This summer we bought a 115 year old farm on 20 acres. We believe the previous owner had a couple of horses, but the land has not been in agricultural use for over 25 years. This became apparent when our dairy cow went into ketosis last summer from the lack of diversity in the pasture.
I should say the lack of nutritional diversity…. There is plenty of diversity out there, but it mostly consists of brown woody thistle, which is not very nutrient dense for the cows.
So, the test is on. Does this multi-species, rotational grazing really work? Time will tell. I can certainly see a noticeable difference on the “green up” of the 3 acres that we used last year for cows, sheep, and goats.
One goal of ours is to ultimately require little or no outside amendments for our pastures. We believe that the animals will encourage the growth of the nutritious grasses and legumes by eating them down and they will discourage the growth of the problematic weeds by simply trampling them.
This year we did decide to add a low cost, forage to the pasture. We chose a mix of 90% red clover and 10% white clove and we chose to spread it manually during the frosty nights of late winter.
This is called “frost seeding” and it takes advantage of the soil freezing at night and thawing during the day to encourage good soil penetration with out disturbing the soil mechanically.
The seeding rates were all over the board ranging from 2 lbs per acre to 10 pounds per acre. We purchased 100 lbs and I was shooting for a coverage area around 13 acres. Some of our pasture was mowed very short or trampled from the animals to almost bare soil. I expect we will have better germination rates in those areas since the seeds work best when they can easily get soil contact.
Broadcasting it was a long and slow process and it made for a great day of excercise. According to my cell phone pedometer we put in about 14 miles between my son and I to cover the whole area.
I was able to borrow a hand crank over the shoulder spreader from a neighbor, which Hayden mostly used, while I carried a five gallon bucket around and threw handfuls of seed as I walked. The over the shoulder spreader sent out a nice even broadcast of seeds, but it was hard to determine the difference between too little and too much. The bucket method was both more comfortable to carry and more enjoyable to broadcast. Time will tell which was more effective in germination rates.
Overall it was very satisfying to walk every square foot of the pasture, I learned a lot about what is currently there. I noticed spots that were well drained and spots the seemed soggy from poor run off. The sun was shining on us, so at times it even felt very spiritual, relaxing and serene. Just me, my 12 year old son and God seemed to be out there that day.
I hope that we are able to see the fruits of our labor this spring and that the animals are able to enjoy and benefit from those fruits. I will give an update on the germination rates later this summer.