Improving the Hillsides

Pastures can get compacted, acidic and in need of renovation. I’ve been doing some things to improve our hillsides. The soil color is getting darker and the texture looser, so maybe I’m on the right track.

The most important aspect of grazing cattle on pastures is to keep them off of it. The grass needs to be able to grow back for a few months with no animals grazing it. This allows the roots to grow deeper into the decaying organic matter left over from the last grazing.

cows on the farm ss 2015
Photo by Mac Hill

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has been helping farmers with cross fencing and water systems, because resting pastures conserves soil. Ideally, animals should eat the tips of the new growth, tromp in the majority of growth, and then move off of it to let it regrow. The alteration of grazing and rest builds soil.

Another good idea is key line plowing. I take a transit and find the level contours along the hillside. Then the chisel plow, with every other shank removed, is pulled along the contour making four inch trenches, two feet apart. Water that is flowing down the hill gets caught in the trenches, soaks into the soil, and is used later in the summer rather than running off to the creek.

Lime is the cure for soil acidity. I like to apply a ton and a half per acre every two or three years It helps to do this in connection with loosening the soil by chisel plowing. Litmus paper is a good way to check soil PH.

cows in a field farm
Photo by Kristina Rossi

In late February I mixed oats, fescue and red and white clover seed together in a five gallon bucket. I walked over the hillside flinging it out. Then I harrowed the field to knock down the ridges and cover the seed.

I also use the harrow after the cattle have grazed a paddock. This scatters the cow pies out and slightly tills the field. It seems to really help with the fertilization.

Cute spring calves are hitting the ground, and trees are budding out. Plants are springing up out of their winter sleep, and I am wound up like a spring, planning gardens and farm activities. The pastures will soon spring back to life, with the extra bounce from winter’s pasture renovation. Happy Spring!

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