[permaculture] Pasture Renovation and Fertility

Mark mpludwig at facstaff.wisc.edu
Tue Aug 6 18:20:45 EDT 2002

At 07:43 AM 8/6/02 -0500, you wrote:
>Hello Frank,
>450 acres is quite a spread!  Sounds like, though, that just over 100 acres
>are actually open, grazable pasture.  Just going off of what the aggies
>taught me at Texas A & M, each cow / calf unit needs about two acres to
>sustain them.  So for a starter figure if you have 70 cow / calf units,
>you'll need around 140 acres of pasture.  Does your extension agent dare to
>make such gross guestimations? ;^>

Sounds to me like the soils could support these levels but perhaps the 
pasture isn't there yet.  However, I would stay at your stocking rate and 
start pushing into the hills.  Grazing can only develop properly with 
enough animals, especially when you need to knock back the brush.

>Alan Savory on the other hand, says that the land can carry much more if the
>livestock are part of an intensive rotation system.  Where he's gotten his
>way they're moving the cattle every 8 - 12 hours.  Sounds like one would
>need a couple of full time hands for something like that.

Length of rest is more important than where in the 1/2 - 3 day window you 
get off, as long as it's not wet.  If the soil is getting chewed up you 
need to get moving.  If you can move daily or more often the advantage if 
that you van concentrate the grazing action and make them chew down less 
desirable plants.  Of course you are also much more likely to notice health 
issues and keep enough grass in front of them.

>However, Savory
>is pretty tight lipped when it comes to recommendations without actually
>having seen the site.


> >> less desirable trees like beech allowed to grow.  Virtually
>unmanaged/untouched for Lord knows how many years.  <<
>In what ways is beech less desirable?  In the way that sycamore, cottonwood
>and willow are less desirable - in that they grow fast and become brittle?
>If it hasn't been managed for 20 years, then it's probably better off than
>if it had been managed, IMO.  You've probably got something going on that is
>far more complex and balanced than if someone had been in there with a chain
>saw culling less desirable trees.

Not my opinion.  Good selective cutting can get much more valuable wood 
growing and maintain understory better.  Best done on frozen ground, 
farmers call it winter work.

> >>  Since much of this debris is on the pasture side of the fence I NEED to
>do something.  <<
>Sounds like this is going to be a recurring problem.  My first response is
>to push it into 20' x 60' brush piles with a dozer and let it stand as such.
>You could also make the debris into dead barriers on contour or exclosures,
>inside of which you can begin planting other trees and medicinal shrubs.
>Our friends live on Lake Buchanan in Texas and when it floods the amount of
>flotsam and jetsam on their shores is indeed staggering.
>Burning the debris is tempting, but only something I would do as a temporary
>solution.  As you get a handle on the many challenges you're facing you'll b
>e able to fine tune your efforts and eventually phase out stop gap measures.

Put as few obstacles as possible in the way of the flood, limit fence 
posts, trees shrubs etc within the areas currently accumulating crap.  I 
would knock out all but the most precious trees in these areas.  You will 
find that the cattle can reshape the channel, mashing it down to archive a 
better shape.  Ideally you will end you with the deep main channel and a 
secondary grassy channel. something like this...

                 L_____         ________I

This will hopefully keep most of the overflow in the secondary channel.

> >> On the other eastern side of the pasture where the land runs from the
>base of  the hills down to the bottoms there is about 35 acres of pasture
>that includes many evergreens, and  some oak, beech,walnut and even a few
>more species.  <<
>So this is 35 of how many garazable acres?  Are the trees in the paddock or
>on its margins?
> >>  When we have heavy rainfalls, or considerable rain fall land can become
>very wet, lots of boggy areas in low spots as land runs down to creeks. <<
>You'd be amazed at what a healthy grass system can soak up.  The lusher your
>pasture the less time water will stand.

Very sound thinking.  Getting the soil chemistry right can help this 
too.  If it drys out enough you may be able to use a deep riper of some 
kind to fracture the lower soil profile without messing up the sod, though 
there may be so many old stumps, logs etc that this is not advisable

> >>  I'd rather not such cut 'em down as most locals advise to improve, and
>expand pasture, make cultivation with machinery easier.  <<
>You should carefully and respectfully filter what the locals and extension
>agents tell you to do.  I'm sure there's a lot of old time wisdom there, but
>there are also a lot of attitudes that run very contrary to permaculture
>ethics and principles.  For instance, our local USNRCS, does not recommend
>swaling because 1) they can blow out, and 2) they fill up with silt and stop
>working so well after about 20 years.  These things are both true, but when
>care of the earth is your main ethic, doing a little swale repair is nothing
>and that they fill up with silt is an indicator that the DO work.
>Also the aggies would have you take down all willows around a stock pond
>because they drink water and destabilize your dam.  This also is true to a
>degree, but all trees drink water, including our beloved live oak, and
>destabilizing one's dam may be a minor consequence compared to the
>ecological stability and diversity that results from a tree community around
>a pond.  Ever noticed how terrible a stock pond can look with nothing around
>it but trampled mud and grass and cow manure?

I would take trees messing up you damn very seriously.  Not only could you 
have a headache later, but a serious liability issue and or a danger to 
your neighbors if a large pond failed catastrophically.  Remember, they 
blow in big rain storms.  Kirby's comments on swales are right on.  In fact 
one of your best ways to build up you low lands is to use good grass cover 
and swales to catch soil in these floods.  Lemonade from lemons...

>The only function of a stock pond, according to many ranchers, is to provide
>water.  This single function attitude is contrary to the Pc principle of
>gaining the highest number of functions per component.

true, and fish makes a nice change from all that beef.

> >>  Some of these areas tend to be especially boggy.  <<
>The trees are there, probably, because of the standing water.  Without them
>the water would stand for much longer.  Many of the true tall grasses, e.g.
>for Texas, big blue stem, are part of a climax plant community with the live
>oak tree.  So maybe the next step is to establish a water loving tall grass
>under those trees - Indian grass, eastern gamma grass, others?  Work with
>Nature rather than against Her.

C-4's like big blue and Indian grass make some sense there.  Lets you use 
the pasture later in the season when they could be dryer.  I'm not sure how 
much standing water they can take.  I hate to bring this up, cuz someone 
will be upset about the invasiveness, but reed canary grass does great in 
wet areas and will take lots of drought

Mark P. Ludwig
Poultry Research Lab
University of Wisconsin -Madison
608-262-1730 WK
608-846-7125 HM

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