Plotting for Pasture

It has been a dark week of rain. The cellar hole that Allen dug in 2009 for the future house again looks like a swimming hole, brimming with water.

However the winter rye on the back acres is soaking up the rain and turning into an emerald field.

a bright mid-day in May

The rye will die with the first frost but the roots will remain and introduce some all-important organic matter to the sour, rocky soil.

I am trying to come up with a plan for getting grass seed to those acres. Pasture seed runs $149 per bag and I’d need about fifty bags. This is far beyond my pocketbook.

In his book Comeback Farms: Rejuvenating Soils, Pastures, and Profits with Livestock Grazing Management, Greg Judy recommends feeding hay on rough acreage for a “free fertility program.” (Every flake of hay is full of grass seed and any waste is trampled into the ground to add organic matter.) This is exactly what I’ve done on a limited scale on all the upper acres, but Judy takes it much further.

a bale ring

He buys giant 1500-lb round bales — a much more economical way to buy hay, but not a real option for me without a tractor to move them.

Most farmers feed round bales in a bale ring. The ring protects the bale from trampling but concentrates the heavy hoof action directly around it. Most bale rings end up encircled in winter by a swamp of mud and manure that dries in summer to resemble lifeless concrete.

Instead of using a bale ring, however, Judy unrolls his round bales in long windrows across the ground. In this way he feeds his cattle without concentrating the trampling. Meanwhile the waste enriches long swaths of his worn-out soil.

Rick, my hay man, says he has some 600-700-pound round bales left from last year’s crop that he would sell cheaply. The price works out to a third of the cost of small square bales. I am wondering if there is any way he could bring me ten round bales on a dry day and drop them strategically all over the back acres.

Then all I’d have to do over the summer is unroll them, one by one. Greg Judy implies this is easy. Rick says this is easy. Others tell me it’s practically impossible.

I’m still reading, scheming, and plotting. And it is raining.

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4 Responses to Plotting for Pasture

  1. Missy says:

    I bought a round bale for Midnight to munch on while we were on holidays. I wrapped it up in ring lock fencing to keep it together (for a while) and while I was trying to get it wrapped up, it kept unrolling on me. http://adventuresatlilliput.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/how-do-you-make-a-little-cow-happy/ I’d say it would be easy if you had grass hay like the bale I just had. Just make sure they are dropped in the right place, I wouldn’t like to have to try to move one single-handedly. I think your plan sounds excellent and it makes a lot of sense. Must try to borrow that book.

  2. Amy says:

    We’ve heard of success using that same method for beef cattle. We do it on a very tiny scale, rotating our square bales and haylage bales strategically through the most pathetic-looking parts of our 2.5 acres of pasture. It takes time for it all to decompose, but our north pasture, where we kept 2 cows and a young bull for a winter last year (and also where we’ve butchered 3 times) looks fantastic!

    As for round bales…they’re usually not all that heavy. My hubby and I, before we had a tractor, would drive out to get one haylage bale (which ARE very heavy, 1000+) loaded in the back of our pickup, which we’d then drive to the spot we wanted the bale. Then we’d work together to heave the thing (roll, sorta) out of the pickup onto the ground, and then push from the same side to sit it upright before placing the ring feeder around it. After doing that for over 2 years (we have a tractor now), we both find moving round hay bales a breeze by hand! (Most recently we put a round hay/clover bale in the barn and then fed it by the armfull, peeling it like unrolling a cotton ball. Messy but also effective.)

  3. Jan Nirri says:

    Unrolling hay has huge benefits. One farm I worked on (350 head cattle) rolled it out by hand by placing the bale on the top of a hill (you do need a tractor or some way to carry the bale). I’ve used a number of methods of unrolling and there are many hay unrollers on the market but the one I favor can be viewed on my Web site: http://farmadventures.wixsite.com/freelancefarmsvcs .

    This hay unroller can be used to transport (even down the road) round hay bales and then easily convert to unrolling the bale. You don’t need a tractor… anything with a 2″ ball hitch will work. Be careful if using an ATV. You can easily get the bale where you want it and unroll it where you want it. Any waste is fertilizer and ground coverage which will slow down erosion and help to re-seed the area.

  4. Shawn says:

    Along with Jan’s thought about unrolling hay (or feeding hay in the pasture as you already do) let me add another idea. I’ve been studying Greg Judy’s method of mob grazing. You can Google him and find the videos. But his idea of trampling the “leftover” grass down, instead of mowing, creates topsoil and better soil health overall. I know you need more organic matter and have virtually no topsoil. It would save you some time mowing, even though you enjoy it. Just wanted to give you this thought. Hope it might be helpful in some way.

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