be harvested and fed to animals; this was done in the Depression.  (Times were really hard all over, even for the chickens.)  In all likelihood, yes, leaching out the tannin is likely to work at least partially.  Check out the many protocols for leaching red oak acorns of their tannin. 

The tannin has some positives - preserving the food, and when it breaks down, it makes flavinone compounds that people believe are good for you.  \

On Google Scholar there's no shortage of publications on tannin extraction.  The world is waiting for something clever.  I'm eager to harvest some and start experimenting; then I can give you a clear answer.

 
Thekla McDaniels
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I've been thinking about a post to add soil food web to the discussion, and here, in the meantime, is an article that may be of interest. It just came to my inbox this morning via geoff lawton's "Friday Five".  Swales and on contour hedges. 

https://permaculturenews.org/2017/06/30/transition-swales-contour-hedges/?inf_contact_key=8cc2c7b4f562837c8cbfc18e38f418e124dabf02b44de7ae863af3c80d768b48
 
John Rickenbacker
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What a great article! Thanks for recommending it. 

Soil food web would be a great topic for a topic - a long long thread!  You should start one.   I'm working to compare different nitrogen fixers in the configuration discussed. 

I'd be interested to hear more about the flora of New Zealand, especially beach flora - kind of chronically pioneer plants.  I doubt they have many zone 5 plants.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Wyatt Bottorff wrote:
John Rickenbacker wrote:
A plant I like a lot to improve nitrogen, tilth, water retention, and nitrogen is Caragana arborescens.  It is used on windy plateaus in China to restore damaged soil.  It grows from seed with great courage and gorgiveness, transplants well, grows fast.  Once mature it yields seeds that are 29% protein (!!!)  The seed and the bush can be forage.  There is a catch - the seeds contaiun a lot of tannin that makes it not so tasty and impairs digetion of protein.    Ruminants seem to manage.  Ask Paul Stamets for a mushroom that will digest tannin.


Do you think it could possibly be worth harvesting the seed and leeching the tannins through water?


I did also read the reply about leaching tannins, but if a person might  not have to go through that process to get the benefit of the high protein feed stock.
I would be tempted to let chickens and goats in to browse and graze and see how much they utilized that feed.  Often times they eat a little of this and a little of that, and the dilution of any given plant or substance such as tannin becomes a non issue.  And over time they get most of the food value in any given feed. 

Fred Provenza researched and reported the ability of animals to balance their own diet, when given their choice of feeds, which is what a mixed pasture provides.  IMO, the animals themselves do a much better job of selecting the diet for their optimum  health, than does the feed industry and the livestock industries as a whole.   And when we let them it is a lot less work, and usually involves a lower carbon footprint, and they convert the high tannin seed to high protein eggs and milk and meat.... and at the same time - when managed appropriately, improve the tilth of the soil.
 
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