We're trying a new experiment, something we first heard about on the BBC show Tudor Monastery Farm. In one of the episodes (the first one is at the link--there are 6 episodes total, plus a special) they talked about making tree hay.
What is tree hay? In Britain, up until about 100 or so years ago, instead of growing grass for hay in pastures, certain types of fast growing and nutritious trees (poplar, hazel, willow, etc) were grown in rows. They were trimmed down (coppiced or pollarded) each fall, the trimmings were dried, tied in bundles and stacked to be stored as hay. Tree hay was less susceptible to loss from an unexpected rainstorm, unlike grass hay (very important in a rainy climate.) Making hay from trees also left the limited amount of arable land open for planting other crops. Tree hay fell out of fashion when mechanization became widely available.
Here in these united States, with our vast acreages, tree hay never caught on. We've always had lots of open spaces for pastures...so the story goes.
That's not our story here on our farm. We don't have lots of space for pastures. We have 6/10 of an acre to work with (the remaining 10 acres are steep, treed hillside. We have other plans for that.) On that 6/10 of an acre, we have to fit in our house, greenhouse, woodshed, barn, garage, guest house, shop, chicken coops (2), orchard, garden area, and two barnyard areas for 4 goats and two pigs. Not a lot of spare room.
BUT! Along our western property line, there was room to plant a row of trees! Me being me, I started researching.
The best information I could find gave the following yields:
One tree produces 8-10 bundles of branches, 3' long and 2' around (called faggots). One faggot is supposed to feed one cow for one day. So, figure roughly one tree per week per
cow. I've always heard the rule of thumb is 4 to 5 goats is equal to one
cow (regarding amount of feed needed.) So one tree should feed 4 goats
for one week, all things being equal. I multiplied from there (6 months/26 weeks of winter when stored hay is needed=30 trees for 4 goats), tucked in a comfortable margin of error (double the 30 trees for kids, herd expansion, and bad harvest years), and came up with 60 trees.
I chose willow trees to plant. Willows are an extremely useful plant. I figured that even if the tree hay didn't work out, I could use branches for basketry, decorations, or fencing. Willows are also useful in folk medicine (asprin!), making rooting compound for seedlings, and can even feed bees! There were no drainages, water lines or foundations (ours or our neighbor's) anywhere near the property line, so that was all good (willows have spreading root systems and can cause trouble if planted near water lines or structures.) As an added bonus, the prevailing winds come from that side of the property, so the willows should work as a windbreak, too.
We ordered 60 willows last month and planted them in one long row down our property line. All but a couple are doing well and already putting out leaves. In spring, we'll replace any that didn't make it through the winter. Next August or September, we'll do our first tree hay harvest.
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