In a post last week, I shared that the success we experienced adding cows to our homestead was due to the pastures we had established prior to their arrival. I wanted to share more with our readers about that process and show you the beginning steps of our pasture expansion that is currently underway. We started with 5.5 acres of cleared land that was being leased to a local row crop farmer who had it in soybeans at the time of purchase. That was August 2012. I’ve broken our process down into four stages with a timeline of what we experienced during that time. Below is a picture of the area that would become our pasture when the soybean crop was still green and growing.
STAGE 1: REMOVE EXISTING VEGETATION
After the soybeans were harvested in the Fall of 2012 the field was left unattended through the Winter and into the Spring of 2013. During this time the field began to grow a large number of weeds and undesirable grasses. The first thing that needed to happen before desired grazing grasses could be planted was to control these weeds. We did this through application of herbicides including 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and glyphosate (commonly known as Round-Up). These were applied at recommended application rates in order to protect the land, other vegetation on the farm, and local environment. The use of these herbicides allowed us to quickly control the undesirable plants in order give the soon to be planted grass sprigs a chance to dominate the land. In addition to addressing the weeds we also smoothed the land by running a disc through it behind the tractor. We would have rather been able to use a cultipacker, but we did not have one available to us during that time.
Above: Neal spraying the weeds in Spring 2013.
STAGE 2: PLANT THE GRASS
In the Spring of 2014, we purchased 240 bushels of sprigs for planting in the pasture. We are lucky in that we are only a short drive from BB&K Farms where we were able to inspect the different varieties of grass they have available. Through BB&K Farms we were also able to rent the sprigging machine needed to plant the grass. Sprigs are small clumps of the grass including the root. These sprigs can then be placed in the ground where they will establish new growth. We selected the Ozark bermudagrass variety. It was a bit more costly, but we liked the thickness and speed of growth we saw in the sample fields at BB&K.
Above: The day we brought the rented sprigging machine home in Spring 2014.
It is not necessary to use a sprigging machine to plant sprigs in a field. Some people toss the sprigs out on a field using a manure spreader and then either leave them there to root on their own or lightly disc them into the soil. One thing that we discovered with the sprigging machine is that it left relatively deep furrows in the field which was disappointing as we had spent a fair bit of time making sure the land was smooth and even.
STAGE 3: ENCOURAGE GROWTH
Once the sprigs were in the ground there was a lot of praying that the rain would be in our favor over the summer. Thankfully, the relatively dry summer was not enough to negatively affect our grass through the growth may have been more impressive with more water. We had hoped to provide ample fertilizer during this time, but unfortunately the funds were not available. We were able to mow the grass as it grew in an effort to encourage it to grow outward instead of only upward. During the early stages of growth the field had long, narrow lines of bright green, grass growing a foot higher or more.
Above: The spotty growth of the Ozark grass in the first year.
During the Spring of 2015 we were able to lease the still growing pasture to a neighboring farmer who would fertilize it in exchange for harvesting the grass for hay during the Spring and Summer. The first fertilizer application was done with liquid pot ash and later an application of liquid nitrogen. The grass continued to grow though the amounto f hay harvested from it was minimal during the first two cuttings. By the time the third cutting came around mid-summer the five acres were producing around 200 squares bales per cutting and we were thrilled. By the fourth and finally cutting of 2015 it was producing over twice that much.
Above: Our fourth and final cutting of quality square bales.
STAGE 4: MAINTENANCE
One of the challenges we had was eradicating the goosegrass that continued to pop up in the fields. Goosegrass is an extremely obnoxious weed that is resistant to just about every herbicide on the market and thrives even with regular short mowing. One control option is use of a pre-emergent (herbicide used prior to germination). We applied Prowl H2O (pendimethalin) in February of 2015 with positive results though it did not eradicate the grass completely. This will be something we have to monitor in 2016 as well and likely apply an additional dose.
By the end of the 2015 Summer we had fenced approximately one half of the five acres of pasture for our soon to be arriving livestock (equine and cattle). We knew that we would have to keep the livestock on the pastures through the winter and wanted to protect them by over seeding with winter rye and fertilizing that rye with 34% nitrogen granules. We have been very satisfied with what this has provided for our pastures. Not only do the animals have additional forage through grazing on the rye, but it also provided staying power for the soil during the substantial rains we had early in the 2016 Winter. Below are a series of pictures showing the rye growth over the dormant bermudagrass.
Above: The visible blend of rye and dormant bermuda.
Above: The rye tall, thick, and green.
Above: The dormant bermuda where rye was not planted.
We are in the process of expanding our pastures by adding about three acres for our cattle herd. This land was wooded up until the Summer of 2015. The land was cleared by a small logging company in exchange for the harvested lumber. We are still in the process of removing stumps left by the loggers before we can seed and fence, but hope to work towards seeing growth this coming spring. Below are pictures of the process.
Above: The first round of heavy equipment removes the largest of the softwood trees.
Above: Trucks haul off the loads of hardwoods harvested during the clearing process.
Above: Hardwoods stacked and ready to be hauled.
Above: Neal uses the backhoe to remove the stumps left behind by the loggers and piles them up for burning.
As you can see there is a quite a bit of work behind establishing and maintaining pastures. If fact, it has probably been the most time and financially consuming aspect of our homestead thus far. We hope that this investment will provided benefits that last well into the future and pay off through happy livestock that consume less concentrated feed product. Time will tell…
Happy homesteading and God bless!