Biodiverse Polyculture (USDA 8a Zone Pasture) - sounds better than "My Acres of Weeds"

U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
This is a work in progress place to collect pictures of the various flora in my pasture, comment on what works about it, what doesn't, in my efforts to create a very low maintenance field of greens in which my chickens can forage and free range to reduce the feed bill and make their products more attractive to paying customers.

Eventually, if will form an article, at the kind suggestion of another poster.

So, let's set the stage.

I have approx 1.75 acres of pasture on a hill in Florida, USDA zone 8a (one of the few spots in FL with that designation), but this should be equally applicable to zone 8b, and with only minor adjustments, 7b as well). Soils are primarily sandy clays, and clay-ey sands, water table is quite low compared to the FL normal, and we see significant, seasonally heavy, rainfalls followed by the occasional droughty period. The pasture sits within 4.5 acres (roughly) of highland hammock virgin forest protected by electric fencing, which I am slowly underbrushing to expand the pasture. The ability of the pasture to quickly colonize newly cleared areas before less valued species become established is important to me.

I maintain a flock of 50-60 pountry, mixed ages, mixed genders, mostly mutts for egg production, and includes 10-12 pekin ducks at most times. Also, several (small-medium) goats. As a management practice, virtually all males go to freezer camp by week 15 or so for personal consumption, to be joined be females in their first adult molt, approx 18 months. So my experiences may not be applicable to you if you are planning to keep birds for more lengthy periods. Birds are expected to free range daily, supplimented by a once daily evening feeding of a commercially complete feed. Current experience shows feed savings, seasonally variable of 20-35%, against "expected" consumption of 1/4# per bird day.

In order to ensure the birds forage, and to discourage nutritional imbalance, I have eschewed conventional planting methods. There is no field of "X", no field of "Y". Plants are intermingled, with maintenance focused mostly on removal of dangerous invasives and pretenting any single species establishing dominance over an area.

With those understandings, let the WORK IN PROGRESS begin!
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Lets start with the bad. Native wild bird populations bring seeds, constantly, to the property from surrounding fields. Sometimes I benefit. Usually I do not.

[Stock Photo - I terminate this stuff with extreme prejudice on site.]
TROPICAL SODA APPLE - VERY BAD
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Heavy leather gloves and gently remove from loose soil, or dig it up. Burn to dispose. "Gardening" gloves are inadequate, as are heavy cloth welding-type gloves. Spines on this plant are everywhere, and can cause mild itching.

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This plant has no redeeming value whatsoever in a pasture. Highly invasive, the leaves are unpalatable to all my livestock, and the fruits are downright toxic in quantity. None of the animals will eat it, thankfully, but it spreads rapidly and will quickly dominate an area - particularly areas of recently disturbed soil.
 

U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Not nearly so bad

Bracken Fern - Monitor and manage

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Neither the chickens nor the goats seem to have any interest in it whatsoever. Located primarily at the edges where forest meets pasture, and in the forest undergrowth, this plant prefers shaded areas and never grows densely. Where it appears sporadically and other feed sources are present, this can be ignored.

This perennial fern is hardy, even surviving intense fires, and is toxic to livestock, particularly horses and pigs. Chemicals thorough the plant, but concentrated in the rhizome attack Thiamine (B-1). Introduced species, particularly in full sun, will crowd this out in time. No management typically required, except when concentrated in a newly cleared area of the forest.

Limited food benefit can be obtained from this, with significant preparation - long boiling or roasting to break down the B-1 destroying enzymes. Not recommended. It has no known benefit in the pasture. I could find no literature on use of this stuff as a coccidiostat, or any prophylactic effect its presence might have on native soils. Assume none
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
The neutral to good -

Mulberry Bush - Seasonal Caution

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This is the first year I could identify the likely name of the plant, it appears to be a volunteer from the droppings of local birds. Very fast growing, many plants stand 4' tall in just a season. Not yet flowering, (Correction - very small flowers, easily overlooked - this is already fruiting) it appears it will be a late ripening species.

Prior to fruiting, this appears to be a preferred species for the chickens and ducks to seek shelter under during the heat of the day. A small number of hollows, whether intended as nests or dust bath, have been found at the base of these plants. Fast growing vertical stalks provide support for vining plants, helping to lift their fruits off the ground.

Male plants are apparently infamous for their pollen, which can be a powerful allergen.

The fruit is attractive to virtually all species, while the leaves and stems are currently largely ignored by the goats and birds. Unfortunate, as they are moderately high in protein and numerous amino acids and would be a valuable feed. Monitor while in fruit for potential dietary imbalance. Additionally, posters here at BYC indicate chickens eating a high mulberry fruit diet can display purple poops. There are no known toxicities associated with mulberry consumption, and they are a widely recommended supplimental feed source while in season.

Nutritionally, Mulberry fruit is mostly water, but is comprised of about 2.5% protein, 2% fat, 4.5% fiber. Apparently, the plant has good amounts of lysine, methionine, and tryptophan - with red mulberry having more in the leaves, less in the fruit and white mulberry demonstrating the reverse.

Apart from thinning to remove male plants and to discourage gorging, this is valuable in specimen plantings. I need to get the goats to eating it.
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
White Clover - its a GOOD Thing

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This is the classic white clover, which I deliberately no-till seeded into the pasture last year, together with red clover and yellow clover. Its a nitrogen fixing legume, so its good for soil fertility overall, improving the rest of my plantings. A cool season grass, it provides nutrition and does much of its growth in our fall and spring, and has (barely) established itself as a perrenial here.

The birds eat it, the goats seemingly do not (too low to the ground, I suspect). Clover is high protein (23% +/-), and a decent source of threonine. Almost no methionine.

Of the three clovers I seeded (white, yellow, crimson) this one is performing best, though still not well. Its hard to find significant clover clumps more than a foot or so in diameter. It does not take high traffic well, and can't tolerate shade. Due to the effects of COVID last year, I've been unable to get my soil tested, bust suspect the addition of agricultural lime to the pasture would be of benefit.
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Dicanthelium Oligosanthes "Scribner's Panic Grass"- its a GREAT Thing
(also called Panicum Oligosanthes)

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Seriously. This is something I seeded "on a lark" - its a prairie grass from the southwest. It shades the ground without being so dense as to prevent other plants from establishing themselves, moves in quickly when I clear undergrowth, tolarates a little bit of shade, and (as you can see in the photo above) goes to seed mid season. Seeds are about half the size of a white sesame seed, and are very popular with both the chickens and the goats.

Before the establishment of the mulberry and similar, this was a popular place for the chickens to bed down as cover - the smaller birds continue to use it for that purpose, and further, its quite attractive to a number of insects they find tasty. Some concern of toxicity to horses, not clearly established.

Actually, I'm fond of all the Panic Grasses I've planted, some of which get considerably taller, though this one has performed best of those I seeded. Some of the ornamentals, while attractive, get very tall and produce few seeds.
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Yellow Clover - Its a Good Thing

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Basically, like the white clover above, though the yellow clover stands taller, and spreads less densely. Nutritionally, near identical. Yellow clover is even more sensative to foot traffic, and can get tall enough for the goats to show interest. Its only doing well on the property up against fences and other vertical supports where it still recieves significant sun, but isn't trampled upon.

Frankly, a disappointment. Hopefully will do better as the weather cools and become tall enough to cut for silage.
 
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U_Stormcrow

Crossing the Road
Jun 7, 2020
8,161
28,549
776
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Crimson Clover - Its a Good Thing
(just wish it would grow better)

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(Stock photo - mine isn't in bloom yet) That's actually why I planted it, as part of my clover trifecta. They bloom in order White, Yellow, Crimson. Unfortunately, while the white clover is a perennial here in my zone, and the yellow clover is hanging on as a perennial (just barely, in protected locations), the crimson clover is pretty firmly an annual.

Its also very popular with surrounding farms, so I have some free seeding by native birds, etc. And can always cut it on the roadside if I need more seeds. Unfortunately, on my property, I'll get one crimson clover stalk here, one there - no thick stands of the stuff. Soil pH needs to be adjuted, I suspect, followed by a heavy overseading.

Still, its a popular cover crop and nitrogen fixing legume - the birds eat it up when its present, and its short enough I anticipate the goats will ignore it.
 

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