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Overgrown pasture help - fire hazard.

 
                      
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Hello, we recently purchased 10 acres and a house that needs a complete remodel. We want to establish a silvopasture/rotational grazing system, but that is a couple of years down the road (complete remodel and all..). The pasture has terrible pugging and was previously hayed and managed by the next door neighbor. In an effort to help regenerate the soil and give the land a break we decided to let the pasture lay fallow this year. We live in California and are now realizing that may not have been the best idea as it’s a fire hazard. Neighbors aren’t super happy with it, and it keeps me worried...

At this point it’s too tall and dry to mow and I’m not sure what our options are. It currently doesn’t have water on it. The irrigation system is in bad shape and will require a few thousand dollars before we can get it up and running (have to fix ponds and such first). I’ve looked into renting it out to have someone put animals on it, but here you have to pay people to run animals on your property (instead of them paying rent), and there’s also the issue that the animals wouldn’t have water access. I’ve wondered if there is a way we could knock down/crimp the grass and weeds that are still standing and maybe that would act more like a mulch holding more moistur and reducing fire risk...? Are there solutions I’m not thinking of? Thanks for any input!
 
pollinator
Posts: 376
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Sounds like a really odd situation, but most everything in the state of California is odd to me.  

My initial response was to offer local area livestock owners free pasture.  Who pays people in drought conditions to give the free pasture?  I have neighbors with livestock blowing up my phone anytime things get dry.  Oh well.

My next thought is to call your county or regional fire service.  Tell them you have 10 acres that you would be happy to let them burn for a fire training drill (and to reduce the risk to county.)  A controlled burn they can use as a training exercise, might be most welcome.  I know my little volunteer fire department was always happy to have a controlled situation to use as training.    

Last resort would be to mow it and mulch it, even if you have to do it by hand.  The financial  liability is greater than the cost of hiring out labor.  The recent events with PP&G would have me worried as a property owner.
 
pollinator
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A few thoughts;

The field of grass be mowed no matter how tall with a brush cutter, brush hog. If sparks or chance of fire is a concern someone standing by to put out any small fires and alert local fire service to what is being done and any issues.

Instead of mechanical cutting use a sythe to cut the tall grass

Rolling and crimping is definitely doable. We are considering a rolling crimper as an attachment for our 2 wheel tractor, Manual crimper roller, Mechanical crimper roller
 
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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I hacked my electric lawnmower by taking off the blade and attaching weedeater string in it's place.  So I can mow dry stuff with impunity all summer, without hazard of fire (doubly so because it's electric so there is no hot engine or exhaust).  There are commercially available "string mowers" that are like this, but mostly gas powered I think.  Perhaps you can do this or something similar if the area isn't too big.  With a large area many people till up a firebreak strip all along the edges....though this usually means a tractor-drawn disk, with it's inherent risks of sparks.  
 
gardener
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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Our situation is similar but different. It's too wet too mow in the spring so the grass gets so high that most tools choke on it. 10 acres is a *big* area, so if you're going to try to manage it at the human scale - mower, scythe, etc -rather than the tractor scale, I'd focus on fire breaks along the edges, access points for the fire department, and then consider the likeliest direction of wind if there is a fire and focus on 10 to 20 foot wide swath "fire breaks" 90 degrees to that direction.

The problem is the balance between short term safety and long term soil improvement (which will hold more moisture on the land and decrease future fire risk).

I can actually understand why in your risk area, you have to pay people to put animals there. Dried out grass doesn't have a lot of nutritional value, there's risk of the animals breaking out if they see a better food source elsewhere, and there's your identified issue of water. Goats are the usual animals for this situation, so if you had the time/money to get a 1/2 dozen and train them to portable fencing, you could move them in the pattern I mentioned above, but goats are known for being escape artists and you'd still need some sort of vehicle to get water out to them and portable shade.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Canadian Prairies - Zone 3b
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I gather both you and your neighbours agree that there is as fire hazard that you had not planned on. Since you all want something done, to everyone's benefit, you have common cause. Maybe you can turn that to your advantage.

For example, your neighbour who makes hay probably has a swather or some sort of motorized sickle cutter that would make short work of the grass and at least get it on the ground, reducing the hazard.

I know it's hard to swallow, but if your neighbours see that you have enough sense to admit a mistake, and want to set things right, it's quite possible they will help you correct it, or make good suggestions (or provide you with good contacts). Far from sullying your local reputation, you may find it enhances it. Country people learn from their mistakes, and respect people who do the same.

 
pollinator
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Location: Missoula, MT
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I made a roller crimper for my field but I think it has to be done at just the right time of the season so that it lays down and stays down. I would think right before the dry season might work.
 
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Get a log, telephone pole, or section of railroad track and attach eye-bolts to both ends. Hook that up to a tractor and just drag it down. The heavier the better if you want it to stay down. If you don’t have a tractor you can pull it with a truck. Super cheap and effective.
 
Posts: 103
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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Alexander Long wrote:Get a log, telephone pole, or section of railroad track and attach eye-bolts to both ends. Hook that up to a tractor and just drag it down. The heavier the better if you want it to stay down. If you don’t have a tractor you can pull it with a truck. Super cheap and effective.



Good thinkin!  When we had no equipment we used a huge piece of ibeam; welded eyes on it and used it as a drag.  Also made a great grader for the driveway.  Farm creativity.
 
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