Fencing

fencing2If you’ve ever put up fencing on a farm, then you know the work is never done – ever.  We’ve been working on putting up our fencing, for, I’d say, about 3 years now.

First we ordered the posts – 600.  Yes, 600.  Good God.

fence posts del 2

DSCF9350Then we rented a post hole digger.  A walk-behind, one-man post hole digger.  We managed to dig about 3 holes with that.  Tons of muscle, lots of sweat, and even more cursing.  We looked up and we still had 597 holes left to dig.

digging the hard waySo, we called the rental place and reordered a skid steer with an auger.  Not cheap, but that worked much better.  We got about half the holes dug with that but on the second day it started leaking some kind of fluid.  So, back it went.

digging posts4

digging holes

digging holes 4

Then we decided to buy an auger attachment for the tractor.  Also not cheap.  That had a super-chewer blade at the end.  The problem was, every hole or two, a bolt broke if you weren’t super careful.  And we were super careful, but the bolts snapped anyway.  Turns out this is a safety measure.  With too much pressure, bolt breaks first and then if you keep going the whole thing explodes and no more auger attachment.  So, Kevin bought 547 bolts and kept changing them out.

fencing

 

Running out of time, we rented a mini skid steer from Home Depot, so we’d have two people digging holes as we still had about 200 to go.  That worked pretty well.  So, slowly, but surely, we got all the holes dug.  (sorry, no pics of the mini skid steer)

So, now we’ve got roughly 500ish poles in the ground.  We are putting coated wire (to be electrically charged) on the top and bottom of each post, threaded through these plastic thingys.  No idea if they have an official name.  So we screwed in roughly 3,246 plastic thingys.  My math could be slightly off here.

fence clip2

Then we strung the coated wire.

DSCF9448

 

DSCF9463Then we drilled holes in the middle of those two wires, to insert more cord that isn’t electrically charged.  That’s roughly 3,246 holes drilled.

Then we strung that cord.  Or we are in the process of doing that.  This week we will finish threading, tighten and electrify – – –  To be continued. . .

Tractor

tracter

So, we bought a tractor.  It’s an International Harvester. It was a deal.  Partially because we had to drive five hours to Michigan to get it.  Partially because it’s like 32 years old.  Someone once told me tractors run forever.  Is that true?  Clearly not completely, because this one already broke down. Kevin fixed it.  Something having to do with the steering column, cable? I’m not sure.  The back window also shattered when he was trying to open it.

tractor4

tractor2

 

tractor at sunset

I haven’t driven it yet, but I am sure we will use it a lot.  I think owning a tractor makes us officially farmers.

 

Planting Grass

The field we are leasing has been planted in corn for many years.  We now had to decide what is the best way to plant grass?  Should we till, should we leave the corn debris?  Should we broadcast seed?  Should we drill it in?  What kinds of grass should we plant?  I did tons of research on grasses.  We want to make our pasture as diverse and native as possible.  Like a wild meadow.  I contacted some farm agencies, and some conservation agencies.  Neither had much experience with horse pastures.  Farm agencies mostly focus on livestock like cattle and sheep and goats and conservation agencies concentrate on prairie restoration, but don’t generally use livestock.  They tend to use controlled burns to keep invasives out and maintain hardy grasses and forbs or wild flowers.

corn-debris.jpg

I talked to Taylor Creek Restoration Nursery in Wisconsin about grass seed and what prairie grasses are best in this area.  They were extremely helpful.

I also contacted Openlands, a Lake County, Ill conservation group.  They came out and brought a grass specialist and a farm specialist.  Again, no one had much experience with horses.

I had been reading books about the Equicentral System developed by a couple based in Australia.  They talk exclusively about horse pasture, how to maintain it, grow it.  Everything about horse pasture.  It’s a wealth of great information.  I also liked their Facebook page and many of the posts are very helpful.  From them, we decided it was best to set up rotational grazing.  The grass specialist from Openlands suggested five pastures, but we wanted them big enough for horses to move and run if they wanted because I believe movement is essential to keeping horses healthy, along with a diverse pasture.

I wanted as much native prairie grasses as possible, which tends to be mostly warm-season grasses, because those handle the weather conditions in this area best, and are great and natural for horses.  They take a few years to really grow though.  The first few years, native grasses focus mostly on their deep root growth and little on tall grass.  We are bringing horses onto the land in September and need some of it to grow faster.  We decided on three pastures.  One 10-acre pasture is cool-season, non-native grasses, Timothy, Orchard, Kentucky Bluegrass which should grow fast. I also added Native Virginia Wild Rye and Canada Wild Rye which are two cool season native grasses that grow well in Northern Illinois and I hope grow faster.   This pasture we plan to use in Spring and Fall.

Then another 10-acre pasture is native, warm season grasses.  We have Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Side Oat Grama, Canada Wild Rye and Prairie Dropseed.  This pasture we plan to use in Summer.  We don’t plan on using it for grazing till next summer, if we can?

Then we have a 5-acre pasture we plan to either use as pasture or as hay or both.  We aren’t sure how it will work out.  This has Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass, June grass and Canada Wild Rye, which are all native grasses.  I was told horses like Switchgrass better as hay than as growing grass.

The Openlands people also recommended no-till and drill in the seed.  We had hoped to plant the seed ourselves to save money, but I couldn’t find a grass drill seeder to rent.  And I found out renting a tractor around here isn’t cheap either.  So we ended up hiring Applied Ecological Services, who works with Taylor Creek Restoration Nurserys which is where we bought the seed.applied eco svcs truck

They brought out a tractor and a drill.  It took them three days to plant all the seed.

drill seeding 6

 

drill seeding 4

drill seeding 3

applied eco s truck and trailer

I was panicking because they got delayed from rain and it was getting later and later into April.  Finally at the end of April, it was all planted.  I couldn’t see any of the seed though.  Was it there?  Was it going to grow?  Will the corn debris be in the way? Did we pick the right grass seed?  If the grass doesn’t grow then we have big problems.  It’s very nerve-wracking.

We went out last weekend (May 13) and there were little pieces sticking up here and there, but not much.

My daughter, Rachael went out last night (May 17) after we’d had quite a bit more rain and more was growing!  It’s still not a ton, but it’s growing.

Between the two dandelions, you can see some . Ok, you have to squint.

grass may 17

 

 

 

The Beginning

corn debris

We began leasing this land on April 1, 2018.  Between 25 and 27 acres of land.  It’s been a corn field for years and years and we are in the process of turning it into horse pasture.  The plan is to make three separate pastures.  One 10-acre pasture with cool season grasses, one 10-acre pasture with warm, native grasses and one 5ish acre pasture used primarily for hay with native grasses, mostly warm season.  April has been a very cold, somewhat snow-filled month, so grass planting has been pushed back and back, until I’m completely stressing out that it will never get planted.