Back paddock
Cattle,  Chooks,  Fauna,  Land,  Permaculture,  Sheep

To Fix a Paddock – Part 1

Our property here backs onto half an acre of land owned by the local roads jurisdiction, and has been fenced and used by Mr BirdCat’s family for the past twenty years. As long as we maintain it, and don’t plant any trees or permanent structures, we can use it. This is a fantastic benefit! Though the property we are on is an acre and a half itself, Mr BirdCat and I really only have access to a quarter of an acre. By backing onto the paddock, it extends our land to the point where we can manage our own livestock beyond chickens.

Just one problem — it has sat out in the hot Australian sun for years, been compacted by motorbikes, cows, and horses, as well as has had mismanaged grazing from the latter two. That doesn’t at all bode well for our hopes of a lush green field with our animals dotted around it. So what could be done?

I made up a post asking just that in a number of different farming, gardening, and permaculture groups, interested in seeing if there would be different responses for each. And there definitely was! Below is a summary of the responses from each group:

Local Veggie Growers

  • Use super phosphate, harrow the ground, then plant grain
  • Get a jersey cow!
Plants spreading, showing signs of desertification

Self-Sufficient Living

  • Chickens are wonderful as they help break down the cow poo and spread the benefits around
  • Have a look at Johnson-Sue Composting
  • Have a look at Regenerative Farming Techniques
  • Sow an inexpensive mix of beneficial grasses and legumes. Depending upon how compacted the ground is it may need a rip to get seed to take.
  • “We are using a cultivator to just scratch up the surface. It does break up some of the good fungi etc in the soil, but it is not breaking and turning the earth. We sowed into it and will see how we go. We’ve come out of a long drought so I had a lot of seed that was the last of a mix from a few years. Good to do some reading, but often good to start something while you’re working on the long term.”
  • Turnips are good too at breaking up the soil, and then composting down again. More than one way to make soil great again.
  • You will have to fence off each area as you regenerate it, so look at dividing up the areas and then look at having pasture seeding done.
  • Break feeding using an electric fence allows you to rest a portion and let the feed get to a height suitable for cattle to eat.
  • And you will need monitor that the cattle don’t eat the grass too low, and not put them back on till it has time to regenerate to a height for feed, or you will lose your crop. If you can manage to let paddocks go to seed you will replenish the seedbank as well so not so much ‘sow every season.’
  • Why not goats? [council won’t let us] But why cows and not goats??

Permaculture

  • Don’t get cows — Permaculture is great, but it’s not magic
  • Consider chickens or vegetables for the area instead
  • Try looking up native grass to last longer
  • Depends what you want to do, might be able to get it seeded by a local ag contractor with excess seed or you could look at fodder system
  • Not allowed a goat, how about a milking sheep?
  • “It looks like you have the standard soil problems of compaction and lack of some critical minerals which will limit your active soil biology. Half an acre is not a lot of area, so it likely won’t cost much to get it started, but with testing it will likely cost $700+. That’s a fair bit of feed you can buy. More importantly, the plants are spaced a fair way apart, indicating the start of desertification, ie if you leave it go the spaces will slowly get wider, with more and more soil exposed. Often this is due to lack of topsoil disturbance. If you improve the soil and undergraze it, the animals will pick the best bits and the area will continue to get worse. The remedy is high stocking rates concentrated in a small area for a short time, then reduce the stock numbers and partition the area with electric tape and move weekly.”
  • “Another possible solution could be to utilise a mobile egg- laying hen flock on your pasture to create initial disturbance and add nutrients as well. You could sell surplus eggs in your local area to help with a financial return on your energy invested. Once you’re pasture begins to regrow post chicken disturbance, steer/cow can come through and graze down at the right time (right time is another discussion). If you continue this cycle however, it could be a means of kick starting this pasture again.”
Milo enjoying a romp during pictures

The last two comments from the permaculture group, as well as the suggestion of milk sheep brought everything together, and we’re now looking to go down that path that we didn’t even know was an option before! Sheep would be a lot easier on the ground, and a lot cheaper for us to keep as over time we’ll need to bring in less feed for them. They’re also a lot more likely to stay inside the fencing.

We’re also planning to utilize a day-time chicken tractor to get our six girls working out on the field for us, but they’ll go back into their home at night (wish us luck with herding chickens out and in every day!). We’ll be using a sheep tractor as well, keeping them confined to a smaller area and moving them each day so we mimic the high stocking rates.

Another thing that we’ve put into place already is creating “cow poo stew” as we still have Mort on the property. What it boils down to is collecting the manure into buckets and filling the water. Letting that sit for a few days, and then drizzling it out along the paddock ground in the hopes that it feeds the soil with more nutrients. We’ll see if that makes any difference for the better or worse too!

Now to find some sheep… (edit: We did get sheep! Read more here)

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