Earlier this week, a County Ag Extension Agent came and give us some recommendations for restoring, revitalizing, and maintaining our land. There are several issues we knew we needed to address, but we're not farmers and had no idea what, when or how to implement them.
The first thing we did when Wayne, the nice Ag man, arrived was walk the property. When we got to where the horses were grazing, he approached them in a non-threatening manner with his hand out. Jaz came ambling over, his usual happy-go-lucky self. I was standing about 5 feet from Poco. As Wayne turned to him and put his hand out, Poco's eyes got as big as saucers, he snorted and set his shoulders. I could see and hear his breathing accelerate. I moved closer to him and reached out to touch him on the withers, but he flinched hard and sidestepped away, never taking his eyes from Wayne. It's been awhile since I've seen it, but he's obviously not over his fear and distrust of strange men. He doesn't act that way around women he doesn't know, just men.
Typical of the Red River Valley, we have reddish gold sandy loam soil, with an emphasis on the sand. I'm told this is ideal for growing all sorts of melons (and a mighty nice round pen), but at any rate, it's better than the black clay "gumbo" we had when we lived further south. The disadvantage is that when we get our annual quota of rainfall in oh, say, half an hour, we're subject to massive erosion. This is not helped by frequent drought and overgrazing. Two horses on five acres sounds like plenty of land, but there's the house, a lot of trees, a dry creek bed, washed out areas, and it's easy to understand why it looks the way it does. According to Wayne, in our area, there should be 3-4 acres per "animal unit." Silly me, but an animal unit does not equal an animal. An animal unit equals 1,000 pounds. My Boyz are between 1100-1200 pounds apiece, and are straining the resources.
Mike and I were expecting a really dire report. We have work to do, but it's not that bad. The primary thing we need to do is some cross-fencing to allow areas to rest. This will go a long way in helping the land to recover. He advised us to divide the land into three sections, but even two would be better than none. He also suggested we create a small catch pen in a sacrifice area where we can confine the horses during times of drought or when all the land looks like it needs a rest. Although this is all good news in terms of the long-term prognosis, it just means more work. I will certainly help him, but the brunt is going to fall on Mike. Dividing it in two is easy enough because we had it cross-fenced at one point. Mike was doing some work out in the back and it was easier to remove the hot fence than to go all the way around the house to the other side. We just never put it back up. Some of the T-posts are still in place, but we'd need to put in about 6-8 more.
We need to sow rye grass and oats in the shadier areas around the trees (front and back) to allow it to become established in the late fall and early winter. This will also help some of the erosion if we can get the seed to take hold and not get washed away.
I find it amusing that our drainage ditch is actually on the map as the Little Elm Fork of the Trinity River. It cuts our property not quite in half horizontally. The bank (above) got torn up when the backhoe guy set the culvert pipe (top left of pic) and graded the area for my round pen. Mike has had to work really hard to reestablish grass on that steep slope.
Most of this area is just too shaded for much of anything to grow, although the horses like to hang out there when it's hot or sometimes when the weather's bad.
We need to sow more common Bermuda, which loves our heat, to fill in some of these sparse areas.
And finally, we need to get after the weeds, particularly spurge, which is prolific around here and can take over a pasture before you know it. Wayne gave us a packet of info, including different weed killers, and kits to take soil samples, which is the first thing to do. I was surprised at how little that costs. Typically, sandy soils need lime, so we'll be able to find out specifically what types of fertilizer will work best in this soil. I thought he was going to tell us we needed to shovel and compost, but he said dragging a harrow over it would be enough.
Coincidentally, friends of ours have recently decided to sell their home and become permanent RVers. They gifted us with a big bag of rye grass seed yesterday, so we're on our way!