Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Quercus Knoll has a new address!

The Quercus Knoll blog has moved to a new address!  Come join us over at Carrie Eastman's Common Sense Wellness.
There will be no further posts at Quercus Knoll.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tax time and pastures

You might be wondering at the title.  What does tax season have to do with pastures?
Well, for me, tax season also means looking back at all the expenses and income for the past year and looking for ways to improve the bottom line while keeping my animals healthy.

Hay is one of the biggest expenses at Oak Hill, and was even bigger this past year.  Therefore making the best use of our pastures for feed and exercise will improve our bottom line this coming year.

I've worked out some new strategies for the horses and goats.  The horses are going to spending a lot more time in the runways, saving on barn labor and making sure they get plenty of healthy movement.  The goats will be doing some high-density rotational grazing to improve the soil health and cut back on their hay consumption.

For the horses, I have decided to eliminate the track around pastures 1 and 2 and focus on track 2 around pastures 3 and 4.  That track has the most hills and the best access to varied browse.  To encourage more movement I'll be placing the water and the round bale at opposite ends of the track.  The hay is fed from a slow-feed net.  The horses will get daily turnout on grass for a couple hours in rotation with the goats, for parasite control and for the nutrients only fresh grass can provide.  The mares and geldings will alternate 12 hours in their corrals & sheds with 12 hours on the track.  (Note: I am not placing hay in multiple small slow-feeders around the track.  While I agree with the overall concept of multiple feeding stations, the increased labor of filling and placing nets is not practical for Oak Hill.)

For the goats, grazing will happen in 4 phases.  The first phase, starting right now, is feeding their hay in pasture 2 and allowing all the excess to be trampled into the soil.  Pasture 2 was reduced to a sea of mud this fall after bring heavy equipment through and relocating the manure composting.  Trampling in the hay will reseed the ground and add organic matter.  While the goats are happily eating hay and rebuilding the soil, the plants in pastures 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 can regrow.
By the time kidding season starts in May, the second phase starts.  Pasture 1 should be grown enough to be grazed lightly.  I'll shift the goats off of 2 and allow 2 to sprout and grow, possibly for the entire year.  Meanwhile, the doe herd will be out in 1 giving them plenty of room to kid on grass and eat fresh spring plants.
Once kidding wraps up in late June, I can move all the goats into the next phase, intensive grazing, on pastures 3-6.

I did some quick calculations on intensive grazing.  Starting stocking rate is 25,000 pounds of livestock per acre.  (This number ultimately shifts up to 40,000+ pounds per acre).  For my herd of mini and standard myotonic does and kids, I have roughly 1600 pounds of goat.  Here is the math:

1 acre = 43,560 square feet
ideal starting stocking rate is 25,000 pounds per acre
1600 pounds of goat

1600 / 25000 = .064
.064 x 43560 = 2788 square feet
2788 square feet is roughly a 50 foot x 50 foot pen

For the bucks, I have roughly 500 pounds.
500 / 25000 = .02
.02 x 43650 = 873 square feet
873 square feet is roughly a 29 foot x 29 foot pen (I'm rounding the pen size up a bit to prevent fighting)

[interesting side note:  goats in a square pen graze more and trample less than goats in a rectangle.]

I plan to move the pens every 1 to 3 days, 3 being the maximum.  The goats will return to the more secure permanent night pens every night.  With the goats coming in every night, I may be able to reduce the pens down to 40' x 40'.  Time and experience will tell.

I will set up the grazing pens within each pasture and allow the horses to graze either around the pens, or in a different pasture, depending on how the growth looks.

Ideally each section of pasture will get grazed twice during the growing season and once over the winter.

My hope is that with this plan I can reduce hay consumption by at least half, feeding hay at night in the secure pens from June through the end of the growing season at least.

Here are some useful links for learning more about intensive stocking:
Watch this first for spring grazing information https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5031FrJ8f0

And this website has many links to horse track information:  www.paddockparadise.com

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Planting forages for browsers & grazers

The first step in planting or replanting your pastures is knowing the land use history.  Talk to your neighbors, they will often be the best source of information. When I bought Oak Hill, the pastures were bare red clay soil, rocks (lots of ironstone) and sparse weeds. Historically, I'm told the land had only been used for hay for many years at least 50 years ago, and then more recently as a very large untended lawn.  The fertilizer history of the land is unknown.  Based on current practices in my farming neighborhood, the land likely had little or no care beyond manure applications.

Your next step is to learn the basics of soil health, as well as understanding why certain plants grow on certain soils.  My first step in replanting Oak Hill was to reread the book Eco-Farm by Walter Fenzau.  Eco-Farm is considered by many to be the basic text on soil balancing, pasture plants, weeds as a soil diagnostic, and many other useful topics that go beyond the conventional Nitrogen-Potassium-Phosphorus (N-P-K) model of farming.  I highly recommend that every farmer read and reread this book.

Next, get soil tests done.  Each plant species grows best under certain soil conditions.  Plant in a soil that doesn't match that plant, and your seedlings will not thrive.  You can get soil tests through your local extension office or from various fertilizer vendors.  I used my local extension office.  Test for pH, the major minerals and carbon.  The soil test results, combined with the weeds currently living on my land, gave me a good indicator of what my next steps to pasture health would be.  I talk in more depth about soil tests and fertilizers in some other posts on here.  This first soil test will be your baseline to judge all your future efforts against, so make sure it is done correctly.

You also need to identify your goals for the land.  Is this supplemental feed?  Their entire food source?  Are you grazing year-round or seasonally?  Do you have dry lots or runways available?  Do you plan to use rotate, and if so, how intensively?  What changes would you like to see in your soil tests to indicate you are on the right track to healthy soil?  Planning strategies for these different approaches is beyond the scope of one blog post.  This should help you start looking in the right direction in your research.  At Oak Hill, the pastures are the primary food source for my goat herd, and a supplement for my horses.  I rotate between 4 sunny fields and 2 woods pens, plus my horses have access to unplanted runways around the perimeter for exercise.  Rotation time varies depending on how fast the plants are growing and how fast the goats are eating.  My goal for the soil health is to see more earthworms and earthworm castings, see improved soil test pH of 6.8 to 7.0, see carbon numbers increase, and get my high potassium numbers down. Other goals are seeing the soil turn a rich dark brown with accumulated humus (organic carbon matter), and have a layer of thatch that allows soil organisms to overwinter with plenty of food and shelter.

Your next step is plan which animals will use the pasture, and know their browsing or grazing preferences.  Internet searches will turn up loads of information about preferred planting for each kind of animal.  I run both horses and goats on the land now.

To address the horse needs first, horses are grazers, and prefer grass species, legumes like clover, and some weeds.  Horses do best when the majority of their diet is well-mineralized grasses.  I did internet searches on horse pasture seeds and found many useful links for seed purchases and reference material. Seedland has basic horse pasture information at http://www.horsepasture.com/  Seedland also put together some helpful charts of forage types at http://www.farmseeds.com/management/grazing-horses.html  Horses will also browse on herbs, forbs and the occasional brush.  Possible herbs for horse pastures include Melilot, Fenugreek, Fennel, Lemon Balm, Chicory, Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), Dandelion and Chamomile. These herbs will not stand up to heavy hoof traffic.

My pastures were first seeded with a standard horse mix when I bought Oak Hill, before I got my first goats.  This horse mix included red and white clover, timothy, fescue and bluegrass.  Additionally, I have volunteer plantain, dandelions, nettle, crabgrass and wild carrot as well as others.  I save the hay chaff from my hay cart and spread it on the fields weekly, plus my pastures get regular reseeding with timothy and other grasses from the hay chaff that ends up in the manure pile.  (Money saving tip:  Ask your local hay farmer if you can clean and sweep out his hay barn in the spring, in exchange for bagging up the hay chaff and seeds that have piled up.  Wear a mask - there are usually rodent and bird droppings in this dusty residue)

Goats are a nice plant balancer when rotated with horses.  In contrast to horses, goats do best on browse such as legumes (think clover), brassicas (think turnip, kale), herbs, forbs,  weeds, and brush rather than grasses.  After looking up all the possible plants appropriate for goat pastures, I eliminated any that would be bad for horses.  As I already have many goat-appropriate plants growing, I plan to add:
brassicas (I chose kale, in hopes that I can pick some for myself)
purple coneflower
Seed mixes advertised for deer feeding plots are very goat friendly.   If I didn't have horses, I would check with my extension office to see if lespedeza is classified as invasive in my area.  If not invasive, I would add this to a goat-only pasture, as the high tannins are known to help with parasites.

Two additional links that are general for all species:
Hobby Farms - grasses and pasture plants
herbs for pasture

As you are reading through websites and catalogs and textbooks making your seed choices, please be aware of seeds labeled GMO or hybrid.  GMO stands for genetically-modified organism.  There is mounting evidence that genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are not safe for livestock or humans.  A hybrid is not a GMO.  Hybrids are cross-bred seeds, and perfectly safe.  Many hybrids are an improvement over the parent seeds.  You can read more about the difference between GMO and hybrids at Mother Earth News.

When should you seed or reseed?  Well, that really depends on what you are planting, and are you tilling then planting or overseeding?  Your extension office will be able to advise you on best practices for your area.  My favorite way to overseed is to scatter seed on the frost-heaved ground that happens on spring mornings.  As the sun warms the soil, the heaves thaw and flatten, burying the seeds for you.

A side note on overseeding and no-tillage farming:  I overseed for 2 reasons.  First, my soil is rocky, and plowing just turns up more rocks.  Second, and more importantly, healthy soil is a living organism with distinct layers, and various soil-enhancing creatures living in each layer.  Plowing disturbs these layers and also kills earthworms, making the soil less healthy.  There are some excellent pictures of healthy soil layers on this extension office page.  Think twice, and then think a third time before choosing to till up your soil.  Remember, if your soil has a large population of undesirable plants, you can change your soil chemistry and stop those plants from thriving.  If you plow them under, you have done nothing to change the chemistry, and they will come back.  Weeds are not a mistake, they are nature's way of rebalancing the soil.  Read Eco-Farm.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A stroll up the runway hill.

At Oak Hill the horses use runways for exercise, and pastures just for eating.  You can read more about runways and runway design at www.paddockparadise.com

Footing for pens and corrals

Screenings ready to spread
Dry, well-drained, clean footing is important for both the goats and the horses. At Oak Hill, we put down several tons of screenings in the horse corrals and sheds, the exercise pen and the goat night pens.
The skidloader made quick work of spreading the screenings
One side benefit of the screenings is that the horses and goats self-trim on this abrasive footing.
In the corral and shed
The other corral and shed
The goats' night pen
Another goat pen
feels pretty good on my feet too...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oak Hill is evolving...

As the goat herd has grown, horses have come and sadly gone (RIP Poco) and I have learned more about soils and healthy land, the layout and approach at Oak Hill has continued to evolve.

This is a picture of the original pasture layout and dry tracks for the horses:

This is the layout now:

Pastures 1 through 4 are a mix of grasses, clovers, herbs and useful weeds.  These are rotated between the goats and horses.  Pastures 5 and 6 are browse just for the goats, with a variety of hardwoods, some pine, and lots of honeysuckle and multiflora rose. 
Watch for posts coming soon about pasture rotation, the mix of herbs and weeds, a discussion of salad bar goats and results of the latest soil tests.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dynamite HumiZyme arrived today!

Today my neighbor very kindly delivered my barrel of HumiZyme. I'll be taking soil samples this spring then applying the HumiZyme. I have quite a pasture To Do List this spring:
Clear and fence the rest of the runways
Soil tests for all 3 pastures
Research and purchase a tow-behind fertilizer sprayer
Get the 1960's John Deere running to tow the sprayer

The fainting goat kids have started arriving to fund the equipment upgrades and repairs. Love those goats!

The middle pasture that was fertilized last fall with Dynamite products and a bit of natural salt has significantly more grass growth this spring. Very interesting - I'm excited to see what the soil tests show. I've already had enough forage growing to cut the goat hay consumption in half this spring.

Spring has sprung!

Carrie and the critters at Oak Hill