Fall is the time for a lot of the routine management tasks that need to be done on the farm. It is also a prime opportunity to do any last minute preparations for the long, wet winter ahead.
Running a drag or harrow is a good idea anytime during the summer, but it is an especially good idea to do this one last time in the fall to distribute manure piles before the winter rains come. Small, relatively inexpensive chain drags can be found to pull behind a lawn tractor or small pickup, or something as simple as weighted down bed springs can be used to do this job as well.
Fall is a good time to over-seed bare and thin spots in the pasture. If left bare over the winter, it is most likely that they will be sprouting weeds in the spring.
If sufficient rain falls in September to initiate new grass growth, apply the last 15% of the annual nutrient needs of the pasture. The district has a first one’s free soil sampling program if you would like to determine what type and the amounts of nutrients that may be lacking in your soil. Do not apply fertilizer if adequate rain does not fall until late October or if the temperature drops to or below freezing in October (or earlier), which is often the case in western Washington. When this happens, it is best to store the fertilizer over the winter and use it the next spring. Once there is a frost, the fertilizer may be leached beyond the root zone before the now slow-growing plants can use the fertilizer. This will result in ground water contamination.
Fall is a good time to cut back blackberries and other weeds to prevent nutrient storage in their roots over the winter.
Emptying Manure Storage Bins
Cleaning out the manure bins one last time in the fall is also a good idea to prepare as much room as possible for winter storage. Composted manure can be spread on the fields in September or early October, used to mulch garden beds over the winter, or can be removed from the property through the district’s manure share program or by taking it to a facility that utilizes manure. Please call the district to get on the manure share program list or obtain the list of facilities that accept manure.
Preparing for Manure Storage
If you do not currently store your livestock’s manure over the winter, consider doing so to facilitate proper composting and to prevent the pile from overtaking your property and becoming an eyesore as well as a source of water contamination. Manure storage can be as simple as piling it up at least 50’ from any open surface water and covering it with a tarp, or may involve building structures that facilitate rapid and complete composting of the material. Please call the district for bin ideas, designs and composting tips.
Checking and/or Installing Gutters
Don’t forget to check the gutters and downspouts on buildings adjacent to livestock holding areas to make sure they are functioning. The animals may have crushed or disconnected the downspout, or rodents may have clogged the outlet pipe with nesting materials. After you fix the crushed downspout for the third time, you may consider running it through a heavy corrugated plastic pipe or building a box around it with 2x4’s. If there isn’t a roof runoff system present to divert water away from the livestock holding area, you may consider installing one to decrease the amount of water going into the area and to keep the clean roof water from becoming contaminated with livestock manure.
If it has been a few years since you have limed your fields, or especially if you have never limed your property, it may be time to do so! Liming results in improved soils, better forage yields, and improved palatability. Neutralizing the soil through liming will enable elements crucial to plant growth such as phosphorus, to become available for use by plants. Liming also adds calcium and sometimes magnesium, two other crucial elements to the soil, and makes them available to plants.
Liming also improves certain soil properties which results in improved water and air relationships in the soil that help plants to grow better. The amount of lime needed would be determined with a soil sample, and the district also has a list of companies that sell lime in bulk.
Installing Paddock Footing
One last thing to do to prepare for winter if you haven’t already done so, is to bring in footing material for livestock holding areas. The footing material will provide a mud free area for the animals to hang out in for the winter and will allow you to keep the animals off the pastures to prevent over grazing when the grass is dormant and compaction when the soil is saturated. Footing materials can be hogfuel, gravel, sand or a combination of materials. They all have their pros and cons, some are breed specific and they all must be installed properly, so call the district for instructions. A site development permit may be required to create these impervious surfaces, so contact us or the Pierce County Development Center to find out what you may need.
If you need any specific information for any of the above management practices, please contact our farm program team. Although we may not be able to physically help you cut those weeds or spread that manure (we’ll be too busy doing that on our own farms!) we will be happy to give you any recommendations you may need.