Sunday, April 13, 2008

All the Grass That's Fit to Eat

Pasture management is crucial to anyone with livestock. Our horses rely on it, as do the goats, and to a lesser extent, even the chickens. And it's been one of our biggest learning curves since moving to Kentucky from Minnesota. In MN we didn't have access to pasture, per se. The place where we kept our horses (hi Cynthia) was mostly trees, on land typical of the Duluth area. There just aren't the rolling fields of grass there that folks are lucky enough to have other places. At that time we boarded our horses with friends, the Niemela family (John, Cynthia, and their two children.)

John and Cynthia had to have all the hay they used shipped in from southern MN, and it weren't cheap! She paid as much as $45 a round bale then, and I'm sure it must be higher now, five years later. When we arrived in KY, we had about 30 of our 45 acres in grassland, but very little was fenced in for horses. The previous owners had made a deal with a local guy to have him hay it in exchange for him keeping the hay (they had no animals, if you can believe, so had no use for it.) That first year we kept the same bargain, only we worked it so that we got half the hay and our neighbor kept the other half.

That first summer James spent every free moment putting in t-posts so that we could string electric fencing. Bless his heart (as they say here in The South), he put at least 8 acres under fence that first summer. The rest we had hayed, and wound up with about 30 bales for the winter, which was just about right. Round bales typically weigh about a ton, give or take, depending on size and moisture content. I remember many years ago, when we were living in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), we had a friend fly in from New York to visit and do some consulting. On the way into town from the airport we passed fields of hay and rape seed. Brad looked out over the fields, which had been hayed recently, and asked "What the heck are those wheat balls for?" Ahh, city boys...

We've been here five years next month, and are still learning about managing the pasture. It needs to be mowed regularly so the weeds won't overtake it. It will need to be limed either this year or next, to keep the Ph balance proper for good grass production. And for some reason this past year, we've had a bunch of cedar trees crop up, as have a number of other people in the area. I don't know the scientific reason, but my gut tells me it's related to the drought we had last year, something about dryness and the environment that particular species of tree needs to thrive.

For now, our pastures are doing well. We have three right now, and James is always tinkering with the portable electric, opening up small add-on paddocks to the larger pastures, enabling the horses to get at grass that otherwise would go untouched. So far this spring we've had some good rain (almost too much!) and I am hopeful we'll get at least two if not four cuttings of hay this year. The rain makes it hard to get out there an mow the lawn (which has gotten quite high!) but I guess that's a topic for another day.

No comments: