No-till pasture improvement techniques

Chickens in the weedsI recently posted a followup
on our
trees and shrubs
the chicken pastures, but how about the grasses, clovers, and forbs
we’ve been planting?  After a lot of reading, last fall I decided
that I wanted to experiment with planting white and red clover,
alfalfa, and Kentucky bluegrass in three different pastures, and I can
see the results of my plantings now.  As usual, I made a lot of
mistakes, but did have some success.

In the first pasture, I seeded
alfalfa, clover, and bluegrass all mixed together, along with oats and
Austrian winter peas

That was a mistake — the cover crops shaded out the smaller perennial
seedlings and I ended up with few living plants once the former died
back over the winter.  Note to self: ignore websites that say oats
are a good nurse crop for clover, or perhaps toss the clover on top of
the rotting oats in late winter so the legumes don’t germinate until

Cutting perennial weeds

Next, I set aside part
of another pasture to experiment with a pure stand of alfalfa. 
Here, the problem was that there were too many perennial weeds still
living in the soil, even though the chickens had scratched the surface
bare for me.  The perennials grew faster than the alfalfa, and
even though I tried to scythe the former without cutting the latter,
the patch turned so weedy this summer that my husband mowed it all
down.  Note to self: next time, spend a year killing out perennial
weeds before planting alfalfa.  (Actually,
pasture I’m currently sending through wave after wave of cover crops
should do the trick.)

Young stand of clover

The only successful
seeding was a mixture of white clover and Kentucky bluegrass, planted
into a third pasture at the beginning of February.  This was the
pasture that was wild until late summer, then
cut down the shrubs and let the chickens scratch up the weeds
, and finally we
planted a cover crop of oats and winter peas
along with some Crucifers in the chicken pasturemustard and oilseed
radishes.  I scattered the clover and bluegrass seeds onto the
bare ground left behind by the winter-killed crucifers, and the
perennials have done well (although the grass didn’t like the
drought).  I’ve only been letting the chickens graze this pasture
a little bit this summer since I don’t want them to scratch up the
young perennials, but by next year, I hope to have a good stand of
chicken-friendly plants there.

My conclusion is that
it’s entirely possible to start a new pasture using chemical-free,
no-till methods, but that there’s a lot of trial and error
involved.  Luckily, chickens are very resilient and tell me that
any pasture is better than no pasture, so my experiments don’t seem to
have hurt them any.

Our chicken waterer lets you leave home for a
long weekend without finding a chicken sitter.

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