we must be the proud owners of the worst pasture in Kentucky. Husband wanted to get a couple of calfs and raise grassfed beef. We bought this land 14 years ago and had the pastures bushhogged every year. we thought that would build up the land. I think it killed out the grass as there was always some kind of mulch lying around on top of the soil, and weeds are proliferating. Sumac is trying very hard every year, there are tons of passionvines, partridge pea, ragweed, you name it, something with blue flowers is blooming right now, of course also goldenrod and other plants that I do not recognize, except that they are not grass. . we have been mowing it like crazy the last couple of years, thinking to give the weeds a hard time and grass a chance to grow. whatever we cut we leave where it falls.
What we really need is someone with experience to tell us what to do and how to do it. I am not keen on plowing it. the topsoil is not all too thick and I noticed when we had the garden plowed three years ago it just turned the good soil under and on top was nothing but subsoil looking earth that grows nothing but ragweed, horsenettle and sawbriar. We started a second garden and did not plow it. The soil is also very poor but it looks a lot better. We had it tested and it is especially low in Phosphate. I have been looking for ground phosphate rock or ground slag (or is that slake? it is a byproduct of the iron industry and a very good and cheap source of phosphate in Europe). What do organic farmers use here? We are scrounging every bit of manure, mulch material etc to build up the gardens, plus having every available square inch covered with a green manure cover crop. We will get that in shape, but what to do to establish the pastures, that is the question and we are totally inexperienced as far as that is concerned. We appreciate any advice and thank you.
There are a lot of approaches you can take. Some of the factors will be logistic and some will be financial. If you have 3 acres, you could spray to kill the entire 'crop' of weeds then till rather than plow - if you have 100 acres, this would be less of an option ($$$$); if you want an organic certification, you may have to pursue other methods also. First you should decide exactly which forage plants you want to establish, then find out how competitive they will be with the existing vegetation (even if you spray and till some will persist). Have soil analysed from 2-3 random samples per acre - you may have different results from different parts of the property. Get your extension agent to help you determine what soil ammendments you need to add to give your forage plantings the best chance for strong, rapid growth and ammend the soil before planting the seeds. Once the new plants are established you should mow anytime you recognize the persisting evil weeds - just never let them go to seed! Eventually the desired plants will win out.
What ever you decide to do ultimately, establish a relationship with your county extension agent early in the process - they are usually very knowledgable and helpful. And their advice and services are 'free' (you've already paid for it through state taxes that support West Virginia University.
i'm definitely no expert, so this might be a learning exercise for me.
in nature, what encourages good grass growth, is animals eating it. the way i have it figured is- a combination of weed and grass eaters, in the right proportions, will bring pasture back. say, goats for weeds, and either a horse cow or sheep that will eat grass to a certain height, then move on. some grasses grow faster and stronger after being eaten. the trick is to find the combination that works for your land.
if you are mowing regularly, seems to me that once you cut down that initial weed growth, it would leave more room for the grasses. then keeping it mowed through the summer would again, encourage the grass, and eliminate later weeds. if an animal is eating the grass, it doesn't leave the cuttings behind, which turn into mulch and suppress grass growth. the manure from the animals is returned to your soil as fertilizer. this is the way the great plains survived for so many centuries before the arrival of white settlers that plowed it up for farmland or overgrazed it.
county agent is also a very good idea, as they are familiar with the soils and climate in your area.
Not organic but the surest means is to Roundup the entire area in late August. Hire someone with a sod drill to plant a grass that is well adapted to the region. Legumes can be added after a cover crop is established. You must get the phosphate level high enough along with the other nutrients to maintain the planted crop. The PH also needs to be correct. This needs to be done ASAP as it takes time to benefit. If this chemical approach is not appropiate then you have alternatives but it will take years.
ok here's my take. do the soil test as already suggested. you've got to know what you're working with to start with. start adjusting ph and mineral content as per the soil test for the type of grass you want to grow.
if there is some grass (probably fescue) in your pasture, consider spraying with 2-4-d. it will kill the broadleaf weeds but not any grass there. this late in the season i might suggest 2-4-d-lv unless you are haveing some rain and growth in your area.
if the soil is compacted (may be if pasture has be trodded on by cows for a few decades) you might consider subsoiling. depending on moisture content it might be better to wait until fall to do this.
as others have suggested, no tilling in grass seed this fall is the only alt. to tilliage.
hold off on legunes until the weed problem is solved as 24d will also kill clover.
feed your cows hay in the poorest spots in the pasture. they will walk in waste and greatly improve the soil makeup.
When I moved onto our land I thought I'd lost the horses,couldn't find em anywhere!
The iron weed (purple head on sticks that last through winter)5/7 ft. tall and all the rest was golden rod and multiflora rose in mounds 8/12 ft high.
The horses just kept out of sight going around me
With no money to spare for equipment I just let the horses do the work for me a couple years. Then i got an old J.Deere B and a brush hog.Just before the weeds could go to seed I would mow.
Next I added cows,then goats. Now it looks like a golf course by the time I rotate pastures.
I don't put down any seed that's not native to our area,so I don't have to worry about special care during floods,drought,and freezes.It just keeps on growing.
I only pasture feed my animals and they do great on this sustainable type operation
I do plow up a new piece every year to grow organic sweet corn and pumpkins with hardly any worms and minimal weed growth.Then I pasture it to get rid of the trash that would over winter pests.Then disc lightly and sow down a mixture of red,white clover,timothy,orchard grass,and a little alfalfa.
That will be part of my rotational pasture the next year.
Wish I had done this 30 yrs. ago
Good luck in what you come up with.
Soil ph is important, no amount of fert will help if that is critically low - and not much you can do but select best-fit plants if it is critically high. If low, lime needs several months to really do anything, so get that adjusted first.
Then add the P & K you need. Me I don't care what source it is, some have special needs for it to be called organic.
Once that is right, a little N will help get things started. A lot of N will green things up & fast growth, but probably defets the point of a long-term pasture....
Legumes seeded with your pasture can supply the N. You still want a little N the first year, to get things rolling.
Then long-term, you only need to watch the ph, and the P & K.
Using a broadleaf spray such as 2,4D will knock down all the broafdleafed weeds, while allowing your current grasses to grow unharmed. Interseed (toss seed from a bucket by hand, drag with a bedspring if nothing else...) clover/ alfalfa/ birds foot treefoil in mid/late August, before a rain.
Either mow often so it doesn't pile up often, of clip it & bale the junk off.
More or less in that order, you should end up with a good pasture in 2 years.
Other options mentioned work too.
Here is a really good resource for making/ maintaining a pasture. (Fellow also has a haybaling & a preditor FAQ document as well).
I am not an expert either. I am not even a novice. I like the idea of starting with animals that will eat anything, and improve the soil and vegetation gradually with their help, and then gradually switch to more valuable animals that are picky eaters. I understand Shetland Ponies will eat anything, but are not very useful. Perhaps something like Highland Cattle? Another crazy idea if there is a herd of highland cattle or goats in your neighbourhood, or perhap some very willing sheep, might be to let them graze the heck out your pasture before you start over. Perhaps if you end up liking how the animals perform you could barter a few.
As long as you can get rid of the poisonous plants beforehand, grazing is the best and least expensive way to improve pasture. I think I'd try a few goats, since they're more partial to eating brush than grass. Get a few stock panels and pen them into small areas that they will eat down completely in a week or so. Stock panels are pretty easy to move if you have a T-post puller. I use zip ties to secure the panels to the posts. Give the goats some reasonable hay as a supplement. They'll prefer the weeds as long as there are any, but you don't want them to starve either. Once an area is eaten down, but sheep, horse, cow or other grass eater in and feed hay on the ground for a week or so, moving the feeding spots around every time you feed. The idea is for the grass seed in the hay to get scattered and stepped into the ground, along with the manure. Then move the grazers off and keep the plot watered. The real key here is to use small pens so that they graze the pen completely, and step seed and manure into every part of the pen.
The basic message of liberalism is simply: The true measure of a society is how it treats the weak and the needy. A simple Christian message (Matthew 25:40). -Garrison Keillor
Have you tried Burning after you mow?? that way theres The odds you will put some nutriant back and get rid of most weeds. And there seeds. Then you might want to let it grow back, then repeat. That would be organic.
Be careful with the herbicides that you use, if you decide to use them. There is the classic example right here in Ohio. Northern Onio is a pretty good venue for fruit trees, especially apples. Several years ago a couple bought some property near the Lake with the intention of establishing an orchard. Prior to planting the trees, they decided to raze the area of weeds and proceede to spray with 2-4-D to get rid of the broadleafs. Following label directions and waiting for a fairly calm day, they sprayed their 10+ acres with a certain degree of success. Unfortunately, even on a fairly calm day for wind, the spray carried over to an island in the Lake and killed most of the [commercial] grapes (among other flora). Needless to say, lawsuits were the result and there was no happy ending...
Another option for you might be what I do - raise some pigs on the area. They will eat virtually all of the vegetation including most of the roots, till down about six to eight inches, fertilize as they graze. In the end, if you rotate them through the pastures properly, they will completely raze a pasture down to a dirt lot. Buy them at 40-60#, raise them up to market weight (240#) in 5-6 months (if you supplement with a good quality feed), then sell them to folks that want high quality pork for whatever your market will bear (I sell mine for $3 per pound hanging weight which would translate to about $1.90 live weight). If you can't find folks to buy them (mine are pre-ordered with deposits before I acquire the piglets), you can always have one butchered for your freezer and take the rest to the auction barn. After they are done, just disc over it a couple of times to smooth it out and get soil samples (they will be different than pre-pigs), add the ammendments, disc it one more time to incorporate the ammendments, and plant away.
10 pigs can do about an acre in a (six month) season. Just divide the acre into 6 paddocks, and move them from one to the other as they finish. The last paddock will take about half the time as the first as they are quite a bit bigger. Make sure the paddocks overlap about two feet into the old area as you move them.
There will be some residual seeds left in the ground from whatever was growing there before, but one season of diligent mowing/grazing should have it well under control. You'll always have some 'foreign' plants from bird droppings and aerial seed contamination from your neighbors, but pigs are a good, inexpensive (profitable if you do it right) way to get back to 'ground zero'.
Sheep...we brought our rocky weed-infested pastures back with sheep. They ate all the noxious stuff, we overseeded on the winter snow with timothy/orchard grass/clover mix for several years and we now have excellent pastures that we supporting 11 cows last year with no supplemental hay from March until Dec. DH would go out and cut down any thistles that dared show their head. We were very careful with what hay we bought not to introduce weed seed. We were reluctant to plow or disk d/t thin rocky soil..if you plow it,plant it and don't get a stand of whatever you plant you are just gonna have the most lush weeds ever....Mother Nature will do her best to cover that bare ground. This is how we stayed organic. DEE