Question of the Week
My goats and llamas have overgrazed my small pasture, which contains several bare spots and plenty of knapweed and leafy spurge. How can I continue to irrigate the pasture and also help prevent further deterioration?
Answer: You could try a red and white clover mixture to frost seed into your existing irrigated pasture. Try sowing one to two pounds of each type of clover the first part of March. It is best if you graze off the grass to a couple of inches or so before you seed. Sow the seed before you turn the goats out and let them tromp it into the soil. You can use your electric nets to concentrate the goats in a small paddock and move them accordingly. This will get the seed in contact with the soil. You'll need to keep the goats off the field until the clover has grown up enough so you cannot pull it easily it out by hand— you don't want your goats to pull it out by the root when they are grazing it.
Goats will eat knapweed and leafy spurge readily. You can fence your goats in with one of your nets, let them graze the knapweed and spurge down, and then move them to an adjacent paddock that you make with another net. You don't need to graze the weeds down to the ground; in fact, it is preferable if you just take the flowers off and then move the animals. This will let your overgrazed grass have a chance to come back. Graze the weeds whenever they flower during the summer and, after two to three years, you will notice a serious decline in those noxious weeds.
In order to preserve your grass stand, always let the grass fully recover between grazing events. You can tell if a grass is fully recovered with this simple trick: follow an individual grass stem down to its base. If the lowest leaf right near the ground is either brown or has a brown tip, that grass has recovered from the last time it was grazed. This is a simple management procedure that too few graziers employ and it is the most important procedure in all of grazing. By letting plants recover, you will make it easier for them to make it through the winter, have healthier stands and healthier soil. In general, it takes about four to five weeks for a grass plant to recover, depending on the species.
Another practice you can employ to help your grass stand is to move your goats out of their paddock they are grazing when the grass is still six inches or so tall. Do not let them eat it down beyond that if you can help it. This leaves some "solar collectors" still intact on the grass plant and it can readily begin to start growing back. That way, it does not have to rely on stored carbohydrates to start its growth again. This will contribute to the overall health of your grasses in your pasture.
See the ATTRA publication Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System That Works for more information and beneficial grazing strategies. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=449.
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