Bran, Branwen, and Brownie are all happily grazing around the land here at Leafhopper Farm. Though they are amazing clearers, keeping up with the entire property is a little daunting. There are also areas that have been replanted with small, vulnerable trees and shrubs which need protection from the hungry ungulates. It’s made it a little challenging to focus graze in certain areas, making the blackberry return in one summer very probable.
Since the culling of our resident buck Rex back in May, there has been noticeably less browsing activity in the herd. As Bran and Branwen, our St. Patrick’s Day twins, grow and mature, they will eat more and help to bring clearing success back up, but areas of the land where more sensitive plants are establishing, we’ll have to find other ways to maintain the land, preventing blackberry infestation.
I’ve been looking at renting a brush hog, just to do what should be an annual cut back for leftover stalks that are not eaten by the goats. It’s said mowing is the best preventative for blackberry, and I am starting to see why, though allowing the goats to take out the greens and turn it into meat are a great use of the blackberry. The vines are not removed, and have to be cut back to prevent the spread of bramble.
In my sustainable farming class, we’ve been learning about pasture management. It is recommended that you mow your fields to keep noxious weeds at bay. As we demand more control over space, growing just the right mixture of plants we want for our animals in the field, we take on a much higher maintenance responsibility to place. As I watch my pastures, versus my woodlands, I notice that where there is an over-story of trees, noxious weeds are far less likely to grow. Of corse, because there is far less light, and that goes for most unwanted growth. If you layer other plants to shade out the unwanted growth, you maintain what you want. I like that idea better than mowing. It would also invite diversity in understory growth.
For the past few years, Leafhopper Farm has been focusing on larger stock animals which brows as apposed to graze. This means a focus on plants above the ground like blackberry shrubs or young trees. Grass is ok, but not a goat’s preferred food. Even the sheep breeds we worked with are old world breeds that brows. In class, we’re told we should recognize that we’re soil farmers first, and everything else builds off that. I agree, but I also think that growing pastures in an environment which wants to be temperate rainforest seems absurd. I think that’s why all these noxious weeds have come in, to replace vital nutrients which have left the soil when the trees were cleared away. Maybe if I reestablish more of the trees, I can shade out the unwanted weed plants and instead, plant smarter understory varieties which will still feed the goats, but also add a rich diversity of plants that are suited to this damp climate.