Farm | Renovating Sheep Pastures

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Renovating Our Sheep Pastures

This is a lengthy post… about nerdy stuff like grass and soil. I love documenting and this post is certainly a compilation of lots of documentation. So, if you like soil, grass and learning about how other farmer’s make decisions, this post might just be your cup of tea.

what we started with

Our sheep pasture consists of seven acres, three of which are significantly sloped and heavily wooded. Two acres was an existing alfalfa and orchardgrass field with two acres that is mostly brome grass.

using web soil survey

I looked at what we have for soil and slopes in our pasture. You can find your soil map HERE

72% of our pasture is | Newglarus-Dunbarton silt loams, 12 to 20 percent slopes, moderately eroded

17% of our pasture is | Elkmound-Northfield complex, 30 to 60 percent slopes, very rocky

11% of our pasture is | Eleva sandy loam, 12 to 20 percent slopes, eroded

What we did in 2018

In spring 2018 we cleared about 2 acres of brush which included prickly ash, grey dogwood, sumac, plum, boxelder and mulberry. I over-seeded the ‘thicket’ areas with a mix of grasses and legumes, of which 30% was legume. Over the summer months I focused on keeping the woody species from coming back in, using mowing and herbicides. In the fall I heavily grazed a 1/2 acre area of brome grass and over-seeded with the following over-the-counter mix:

50% Gulf Annual Ryegrass
27% Intermediate Ryegrass
19% Orchardgrass
3% White Clover
1% Medium Red Clover

In October I took our cattle through a two acre area that was primarily brome grass and had them beat it up to expose soil.

what we did in spring 2019

In spring 2019 we worked on clearing additional brush in the most heavily sloped areas. These areas have significant timber including walnut, catalpa and cherry. We removed mulberry, elm, cedar, boxelder along with honeysuckle, grey dogwood and plum (plum is poisonous to sheep). This area still has significant cover and will need additional clearing, maybe next year.

In the late winter spring months I developed my knowledge on sheep pasture mixes, mixes that maximize gains, and our options for our drought-prone slopes. With my research I developed the following pasture mix.

grass-fed beef and lamb madison wisconsin - humane farm - grassfed

Our pasture mix

Chicory - 40%

Ladino Clover - 15%

Alice White Clover - 15%

Alfalfa - 5%

Orchardgrass - 10%

Festolium - 15%

My research lead me to develop a mix with a high chicory content. Chicory is non-bloating, and local farm research showed significant gains on chicory based pastures. I also realized during my research that sheep prefer legumes over grasses, so I made sure to develop a mix that put more focus on the legumes than the grasses. Chicory, alfalfa and the grasses show better drought tolerance than the clovers; however, I wanted to try and get some clovers established on the less sloped areas that will get more water. I’m curious to see what my results are after this growing season.

our alfalfa and brome areas

The bromegrass areas I over-seeded with a Ladino and Alice White Clover mix. Over the coming years I anticipate continuing to replace alfalfa with clover, chicory and other legumes, and diversify the brome acerage with additional legumes and chicory.

Planting on slopes

Since three acres of our sheep pasture are in-accessible with a tractor, I broadcast seed by hand and put sheep hooves on it for a day, right before a good rainfall. This three acre pasture was broadcast with the chicory blend.

how i’ll manage grazing this year

I will be managing weeds and woody plants this season by rotationally grazing both the sheep pasture and the brome area. Sheep are fantastic gardeners and I can’t wait to see the progress made by using them for management this season.

video documentation - 2018 fall pasture walks

Video has already been a great resource for me as I develop the grazing systems at our farm. It provides a really great reference to what was happening the following season, challenges and what I was looking at doing in the coming year. It is insightful to what I thought my plan was last season, to what I actually implemented this season. Video has proven to be a quick and effective way to manage our grazing here at the farm.

I look forward to documenting our pasture progress again this fall.

video documentation - June 2019 update