The typical system in our area is to have pasture with mainly tropical grasses that do very well in summer, but die back in winter. These are rhodes grass, bluegrass and gatton or green panic. When the grasses die back the protein content decreases and stock don't put on weight. They have to eat a lot of the dry grass just to maintain weight and we have to feed them hay. Some farmers we know only keep steers from spring to autumn and don't even try to keep them over winter. This means they are buying when the price is high and selling when its low.
When I got to this stage of understanding the system, I wondered why we don't plant our pasture with some species that do well in winter, so that we always have some pasture. After watching Farmer Pete spend 6 weekends ploughing and seeding a small portion of our cultivated area, it seemed like an awful lot of work, I would rather have feed that maintained itself (permaculture technique - plant perennials, its less work!). We have since found out that we can plant legumes like clover, medic and lucerne into our tropical grasses. These will do well in winter and produce seed that will sprout the following year. We are hoping to oversow our good pasture areas with these seeds next autumn.
|African Love Grass in our pasture is currently dried off and dormant|
Now that we have had a good look at our cultivated areas, we have decided that the lower area is just not suited to hay making, as it would be too far to bring the hay up to the shed (unless we get a hay trailer). We would like to plant these areas with crops that the cattle can come in and eat, using electric fences to manage their grazing. The area is divided by contour banks into 5 zones. In the 2 zones farthest from the gate we would like to establish a self-sustaining pasture mix of rhodes, medic, clover and lucerne. As this can't be grazed in the first year to allow the grasses to establish, we will also plant a forage crop in the closest 3 zones. The forage crop can be grazed a few months after planting. This time we are going to make sure that our forage crop contain legumes for nitrogen fixation. It seems that cow pea is good for summer and medics and clover are good for winter.
We would like to eventually phase out the forage crops in the lower cultivation area and return the entire area to a managed pasture that can still be cut for hay if necessary. This means less work as we don't need to regularly plough the area. The other alternative is to invest in a no-till seeding implement so that we can plant without ploughing (thinking about the "One Straw Revolution" technique of sowing the next crop under the previous one, but without the clay balls). If we manage the time spent cattle by the cattle in each zone we should be able to avoid compacting the soil and never have to plough again. They will also contribute valuable fertiliser to the area :)
|The forage oats is green and succulent|
Finally, we also have some treed areas which are quite open and have some grass underfoot. This shady environment is very suited to the gatton/green panic grasses, so we will be broadcasting them in summer. We have seen how they can establish very strongly under trees at our previous property, so are hoping they will do well here too. There may also be some winter active plants that would be suitable in these areas.
|more pasture - we do have some Rhodes Grass somewhere! |
Will look better in spring...
We have also left some sorghum in the ground to see what it looks like after a second season. Anything that reduces ploughing time and soil disturbance will be an advantage - so far it is still growing!
How do you manage your pasture and forage crops so that you have feed to fatten animals year round?