…Even for this nature lover. We embarked on a journey two years ago to bring our recently purchased acreage back from severely depleted to sustainable in as simple a way as possible. It wasn’t easy…we had to make tough choices, when and where to use herbicides, how long to graze each pasture, how much hay could we harvest to keep our small herd intact while improving conditions at the same time and how much hay would we need to purchase to compensate until we had the farm producing what was needed and still improving the quality.
Our acreage had been depleted to the point that the only thing you could find growing without getting down and looking underneath it was sericea lespedeza, perfectly fine forage for goats, but we have cattle, and ours, in particular, don’t like it. This beautiful little pest is prone to putting off chemicals called allelopathic compounds; toxins from both the leaves and roots keep other species from germinating, and robbing them of both moisture and nutrients, and keeps ruminants from gobbling it up.. Unlike most legumes, sericea is not beneficial to native flora. This species was introduced in the 1900’s to help control erosion and improve land reclamation. Unfortunately it was so invasive that it has become a noxious weed in most pastureland states, and you guessed it, we had it in profuse amounts!
First we began mowing as there was simply too much growth on the plants to have any effect. As it began its growth again, we found that cattle would eat young shoots, but would not touch it once it passed 6 inches, or when the stems became woody. We then began an herbicide program to get rid of current growth. We broke the property up into paddocks that would allow us to control when and where the cattle grazed. Now going into our third year, we are looking forward to having only to spot spray seedling patches. We have implemented a hay cutting program that allows us to control height of cut and time of harvest. We have early season paddocks that we can harvest now, allowing the warm season grasses to fill out as fodder for the cattle during the summer and fall. We also have late season paddocks that will be harvested at peak for winter hay.
The most interesting aspect of cutting our own hay was the fact that we decided to attempt it as inexpensively as possible to find out what would work for us. We picked up a most ancient sickle mower that was set up with a 6 inch cutting height. What we found was that the pasture had no noticeable need to recover from shock in the areas we were cutting. The grass was healthier and thicker quickly, verses our experience with the 4 inch height disc mowers used at our previous property. We were getting faster recovery and more fodder. It does take a bit more time through the season, but a few hours a weekend on each paddock, actually makes it much more enjoyable than attempting to harvest all of it at once.
All in all, it was a valuable and educational experience and will continue to provide us with many more enlightening experiences as we go. I hope you find this insight both interesting and helpful. Happy Harvesting!