What’s in the Pasture?

The pasture is not a lawn. It is not a monoculture. My brother says it is more of a salad bar for sheep. Unless you walk around out there you don’t realize the number of plants that grow there. I am embarrassed that after 16 years of living here I don’t know the names of all of them. I have decided to change that. I am going to combine my enjoyment of photography and my recently dredged up college hobby (and class projects) of pressing plants and create a personalized herbarium of sorts. These photos are a start.DSC_9897I irrigated this weekend. The sheep were just moved off the paddock to the right and when it dries up enough they will go on the one to the left. Can you see the difference? It took only two days for them to eat that feed.Birdsfoot trefoil-2One of their favorite plants is Birdsfoot Trefoil.  It is a legume which means it is one of the plants that converts nitrogen in the air to a form that can be used by the plant. It is actually not the plant that does that but the bacteria that live in nodules on the roots of legumes.White cloverClovers are also legumes. This is a variety of white clover.DSC_9948This morning I noticed just a few of these flowers.  I can’t decide if this is a variant of the white clover or is a different species. The leaves are similar. I’ll have to do some more checking.Narrow-leaved milkweedDo you see how most of the other plants have been eaten and this one has not been touched? The sheep avoid plants that are toxic to them. This is Narrow-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). Not only is it a favored species for the monarch butterfly but according to a Plant Guide published by the NRCS “Zuni people utilize the silky seed fibers, which are spun on a hand-held wooden spindle, made into yarn, and woven into fabric (especially for dancers)…Milkweeds supply tough fibers for making cords and ropes, and for weaving a coarse cloth. Milkweeds stems are collected after the stalks dry in late fall to early winter. The dried stalks are split open to release the fibers. Milkweed fibers are sometimes mixed with fibers of Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum.” Sounds like a good challenge to my fiber-loving friends.
Narrow-leaved milkweed-3These are Narrow-leaved Milkweed flowers in various stages…Narrow-leaved milkweed-5…and a close-up.Field bindweedField bindweed (Convolvulaceae arvensis), also known as morning glory. It is, according to a  U.C. IPM website, “a perennial broadleaf, is considered one of the most problematic weeds in agricultural fields throughout temperate regions worldwide”.Soft bromeSoft Chess or Soft Brome, a non-native annual grass.Hare barley

Hare Barley. Also from the U.C. IPM site, “It is a useful livestock forage early in the season before the flower spikes develop. However, at maturity the spikelets have stiff, barbed, needle-like awns, and sharp bases that can injure the mouth, eyes, nasal passages, ears, and skin of animals.” Those are one of the many grass seeds we call foxtails and spend a fortune getting out of dogs ears and noses and agonize over when we find an otherwise beautiful fleece full of them.MedusaheadMedusahead as it is drying out. Medusahead covers thousands of acres of California foothills. It is not normally found in irrigated pasture, but it is in the easternmost paddock here which sometimes does not irrigate well. I have reclaimed part of that paddock, but I continually fight this plant. I find patches of it in other areas of the pasture and, although this is not an effective control technique, I pull it up by the handfuls as I walk by, coming back to the barn with it stuffed in the pockets of my overalls. It is a nasty plant that is “…among the worst weeds: not only does medusahead compete for resources with more desirable species, but it changes ecosystem function to favor its own survival at the expense of the entire ecosystem…Because grazing animals selectively avoid this plant, and because medusahead thatch tends to suppress desirable forage species, infestations often develop into near-monotypic stands.” From the U.C. Davis Medusahead Management Guide.

Blunt spikerush I have ID’d this one as Blunt Spikerush (Eleocharis obtusa), not a grass, but a sedge that is  found on poorly drained soil and marshy areas. That’s my pasture…poorly drained soil. There is a lot of this sedge in  the middle and south end of three or four of the paddocks. It looks like foot-tall grass, but that is why it is important to actually look at what is out there. This does not make good forage.Buckhorn plantain-3A rather artsy shot of Buckhorn Plantain, found throughout California…Buckhorn plantain-2.jpg…and a photo in which you will probably more easily recognize it.

Well, that’s nine species of plants in the pasture. There are dozens more to go.


3 thoughts on “What’s in the Pasture?

  1. Hi Robin! I find this really interesting- Thanks for sharing this info. Do you have to reseed/ replant the good plants, like legumes? Fall, winter?

    • I got a pasture mix with clover/trefoil several years ago but we don’t have the equipment to work the field. I spread it in spots by hand. The way I try to change plant composition is by grazing. That is one of the reasons to use intensive grazing management. The key is to graze one paddock as evenly as possible (lots of animals, short time) and then give that one rest while they move to the next. If left on one large area all the time they continue to eat the plants they like and not the ones they don’t like and the composition changes. I have found that I also have to mow to keep up with some of the plants that they don’t eat down well enough.

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