Reclaiming the Land: Making the Most of Seven Acres


Christine Byrne head shotThere’s more than corn in Indiana, you just have to look for it. The fertile soil lends itself to growing crops so most level ground has been cultivated and is planted with corn, soybeans and the occasional wheat field. Sometimes you’ll see something else growing but not often. Rarely do you see wide open pastures for grazing. In Indiana, pastures are generally relegated to land that is too steep and rocky for row crops.

This old house was once part of a large farm including hundreds of tillable acres, now though it lays claim to a mere seven, half of which are a wooded ravine with a winding creek and a small spring-fed pond. A century and a half ago when the original house was built it must have appeared to be the ideal location for a homestead with its water source and ample supply of wood for heating.

The pasture behind the house and just outside the barn had sat unused for generations allowing the undergrowth to take over. Last year’s drought made it abundantly clear that we need to have more space for forage. In order to renovate the pasture for grazing the first order of business is to remove some of the trees since not much can grown in dense shade.

Just like the pioneers, the stockpile of firewood will not go to waste. It will be used in the new woodstove the guys installed in the workshop over the holidays. No more excuses that it is too cold to get any work done.


Obviously we cannot bring in heavy equipment to till the ground back there so the only option for planting is overseeding. When rejuvenating a pasture by overseeding it is easiest to let the animals overgraze the area first to clear it. Over the past year the goats cleared the bigger stuff and the alpacas came in and did a fantastic job as the finishing crew. I can assure you they’ve eaten every living thing out there and asked for more. 

cleared pasture 
Soil testing is the next step to determine our fertilizer and lime needs. The local county extension service should be able to help with that in addition to providing information on which type of forage grows best in this area.  Once we determine the results we will make the necessary amendments.

We have to factor in the nutritional needs of our animals before selecting which grass or legumes to plant. Llamas and alpacas have different needs than more traditional livestock such as cattle. Availability of the seed is also a consideration. I have determined that an orchard grass/white clover blend would be idea for our needs and this area. Now I just need to figure out where to get it. As odd as it sounds February is the proper time to start planting. The frost/thaw cycle of late winter helps the seed make contact with the soil.With any luck we’ll start seeing some lush pasture by springtime, which reminds me that I should caution readers that if you try this at home, don’t forget that chickens are birds and birds eat seeds. If you’re not careful they will follow behind you snatching up your pasture seed as fast as it comes out of the seed spreader. Don’t ask me how I know this, just trust me.

Beth Mitchell Fienemann
2/3/2012 9:51:38 PM

I envy your gorgeous farm, I read my Grit and Mother Earth News daily to get as close as I can to my life long dream of living on a farm but being that I live in over priced and over taxed New Jersey I don't see my Farm days any where in my future. I wish you the best of luck with your new project :)

2/3/2012 1:45:05 AM

Christine, it's hard to find a good pasture here in Nebraska too. Corn and beans are the row crop choice. Many farmers don't bother to rotate crops any more. I have a wooded area on my newly acquired property. Some will become a rustic fence by the road. I'm not sure what kind of trees they are and hope that the fence will last at least four years to get the Hansa Rugosa Rose bushes to be a six foot tall hedge. Good luck with your new forage area. Have a great wood cutting day.

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