How to Bring a Field Back to Life.
If I had to pick a couple of things we are really good at I would say:
- Clearing land
- Fixing Fields
OK, maybe we aren’t “really” good at them – It just seems like these are 2 never-ending chores at our place. We do them often and it is no longer a struggle, a problem or a riddle to be solved. We know how to fix a busted field.
We have a cow problem (I have trouble saying “no” to baby cows), so there’s never enough grazing room. This is what leads to us constantly clearing land. The lack of pasture along with the abundance of cows equates to fields in disrepair.
If you want to turn a desolate, empty, lifeless field into a lush pasture – I can show you how.
We do it every year.
How do the pastures get into this sad, lifeless state to begin with?
Winter is what happens to our beautiful pastures.
In Kentucky winter is going to happen. The grass will cease to grow. The snow will fall. You will be forced to feed your cows hay.
Cows standing at a feeder eating hay is a recipe for a destroyed field. They eat. They pee. The poop. They stomp. They pretty much ruin the area where the food and water are located.
If you are thinking what we were thinking 3 years ago, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong.
“Just move the food and water around the pasture. Then one area won’t get trampled to death.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
There are a few reasons why this didn’t work.
- Moving a stock tank filled with water is impossible.
- Emptying stock tanks takes forever, is a huge pain and creates ponds, lakes and swamps where you don’t want them.
- Refilling stock tanks is equally painful, slow and miserable – especially in winter.
- Relocating stock tanks is not even necessarily an option if you are trying to keep your stock tank near a power source so you can plug in the de-icer so your cows won’t have to drink ice.
- Keeping your stock tank near a frost free pump is also a possible reason you won’t be able to move the water.
- Moving feeders is easier than moving water but not when they are frozen to the ground.
- If you do successfully relocate your feeder every week or two you will manage to destroy 100% of your pasture instead of just the front left corner. Good job.
This is why we have intentionally decided to keep the water and feeder in the same general location all winter. The cows annihilate all the land within 50 feet of the food & water, but the rest of the world survives. We call this, “sacrificing a field.”
When spring arrives it is time to get the cows off of the “sacrificed” field and onto greener pastures. A-Hem.
Once the cows are off – you can fix the field.
Step 1 – Get the Animals off
Lock up the Chickens.
Here are some of our free range chickens in our destroyed field eating the grass seed DH just planted.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
That fence you are seeing is not keeping those chickens in. It is cattle fencing. The chickens can slip in and out just about anywhere they want.
The absolute best time to seed a field is when there is snow on it.
Yes. Seed in the snow right on top of it. As the snow melts the grass seed is gently planted into the soft, moist earth. The snow holds the grass seed in place. The snow provides a constant source of water for the seed. Grass seed loves to grow in cool weather. It’s a win-win. Unless you have free-range chickens. Then your grass seed will become breakfast, lunch and dinner for the chickens.
In conclusion: If you are keeping your chickens ‘the redneck way’ you will have to lock them up before you begin the field repair process.
Our chickens have eaten approximately 500 dollars worth of grass seed over the years. It doesn’t matter how many bags of grass seed you spread. It doesn’t matter how large the pasture is. It doesn’t matter how far the pasture is from the coop. If you spread it they will come. And you will not have any grass seed left on your property.
So, lock up the chickens.
Once the grass has begun to sprout and grow – you can let the chickens back out. For now – they must be contained.
We threw a fence up behind our coop last spring – for this exact reason. If you want to fix a field, you must get all the animals off of it. Cows, ducks, chickens, pigs, etc.
Everyone must go so the grass can grow.
To see how we put up this fence go here.
Our chickens (and ducks) have a lovely fenced in area fully equipped with food, water and 2 pools. What else could they ask for?
That’s what else they could ask for – but they don’t get it.
Take that, chickens!
Get the Cows Off
If you look behind me you can see 3 cows in another pasture. This is what you want. They have food, water, minerals and shelter in the other field. They do not get to come back on the sacrificed field until the new grass arrives.
Step 2 – Harrow the field.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a harrow or a tractor.
A harrow is a piece of equipment typically pulled behind a tractor that breaks up clumps of dirt. After running a harrow over a field a few times the ground is smooth and ready for seeding.
You won’t need a harrow or a tractor to do this at your place. All you need is a 4-wheeler and a piece of chain-link fence. Just hook the piece of fencing to the back of the 4-wheeler and drag it around the field. Keep dragging it around until your pasture is smooth and even.
DH is using a “harrow rake” like this one.
When he finished the field was as smooth as silk. Much better!
Step 3 – Spread the Seed
After driving in circles forever, we spread the seed all over the field.
We use seed spreaders that you can walk behind like this one. We use seed spreaders that you wear like a pack on your chest like this one. We even let our children spread it by hand. Whatever method you prefer – go for it. Just get the seed all over the field.
My personal favorite is the little buggy that you push around. It spreads evenly and quickly.
It looks like this.
After lapping the field with the seed spreader there is a nice even distribution of grass seed.
Step 4 – Cover Seed with Hay
I personally think this is the step is mandatory if you want excellent, fast results. Which we do.
Why cover all the grass seed with a layer of hay?
- It holds the seed in place. We get some horrible storms in spring here in Kentucky. Think monsoon. Think torrential downpour. Think….. all the grass seed being washed into the creek. Without something on that grass seed holding it in place, it could be in the next county by tomorrow.
- It keeps the seed moist. Just like mulching your garden helps hold in moisture, spreading hay over your grass seed keeps your baby seeds moist.
- It adds a second layer of seeds. Good hay is filled with grain heads, flowers and seeds. When you spread this over your pasture it is like seeding the entire area a second time. Think of it as an insurance program for your grass.
- It seeds the field with the hay your cows are eating. Regardless of what type of grass seed you spread on the field, by covering your pasture with a layer of good hay you are seeding it with some excellent grasses (I’m assuming you are buying good hay).
- It is a great use for old, moldy hay. Sometimes it just happens. You invested in some of the best hay you could find, but it got wet, moldy and now it’s not food. That’s OK! Spread it around the field.
Here are some old bales of hay ready to be spread around the field.
This is one of those chores where, “Many hands make light work.” All hands are on deck and we are spreading the hay. When there are 5 people helping, t’s not hard and it doesn’t take long.
Really, I am a huge believer in covering the seed with some hay. We do not have the ability or time to water our pastures. We harrow, seed and cover with hay. The rain (and God) does the rest.
Here’s the field. The animals are gone. It’s been harrowed. It’s been seeded. It’s been covered in hay. The chickens are in lock-down.
All we need is a little rain.
Timing is everything if you are trying to repair a barren field or run.
In Kentucky, this can be achieved in Spring or Fall. That’s pretty much your only windows. If you miss the Spring rains, don’t even bother trying to re-grow a pasture in summer. It may be possible, but it probably won’t happen easily, quickly or pleasantly. If you time it right you can have your field back in action in about a month.
And it will look like this again.
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Happy Spring everyone,