Pasture management

Pastures on this farm mostly take the form of savannah: grassland with shade trees mixed in. We use our pastures primarily for dairy goats, though some areas are also used by swine and chickens, and are working to clear and improve more land into grazable pasture that also improves the natural habitat and biodiversity of the farm. Pastures allow us to generate food and income on landscapes not suitable for tillage or intensive crop production, such as hillsides where the grass holds soil in place and which would otherwise be unusable to the farm.

We practice rotational grazing to maintain pasture health, using portable electric fences to move goats and swine between small paddocks on a regular basis. In many cases we only graze a given area once per year, though weather conditions and other factors sometimes force us to re-graze a certain area toward the end of the year. This technique allows pasture plants to regrow without interference,keeping the area healthy long-term, and helps concentrate the manure load and other impact evenly across the pasture. Permanent and portable electric fences also help protect the livestock from harassment by coyotes or roaming domestic dogs.

Some pasture areas have thick stands of fescue, an invasive cool-season grass which is not ideal forage for livestock and tends to crowd out diversity from other pasture plants. We use rotational pasturage of our annual hog on some of these areas to encourage rooting-up of the fescue, as an alternative to the recommended techniques of tillage or herbicides. We also burn certain pasture areas in order to encourage native plants and discourage invasives (see image below). These are ongoing experiments which will take years to assess.

Pasture management is an important part of this diversified farm, providing food, income, and natural habitat on otherwise marginal areas.