When we bought the Flying T, we knew that one of our two pastures was “rough.”
OK, it’s really rough. Half-forested, largely with poisonous [to livestock] pin cherry trees. Not much growing in it but rocks and goldenrod. Fence falling down. Steep slopes on a good portion of it. Rutted with holes to the point that it was unsafe to let the horses loose. Rough.
The book answer for a pasture that had been let go for that long would be to call in the bulldozer, then truckloads of loam, but that went against two principles we’re trying to follow on the Flying T: 1) go as natural as possible and 2) don’t go broke.
One of the principles I’ve learned from flying is that there are three competing characteristics in designing airplanes (or other machines, for that matter): light, cheap, and strong. You can build something that has two of those characteristics, but it’s pretty much impossible to get all three. So, you can make a wing that’s light and cheap, but it won’t be strong. Light and strong? It won’t be cheap. Cheap and strong? It won’t be light.
We’re finding similar principles at work in farming, one of which is the “natural, cheap, and fast” law. So, when it comes to our pasture, while we’ve been doing OK with staying natural and cheap (relatively), it sure hasn’t been fast. I’d been hoping to have the pasture cleared of trees by winter’s end – we got halfway there.
We’ve moved a good passel of rocks from that half to the growing rock wall, but there’s still quite a bit to go. The holes we filled with a mixture of dirt and composted manure. Our attempt at strangling the weeds with a cover crop of Winter Rye has been partly successful (and partly not).
It’s all taken a lot longer than we’d hoped, and we still haven’t gotten around to the fence.
So now, we’re well-into the summer, and the weeds are starting to come back, competing against the Rye and other forage species we’ve planted here and there. It’s time to release the goats on the pasture to get it eaten down, but goats without fence go feral almost as quickly as hogs. The pasture is still too uneven to accept our portable electric net fence.
Then my wife says, “Well, when we lived in Greece, Dimitri [our local shepherd] just walked through the fields with them and didn’t have a problem.” Well, that’s right. He did. And what’s more, we even have an official Greek shepherd’s cane in the house that we bought as a souvenir.
So, this evening after dinner, we played shepherd. It was a bit of work getting them out to the pasture – goats don’t like new things – but once they were there, they seemed pretty happy!
Since they’ve been on a pretty well-grazed area for a while, we couldn’t leave them out too long the first day. That’s an easy way to get into a bad case of bloat. But, in the short time we did have them out, they got a pretty good start.
We even brought the horses out to graze with them for a while. Zip and Jasper are pickier than goats and weren’t nearly as impressed with the available eats, but they found the largest stand of Rye acceptable.
What surprised us was how easy it was to get them back. My oldest daughter just started back to the barn while I carried up the rear with the shepherd’s crook, and they followed her home. I wish I’d gotten a clearer pic, but this is the best I could do as I jogged along.
Is this going to be a quick process? Nope. But it looks like it might be relatively natural and cheap!