A Unique System of Covering Drought Destroyed Pastures with Compost and Woodchips to Protect Light Soils and Newly Seeded Grasses

Final Report for FNC05-593

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our family farm is approximately 350 acres. My wife and I and our oldest son and his family live on it. We raise buffalo, corn, and alfalfa under gravity flow irrigation.

We started in the early 80’s putting in windbreaks on our farm. We now have multiple acreages in permanent CRP, windbreaks, and waterway buffers. We also have ¾ of a mile of Nine Mile Creek which we have set aside in a wildlife habitat program.

Goal: The goal was to re-seed grass into a pasture that had been destroyed by over grazing and drought.

Process: The spring of 2007 proved to be a record hot and dry season. We decided to wait for fall to try additional seeding. The weather forecast in September 2007 was for several days of showers. Based on this forecast I made a terrible decision. I spread rows of mulch and compost on the west and north slopes of the pasture. We rented the no-till drill and seeded 23 acres of grass. The cold front came, the wind came and the rain did not come. In the next two weeks we had four days of 40 to 70 mph winds. The day of record winds (50 to 60 mph), it came from the southeast and our neighbors to the northwest called to complain about the dirt covering the road and their yard. The next two days of wind were from the northwest with gusts above 70 mph.

Three days after the winds quit I was surprised to find buffalo tracks outside of the buffalo pasture. I followed the tracks to find that the wind had piled up eight foot high sand drifts over the cross fence and over our perimeter fence. Most of the herd had crossed over the drift into the protected pasture. Luckily, only five had decided to go over the perimeter fence.

The drifts were so hard I couldn’t use our loader tractor to move the dirt. We had to rent a skid loader to dig out the sand piled up over the fence. The herd was in the north pasture for three days until we could get them back into the main pasture. During the three days the hoof action from 90 buffalo tore up the planted strips. Less than a week later we had a day long 50-70 mph northwest wind. Both fences were covered with eight foot drifts again. Of course the west and north slopes where I put the mulch and compost strips were eroded to the point that the strips were not even visible. Three weeks later we had 1.6 inches of rain. This moisture did stimulate a good crop of Russian Thistle which has since blown into all of the fences.

In 2008 I made no attempts to re-establish grass.

2009 was our breakout year from the nine-year drought that we had been experiencing. We did plant about twelve acres in the fall of 2009 and planted eight acres in April of 2010. If we continue to get good moisture, I will try the compost and mulch strips again this fall. In the last six to eight weeks this spring of 2010 we have received more moisture than the yearly amount of moisture received from 1999 through 2008. I am hopeful that the moisture will continue throughout the summer so that we will be able to try some re-seeding.

Those who assisted with this project include:
• Roy Lyles, North Platte NRD
• Curtis Cloud, NRCS
• Doak Nickerson, Nebraska Forestry Service

We have learned not to try to predict Mother Nature!


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.