Pasture Rotation: Winter Hay. We are coming up on our 1 year mark from when we graded out our first pasture. It was the beginning of our pasture farming journey! This post is the fifth in a series, to start with the first post see Pasture Rotation: Phase 1. We had to come up with our own pasture management system and test it out last year. We had a bit of instant success when we started. Our Summer pastures were filled with prairie grass. It was pretty blissful being able to rotate the animals while still leaving enough time for the grass to recover. We were seeing less weeds, and we weren’t giving our flock any extra hay for several months.
In the fall we didn’t have much choice but to separate our animals for weaning and breeding, it messed up our pastures for the Winter, and left us feeding winter hay.
Starting in August three of our four pens had animals on it, 1 pen had the buck and two girls, 1 pen had the ram and breeding ewes, and one pen had the yearling lambs that we were growing out to butcher. They stayed in those pens for 3 months, and that time of the season when the Winter grass starts to come up. The animals ate it as soon as it sprouted giving it no chance to set roots, or to recover. It halted our Winter grass growth. Finally, in November we set up 2 dry lot areas to accommodate everyone and give the grass a break giving it the best chance of recovering for the Spring. The sheep and goats sure don’t mind the hay, but it was hard on our budget as they went through one bail in two days at $13 a bail.
The weeds in our ditch were still growing, and we tried to take the time to take our herd out on a walk in the evenings to eat it down. We enjoy doing this, but time is hard to come by when starting a homestead from the ground up (literally). Our orchard is not fenced off, and if we leave the sheep out they would certainly eat our baby trees. We have to stand outside and keep them in that area. They also got all the clippings from when we mowed our orchard and manually removed the weeds from the ditch and other areas as needed.
Turning Dirt into Pasture
Snow doesn’t visit our part of the country (advantages of living in the Arizona Desert), and Winter is the perfect time for us to grade pastures. Below is a picture of my husband breaking ground on our 5th pen. This is how it all starts.
The area we are turning into pastures needs to be graded first. The level of the dirt is too high for the flow of our irrigation ports, and there are no berms to hold water. With the tractor my husband digs it down a few inches, and puts berms around the edges. After it is the proper height he tills it one time to break up the clay. Next we will need to dig our irrigation ditch so that the water from the front of the property (approximately 250ft away) reaches this pen.
We found that that it helps if we water the dirt a few times and let the weeds grow before we plant the grass seed. Once the weeds are knee high, it is ready for our animals to feast on for the first time. After about 50% of the pen is growing we spread the grass seed. The weeds help hold in the moisture, and protect the new sprouts from the birds.
After a new area is added into our rotation, we are very careful not to overgraze it as it is in a very delicate stage with roots not quite established. When it starts to look a little bare, it’s best to move the animals to the next area, and mow it. Mowing really helps establish a new area, and cut down on the growth of the weeds.
By Summer we should have double the pastures available, and by fall we should have enough pens to properly separate everyone for breeding without compromising our grass. We really hope to expand our grass growing season past August this year, and feed less winter hay.
To see more about our pasture rotation journey see the Pasture Rotation Archives.