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

Summer pastures

AlfalfaBluegrass or ryegrass with white clover makes a great spring and fall pasture, but where do you put your hungry critters during the summer slump?  Gene Logsdon offers a slew of possibilities, ranging from semi-perennial legumes to warm season grasses and even weeds.

In his own pasture setup, Logsdon focuses on alfalfa, red clover, and ladino clovers to fill in the summer lull, planting these short-lived perennial legumes in rotation with winter crops like grains.  When choosing one of these legumes, keep in mind that alfalfa is the most drought tolerant and produces more biomass than any other legume if it's happy, but that it hates clay and can't be planted Ladino cloverin the same spot for several years after the stand dies out.  Red clover outperforms alfalfa on heavy soils and in cold, moist climates, finding favor in the Corn Belt, the Northeast, and the mid-South.  Ladino clover is the most palatable of these tall legumes and can handle heavy, wet soil, but produces less hay per acre, won't survive drought, and requires reseeding most often.

All three legumes are managed about the same.  In the Deep South, red and ladino clovers are grown as annuals, but elsewhere the legumes are perennials that should be surface seeded in winter, then given several months to get established.  You can begin to cut or Timothygraze once the plants begin to bloom, then continue to cut or graze at the same stage until September, at which point the plants must be allowed to put on some mass so they will survive the winter. 

Timothy can be mixed with the legumes (especially red clover), but if you combine the plants, it's best to gauge grazing or cutting time by the legume since timothy grows more slowly.  Orchardgrass is sometimes mixed with alfalfa in the lower Corn Belt and mid-South, but the grass becomes unpalatable quickly in the spring if you're not careful.  Finally, smooth bromegrass is often combined with alfalfa in the North since the grass and legume have similar drought resistance.

Sorghum-sudangrassAt the other end of the country, you might consider planting a paddock or two to warm season grasses for the summer months.  Quackgrass, crabgrass, and foxtail are weeds that spring up all by themselves in cultivated ground, while bermudagrass (also a weed by many folks' estimation) will take over in the Deep South.  Sorghum-sudangrass hybrid is often planted for high production pastures in midsummer, but the leaves are toxic when less than a foot tall, which gives the plant limited utility for grazers like chickens who like tender forage.  Although a legume instead of a grass, lespedeza is a possibility in the South, but can be a problem weed that becomes unpalatable if not managed carefully.

Corn isn't exactly a pasture plant, but Logsdon suggests a method to work the grain into your pasture rotation without harvesting any of the ears yourself.  You can turn lambs into the pasture to eat the lower leaves and weeds when the corn is above their heads, then replace them with hogs who harvest the grain when the plants are mature.  Finally, sheep and cows munch on the fodder (and dropped ears of corn) over the winter.

PlantainIn his chapter on weeds, Logsdon tosses out the idea of a temporary ley for summer pasture.  Newman Turner's Fertility Pastures and Cover Crops recommends planting the following combination for midsummer:

Although Logsdon laughs at the idea of finding seeds for notorious weeds like plantain, the permaculturist might keep an eye on weedy spots for midsummer forage.

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This post is part of our All Flesh is Grass lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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