Monday, January 11, 2010

Dreaming of Green Pasture

Everything is buried in snow, and it is freakin' cold. But I cannot help but look forward to warmer weather.

The sheep are reasonably happy this winter with some nice second cut hay - their condition is looking really good right now. But they would be much happier lounging around in a nice green pasture.

Our farm consists of 78 rolling acres, most of which is wooded. About forty years ago, our property had extensive meadows but the meadows have become overgrown with trees. We have begun the process of recovering those meadows.

We want to expand the utility of our land by reclaiming the meadows and pasturing additional livestock. We don't have much capital to invest in this venture. I have been talking about turning woods to pasture for a couple years, and the conventional wisdom around here is that it costs $5,000 per acre. Yikes! The lumber generates some revenue, but that is more than consumed by the effort to stump and pick rocks (we live in the "Granite State").

Last summer, we spent some of our "spare" time clearing some land. Clearing brush and small trees (up to 14" in diameter) with our available tools (chainsaw and chipper) is a lot of work. We worked hard but made only modest progress.

This fall, we decided that we needed "More Power" (my kids recently discovered reruns of Home Improvement). We brought in some loggers with real equipment. We walked the property with them for a couple of hours and discussed our vision and short-term goals, and then set them loose.

We had them cut several acres, leaving a smattering of oaks for some shade; on several more acres, we had them selective cut. The trees and intervening brush were cut to less than a foot of ground level, but all stumps were left in place. The sheep/cows will just have to eat around the stumps, and we will have to deal with not being able to mow. If/when we win Powerball, I suppose we can have the stumps pulled. We have a stump grinder, and can eliminate the most egregious of the stumps.

One advantage of not pulling stumps is that we don't have to pick rocks - a bizillion rocks are lurking below the surface that would be exposed if we turn over the soil. We also will not lose the good soil that would be pulled with the stumps.

Speaking of soil, I was thrilled to see the rich quality of the soil in our new pasture.

When spring finally comes, my next challenge will be to begin establishing forage species and doing some fencing.