Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pasture planning - test plots

Part of my property was an auto junkyard in the 60s, and there's still a bunch of stuff leftover from that. Mostly bits of iron, like seat springs, and chrome trim. To get rid of that stuff I'm going to have to plow the field, rake the debris out, and then go collect the debris. Some of the debris are big -- axles and engine blocks.

Since I'm going to have to do that work, I've been looking at what I might plant that would provide a better forage for my animals -- with a focus on providing good forage for my swine.

Alfalfa rates high in several different measures -- it is a legume, so it fixes nitrogen (improves the fertility of your soil), is high in protein, and its use as a pig forage has been extensively studied. Examples of that are here and here. Forage for pigs isn't new -- here's a newspaper article from 1916 about that very topic.

The goal of having better pasture is to reduce my primary cost in raising pigs -- purchased feed. Another candidate that appears to work well is white clover, or a mix of alfalfa and white clover. Grasses are eaten by pigs, but if given a choice, they'll choose something else in preference.

Alfalfa also sells for a relatively high price per ton when compared to other forages. I wouldn't be baling my pasture, but if I can get a stand of alfalfa that works pretty well, it's nice to have another market.

If I chose to have a lactating animal of some sort (goats, sheep, cows) alfalfa would be an excellent feed for them as well.

My land is relatively wet - the water table is pretty high. So I don't really have to worry about irrigation -- even in the summer, the water is only a couple of feet down. Alfalfa and clover can grow roots that are 2-4' long.

So what I think I'll be doing this spring is planting 1/2 acre test plots. I'll use them later in the summer as rotational grazing and see what the animals prefer, and what grows well.

If the sale goes through for the 40 acres that I've mad an offer on, spring of 2011 I can then plant what works after the trees are cleared.

I've been looking at this table referred to me by a respondent to a post I made asking for advice at a forum called haytalk.

For my relatively wet fields there are several strains of that will work well. Don't know what they cost.


Craig said...

Have you ever had your ground water tested? Alfalfa won't grow well on wet ground.Better stick with clover and mixed grasses.

Unknown said...

In my opinion, you're right on to be thinking this way. We're doing the same, and have about 25 acres in white clover (Durana) and hairy vetch. I can tell you that all of our animals, including the pigs, love that stuff. We have another 50 acres of land we're clearing now and the entire perimeter that adjoins the woods will be planted in clover for eliminating the need for grain for the pigs. We'll also plant some alfalfa, although I'm told that it won't grow well where we are. I think it will so I'm going ahead.

When it comes to what we're trying to do, 1916 research is more relevant than 2010 research.

Nature's Harmony Farm

Anonymous said...

Given your animal examples, I think you may have meant "ruminating animal" instead of "lactating animal" (all female mammals are lactating), or maybe farmers use the words differently than biologists do.

E said...

Bruce King said...

Wet ground & alfalfa is a concern. Some of my land is dry enough I think, and some isnt', and there are strains of alfalfa that have been developed for wetter land. In the forum responses in hay and forage (see the link in the post) one fellow relates his experience with two strains -- one that survived a wet field and one that didn't.
My thought is that I'll plant a quarter or half acre of various types and then watch to see how they do. If it fails I can reseed with something else.

Bruce King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce King said...

lactating animals -- what I meant is animals that I'm managing for milk production vs meat production. Alfalfa is a great feed for milk production. you're absolutely right that all mammals lactate.

damae said...

Have you thought of comfrey? It loves wet feet and the only way to kill it is to let it dry out. Very high protein, the animals love it and just like alfalfa, it can handle being cut to the ground several times in a season. My understanding is that the more varieties of plants you have in the pasture, the healthier your animals will be.