Friday, August 15, 2008

The Nice Man Cometh

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!


LatigoLiz said...

Sounds like you got some great help there. Another place to get free help and advice is your local Conservation District. You may be able to access their web site here.

And also check out Horses For Clean Water for more helpful tips and tricks. HCW is my personal favorite, of course I am the web goddess for that site. :)

Leah Fry said...

I was wishing I were closer so I could have attended the class at your place. Thankfully, we are still a rural county, and it was no problem getting the guy to come out, except that it's just the one guy for a pretty big area. I have friends further south whose counties have been built up and they did away with the Ag Agent. They have no resources at all.

spazfilly said...

Wow, that's great that you got a consultant on what to do with your land. I've been starting to dream of having my own horse property down here near Austin, and one of the biggest mysteries to me was how to properly maintain a pasture. We looked at one place where the whole "horse corral" was nothing but weeds and sand. Do you have any cacti? I've always wondered how hard it would be to get rid of those.

Leah Fry said...

Yes, we do have some indigenous cacti, but they are kind of scattered. They aren't a problem. They are a funky, low to to the ground variety that look like they die in the winter, then come back in the spring with bright yellow flowers.

I have prickly pear cacti as part of the xeriscaping. Every once in awhile Poco gets a hankering for prickly pears and he'll eat them out of my hand. His lips get full of the fine stickers and he rubs them on the concrete to get them out. His lips and teeth get all purple from the juice. Jaz won't eat them. Too tart for him.

Look in the phone book or on the internet for your county ag extension. It was free for him to come out -- our tax dollars at work!

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