Friday, June 14, 2013

The Quagmire

I am sitting here writing this post, and relaxing with a well-earned glass of white zin and a few crackers with hummus. I just removed these very muddy boots after spending the entire afternoon dealing with the Quagmire, the deep muddy area at the intersection of our upper and lower pastures and sacrifice pasture (which, I hasten to add, means the grass is sacrificed, not the cows.) Oh man, my back and elbows are  tired.
The entire sacrifice yard is a mucky mess (note the green standing water), but this is the very worst spot, between the gate and post. It is the place where I sank in deeper than the top if my muck boots a couple weeks ago and wondered if I would be able to extricate myself,  and where  the poor  cows have been sinking past their knees. Yesterday when I moved the cows to the  front yard after a couple days' sunshine, Cadence and I were horrified to see LaFonda sink up to her shoulders in this spot!  She could get hurt - or even stuck, and then what would we do? So last night I made the cows stay in the  front yard all night, not wanting to risk them sinking in the quagmire.

Today was nice but a storm is forecast for tonight, I wanted to deal with this somehow and allow the cows back to the  lower pasture so they can access the loafing shed if it is a severe storm.  First, I  removed a section of fence so they  could get to the lower pasture without having to walk through the gate and deep mud.
I had researched online what to do to resolve the problem of deep mud inthe  sacrifice  yard - the most  definitive answer was to  clear away the mud, put a layer of geotextile material, and then layer sand or other ground over it. This was not the  best solution for us because who knows when this earth will ever dry out enough to layer geotextile fabric over the pudding-like surface? Another  idea was to cover with deep mulch - I had already dumped several 50-lb. bags of wood chips on and they just disappeared into the depths. Yet another suggestion was to add organic material, and since I had a big pile of half-composted chicken bedding nearby, this is the strategy I selected.  Last month, Cadence and Israel did the spring cleaning of the  chicken coop forMothers Day  and because the wheelbarrow could not make it through the muck, had piled the winter bedding (fine-shredded pine, straw and chicken manure) along the south side of the pasture fence. So, for three hours I moved the pile, scoop by scoop, to the  muck. All in all, I  put about a foot deep of half-composted chicken bedding into the mud and stepped it in.

I have a few scenarios of what might happen next:
a) as the chicken bedding  decomposes it will leave little air pockets which will allow worms and/or roots to establish and create openings for the water to flow through the heavy clay for drainage,
b) when the sun comes out and dries up the water, the heavy  clay soil with fine pine bedding in it will bake into some sort of adobe-like material and harden, allowing the rain to run over  the top, not sit on the  surface,
c) the bedding will just disappear into the clay and not make any difference,
d) the pine beddig will absorb water and expand, causing the area of the ground to get higher and essentially dam the drainage from uphill and exacerbate the problem.

Being an optimist, I choose a or b, but I respect the law of unexpected consequences, so it could be none of the above. I realized as I was shoveling that we may have actually inadvertently caused the quagmire to be worse when we hired our neighbor to scrape away the  mud layer and pile it in the  southwest corner of the loafing shed yard.  Perhaps  that contributed to the  pooling of water at the gate that would have otherwise drained gradually down the slope. In a more typical season we probably wouldn't have had an issue but in this year of unrelenting rain,  having heavy, non-draining, clay soil is sure challenging. It would be helpful to have a civil engineering degree to be a farmer.

I closed the gate and barricaded the old route to the lower pasture with two long criss-crossedboards quickly set in place (I did not dare to step into in the muck for more than a moment or I might have sunk to my waist.) I figured the cows would not choose to go through the deep muck if they had an alternative, but I figured wrong.  Even after I had guided them through  the new route once, both  LaFonda and Jitterbug waded through the thigh-deep deep muck(so at least I had improved it some--before they were sinking chest-deep) and climbed over the barricade rather than taking the new route -such is the power of routine for a cow.  However, a short time later, they both came running joyously through the new, opening in the fence, kicking up their heels - they seemed happy to have an alternative to the  quagmire, and LaFonda even came over and licked me as if to say thank you. I am relieved that  if we get that big storm tonight my cows may not get stuck in the muck,.
A couple of sweet items from the past week: The CSA Box-  a bit slender in quantity but a nice variety of  veggies, including wild morels.

The peonies are  loaded with buds
and the buds are about to open.
The first two blossoms did open today and smelled absolutely divine--that vintage peony fragrance.  I picked them and brought inside to perfume the house.  Hoping tonight's  forecasted storm doesn't flatten the peony bushes..
This floribunda rose in the new bee and butterfly perennial garden is  exuberantly blooming.
The backside of the  flower petals are nearly white, which  makes the rose look like the petals are outlined. Sweet!


Tyche's Minder said...

Ok, that's a seriously scary amount of mud. Poor you, poor cows. We have the same kind of non-draining clay mud here. I've come to the conclusion that the most effective solution, barring the expensive high-tech materials, is probably just gravel. Big rocks at the bottom, smaller rocks on top. That can be covered with sand or even a bit of soil/clay to make it easier to walk on if desired. Last year I tried to fix a much smaller mud hole with organic material (I used straw) and though it made it less soupy, the organic material just kept giving and giving -- in the sense that it is absorptive rather than draining. It's probably been 9 months since I put the filler in and that section of yard is still soft. It's got spectacular grass on it :), but I won't be putting livestock on it any year soon. The straw will have to complete decompose first. Oy. Good luck with this!

Jocelyn said...

We have a similar problem, and I chose to combat it by laying down waste hay--lots of it. It got sucked into the mud, and now I'm scraping that out too. I think it made it worse, honestly. I hope your chicken waste works out better. The hay thing does not work.

First Mate Ali said...

I came across your blog when googling "quagmire farm", which is what I have woken up thinking of calling our farm. "Come & experience a typical Kiwi (as in NZ'der not the bird) farm! Dare to negotiate your way down Quagmire Hill to the native bush at the bottom of the hill...". We have horses that are continually blamed for the state of the pasture. At least they're barefoot. The 2 Kunekune pigs are in the best-draining paddock, ironically! Having piled limestone on the worst area (like yours, at junction of paddocks), we think the only solution is the whole works: laying drainpipes (it's on a slope) with gravel, then sand and limestone. Or settle for making money as per former idea!

Susan said...

Hi First Mate Ali, This was a really old post, and we have since made a bit of progress with this problem spot on our farm. Two years ago we built a commercial kitchen in our barn, which required putting in a new well and septic system. While the earth-moving guy was here for the septic mound, I talked to him about putting in some geotek fabric and rock, and so we did--a 12 foot wide by 100 foot long path between our barn and loafing shed down to the paddock gate quagmire. It has been so heavenly--in the mucky spring the cows pretty much hang out on the path and I do not have to get my boots sucked off tending them. My only regret is not putting a bigger section at the gate area--it is still problematic after heavy rains, but I don't let the cows go into the upper pasture until later in spring when it dries out a bit anyway.