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When should I mow the pasture?  RSS feed

 
Brian Vraken
Posts: 8
Location: Eastern Ontario, Canada Zone 5b
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So, I have a (currently unused) pasture I am trying to improve for next year, though the only tool at my disposal is mowing.

I mowed it in twice in June for the first time in 5+ years - the first time to knock down the waist-high grass, and a second time to knock down the milkweed that sprung up instead.

It's now been three weeks since I last mowed and thanks to the amount of rain, it's back up to boot high. I have lots of poison parsnip and milkweed just starting to go into bloom, so I want to knock them down before they set seed. However, I'm probably about 2 weeks early for the thistles to bolt and go to flower.

Should I mow it now and knock back the poison parsnip and milkweed, and just accept that I'll miss the thistles this year? Or should I wait?

Any thoughts?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2590
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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If you are trying to improve that space as pasture you want to never let anything unwanted go to seed heads.
I mow biweekly when I am working on improving a pasture space.

Once you get the pasture to the grasses and plants you want growing there, then you can only mow twice a year for hay making.
One thing to understand about pasture is that it will grow better grass when it is mowed down more frequently.
The next thing to understand about grass is that the taller it has grown, the taller you have to cut it, if you let grasses go to knee high then cut it off at two inches tall, you only have stalks standing and nothing to shade the weed seeds to keep them from sprouting.

I don't let a hay field get super tall, I like to cut hay at 6 to 8 inches, the food is better for the animals that way, better nutrition and less stalky non palatable to the animals.

Redhawk
 
Paul Busey
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I recommend you read some of Joel Salatin's books (polyface farms) and use some of his hard earned wisdom as a starting point. He is all about pasture and has some excellent info on the subject.

It sounds like you could stand to start with some goats, chickens, turkeys, and possibly some other grazers on your pasture, then do a little weeding followed by  some very basic seeding. Animals can and will do most of the work for you. Once the pasture has been corrected, you can then manage it with animal rotations and cutting hay for wintering your livestock.

But Salatin should definitely be your first step in your desired direction. Pastures are his life long bread and butter and he has a ton of experience renting neglected pastures and fixing them quick, fast, and cheaply. (He has a ton of video and material you can find online as well). His insights on letting the land determine your fencing is common sense brilliant, as is his use of portable electric fencing to get the job done. That same common sense land segregation translates perfectly to mowing hay. Meditate on his wisdom a few days while considering how to apply it to your world and you will have a very high chance of pitfall avoidance and first time success.


Good Luck,


-Paul-
 
Ray Moses
Posts: 96
Location: Brighton, Michigan
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You do need to be carefull on how to mow pasture. If you mow too often and too short you can actually hurt the grass also depending on the hieght of the growth points of forages and legumes vs. grass, ie. warm or cool season grasses. Forages should not be mowed between certain dates in the fall before dormancy as well depending on you growing zone. In your case it may make sense to do some mowing in order to establish more perennial and less annual and bi-annual vegetaion but in general you should not really need to mow pasture as often as you are, the idea is that the livestock should be harvesting the forage and not having to use any equipment and fuel to cut forage. I have over a couple hundred acres of pasture and I don't mow any of it. However, depends on where you live. I went to a forage tour in Louisiana and they do annual mowing to control invasive vegetation that I do not have here. What is the poison parsnip? - is that the same thing as cows parsnip? I have cows parsnip at one farm and I always suspected I may have had issues with it.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Hi Brian,

It sounds like you have the right idea about strategic mowing, mowing with particular objectives rather than on a specific predetermined schedule.  I am not sure I understand the thistle situation, do you WANT the thistles?  If not, mowing them earlier than you think is optimum for their control might be OK.  Some thistles have enough moisture in their tissue that they can ripen their seeds after being cut. 

I wonder if you have any friends or neighbors with herbivores they would like to bring over for some free feed.  Mowing is a tool I use to cut the undesireables after the goats have eaten what they want.  It is better than letting them go unchecked....... but I do like it better when the plant material gets chewed and pulverized, and the soil inoculated with those millions of microbes. 


When you DO mow it, how short do you mow?  I try to leave mine at about 6 inches, leaving plenty of plant material to regenerate from...    Well, I leave what I want to encourage as high as possible, and if possible cut the undesirables as close to the ground as possible. 

Keep us posted!
 
Justyn Mavis
Posts: 44
Location: FEMA District III
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Here is what I did.

I'm in Southern WV, I have a 7 acre pasture used for 50+ years as a hay field. I did nothing to the field for almost a year.(and I mean nothing, I barely even walked in it)  Just after the last snowfall I started to trim the plants of height, then I mowed just before the spring growth started strong.

I had some of the best hay. I also waited till the hay went to seed before the bailed it this year. It really improved my field.

The huge milk weed patches are gone, and the clover is thicker then before. I do have a few of small area were some Rushs are now, but I blame the wet season for those.

cheers

-Justyn
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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I strategically mow different areas at different times according to what is growing there.  I use a mix of tools from scytes to the riding mower and different heights according to the objective.  Trying to cut the daisies off at the roots, Good grass at 4" , vetch and alfalfa after it has set seed with the scythe and drag the mass over areas I want reseeded.  Cut the grass just above the strawberry leaves  for the june fruiting. After the seed heads are mature on the grass and flax that I want to propagate I mow those patches with the riding mower which would not be possible when green and it spreads the seed.
The last use of the field for animals was horses and my sister was not keeping ahead of the daisies so they are a problem.  Mowing with the scythe allows me to observe the land closely and make a mowing plan for the year. Not having grazing animals on the farm now the grass I mow with the scythe is used to mulch gardens and trees and berries.
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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How big is the area?

If the unwanted plants are relatively sparse you might find that a few hours of hand weeding gets the job done. We have 6 acres of pasture, which had a thistle problem. I took a fiskars thistle puller out with me and did ten minutes or so pulling each time I want out there. The thistle problem was gone in a few months.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Now that you mention it, I once freed a pasture of "yellow star thistle"by weeding.  And the seedling looks very different from the adult plant, which got me plenty of opposition from the folks who thought I did not know what I was doing.  Andsince yellow star thistle is one which ripens its seeds even afterthe plant has been pulled, recognizing the plant in its early stages was crucial.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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Location: Ohio
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You can also add tallgrass prairie seed assortment to choke out nearly everything else. I believe I found it at seed saver's exchange, but don't quote me.
 
jim bledsoe
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Gabe Brown is a no plow farmer in North Dakota when his operation freezes he goes on speaking tours and youtube is full of his talks below is a link to the rabbit hole.
  
 
Gail Gardner
Posts: 111
Location: SE Oklahoma
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Brian Vraken wrote:So, I have a (currently unused) pasture I am trying to improve for next year, though the only tool at my disposal is mowing.


I know you said only mowing, but someone should point out that the best way to reduce weeds is to improve the soil and grass. Traditional ranchers and hay growers do that with fertilizer. But my plan is to use GroPal at 10-40 oz per acre according to the friendly folks at http://seamineralsolutions.com/ who answered my questions about improving pastures.
 
Gail Gardner
Posts: 111
Location: SE Oklahoma
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Ray Moses wrote:You do need to be carefull on how to mow pasture. If you mow too often and too short you can actually hurt the grass also depending on the hieght of the growth points of forages and legumes vs. grass, ie. warm or cool season grasses.


I saved some good tips on growing year round pasture and how to mow I found at http://www.groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/how-to-choose-the-right-pasture-seed
 
Just put the cards in their christmas stocking and PRESTO! They get it now! It's like you're the harry potter of permaculture. richsoil.com/cards
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