Pasture

I’m sure anyone who reads these posts regularly knows that we’re pretty keen to increase our menagerie, but I don’t think I’ve explained clearly why that is. It isn’t just for the milk and meat that we want to get goats and a cow, although they are part of the reason. It’s for the soil.

Soil is the heart and the root of any ecosystem, including farm ecosystems. Healthy soil is absolutely essential if you want to grow healthy plants, and produce any sort of yield from the ground. The modern methods of land management call for huge inputs of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, and those methods have really big problems. Most of the industrial chemicals we use on farmland are derived from petroleum products – they’re made from oil. And oil is a finite resource which we are going to run short of, probably in the near future. On top of that, the strength of the chemical fertilisers is damaging to the soil bacteria and other soil life (earthworms, fungi, etc.) which keep the soil alive – this isn’t an anti-chemicals rant (because literally everything bigger than a subatomic particle is made of chemicals), but the types of chemicals we use and the concentrations we use are bad for our soils.

You know what’s good for soil? Poo. Good, old fashioned manure. Just like farmers have been using around the world since the dawn of agriculture. That’s why animals have been so important to crop farmers for so long.

At the moment, we have a composting toilet which receives our own poo and the used kitty litter form our cats. That will compost slowly for a year, then go into a hot compost system to kill off any remaining pathogens, then we can use it on our garden (mainly for the fruit trees, just in case). We have the chickens, and the guinea fowl keets, and their poo is going to be very useful in adding nitrogen to the soil; we’re going to put a mobile chicken coop together in the new year so we can rotate the chooks around the property. The real win, however, is going to be ruminants.

We’ve walked out approximate distances, and we definitely have space for 12 – 20 paddocks. The plan is to put in posts marking the corners of the paddocks (which will be quite small), and get fencing to surround 2 paddocks at any given time. We’ll rotate the ruminants around every 2 weeks or so, which should give the pasture time to recover from intensive grazing. This replicates the natural actions of wild ruminants, which bunch together for protection form predators and move frequently to new grazing areas – and it’ll mean that all the plants are grazed equally. The chooks will be 1 paddock behind the ruminants, so they can eat leftover grain (from the supplemental feed we’ll provide to the ruminants), and spread the poo out by scratching around in it, eating maggots as they go.

Step 1 of this plan is marking out the paddocks, and planting some pasture. Step 1A is deciding on the pasture species. this is not as easy as it might seem – who knew there were so many variations on grass? I’m definitely putting in tagasaste and lucerne, and as many varieties of clover and sub-clover as I can get hold of/afford. If I can get some seeds I’ll put in some Lebeckia ambigua as well – a summer-growing pasture legume which doesn’t need extra water sounds like a brilliant option. But then the grasses. I have, at the moment, no idea what I’ll plant. By march I need to have a plan so I can put in the seed order, and then the seed will go in around May to germinate with the first rains and get established. And then I still have to wait at least 3 – 6 months before putting grazers on it in case they just kill the baby pasture before it gets established.

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