Monday, July 13, 2015

Creating Pasture, the Hard Way

One of my pastures has never been improved in any way. And 99% of the greenery in it was inedible. So it didn't take the livestock long overgraze it. I've been using this pasture just as a big corral and put the animals in to this "pasture" for basically two reasons only.

 First is to protect the other pastures from getting overgrazed, thus ruined. When the animals (horse, donkeys, goats, sheep) have been rotated through the pastures and it's not yet time to make another rotation, I'll move them to the corral and provide them hay and hay cubes. Second reason is to get all the livestock into the safest and most secure pasture for when I'm away. This corral-type pasture is central, thus surrounded by the other pastures. If perchance the animals managed to break out while I was away, they would still be contained on the farm. That hasn't ever happened (a breakout, that is), but the idea is good insurance, and peace of mind when I'm away.

The land in this pasture has never been bulldozed. Thus it is quite rough with lava rocks and boulders, ups & downs, pukas (big holes), and plenty of trees. There is no way to use large equipment to clear or seed, without it being a grand affair at correspondingly grand expense. So any work I plan to do will be done by hand. 

Since I'd like to see this pasture become a real and productive grazing site, I am going to have to put some work into it. And like most of my projects on this homestead, it's going to be a slowly done, longterm task. By now you most likely know that such projects don't depress me in the least. I'm good at slow, steady, longterm trudging. 

First step - clear away the inedible growth. I've been using the weedwacker for the past few weeks and have about 1/2 acre cleared now of the heavy overgrowth of ferns. Don't picture a 1/2 acre square devoid of tall ferns. No, I cleared out the easy parts first -- the trails, the flatter spots, the more open spots. I worked my way around trees, humps and holes. It is like I created wide walkways. So I'll concentrate on this half acre first. In many areas I was able to hand pull the ferns, leaving bare dirt. I'm focusing on these areas as the first places to plant grass. Why? Because leaving the soil bare damages soil fertility here on my farm. Perhaps it has something to do with the constant heat or heavy rains, but when my soil is left bare, it becomes less fertile. 

Oh I forgot to tell you that I'm cross fencing this "corral" pasture. It's about 3-4 acres in size and I'm cross fencing it into four sections. In the photo below you can see the new fencing that is creating the first cross fence. So I'm now going to work on grassing the first section of about one acre or a little less. The new fence is protecting it from being grazed by the livestock. 
As you can see in the above photo, there are areas that are totally devoid of greenery. Just dirt. I'm going to hand sow some annual ryegrass seed in order to get a quick and relatively cheap grass cover. Since its been raining frequently recently, the seed has a good chance of germinating well. I don't plan to rely upon the annual ryegrass as the sole pasture grass, but it will provide quick cover and protection for some of the other seeds I plan to sow later. I view the annual ryegrass as a pasture bandaid.

I'm also hand transplanting some young grasses. Below is a small section of guinea grass seedlings that I transplanted today. 2-3 times a week I happen to pull this amount of seedlings from my mother's lawn. It is a coarse grass that forms lumpy clumps that are dangerous for a 93 year old lady. They are a serious tripping hazard, thus the reason I pull them out. Since I'm pulling them out anyway, I'm bringing them home and planting them into the pasture. 
The animals willingly grass this grass and do well on it. It transplants very easily, grows strongly, and tolerates drought and poor soil. So I'm using it to fill in the bare areas. 

Another grass that I am transplanting by clumps is kikuyu grass. Just as with guinea grass, it transplants readily and roots quickly. 

So how quickly will this new pasture be usable? If I were just sowing pasture grass seed, it would be months (at least six) before the animals could be allowed to graze it lightly. But by transplanting guinea and kikuyu grass like I am, it will be half the time. Within four weeks the seedlings and clumps will have rooted securely enough that they will not get pulled out by grazing. But I'd like to see 8 weeks go by before the first grazing so that there is enough top growth that the livestock won't try to eat the entire plant. This new pasture should be able to handle a light grazing monthly for the first 6 months before going into the regular pasture rotation schedule. Yes, guinea and kikuyu grass is that quick to establish here, as long as the weather cooperates. 

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