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Creating pasture from a corn field

                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
I recently bought some land, and we're slowly working towards starting a self-sustaining homestead there.  Part of my land is a corn field of about 2 acres, and I'd like to turn it into paddocks for sheep.  I know I have to rip the corn out, but I'm sure it's going to need a lot more work than that to be useable.  I'm not planning to put the sheep on it until probably spring '13, so we have time to get it in shape.  We won't be moving onto the land until next spring, but we'll be visiting in late October to do some clearing.

With the plan to be a rotating paddock system of the most nutrient dense, diverse pasture I can manage, how should we go about this?  I'm thinking pull the cornstalks in October, till in some compost in the spring, sew with cover crops (suggestions?) then maybe till them under and sew in whatever we want to use for pasture.  Will that work?  I'd love some ideas on good pasture plants, too.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Just two questions.
1. Why not chip the corn stalks and use them as mulch? They easily decompose in a years time.
2. What kind of soil do you have there? Moist/dry? Clay/sand?


Life that has a meaning wouldn't ask for its meaning. - Theodor W. Adorno
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
so when you say rip the corn out, how tall is this corn? how was this corn grown? you will probably get a lot of questions from us before you get the juicy answers.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
You won't need to rip the corn out.  Just run over it with a shredder (don't know what these big mowers are called in other parts of the country).  The roots will decompose in the soil and the shredded tops will be an excellent mulch, as mentioned before.

I think what I might do before I shred the corn is to broadcast a mixture of many native grasses and forbs (palatable pasture plants) among the corn and then run the shredder, to cover the seed with a layer of mulch.

BTW, can people please put their location under their name?  Thanks! 

http://www.newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/

http://www.ny.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/wetlands/better_wetlands/bw_grass.html



Idle dreamer

                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
Chipping up and tilling is going to be a huge hassle, because we're doing this all with hand tools.  We have no electricity, no tractors, no nothing.  Just shovels, a lot of motivation, and time.

The soil is probably a bit on the wet side, as it's a low-lying area close to a stream.  I don't know if it's more sand or clay, my guess would be sand but I need to check into that.  We've only been out there once, and viewed four or five properties before settling on one, so we didn't have as much time to test and explore as I would have liked.

This is Amish country and I believe the former owners are an Amish family, so the corn was grown rather conventioanlly, but probably with fewer chemical applications than a factory farm.  It's feed corn, sown in rows in tilled soil.  I don't know if it'll be cut down by the time we get back up there in October, but I would guess yes.

H Ludi, what sorts of "native grasses and forbs" are we talking about?  I'm really starting from scratch here, I know nothing about what makes good pasture.  I've been around horses my whole life, but they're generally kept on bluegrass or fescue.
jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
Why not ask the sellers to leave the field ready to fallow? Presumably, they will be harvesting the corn with horse-drawn equipment. Also, they would be the best experts to start with on asking about good forage species for the area. You'll want a grass/legume mix of some kind.
                                


Joined: Aug 24, 2011
Posts: 17
Location: Western Washington, USA
It sounds like you are not very close to the land at present. How much time will you be able to spend working the land between now and next spring when you move onto the property?
                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
We're in Maryland right now, and the land is in NY.  We'll be going up for about a week at the end of October, then again for a week in March or April.  We plan to move on in late May.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I don't see why you'd need to till it.  If you're just using hand tools, a scythe should work on the corn stalks.  Just cut them down and leave them as mulch.

I posted a couple links above of information about native grasses for NY.

                                


Joined: Aug 24, 2011
Posts: 17
Location: Western Washington, USA
This is where I'd start

jacque g wrote:
Why not ask the sellers to leave the field ready to fallow? Presumably, they will be harvesting the corn with horse-drawn equipment. Also, they would be the best experts to start with on asking about good forage species for the area. You'll want a grass/legume mix of some kind.


And this

H Ludi Tyler wrote:
I don't see why you'd need to till it.  If you're just using hand tools, a scythe should work on the corn stalks.  Just cut them down and leave them as mulch.

I posted a couple links above of information about native grasses for NY.




Chop and drop.

You said the soil is likely wet. How wet does it get over winter? Some farmlands can be a virtual flood zones in the winter. Is your land above or below the stream? Does the stream flood? Have you been able to observe it through 4 seasons? Is there an undercover beneath the standing corn? Bare ground, weeds, grasses, etc. How early can the land be seeded next spring?

The mulch will help but I'd be concerned about erosion over the winter, especially if you have much bare ground, and would want to get some forage started ASAP to help hold the soil together. Talk to your neighbors and local extension agent. If possible, start the dialog with them now, from your current location.

It can be done, two acres isn't that much. Continue gathering information in order to minimize wasting your efforts since you have such a small window of opportunity this fall.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6491
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Please do not 'pull' the plants...just chop @ soil level.  Corn is an annual grass that develops an extensive root system (up to 8 feet deep, with a radius of over 4 feet from the stem.  Allow these roots to decompose in the soil.  Besides providing organic matter, they will leave worm tunnels which also allow water and oxygen to penetrate the soil.

For some good info on corn (maize) roots, read this:
http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010139fieldcroproots/010139ch9.html
                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
H Ludi, those are great links, thanks!  But they don't tell me what would be good and nutricious for sheep to eat.  I really need some ideas for what to put in for them.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
White clover, gras and wildflowers. Top the seeds with mulch and compost. I bet you don't have power bred sheeps? If not than it doesn't really matter what you're sowing there. Only the toughest, bite and step tolerant stuff will prevail.
Jack Shawburn


Joined: Jan 18, 2011
Posts: 230
If you have hardpan then look at Daikon Radish.
There are a lot of videos on YT on Cover Crops.
Cover crops will help in soil building adding nitrogen, breaking up hard pan and add organic matter to the soil.
How can you seed that large area with only handtools?
Look at Seedball making - they should do well if you have relatively moist soil.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I was looking for a page like this for NY:  http://www.uvm.edu/pss/vtcrops/?Page=forage.html ; this seems to apply to the Northeast in general.

This looked like it was going to be useful but the website is mostly broken:  http://forages.org/index.php
                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
What are power bred sheep?

I'm putting so much thought into this not just to improve my soil and grow healthy pasture, but also because I'm not planning to supplement the sheep with feed at all during the growing season.  In the winter they'll recieve only hay (that we'll be growing ourselves, eventually) and vitamin supplementation for the pregnant ewes.  So the pasture has to be of the highest quality.  I'm keeping them in a rotating paddock system, and will be rotating our chickens right behind them, so it also has to provide forage for chickens.

I looked at the chicken paddock article here on this website, and it suggested the following plants:  mulberry trees, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, sunflowers, peas, lentils, siberian pea bush, chickweed, dandelion, amaranth, nettles, kale, and sunchoke (just to name a few).  I have no idea where I could obtain seed for a lot of those, how well they'll grow together (will one or two species push the rest out?) or if they're healthy for both sheep and chickens.  And maybe a pony - my son wants a pony.  Obviously I'll need to keep a close eye on my pasture and stock and make sure they're not overgrazing it.

Has anyone here kept livestock on mixed pasture like that?  Is it working out for you?  Does it reseed itself well and regrow every year?
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6491
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
My friends in Tierra del Fuego never 'fed' their sheep.  They ate pasture all year round.  Winter time, they were led to lowland where the snow wouldn't get too deep for foraging.  All of my years on the island, I never saw hay anywhere.

A large variety of pasture crops ensures that something will be growing at any point of the year.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3677
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  75
I recommend you have a poke around online if any of these are unfamiliar:

biological farming, Allan Savory, holistic management, Acres magazine.

I won't suggest pasture species as our climates are radically different, but I'd recommend doing very careful research regarding stocking rates.
If you...harvest...the right % of your stock before winter, you should be fine getting them through on your own hay.
What are the winters like?
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Power bred sheep are modern factory sheep who are explicitly bred for either wool, meat, milk, etc.
I'm not a native speaker so I roughly translated what they are called in the german language.
The opposite of them are old race sheep: Those are normally less trouble to hold but won't grow as fast, won't produce as much wool and milk and have (from a production aspect) unwanted properties, too. Some people can live from 100 old race sheep when you know someone who knows people who like special stuff. Most people need at least 300-400 power bred sheep to be productive.


As far as I know you can hold 6-8 sheep on 2 acres all year round - without aditional foodering. Is anyone disagreeing? When you think of a medium productive pasture, I mean.
Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
I was surprised to find that my sheep and goats LOVE to eat cornstalks.  After I saw that I took a bite of one myself and found that it was very sweet and juicy, so it's no wonder they went after them.  If you can cut them while they're still green you might be able to make some decent "hay" out of them by drying them.  Alternatively, just leave them standing, throw in some legumes and grasses, and let the sheep do the work.  I ran my animals through my corn patch after it was good and dead and they demolished it thoroughly.

Permaculture will save civilization: http://www.human20project.com
                            


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
im from europe so i dont know which of those plants exist in united states but i think i can anyway give you good tip since i study exactly this....
so best way to establish green pasture is to put seeds of various plants, mostly from poaceae and fabaceae family that sheep like and will eat....some of those would be:

Dactylis glomerata
red and white clover
alfalfa
lotus corniculatus
different kinds of lolium
festuca ovina or festuca rubra
oats
vetch
Melilotus officinalis
timothy grass
poa pratensis

and so on... be careful legumes are not more than 30 or 40% since animals have digestive problems if they eat only that...
Nicholas Covey


Joined: Oct 09, 2008
Posts: 179
Location: Missouri/Iowa border
I have a question:

Why do anything?

The corn will be harvested by the time you return in October likely (or shortly thereafter). Whatever is native will grow best there anyway, instead of trying to grow something that was recommended by someone halfway around the world in a totally different climate.

So you might ask around for what kind of forage seed the locals prefer, or if you possess the virtue of patience just let it naturally self-seed. Quite honestly the only difference between a pasture and a crop field is the pasture hasn't had the soil disturbed in a while. It takes time, and even if you worked it over extensively and seeded it heavily, the first year isn't going to be the best by far.

But that's just my two cents worth. What I would do and what you want to do may be totally different. Best of luck regardless.
                              


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 44
Because this is not a big area for permaculture and the like.  The locals obviously prefer the traditional fescue for pasture, and I'm not interested in keeping my stock on that.  The Amish are good farmers, but they're not exactly into making big changes to their pasture management system.  Or, for that matter, into animal welfare.

The little bit of pasture we have now, which will eventually be converted to a hay field (I don't want the stock on that side because our stream runs right through it) is covered with this tall grassy stuff that puts up yellow flowers stalks.  I have no idea what it is, or if it's poisonous, so until I can identify it I'm not keen on seeding it into the paddocks.
                  


Joined: Jan 31, 2011
Posts: 92
A few thoughts:
Pigs. Get a few pigs and fatten them up on the corn. They'll tear it down, fertilize/till the ground, and put on some good weight in the process. Then you can sell them at a premium.

Either while they're doing that or after you can seed the area with a winter cover crop. In the spring start sewing your pasture of choice after doing some light shredding/incorporating of your cover crop.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
A field that has been cultivated for corn, probably for several years in rotation with other crops, is not going to come back to good pasture in one year without some planting of seeds.  If you had a long time to wait, you could get it back to pasture that way, by using Intensively Managed Grazing and a light stocking rate, just running the stock over that field periodically to keep things clipped off as needed, then pasturing them elsewhere to let that field grow some more. 

However, if you want to have pasture for next year, you will need to seed something, as you are planning on.  I haven't had to do what you are doing as the place we had (and my ex still has) in New Hampshire came with a hay-field that we turned into pasture (much easier to go from hay to pasture than from row-crops of any kind to pasture).  What I would suggest is to do some internet research and find people raising sheep in the Northeast who are farming organically and using Intensively Managed Grazing, then ask them what their pastures consist of and what they would recommend you seed into yours.  I can make some guesses at what their suggestions will be, but better to talk to them. 

As for the corn that's already there, if there are still people living on the place and farming it -- as in, that's this year's corn on the field -- I imagine that by the time you get there at the end of October, your field will just contain dried brown stubble, rather than corn-stalks.  I would seed around that and rake the seed into the soil, and leave the stubble in place for the winter to help prevent erosion.  Come spring, the stubble should be starting to break down somewhat.  You will need to clip your pasture a few times next year to encourage good root systems to grow and to encourage the spreading plants to spread out and cover the ground; just clip above the level of the corn stalks.  By the time you bring your livestock in in 2013, the corn stubble should have pretty much rotted away. 

If the former owners do leave standing corn stalks, I would start the same way, seeding around the standing stalks and scratch the seed into the ground with a rake.  Then go around with a machete or a scythe and knock the corn stalks over as close to the ground as you can.  Leave them to protect the ground until next spring.  If they are going to be in the way when you clip the new growth next summer, you will be able to easily pull them up then (the roots will have rotted) and put them on a compost pile.

Kathleen
 
 
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