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The following paddock layout offers a useful way of integrating trees into a grazing enterprise on sloping country. The aim of this approach is to minimise the impacts on production during the establishment phase, while offering significant benefits to both landscape and livestock once stock are reintroduced.

PADDOCK LAYOUT

Although shown here as a grid for illustration purposes, in a best case scenario the pattern is applied on a keyline cultivation layout, which offers extra water distribution benefits to the establishing trees. This particular example represents one of six paddocks, roughly equal in size on a small farm. A similar pattern can be adapted to a range of landscapes and different sized properties.

paddock layout

In short, the design incorporates a belt of trees which are planted across the top of the paddock, with water across the base. As seen in the image above, the paddock is divided into smaller cells by utilising temporary electric fencing, the width and quantity based on the desired number of grazing divisions on the property.

FENCING DIVISIONS

The temporary fence is run straight up and down the slope. Although perceived as an erosion risk by many at first, due to stock tracking up and down the slope, the short presence of animals and significant pasture rest & recovery offered by a time-controlled grazing approach means that this problem is largely avoided. On the contrary, significant benefits are offered by taking such an approach as outlined further down.

There are many options for electric fencing. The following end assembly of David Marsh’s is a simple  and cheap option for permanent electric fencing and KiwiTech fencing is the most elegant version of temporary fencing I’ve come across, allowing rapid assembly and disassembly while on a quad bike.

equ end assembly

Simple and cheap end assembly for permanent electric fencing. Design & Image: David Marsh

Kiwitech catalogue

WATER PLACEMENT

Dick Richardson has practiced Holistic Management grazing for almost as long as anyone and was one of the people credited in the original Holistic Management Handbook when they were detailing the how to’s. Dick, who comes from South Africa, now manages Hanamino, the Carbon Cocky award winning property of Charlie Arnott near Boorowa.

A few years ago, he told me that he was going to the effort of moving troughs from the top of the paddocks to the bottom. His reasoning was that although he understood the thought process behind why someone would put the water at the top of a paddock (to get nutrient in the form of dung transported to the highest point), it goes against the animal’s instincts. If you watch the cattle when they enter a new paddock, the highest point is often the last place they will look for water, meaning they are wasting effort and getting stressed, all of which affects production. Placing water where they expect to find it can pay dividends.

There are many options for portable water, but once again you can’t go too far past the consummate professional David Marsh.

water infrastructure

Left: Trough on skids, towed easily behind the 4 wheeler. Right: Quick couplings for emptying trough and connecting main line. Large diameter feed-pipe allows a smaller volume trough to be utilised resulting in less wastage and an easier time when shifting. Images: David Marsh

NUTRIENT CYCLING

Through the Millennia, there has been a common behavioural pattern in the wild herd: the open meadow offers sustenance and hydration, while the wooded hills offer a sheltered camp with a wide view, important for the ever hunted.

cattle under trees

By mimicking natural patterns, there are often advantages to be gained. Animal impact and pasture recovery offered by an Holistic Management grazing approach is a classic example. The age old pattern mentioned above, of drinking and feeding on the low ground and camping on the high ground is another which can be harnessed.

Gravity is one of entropy’s playing partners. The flowing path of water is the means by which the land is slowly eroded into the ocean. Life systems do their best to slow this process, and in the case of the herbivore, it sets gravity’s goal back a step or two.

Laden with a gut-full of food and water, the ruminant tramps up the hill seeking the afternoon shade. Arising after its rest, a parcel and a squirt of goodness are deposited on the ground, ensuring the ongoing health of the landscape below.

Although it’s on a smaller scale, the grazing strips running up and down the slope, with water at the base and woodland at the top, allow this timeless and fertility-renewing pattern to take place once again.

nutrient cycling

Single cell movement

Left: Stock feeding in the open paddock in the morning. Right: Lounging in the shade in the afternoon, transporting nutrients uphill.

A reconnection of valley floor to hilltop is one of the processes which both Paul Newell and Peter Andrews consider important, and has been implemented for that reason by Soils For Life Case Study participant Martin Royds.

PLANTING DENSITY & LAYOUT

The chosen tree planting density is another aim to mimic successful natural processes, in this case the grassy woodlands which existed in abundance at the time of Euro settlement. By many early explorers’ accounts, both pasture and soil were in excellent condition at the time.

Planting pattern2

Planting Pattern: (Click for a larger view)

Inspirational tree-planting grazier John Weatherstone of Lyndfield Park, has an entire paddock of Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust) planted in this exact spacing (trees @ 7m, rows @ 14m).

HL & cattle 2

From a production perspective, this layout enables the trees to be separated from stock using a (semi) permanent electric fence, while the inter row can be cropped for the period of time that stock are excluded, making productive use of that land. When applied to sloping country, a keyline layout provides equidistant rows while also offering water harvesting benefits.

25 years after planting that paddock, John says, “It’s the best pasture on the property. Even if they didn’t produce any pods (the Honey Locust), if I could have every paddock planted out like that I would.”

HL & cattle 1

This statement is a result of John observing that highly palatable C3 grasses can benefit greatly from the dappled shade provided by the Gleditsia, staying greener for longer into the summer. Studies in the Southern Tablelands have shown that native pasture can also increase production when provided with shade.

Couple the pasture benefits with the fact that the trees offer shade and shelter to stock, thereby reducing stress and increasing production potential, as well as the multiple benefits offered by Gledisia (see below) and you can start to understand John’s glowing endorsement.

SPECIES

In this example, Gleditsia triacanthos inermis (Thornless honey locust) makes up 3/4 of the stand, while appropriate indigenous woodland species the rest.

The honey locust can provide multiple livestock and landscape benefits. Examples from the Lyndfield Park Story include:

  • Serve as a fire retardant
  • Deep rooted and are drought tolerant
  • Produce nutritious pods for stock fodder (up to 100km per mature tree per season. These pods have a nutritive value equal to oats grain or quality pasture and are produced with no extra costs once the trees are established)
  • Produce foliage which is also palatable to stock
  • Reduce the amount of water reaching the water table (thereby helping fight dry land salinity)
  • Provides dappled shade (see background) which maintains lush pasture longer into the summer
  • Suited to the open conditions of a woodland setting and allows pasture growth right up to the trunk
  • Late to leaf out and early to drop, maximising winter sun to C3 grasses beneath
  • Recycle nutrients (which had leached below the root zone of pasture plants, these are recycled back onto the soil surface through the foliage and pods)
  • Slow the increase in soil acidity
  • Produce timber (a dense hardwood with a number of uses)
  • Produce excellent honey
  • Enhance the view (it’s an attractive tree that is green in summer, turning gold in autumn)
  • Cycle deep nutrients which are returned to the surface as leaf litter

A word of warning on Gleditsia triacanthos: Honey Locust are a listed noxious weed in Queensland and in a climate that is more favourable than the Southern Tablelands, there is significant woody weed potential. If planted from seed, they will usually develop sharp 25mm thorns which can go through tyres. To avoid this situation, and ensure that each tree produces a significant quantity of nutritious pods, trees should be budded with material from a heavy bearing thornless variety (see below). 1 in 10 should be a male tree to ensure good pod set.

Budding Gleditsia

Budding seedlings using material from heavy bearing thornless varieties is essential to avoid tyre puncturing thorns in the paddock.

By including a portion of appropriate indigenous woodland species, this offers long term benefits to native biodiversity, with the associated benefits to production. (To avoid further pollution of successful genetics, aim to source seed from the local winners of the region.)

If you’re interested in design assistance for your property, feel free to get in touch

Disclaimer: While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice.  Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.

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Article and Images © Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2013

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It’s hard to encapsulate all that is happening on Peter and Kate Marshall’s property Sunningdale in one go, but the following series of photos will give you a bit of a taste.

Peter is a pretty special guy. He’s got an understanding of the wider landscape processes which equals Peter Andrews, but he’s also a trained forester and is as widely read and knowledgable as anyone I have met. Add that combination to a desire to fix up some of the considerable degradation caused by his family in past generations and his wife Kate who is equally passionate and equally keen to heal their landscape and you have a pretty powerful combination.

Since commencing their work 22 years ago, the Marshall’s haven’t had it easy. Despite recognition from some of the top mycologists, hydrologists and foresters from here and abroad, within their own community they were largely ostracised early on, from members of the farming community on the one hand because they were seen as the thin edge of a green wedge, and from members of Landcare network on the other because they were using exotic species which Peter knew to have more potential in some land repair roles. Electric fences were cut, waterways were poisoned, authorities were called resulting in the threat of large fines, their children were bullied on the school bus and nuts were even taken off tractor wheels.

An amazing sign of the times is that on Friday night, the Marshall’s received a Champions of the Catchment award from the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare network. This award was introduced to recognise those who have done outstanding work in land repair which differs from the standard few lines of Eucalypts which usually fit the award criteria.

The next day, a tour of their place was conducted. “This is uplifting” was the way that one participant summed it up. Here’s a glance at a small portion of the uplifting work they they have carried out.

Peter leads off the tour, past the considerable biomass produced by Salix and Populus species after only 11 years of growth. These trees moderate the climate significantly through wind protection and transpiration effects.

Here, Salix plantings replicate the gallery forests which existed at the time of European settlement. Exotic species have been chosen due to the changed conditions making the original dominant species, Casuarina, very difficult to establish (heavier more acidic sediment, hare and rabbit predation, reduced frost protection due to complete deforestation and a dehydrated landscape).

Higher on the slope, Casuarinas have been easier to establish. Here, the ones in the background are being pruned for valuable furniture timber as are a wide range of other farm forestry species, suited to different sites on the property

Pinus radiata are pruned up for better quality timber. They were originally established due to their recognition by the tax man, but the focus has changed over time with the most valuable crop now below the ground, in the form of edible mushrooms such as slippery jack and saffron milk cap.

Here the group observes the understorey of ferns which has established beneath Blackwood and local tea tree. This site was dense with blackberries only 12 years without a tree in site. Seed filled brush mattresses of Leptospermum and mud encapsulated seed balls of Acacia were the main reveg techniques used.

Due to the repair of the main creek, the floodplain has rehydrated. These flats have been excavated to tap into the groundwater, creating a mosaic of water and earth, rich in biodiversity in some places…….

……..and planted out to useful agricultural crops in other places such as cricket bat timber or it would be perfect for ducks, fruit and veg if someone wishes to start an enterprise.

Fodder trees are grown in the hydrated landscape, the leaves and bark of which are devoured by goats and sheep. The left over woody biomass can either become material for building erosion-repairing fascines, or innoculated with saprophytic edible mushrooms like shitake.

A number of methods are used for establishing pole plantings while stock are in the paddock such as these tech-screwed tyres.

Wire mesh can also be used to protect trees from ringbarking

One of the Marshall’s most valuable and successful crops is the black truffle. This is a new orchard which has been established this season, using locally adapted oaks with excellent form for light penetration, and innoculated from a portion of their own truffle stock which they put aside this season.

These oaks were a pleasure to plant into the well prepared bed. This site was like concrete when Peter and Kate first purchased it, but after successive rips with the Keyline plough and a series of green manures, you couldn’t ask for a better start to life if you were a tap-rooted tree.

A number of stands of monopodial bamboos have been established for a variety of uses across the property including soil stabilisation, building material, fodder, biochar production and garden stakes which is an enterprise their daughter Rita runs.

What was once a bare walled gully is now a stabilised chain of ponds

This large world class wetland was created on another one of the hydrated flats, which now has black swans nesting. This particular piece of extensive work seems very altruistic, which it is based on the desire to reverse some of the degradation caused by each of Peter and Kate’s families over the generations, but this area of beautiful wetland habitat also offers significant hydration benefits to the surrounding landscape, with groundwater essentially backing up the slopes.

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Article and images Copyright Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2012

Gravity’s always doing its best to take your fertility to the bottom of the hill. The following images explore a couple of ways to reverse this ever-present process, hopefully bringing a more positive slant to the old saying, “Pushing faecal matter uphill”.

This is a floodplain at Baramul stud, hydrated by the Natural Sequence Farming work completed by Peter Andrews. The pasture in the foreground is obviously lush and will provide some very decent feed, however, the tan coloured biomass in the background is equally interesting

This photo was taken standing on the back of a ute which Peter directed straight through this stand of Phragmites. The scale shows the considerable biomass produced as a result of the landscape hydration

Peter had said to me on many occasions that reeds make the best compost. So one day I gave it a go and what do you know, it did (and I’ve made my fair share). This was mainly cumbungi, but I’ve had similar results with Phragmites too.

A forage harvester, baling or in the gut of a cow are a few ways of moving the material up the landscape so that the compost is useful, as Peter Andrews mentions when talking about mulch farming in Back from the Brink.

Another plant that’s synonymous with water are willows, and the more fertile it is the better they grow.

Drop a willow near stock and see what happens. Sheep will strip every bit of bark off, as they have here on Peter and Kate Marshall’s property. Their sheep come to the sound of a chainsaw, as did the stock of a few people I have met, especially during the drought. That’s the time it’s valuable and research by the Kiwis has shown that with protein levels similar to lucerne, poplar and willow can maintain lambing rates during drought periods.

Because you’re close to water, the woody material which might otherwise get in the way can be used to fill in gullies and build more fascines and brush mattresses for erosion control.

With a feed value comparable to lucerne, poplars are another tree that grow on well-hydrated land, which stock will devour. The bark is especially high in trace minerals which are mined from deep down.

There are many varieties of poplars which can be used for different purposes, Populus trichocarpa being one which also provides useful timber.

Populus alba (silver poplar) is another, this stand provides good windbreak even when dormant, while the upright form minimises shading of pasture.

Pasture grows right up to the base of most poplars. The nutrients mined from deep down by the poplars are returned to the surface via leaf drop, enriching the soil beneath.

Browse blocks are utilised by the Kiwis which if grazed often enough don’t require felling with the chainsaw.

Using a number of tyres tech-screwed together, the Marshalls are able to establish poplars while the stock are still in the paddock. A large piece of cardboard eliminates grass competition during establishment. Tyres are removed when the tree is first pollarded.

Another use for a well hydrated floodplain is cricket bat willows. These ones are inoculated with white truffle, hence the oyster shells as a free, slow-release source of calcium.

Bamboo is another plant which does a fantastic job at stitching creek banks together, the foliage providing good fodder while the poles have a huge range of uses, one of which is a good cellular structure for biochar production.

And where do the stock head when they’ve got a gut full of all this? Up the hill of course, Nature’s anti-gravity nutrient transport service. Recognising this pattern, Martin Royds has realigned his fencing to facilitate this nutrient connection between watercourse (filter zone) and hilltop.

Please visit and ‘Like’ our Facebook page to hear about future posts.

Disclaimer: Where water flow is concerned there are substantial risks involved. While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, with the intention of raising awareness of landscape rehydration processes, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice.  Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Article and Images © Campbell Wilson, Earth Integral, 2012