The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Lawn cropping

Oats and alfalfa

Colin Seis and Darryl Cluff are the modern experimenters who have revived the concept of pasture cropping in Australia. Basically, the idea is to grow grains in existing pastures without tilling, presumably by first grazing or cutting the pasture grasses very low during their dormant season, followed by drilling grains into the stubble. The annual grain is able to grow faster than the sleepy perennial grasses, but the latter survive well enough to regrow once the grain produces seed and is harvested.

I have neither excess pastures nor a wish to grow vast amounts of grain. However, our goats adore oats as a fall and early winter forage plant. And I also wondered whether planting oats in some unused corners of our core homestead would push back the weeds well enough to let me seed other goat-friendly plants there in later seasons. So in early to mid September, I begged Mark to weedeat some experimental areas to the ground, I sprinkled on oat seeds (along with a bit of alfalfa), then I scattered a thin layer of straw on top to keep birds at bay. Finally, I sat back and I waited.

Three experimental areas

To my surprise, my experiment appears to have worked! Now, granted, the oats have grown at about half the rate of those in well-loved garden beds, which means the goats turn up their noses half the time at the lawn-grown oats. But if we don't get a serious cold spell in the next month, I suspect the slower oats will get stemmy enough to strike Abigail's fancy and that she'll be glad of the late forage. (If I had it to do over again, though, I'd plant the lawn oats a week earlier than the garden oats rather than a week later.)

Chicks eating oats

And we've actually already fed one round of animals via lawn cropping. Our Red Ranger broilers started expanding their foraging runs into the oat pasture by the time they were four or five weeks old, which just happened to coincide with the oats being at their most tender and succulent. As a result, the grains closest to the brooder were pecked down nearly to the ground, although the plants quickly bounced back once the broilers were moved to a grownup coop. I don't know whether its the extra sun this spot gets or the addition of chicken manure, but these oats are growing twice as well as the bed I photographed earlier in a no-chicken, shady spot.

The big question now is --- what will these lawn cropped areas look like come spring? Will the grasses pop back up, or will the ground be bare enough to try seeding some soybeans for soil nitrogen and summer goat protein? I'll keep you posted!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna and Mark,

It seems to me that you may have hit something big. Letting your animals select the crops that let them grow healthier all without much intervention on your part?


Comment by John Tue Nov 10 01:04:25 2015
I've been experimenting with this as well this year with rye, only in paddocks with open areas or that see a lot of trampling due to in season females. Our summer was so dry that many seeds disappeared because the birds found them, or dried up due to lack of moisture for months. Several have germinated though and should provide some extra grazing in spring, and some extra root action from the annuals. I hope.
Comment by Nita Tue Nov 10 20:15:00 2015

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