Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Sustainable Living and Land use › Sustainable Farming › Converting Vegetable Fields to Pasture
- August 30, 2015 at 3:00 pm #86013ethalernullParticipant
I’m hoping to learn more about seeding down open vegetable/cropland to pasture. We have about 2 acres that is currently plowed and planted that I’m hoping could be suitable to graze with our team next summer. Could anyone tell me what are some of the important details I should know?…here are some key questions…
– what time of year to seed forage/pasture mix?
– what grass/legume species to include if field is to be grazed only 1 year and turned back into crops the following year?
– best seeding methods (ie. drilled, harrowed in, cultipacked…seeded with a nurse crop?)
– what is the timeline for pasture establishment? how soon can I expect to graze next spring/summer if I seed this fall?
EvanAugust 30, 2015 at 8:13 pm #86014Crabapple FarmParticipant
There are lots of options and variables.
Your soil and climate are significant variables. Also, the rest of your pasture – when do you most want to have extra pasture available? Early spring? Mid summer? That will affect your choice.
For short pasture rotation with vegetables, I like to use grains mixed with clovers. Winter wheat is my choice for fall seeding for early spring grazing. Medium Red, White, Alsike, and Yellow Sweet Clover can all be seeding in the fall to overwinter and will give good growth the following summer and fall. I usually do a mix, depending on what I want to do the following season. Rye and winter Triticale also work well for early grazing, and grow at slightly lower temps so produce earlier. My wheat fields are usually a week or two ahead of the rest of the pastures, Rye should be a week or so earlier than that. Vetch and Sweet Clover are not as palatable as Red, White, and Alsike clovers.
For spring seeding, I really like Oats. Barley can be used, but you need to graze before the beards get too developed because they can cause sores in mouths. Crimson clover is nice and fast growing for spring seeding with oats.
The downside of grains is that they often don’t regrow well. The clovers (except for Crimson) do regrow, and make a nice pasture, but it might be too lush for some animals.
If you want to seed once and graze all season, my recommendation for New England (based on my soils in Western MA) is seed a mix of Beardless Winter Wheat (the tallest variety you can find, otherwise rye), Medium Red, White, and Alsike clovers, and Perennial Ryegrass. If your soils are well drained and not acidic, skip the Alsike.
Disking and replanting after grazing can be helpful with weed control. Like a bare fallow, just without the bare part. Just make sure you do it timely enough that weeds aren’t going to seed.
Basically, in the vegetable rotation, I am not establishing pasture, I am grazing cover crops. You just want to select your cover crops based on palatability.
I’ve thought about using corn for a warm season cover crop to graze, but have never done it. I’m leery of Sorghum-sudan, because of potential toxicity. BMR varieties are supposed to be fine, and the one time we tried it there were no problems, but I still don’t use it regularly.
-TevisAugust 30, 2015 at 8:19 pm #86015ethalernullParticipant
I had imagined winter wheat, rye and oats to all be too rich for our work horses to eat, have you not found that to be the case?
EvanAugust 30, 2015 at 9:26 pm #86017Crabapple FarmParticipant
I’m mainly grazing sheep and cattle, so am looking to optimize forage quality. With Draft Horses, that probably does mean something different . . .
I’m more of an ox man, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. The horses we have had all seemed to do okay on fairly rich pasture – for ease of management we graze them in the same group as our milk cow (the “coming up to the barn daily” group). Yes, they put on a few extra pounds in the summer, but we don’t feed any grain, and I like to see animals going into the winter in good condition.
The horses mainly have not gotten the cover crop grazing duty – mainly because of the logistics of getting back to the barn daily from the crop fields.
Early Spring grazing of Rye or Wheat could definitely cause digestion problems if you aren’t smart and slow about the transition from hay. Oats would be much later, after they had already transitioned to pasture.
Stage of growth of forage is going to make a big difference in how rich it is. I would think that once it got stemmy, the roughage would balance the sugars.
-TevisAugust 31, 2015 at 8:23 am #86018mitchmaineParticipant
sept. 15 was always the cutoff date up here for fall seeding. you are condiderably further south and frost dates seem to be changing lately, so maybe you’d get another 3-4 weeks on that.
two acres isn’t too much to broadcast of you don’t have a drill, but drilling is quicker. if we broadcast, covering them with a disc straightened out works good.
8 lb. timothy and 2 lb. red clover and 3 bu. oats per acre, the oats bring them along and die. the grass will be ready when the ground is hard.
not sure rolling ever helped germination (for us anyway). i’ve done both and couldn’t see much difference.
ever try seeding your pathways with a covercrop or pasture mix? that stuff would already be established and spreadout enough after harvest to make pasture. maybe. good luck there and let us know what you did and how it worked.
mitchAugust 31, 2015 at 8:30 pm #86020dominiquer60Moderator
A word of warning, Alsike clover is toxic to horses, cattle may eat eat, but horses will usually avoid it. Oats make a good nurse crop this time of year. White clover is always good in a mix, it can take a grazing, holds the soil nicely and provide some good N at plow down. You only need a few pounds an acre. Red clover makes more tons an acre, but can be rich if there is too much in the pasture, but it is good to include a legume or two. Bluegrass is another tough one, it can fill in between the timothy and clover. Check out Lancaster Ag for seed, they have a great selection and customer service, http://www.lancasterag.com/HomePage.September 1, 2015 at 7:29 pm #86022dlskidmoreParticipant
Is it worth reseeding for just one year? Which veggies were grown on it, do you think you’ll get many volunteers, and are they varieties that make good fodder? Corn and beans and beets make plenty fine forage if it comes in dense enough, some of the weeds will be good forage, but only experience with your field will tell if going fallow for a forage year is a good idea or not. You also have to consider in your condition if it is more expensive to pay for seed or suffer loss of production per acre…
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