Monday, June 17, 2013

Nature Walk June 2013 (pics)

G-man and I have been researching the possibility of "silvopasturing" on our property. Essentially, silvopasturing is the agro-forestry practice of grazing your livestock within forested paddocks rather than clear-cutting the lot and planting out to straight pasture. In most cases in the US, this is done so tree farmers can realize profit/benefit on their plantations during the long tree-growth period before logging for timber. However, in other parts of the world, silvopasturing is used as a forest maintenance strategy to control undergrowth that compete with maturing trees and provide ladder fuels for forest fires... and that is our primary interest (well, besides feeding the critters).

Since our livestock plans primarily center around goats and chickens, with a hog or sheep thrown in, silvopasturing makes sense... goats prefer browse, chickens like to have cover, hogs love to root, and sheep don't care as long as there are tasty weeds. By dividing our acreage into 1 acre parcels, we can turn the animals out in rotational without having to clear anything other than a perimeter lane to run the solar-power portable electric fencing. Since they won't be on this temporary "pasture" more than a couple of days and won't be densely stocked, their feedings will be of more benefit and less detriment to the local ecology. As our herd thins out the underbrush and opens up the lot, we can seed in highr feed value grasses, forbs and legumes if necessary. By combining this method with Small Bag Silage, we (humans) can manually-cut and bag forage between the trees on the pastures that weren't being grazed during their prime nutritional growth stage.

With all this in mind, we went on a nature walk to determine what flora we had in the targeted areas, and get an estimate of the feed values. I missed inflorescence (bloom) on a few things, and some things are in a growth stage where identifying characteristics aren't as pronounced; but I think we've been able to identify most the dominant flora. We're stuck on identifying the grasses since our best AK Grass Field Guide is online and most of the species we're finding are similar enough at this stage that we'd need to nit-pick the characteristics to get a positive ID... but we're close enough to determine rough forage estimates. According to the AK Forage Manual, looks like our place has plenty of good quality forages, although we'll probably need to inter-seed some legumes (most likely white clover and field peas which are also good for the wildlife).

The Flowers

Alaskan Starwort - tiny white flowers in the ground cover

Chiming Bells -- we missed the Hare Bells, and the Fireweed isn't out yet.

Grove Starwort -- more tiny tiny flowers

Wild Prickly Rose -- Vitamin C all over!
Labrador Tea -- all over the place!

The Berries

Bog Blueberries

Lowbush Cranberries (upright) and Kinnikinnick (prostrate) -- these two often grow together in clumps

More Lowbush Cranberries -- there's also Highbush Cranberries and Wild Raspberries, but I didn't get a pic

 The Willows

So, I'm guessing a bit on the identification of these, and some I couldn't even identify. I'm not a botanist and sometimes the keys are totally confusing especially when different species are all growing together in huge clumps. Heck, some of them may even be Alders (which I can only seem to ID correctly in the firewood pile!). But in any case, we have a crap-ton of several different Willows all over the place in our understory... awesome, goats love them and they grow back after grazing.

Bebb Willow

Chamisso Willow

Diamond Leaf Willow

Halberd Willow (looks similar to Diamond Leaf, but the catkins are longer and the leaves are different -- I could be wrong)

Another Bebb? It's hard to tell, there are about 6 similar-but-different shrubs in this clump.

???? I couldn't find any catkins and the leaf & bark characteristics lead me to 3 different willows and an alder in the key

The Grasses

Again, totally guessing on the IDs here since I had to base some of them on what remained of last year's seed heads. I think I've gotten close on most, the right species if not the right subspecies. Since most of these are growing in mixed-species clumps, I'm not going to caption each pic, but I'm fairly certain that we've got some variety of Hairgrass, Brome, Polargrass, Reedgrass, Bentgrass, Ryegrass, Wheatgrass and Oats. We may also have some Quackgrass, most likely brought in by some musher's dog straw at some point... as long as it doesn't take over, I'm OK with it since it does have good forage value.

 Doesn't matter really, since all the ones I think I've found are good forage value regardless of which subspecies they are and at least a few of each seem to be flourishing unaided in the various site conditions around our property.

Ripley's Stress

And we finally figured out what has been causing Ripley to lose her mind every dawn & dusk... the moose are using our driveway!

Momma Moose on one side

Baby Moose on the other

P.S. One day I'll have to get a camera with decent macro capabilities so I can take better wildlife closeups :D


Misty Pines Homestead said...

hey well hubstead shocked me yesterday and said what about Alaska?I was floored.I said ok.I told him about ya'll and he wanted to know how you got there was you from the lower 48 and stuff like that.If ya don't mind.

Plickety Cat said...

Hi Amanda,

Yes, we came up from the L48 (Seattle). We drove a UHaul and our pickup up through Canada with everything we owned... except the guns, which we shipped from a Seattle FFL to a Fairbanks FFL to avoid any legal issues.

At this time, UHaul is the only company that allows one-way rental to Alaska through Canada -- other companies may allow them if you come up by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway (

If you come up by ferry, or have your household goods shipped by sea freight, you can normally avoid any legal/customs issues with Canada since your stuff technically never leaves the US as long as it stays on the ship when it's docked at a foreign port. Shipping with Air Freight also avoids the Canada issue, but there are more material safety and weight restrictions.

Driving up or taking the ferry normally takes about the same amount of time give or take a couple days. The cost of gas & lodging on the drive is normally about the same price as your ferry passage and berth OR vehicle transport... but if you have passage, berth AND vehicle transport then the ferry may cost MORE. Many folks moving on a tight budget don't get a berth, and "camp" on deck with sleeping bags during the trip.

There's lots to think about when considering Alaska for your homestead. It's an awesome place with many benefits, but it also has drawbacks. Let us know if you or your husband have questions while you're doing your research :D

Misty Pines Homestead said...

Thanks ,I'm still in shock. LOL.We weren't going to use a uhaul,we bought a full size 1500 Dodge Ram and was going to pull a trailer.I know we will have to show proof of Orions rabies shots but I don't know what else we are going to need.The only thing we'll have is some of our furniture and kitchen stuff and computers and clothes.No plants.We are still looking for some property and hopefully we can still go with a portable cabin.

Bushrat John said...

I really enjoy these kind of blogs because, at 65 I can learn a lot myself. Many people tend to think we old timers have all the answers and we do collectively.LOL

Plickety Cat said...

Amanda, you guys may have a bit of difficulty hauling a trailer on some of the mountain passes with only a 1500. Our 2500 with just the bed loaded was dogging it a bit in a few places. You might be ok if the trailer and bed isn't heavily loaded and you're willing to creep along the steeper spots... but those windy mountain roads can be a real workout for a smaller truck.

You might consider renting a larger UHaul with a vehicle trailer and towing your truck up instead. That way you're not putting the strain on your vehicle, and if something happens to the UHaul on the AlCan Hwy between towns you can just drop your truck off the dolly and drive into the next town for gas or a tow.

Plickety Cat said...

John - hehe old-timers always have an answer. It might not be THE answer, but they definitely have AN answer LOL! We're certainly not above tapping the knowledge in any case :D

Meghan said...

I think your goats are going to be very happy there - and your 1-acre rotational pastures sure sounds nice! We've just got ours turned out in the whole 6-acre fenced area because the dividing fences are still on the wish list. (Works well for the 9 goats we have in there; they're moving around enough that worms are almost nonexistent and everything except their favorite bushes and plants get a chance to regenerate.)

They'll definitely be excited about those roses and willows! And I'll confirm the bit about them clearing out the underbrush over time. It's been two years now since ours have been in there, and some sections of the pasture have gone from rough and weedy (thistles, curly dock, etc.) to beautiful luscious grassy spots. (Which, conversely, isn't as good for the goats. Would love to pick up a couple of alpacas to eat the grass that the goats ignore.)

I'm with you, I -hate- not being able to pin down the exact varieties of willow and grasses that are in my pasture. I've given up for now, until my youngest gets older and I have a chance to get out often enough to catch the plants in their identifiable stages.

Thanks for the blog post, it was a treat to see someone else lay out their pasture species so nicely. I haven't met anyone else around here who pays any attention to what they have! (Most of them just rely on hay and keep their goats in small pens with almost no vegetation.)

Plickety Cat said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence Meghan. I'm glad that our plans don't seem totally off the wall :D

I just can't imagine keeping any of our animals in total confinement and relying totally on bought feed. I feel bad enough that they're going to stuck in the barn and corral during the long winter because of the cold and deep snow.

I guess I'll have to resign myself to rough identification of the plants since I can't inspect every acre everyday. As long as I spot and remove the potentially dangerous stuff and can be reasonably assured that they're getting good feed, then I'll be happy.

Brother Bill said...

Thanks for posting I love your blog.

Anonymous said...

It has been a long time since I have commented on your blog. Still reading but been busy and not commenting much.

I know you have identified some of your plants out there..Janice Schofield, the lady that wrote the big book of Alaskan plants, Discovering wild plants: Alaska, Canada, the Northwest, is speaking in different areas of the state this summer. I will check to see if she is going to be in your neck of the woods any time soon. I will let you know. She is one of the most knowledgeable about the plants here in AK. She is doing a 3 day seminar down here in my area. I'm so excited.


Unknown said...

Amanda, we just came up the Al-Can in March, I would suggest doing research on this website ( before you come. The drive is beautiful.

Plickety, I read your blog A LOT! We bought a plot between Anderson and Healy, 10 miles off the highway out in the bush. We eventually (after we get a house built!) would like to have animals too (we have raised several animals over the years, to date our favorites are chickens and pigs), and have been curious about wether they will eat the tundra, or does it have nutritional value?

Plickety Cat said...

Hi Wendy - thanks for the link to the Canadian Customs info. It's critical that anyone traveling through (THROUGH not TO!!) knows all the rules and regs. The rules are a bit different with *transit* rather than *immigrate* and the border guards don't always know.

Definitely, anyone who plans to come up the AlCan needs the most recent copy of "The Milepost" magazine ( It has all the road closures and available fuel/food/lodging listed through Canada and Alaska. I never make the trip without it!

From your photos, it looks like you have about the same foliage as we do, although a bit less trees right on your property. I think these would be fine for small livestock with only a bit of supplemental feed & hay during the winter. I wouldn't put a horse or cow on it; but hogs, goats, sheep, & chickens should be fine.

Hope you guys survive the fires and all the smoke. I think trying to build a cabin in the middle of forest fires must be an Alaskan Prep Test since we had the same problem! Good luck getting that tractor steering fixed, doing auto repairs out in the bush with mail order parts etc is a major PITA.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious; did either of you raise any type of livestock before you moved to Alaska?
And when do you plan on actually starting the animal phase of your place now?

Plickety Cat said...

Over the years, I've cared for chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, and horses so I'm fairly familiar. The only animals that we're planning to raise that I have limited experience with are hogs; but since we're only planning to raise feeder hogs for one season at a time and not breed them I don't foresee too many issues.

We're planning to start the animals soon. Hopefully, next spring for at least chickens. We wanted to hold off on getting animals until we were settled and sure that we could properly house, water and feed them since we can't just pop into town on a moments notice. We didn't think it would be fair to the animals to make them suffer because we were impatient :D

Unknown said...

Plickety, thank you for reminding me about the Mile Post, I forgot about that awesome book! we have walked a lot of our property and have come up with some pretty good ideas on pasture, some spots that are not heavily treed. we are doing ok with the fires, they have not been terribly close, but close enough! :)

Anonymous: yes, we have raised animals ourselves: chickens, goats, pigs, horses, and a couple of cows. we actually used to breed and raise our own pigs and goats, and hatch our own chickens. we are not willing to get animals until we can have adequate shelter for them though. we will not get any animals for probably at least 2 to 3 years.

Plickety Cat said...

I think one of the reasons that so many people fail or become disillusioned with homesteading is that they try to do things too fast and too early. And that goes triple for getting animals... they're not ready to properly care for them so it ends up costing more than they planned, and they're not ready for the time commitments. It's very difficult to finish all the work to get set up when you're spending half your time keeping up with your critters.

Jumping the gun hurts everyone, especially the animals. Better to wait and let things settle, no matter how much you want to realize your homestead dreams.

Misty Pines Homestead said...

Hey there,well that thought didn't last long. We did get something else going and WALLA! we found a place back home and will be moving next week.! acre doublewide and in the country.Its a fixer upper but we'll have help. My family needs me there and I would rather be close to them including my son,soooo we can still do everything and more there. Thanks for the advise and the idea still is there but not right now.Will post pictures soon.

Marybeth said...

How are you guys doing?