Friday, May 27, 2016

Farm Plan - Current Pastures

Essentially I have three areas devoted to pastures for a total of about 15 acres. That includes the furthest back woods, the cross fenced pastures, and parts of the front area up by the road. 
This is how those back pastures are currently fenced (the wooded area and the cross fenced pastures)...... 

The black straight lines are the fences. The little "x" marks are the gates. So you can see that the large back area has no cross fencing. It's almost all heavy woods with no grazing. The only grass is on the perimeter road surrounding the woods. For right now it will stay unused woods. There are a many food trees in there where I harvest the avocados, guavas, bananas, and citrus, but that's about it. Around four times a year I let the livestock into this area in order to graze down the grass in the road. But essentially the area is a wildlife zone with light grazing. 

The cross fenced pastures are used for the donkey and the flock of sheep. It is moderately wooded with pasture between the trees. Some areas produce more available grazing than others. When I first fenced this area it was heavily treed with very little edible grazing, exactly like the back wooded acres. Over the years I've gradually opened it up and planted grasses and forbs. These pastures are still in the process of being developed. They are barely producing enough to support my small flock. One of the pens is a dry paddock (nothing but trees, no grazing) where the livestock get put when the rest of the pastures need a break from grazing. This prevents the sheep from over grazing and thus killing the pastures, but it does mean that I have to feed them hay cubes when in the dry paddock. 

The rest of the pasture is on the front of the farm near the road. There is perimeter fencing along the property line, but otherwise I use portable fencing or tie-outs. This area originality was partially treed and covered in head-height weedy growth. It took years to get it under control and productive. The area now produces the most lush and nutritious pasture that I have. I chop some of this every day for the chickens and rabbits. It provides most of their feed. 

The pigs are kept in this area. They have a portable pen made of cattle panels. I guess you could call it a pig tractor. Since chicken tractors and rabbit tractors are all the rage nowadays, why not pigs? Well, I I guess I have to say that I've got a pig tractor. Their pen gets moved just about every day, sometimes multiple times a day, depending upon how much grass they are eating. While I could fence in a permanent pig pasture, they are doing just fine with the pig tractor. Don't worry, they get out daily to run around and stretch their legs.... and literally run they do! If you've never seen a pig frolic and run full speed ahead, let me tell you that they can really boggy! Zoom! Anyway, by using the pig tractor system gives them fresh pasture every day, which makes up a good portion of their diet. 

Did I mention using tie-outs? Yes I did. Certain animals are grazed using tie-outs, such as Bucky the goat. Bucky's job is to clean up areas that I can't mow. Because of his ability to easily jump standard farm fences and his penchant for mowing the gardens down, he stays tied. (He has cleared 5' high fences!)  But he gets moved to a new spot daily, often 3 times day. So he's never lacking fresh browse.

Some of the sheep also get out on tie-outs whenever there's a need for some weed clearing, or if the cross fenced pastures need a a rest. They prefer eating green grass to eating dry hay cubes. E-Ram and Stacy are veterans on a rope. They're both smart enough never to get tangled up. That's the problem with a tie-out. The rope can get tangled around brush or wound up around a leg or foot. That's a serious problem if not corrected soon enough. So tie-outs have a significant drawback and I don't recommend for most animals. The owner has to be very diligent when using them. All my sheep have learned to be on a tie-out as babies, but it's usually just E-Ram and Stacy who get tied because they are the most sensible sheep in the flock. The others get a chance to be tied only if I plan to be present. 

I also use portable electric fencing at times. When all back pastures need a rest I will set up the electric fencing out front. I can make any sized and shaped temporary pen for the donkey and sheep. They know about the electric fence and respect it up to a point. But they can bust through when they set their minds to it. By the way, that helluva goat Bucky knows all about electric fencing too well, and shows no respect for it. That smarty pants has learned how to rip loose the fence strands using his horns and ground out the system. Then off he goes on his merry way --- straight to the nearest veggie garden! Ba-ba-bad goat! 

Ok now, I've talked about the current conditions. This is how far I've progressed since I started with the raw land. I've gone from zero pasture to several acres. The front acres are lush with good variety. They support the chickens, pigs, rabbits, goat, and occasionally the sheep. The cross fenced pastures are useable but not producing enough grazing. 

How did I get to the current conditions? I erected fences, miles of them. I weedwacked and cleared  brush and trees from front of the farm, encouraging grasses to grow. I hired an excavator to cut a perimeter around the back pasture area, primarily so that I could erect fencing. But the road comes in very handy. In the cross fenced area I thinned out the trees, removing misshapen, damaged, and weedy trees. I removed inedible brush. I am currently in the process of removing the inedible ferns and planting edible vegetation. 

Next discussion : the future plans for the pastures

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