Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Healing the Farm Land...


They say a picture says more than a thousand words. So, today I will let the picture do the speaking and just add a few words of my own!

This picture comes from the valley/waterway on our impending farm. As you can somewhat see from the picture, the grass around the waterway is something different than the switchgrass that is on the rest of the pasture. The cut that you see water running in is probably about 100 to 150 yards long and leads to the ravine that runs through the woods. Just on the edge of the woods there is a rather large washout area from the water running down the hill.

Obviously I want to do something to help repair the land here, and I have a few ideas bumping around in my head, but what do you think? I would be interested in hearing what your thoughts are on how I should go about using and repairing this waterway on the farm. I'll let you know some of my ideas in another post ... along with what I learn from everyone who throws in their two cents.

16 comments:

Yeoman said...

Not being familiar with your region, what should it look like?

Rich said...

I recently found some information online about a method developed in Australia by P.A. Yeoman, to deal with erosion problems and build soil fertility, (I think it was mentioned in some comments on The Beginning Farmer).

An online copy of his initial book can be found at:

http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010125yeomans/010125toc.html

It is termed The Keyline Plan and it basically involves finding the "keyline" elevation of your topography and plowing (or subsoiling) parallel to this keyline to slow down the rate of water shedding and improve water infiltration. Wooded strips, fence lines, and water catchments are also planned and laid out by referencing this keyline.

I realize that you probably don't want to chisel plow your entire pasture, or won't have the equipment to subsoil your property, but there is alot of useful information about erosion, water impoundments, planning tree placements to decrease erosion, building soil fertility, and even farmstead planning.

Regarding your specific problem, whenever I'm cutting cedar trees, I always limb the trees, laid the limbs in the washed out areas, then stacked the trunks on top of the limbs. Hopefully when the water is moving slower, it will stop washing out a gully. Water is a powerful force, and it takes time and effort to control its flow.

Anonymous said...

perhaps a rotational program, with appropriate animal densities, would create the soil impact in the water shed necessary to retain moisture, particularly during short severe rainfall, leading to higher water retention and minimized runoff..

-enrique in qatar

Ethan Book said...

Yeoman - Well, I guess I would say that it needs to look less like a freeway for soil down the hill :)

Really, a waterway serves a very good purpose draining the land, but one that causes severe soil erosion is not what I'm looking for. Left unattended that could become a major gully in the field.

Equyne said...

My suggestion would be to grade out a stock tank. If room allows, I would grade one near the top or origin, have the overflow controlled and directed to another further down the hill. Tanks serve as livestock water, reserve for rural fire services, and helps wildlife.

JRG said...

We healed many gullies like this when we were on our farm in Missouri just using managed grazing. We used animal impact to break down the banks and create a gentler slope. This is one place I would use UHSD (ultra-high stock density) for less than a day and then fence off the treated area with polywire to allow an extra rest cycle for the plants to recover. Sometimes a little overseeding in conjunction with the grazing might be needed.

We did from little gullies to some that were 4-6 ft deep and 10-15 ft wide. A small one might recover in a years time while the larger ones might take 2-3 years.

From what I see in the picture, Ethan, it looks like a one year recovery job to me. You would probably want to fence your 20+/- head of cattle on no more than 1/10th of an acre for about half a day. A wet day may actually be better than a dry day.

Good luck.

Yeoman said...

Ethan, thanks.

Around here, that would look like a surprisingly grassy bottom late in the year.

Ernie said...

Ethan, not seeing the whole area, could you dig out a pond and dam the area up. Would think that would allow you to have a water source plus slow down the erosion.

Dave_Flora said...

I'm with Yeoman here, this sort of thing is unfortunately common, but not critical as long as most of your pasture is unplowed. What's happened in the past, I suppose, is that someone figured they could plow right through a natural waterway and get away with it, so the best way to "repair" it or keep it from causing more damage is to make it as much like a natural waterway as possible again. I'm thinking that sowing some thick cover crop along three feet of each side would help hold the soil, break up the rain from falling overhead, and slow water moving to the stream. Again, this would be a nice opportunity to bring more diversity into the farmscape.

Rich said...

jrg said - "We healed many gullies like this when we were on our farm in Missouri just using managed grazing. We used animal impact to break down the banks and create a gentler slope."

I am having trouble wrapping my brain around this advice. How would using cattle hooves to dig up the banks of a gully differ from running a piece of tillage equipment up and down a gully to "create a gentler slope"?

I'm not trying to be confrontational, but I just don't see the difference and I wouldn't be inclined to run a tractor up and down an area where I had an erosion problem. The only way I can see it working is if I had a dense sod-forming grass like bermuda, that would quickly fill the disturbed areas.

JRG said...

Rich, The cattle leave the ground rough behind them and lots of residual vegetation and trampled litter on the ground. This pretty effectively slows water flow through the area. Tilled ground is a lot smoother and a lot less vegetation cover so water flow is not slwed down very much. I think I've seen as many 'small' erosion problems turned into 'big' erosion problems as I have seen 'small' erosion problems cured by tillage.

Animal impact is a tool and, as with any tool, you need to know how to apply it effectively to get the result you want to see. We would rarely try to completely bare the ground with animal impact. About the only time we would do this is if we were trying to establish a new pasture.

If you till an area like this, you need to get vegetation growing back quickly and that usually means seeding something. My experience has been the residual vegetation fills in much more quickly than a new seeding would. I've found this to be as true in the 8" high desert range country we are in now as the 38" rainfall we had in Missouri.

I'm pretty much just a grass farmer so tillage is almost always the last option on my list. That is just personal preference based on a wide range of experience. I did grain farming for a time in the 70's & 80's and I never liked what it did to the land, so we gave it up a long time ago.

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for the comments everyone, and good debate. Tomorrow I'll share a tad more information and some of my thoughts.

Organicmaven said...

Recently you've been talking about stewardship, and for me what that means is leaving the land in a better shape than when you found it. Here in Australia there is a movement that's been gaining a momentum for a decade or two called Landcare (http://www.landcareonline.com) and the conscensus here would be to fence off the stream to keep your stock out of it, preventing them from dirtying the drinking water and tramping the banks, thereby decreasing the erosion. This fencing would also allow natural endemic plants to regrow enhancing the natural environment, providing habitat for desirable birds and wildlife, who would then feed on the insects and other 'pests' - in short the whole ecosystem begins to be put back into balance. Probably a bit left of centre for some of you though ... or maybe not.

Mellifera said...

Hehee... we've got suggestions all over the board here! Here's my complete lack of experience talking...

My first instinct aside from animal impact or anything else is to just stop that dirt from being bare. I've seen some extension folks talking about "grassed waterways" in humid areas, ie having a drainage way through a field that's got some thick grass growing in it to keep the moving water from cutting through the soil. So following All Flesh is Grass, I guess you'd throw in seeds from moisture-loving plants like alsike and reed canary grass seeds in there, give it some sprinkling, and let God sort it out. : ) (Hopefully they're water-loving enough that they wouldn't glom out into the rest of the pasture.) I'd definitely try to learn more about where these grassed waterways seem to work best before going for it, I'm sure extension would love to tell you all about it.

Maybe one thing to keep in mind is a lot of the MiG methods were worked out in arid regions and what works for patching up a gully there might not be the best for a place where the water comes a lot more frequently. Animal impact especially seems to be more crucial in healing land out there, where it's so dry that nothing rots unless it's been through a cow first. There's not the same bottleneck in the nutrient cycle in Iowa.

JRG said...

Actually most of the MiG foundation concepts were first worked out and written about in humid, temperate regions. James Anderson in Scotland wrote very descriptive essays on rotational grazing in the late 1700's. He talked about daily grazing periods, using high stock density (not using those specific words), appropriate rest periods, having enough paddocks to ensure adequate rest could be provided anytime in the growing seasons. When Gerrish wrote the MiG book he really wasn't saying anything new. Just a different name.

Andre Voison wrote from northern France (the humid part) beginning in the 1930's and continuing until he moved to very humid Cuba in the 1950's.

New Zealanders began serious research and promotion of controlled grazing in the 1950's.

Savory and Parsons were the first people to really apply intensive grazing management to arid lands in the late 1960's into the present.

So you can see, most of the grazing principles were developed in humid climates first. The term Management-intensive Grazing was actually coined in Missouri and first commonly used there.

Just a little bit of the history of intensive pasture management, for anyone who cares to know.

Steven said...

All the ideas in MIG just seem so common sense and logical.

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