• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Cows, soil compaction and improving pastures

 
                        
Posts: 34
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've got about 2 acres of grassy/weedy area that I'd like to make into pasture. It's very poor right now, I'm sure any animal pastures there wouldn't thrive. However, I was thinking about putting maybe two cows on it, and supplmenting them with cut and carry as well as purchased minerals and hay. My thought is that I could either try to improve the pasture first with chisel plowing and fertilizers, thenput the cows, or to supplement the cows directly and rely on their manure to enrich the field. I think the secocnd option would be better? That way my cost would yield both meat or milk and an improved pasture.

I'm also concerned about the weight of the animals compactig the soil. This land was used as pasture 50 or so years ago (I still come across bits of rusty barb wire and fencing in the brush, ugh) but it was abandonded as uneconomical for beef production. My clay (can't call it soil yet) doesn't compact even under bulldozers, but also is extremely aerobic- almost no pore stucture at all. I'm concerned such heavy animals might impede the formation of soil structure. I've considered sheep, but they are just to prone to death. Goats are another consideration, but two acres of goat fencing is waaaay out of my budget. Cows could easily be contained by electric fencing or even barb wire, much as I hate dealing withthe stuff. I could take the cows out of the pasture and tie them out around areas I wanted cleared, and return them to the pasture at night.

Animals are such an important part of a wholistic farm. The additional digestion the takes place in the rumen is key to nutrient cycling and soil building.

I've tried seeding daikon comfrey taprooted legumes etc but They won't grow without at least tillage and compost. No tractor so chisel plowing is expensve - I have to rent a machine, and anyway access to most of my land is pretty limited due to hills and thick waiawi (strawberry guava). If I let this area go, it will become waiawi thicket in a few years. With 14 acres of nearly pure waiawi stand on my land, and 10,000 acres of the same on the forest reserve that borders my place, that's something I don't want at all.

Could a bull or steer pull a chisel plow? That would be the ideal way to aerate the
soil but I have no experience at all with animal plowing or trying to teach of cow to behave that way. By chisel plow I mean the deep aerating plow described by mollisons in the designers manual. I may be using the wrong term. 

Has anyone heard of a very hardy daikon or simmilar plant that could potentially grow without first tilling?
 
John Polk
master steward
Pie
Posts: 8018
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
269
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Cheap goat fencing (temporary).  This is 2 pieces of rebar, driven at 45 degree angles into the soil (green line) with a tether around the goats neck.  Move down field as the work gets done.  The tether goes through the eye of both rods.

 
kent smith
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I too want to improve the pasture that we just bought. I would guess that it has not been grazed, cultivated, or even cut for several decades. However I do have decent top soil on top of a sandy clay subsoil. We have several shaded areas where the ground cover is mostly moss. We just put two calves on it. I am moving them every few days using electric fencing. We also have some forest areas the we might expand our pasture into. I would be interested in hearing experiences and advice on pasture improvement.
kent
 
                      
Posts: 70
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I currently work on a grass based livestock farm, and we manage about 600 head of cattle daily (along with about 230 laying hens, 70 sheep, and 40 goats). We practice high stock density grazing and there is simply nothing better for building soil.

If you don't have the livestock already, then planting a mix of cool season, warm season, and legumes would be a good option. This may take a bit of time to get established, but if properly managed it may never need to be replanted. The legumes are essential! cattle return roughly 85% of what they eat to the land, the rest can be obtained through increased organic matter (small paddocks are required!) and about 30% legumes. I may have the figures wrong, but a 1% increase in organic matter is equivalent to roughly 200lbs of nitrogen/acre.

A second option is to graze what is already growing. Cattle can utilize a lot of native weeds, and they will do a good job of clearing the junk out. If you go this route, I would suggest spreading seed in the paddock they are grazing, so they can help tramp it into the soil. If a pasture is really in bad shape, some folks spread hay to be trampled in as well. A mix of turnips, radishes, vetch, crabgrass, millet and sorghum is what we just planted on some weedy pastures after the cattle grazed it.

Long term, the permanent pasture is much better for soil building and ease of maintenance. Don't worry too much about soil compaction with cattle. A healthy pasture will hardly know they are there! The biggest thing I can emphasize is to move them often, and use small paddocks (longer rest times for each area).

We use single poly-wire fences to create the paddocks and high tensile electric wire for the perimeter fences.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2523
Location: FL
88
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've got about 2 acres of field out back, plus some more space in woods.  I have a Lowline Black Angus back there keeping the place mowed.  He's fully grown at about 1100 pounds.  The soil here is sand.  Compaction is not an issue. 

I have a problem right now with drought.  Just not enough rain to keep the grass growing.  I have a hose and sprayer that I move around each day to keep some areas moist.  There has been a bit of rain this past week which has saved me much anxiety.  Things are green again, but it wont last if the rains dont keep coming.

I moved in a year ago.  The previous owner had a horse.  The field had been churned up and planted with a single species of grass.  The front field has at least 3 different species that I can find.  It stays greener longer in the cold and in the drought.  I let bull into the front now and again to mow it for me, but he keeps getting out to mow the sides of the road. 

I've been reading up on clover lately, as a means of enriching the field, its a legume, and offering Bull a more diversified diet.  There is a thread around here somewhere about clover.

I found a clover mix and spread some in an area which the sprayer will cover.  I waited until the hens were in the barn.  They are always watching me.  If I touch the soil, they have to investigate, scratch, and eat anything I put down.  I also think they talk about me and are up to something, but that's for another thread.

This stuff is a deer plot seed mix with Dixie Crimson, Barblanca White, and Start Red Clovers, and has about a half percent Commander Chicory.  Clovers can withstand some degree of drought, and I'll take all the help I can get right now.  The chicory adds some variety, and offers a little more protein than the sweet clovers.  I know the hens will eat it for certain.  If it draws a deer, I'm ready for that event.

 
kent smith
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
stewartrIL, what you are doing sounds like what I have read from Joel Salatin's books.
kent
 
John Polk
master steward
Pie
Posts: 8018
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
269
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Joel Salatin, half jokingly, refers to himself as a "grass farmer".  The implication is that for proper pasture management, you need to get multiple grasses to grow and prosper in a field in order for it to become good pasture.  If you have a good combination of warm/cold, wet/dry season grasses, mixed with some clovers, you will then have a pasture which can be grazed at any time of the year.  If the pasture is never over-grazed, then it will continuously regenerate itself.  Seeds that have not been sown in years will still find an opportunity to regrow themselves.  With enough variety of species, regardless of any season's quirky weather, something will grow and thrive.
 
                      
Posts: 70
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I haven't read Salatin's books (yet), but I have an excellent mentor/employer.

As John Polk said, variety is crazy important. I have heard some folks say they have as many as 40 species of grasses/legumes in any given pasture. As the cool season stuff slows in the summer, the warm season stuff takes over. Legumes are critical, but remember that bloating can be an issue at certain growth stages so don't seed it too heavily!

One thing I would like to touch on is the idea of over grazing: there is no such thing as "over-grazing", just "under-resting". Try to manage your grass as the bison managed it for eons, shock it for a short period and let it regenerate as long as possible. It is a good idea to graze paddocks at different times each year as well, so the different grass mixtures don't receive the same stress. When it rains, move the cattle faster or the ground will be torn up.....but if it does get torn up, let it rest for a long period and it will come back stronger than you might think. The longer the rest, the healthier the grass.

Try to graze by the rule "take half, leave half". If you take too much, your plant's surface area will be reduced too far and regrowth will take much longer. Grass has an exponential growth curve, once it gets enough surface area it can take off.
 
Gord Welch
Posts: 64
Location: Oregon
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'd run a pig or two on it, butcher them, then you'll have more diversity of plants. If you can, time them to finish for the beginning of your rainy season and spread out the seeds you want to introduce at that time. The greater diversity of plant life, the better. I'd make sure there's at least a couple of trees out there - or at least lots around the edges. When given the opportunity, cattle do not eat only grass - and they are much healthier for it. Same goes for "pastured" anything. Grass is not enough for full nutrition.
 
Suzy Bean
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Paul and Skeeter talk about keyline systems in this podcast: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/422-podcast-072-keyline-systems/
 
You're not going crazy. You're going sane in a crazy word. Find comfort in this tiny ad:
Got Permaculture games? Yes! 66 cards, infinite possibilities::
www.FoodForestCardGame
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic