Report for FS04-183
One of the challenges in sustainable agriculture is to strengthen the ability to grow food within healthy natural ecosystems. One way is by adapting sustainable agricultural practices to lands which are abundantly available, but which are unsuitable for using standard agricultural practices. Rocky, steep mixed secondary and tertiary hardwood forests have shallow soil. Conventional agriculture is not possible in much of this terrain, which is on the western end of the Ozark Mountains Bioregion, and characterized by highly erodable hills. This type of land is suitable for restoration to productive use by integrating a sustainable silvopasture grazing system using hair sheep as a compatible hardy domestic breed somewhat comparable to deer in their grazing habits. If successful, this research will prove that unfarmable lands can be placed into extensive production which is both sustainable and regenerative and it will establish some guidelines for stocking and vegetation management. This will be accomplished without the use of heavy machines for planting and harvesting, and without the use of chemical herbicides. It is anticipated that this study may provide insights into extensive-style range forage production as being economical in labor and cost and being long-term sustainable. The hypothesis is that at a 50 percent annual usage rate, grazed areas will reseed and autofertilize; regenerate sustainably if stocking rate or carrying capacity is properly determined. Once the divisions are mapped, this project will constitute a research test area used to determine the carrying capacity for Dorper-cross hair sheep in the Ozarks foothills bioregion. This is an optimality project about integrating permaculture, sustainable, successional and regenerative systems and techniques. Human labor inputs will be quantified in the economic analysis. A control group of sheep will be pastured in a good intensive prairie, and 191 head of sheep ranging from 70 to 110 pounds will be studied to discover optimal extensive pasturing conditions. All sheep will be provided outside of grant funds. These sheep are very hardy, and slight variations will be significant findings. If remarkable detrimental effects are discerned (to the sheep or ecosystem) because of any of the conditions, then adjustments will be made. Sheep will be checked using a standard condition method on a scale of 1 to 5, and checked for weight, worms, physical behavior and corporal body condition, and pasture conditions will be noted. Land will be established into ten zones along natural terraces, ravines, elevations and soil types to form natural permaculture lines. Trees in the fencerow which should be thinned or must be cut, will be valued as if traded for labor or sold for firewood on the local market. This practice will be analyzed for sustainability. Zoning dividers will sometimes be used to get sheep to water, and transportation to and from the sheep yard for weight and measurement, treatment and sorting. Zones will be used as a rotational grazing method, and in certain instances to oblige the sheep to browse. In addition to depicting understory vegetation management, browsing will be analyzed as a method of introducing a high-tannin diet for suppression of haemonchus contortus (the barberpole worm), which is frequently found in sheep in lush pasture situations. Another method of controlling barberpole worms will be evaluated—low stocking rates in large acreage. In the Spring of the first year, Ecobroulage (cool starter burns) will be used over a majority of the zones in order to establish baseline conditions. Ecobroulage and perimeter thinning will be measured and described using a standard transect methodology for measuring sunlight exposure per 100 linear feet. Patch burn will be used in the second year for reseeding. Annual grass (from wheat cleanings) will be used to determine the carrying capacity and optimal rotation cycles. Seed application will be measured. Study plots will be seeded with Korean Lespedeza, Fescue, with and without fertilizer and lime, and burned and non-burned, hay supplement, molasses supplement. Grazing/browse characteristics will be noted. Native grasses will be analyzed as a less expensive way to accomplish comparable results. Before the second year, zones will be timber cruised for evaluation. A series of patch burns will be used to release seed for grass in about 25 percent of the zones. Patch burn size will vary by terrain, such that quality timber areas will not need frequent burns, whereas scrubby areas will be burned more often. Any high quality oak which is selection logged will be analyzed for value-added alternatives.