Field Clearing – Grapple Skidder

Grapple Skidder in New Upper Field

We are re-clearing about thirty acres of the old fields around the house area that had grown up to forest over the past 70 years plus more across the road to add to the roughly 20 acres of pasture we already have. This is a process we started getting ready for at the end of last summer. The cutting didn’t actually start happening until this summer. The machine in the photo above is a grapple skidder which is capable of grabbing and dragging many whole trees out at a time.

Closer View of Grapple Skidder

Some of the wood goes to cabinetry, some to lumber, some to firewood and the rest to bio-mass for making wood pellets. The fields will be rough with stumps cut low. The standard procedure after cutting the timber is to graze bulldozers who’ll eat the stumps – they prefer high stumps. We’ll use pigs and sheep instead. This is a little slower but much gentler on the soils. The livestock also have the advantage of fertilizing the soil – something bulldozers don’t do.

Business End of Grapple Skidder

The new fields will give us more pasture allowing us to improve our rotational grazing, give us more late fall pasture which has long been an issue, let the land rest more between grazing, have for more livestock in the future and possibly we’ll hay some sections. Most of our pastures are on swiftly tilting land – not something one would want to run a tractor across for haying. Hand haying would be a possibility but a better solution is simply to use the more sloped areas for just pasture. The flatter areas can rotate as hay fields someday, when the stumps are gone.

Buncher Grabber which does the Tree & Brush Cutting

Between the fields we’ve left rows of sugar maple trees along the stone walls. In most cases these are the same maples that were row trees when these fields were last open pastures. We even have a few giant wolf maples with massive girths which were probably alive back when the settlers first cleared this land about 200 years ago.

In addition to the row maples we’ve left butternut, beach and apple trees for the shade, fruit and nuts they’ll provide. There are also a few majestic ash, spruce and tall white pine clumps. These and the inter-field row trees break up the wind and provide moving spots of shade from the hot summer mid-day sun.

Our next step is to seed the new field areas. There is some seed in the soil but I want more clover than will occur without seeding and I would like alfalfa for its high protein content. This fall and next year we’ll fence the outside perimeter and make some major paddock divisions. By this fall there will be limited grazing. Next year the pasture will be well established. In five years the new fields will be lush and photogenic.

Skid Grapple & Buncher Grabber

I mention the beauty because there is a funny story there. One fall a woman and her husband stopped by and were taking photos looking into our fields from the road. I chatted with them. They asked if they could setup tripods to get calendar photos to which I said fine. She raved about how beautiful the “untouched forests looked as a backdrop to the fields” and ranted against loggers. I kept my mouth shut. Maybe I shouldn’t have. The fact was that three years before we had heavily cut that very spot to open the pasture and reveal the forest verge she was admiring. The picturesque pastures and open tree lines along the “gorgeous stone walls” come as a result of logging and animal agriculture.

I’m well aware of the ravages of bad clear cuts, having worked in the conservation corp on repairing such damage. I’ve been sick at heart to see badly done clear cuts. However, when logging is properly done it it is a sustainable long term crop, the land recovers quickly, the bio-diversity increases and the cycle revolves. We, like the beavers and forest fires, are moving the wheel around which allows the forests to become grass lands to grow to regen and forests again. What has been will be again and theses forests have been pastures before. This is the cycle of nature and we are a part of it. In time, even the parking lots will return to fields of wild flowers, to misquote Joani Mitchell.

Skidder Forwarder

The field clearing is a large clear cut which is very different from the selective cutting of individual trees, often just a few per acre, that we normally do. While this has been going on around the home fields area we’ve also been harvesting high grade timber further north in a selective cut. The skid forwarder shown above allows for more precise selective cutting and getting the wood out from deep in the forest without making a mess.

These are two of our projects for the summer but not our big project for 2009.

Outdoors: 74°F/56°F Cloudy with some Rain 2″
Tiny Cottage: 74°F/69°F Archimedes moved to North Herd, 100 square bales yesterday

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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24 Responses to Field Clearing – Grapple Skidder

  1. heyercapital says:

    Walter, et al,

    That's an ambitious project. Improving the pasture will be a project in itself, but God will do most of the hard work. I've been reading up creating pastures from Gene Logsdon's work. Thought I imagine you'll need to plant all right-handed alfalfa to keep them from growing up crooked. (JK :-))

    A while back we saw a Rick Steve's Switzerland episode where they were haying the side of a mountain valley. I don't know what they cut the hay with, but as I recall from the brief video cut, it hadn't been winrowed. Instead, they just raked it down the hill toward the barn or haystack.

  2. Nance says:

    You have been busy this summer and have much more to do before winter.

    I see now there is a Master Plan . . . much larger and more detailed than I can imagine.

    Row trees. What are row trees?

    from this non-farm girl, but interested, reader.

  3. Nance,

    Row trees are a line of trees left along a boundary. In this case the bandaries are the stone walls that separate the various fields and the trees are mostly mature sugar maples.

    The row trees break up the landscape visually, can be used in fencing, breakup the wind and snow drift, provide shade for the animals and a varied habitat.

    Some time I'll talk about the farm master plan.



  4. I wonder if they were taking the hay in green in Switzerland? A neighbor of ours does this to make silage in bunkers. Especially during wet weather when one can't ted and dry the hay this technique allows you to still get the hay in.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Big Toys! Having more pasture will be good. I love your pork and hope you'll be more available at the coop. If I miss your delivery day I have to wait another week because it always sells out so fast.

  6. PNW Treefarmer says:

    Walter, thank you for all the information you have given me since I found your blog.
    I would be pleased to share some, that I hope will be profitable in the future. I have been innoculating my severed stumps with mushroom spawn to advance their decay and hopefully my diet and pocket book. "Fungi Perfecti" has been my best source.

  7. A most excellent idea. I'll look in to "Fungi Perfecti". Thanks for the info. Learning about mushrooms is on my to-do list. I love eating them.

  8. BigRob says:

    Walter, I have just been reading recently about walk behind tractors at this link:
    They have haymaking attachments that are usable on steep sloped pastures. They have a couple of videos that show this. The tractors and attachments are all made by European (mostly Italian) companies and from the write-ups I gather this type machinery is used quite a lot in Europe. Check it out–the baler makes cute little round bales – 40-60 lbs.

    And no, I don't work for them, I was just intrigued by their stuff.

    It is not cheap but compared to the cost of conventional equipment it looks like a decent deal. This would only work for small scale haying operation.

    Two of the things I noticed that would be of interest to you, with your rocky soil, is the disc mower (as opposed to their sickle bar mower,) and the "single rotary plow" (they have a video of this also.) As it happens I was just looking at all of this stuff yesterday. I am planning for the "dream farm" and hope to apply much of the knowledge I have gained from you while lurking on your site for the last couple of years.

  9. BigRob,

    I used to think that the BCS were what I would get. Excellent design. I have a neighbor who has one and likes it. We never did and then we ended up needing a backhoe and bucket loader for a project where it was cheaper to buy the equipment and do it ourselves than to hire it done. Thus we went without water for a year and bought a compact tractor. I did get the wheels set out to the full 8', looks like it has a big butt! This helps on our steep hills.

    I've looked at the various mowers. Not sure which we'll eventually go with. I'm trying to put off the expenditure and decision as long as possible. :)

    Keep on dreaming and create that reality!



  10. Penn Stone says:

    I have been reading your blog for some time. It is very enlightening and interesting. I would like to thank you for putting all your experiences on the web.
    This year we started raising pigs. We have had chickens for a while and wanted to take another step. I have been doing lots of research on pasture feed animals. I have tasted the meat and eggs from pasture fed animals and i like it a lot better.(not to mention the animals are treated properly)
    I live in CT and my property is mostly woods. I burn wood to keep my house warm. I am in the process of clearing some tree's for pasture. I am doing this without the use of equipment.
    My question is should I clear the tree's out,fence it then put the pigs in. Then after the pigs root it up move them to another clearing and plant the one they rooted up? Is it really that simple?
    Any of your suggestions would be great!!!
    Thanks for all your great info, it is nice to see people like you out their!!!!! keep up the great work

  11. You can do it almost any way you want and it will likely work. Let it fit your schedule and way. One might cut out the most valuable lumber trees, girdle the rest of the trees so they dry standing and can then be cut at your connivance, fence off the area, put in livestock and spread seed. Mob grazing will push the seed into the soil. Frost seeding in the spring also works well. Don't seed on top of the snow or you're just feeding the birds and mice. This is the slow way and it works without losing the valuable nutrients in the tree roots and bio-mass.

    You can accelerate things a bit by cutting all the trees off, but leaving the stumps and then going to the fencing stage. This will bring in more light to the grass. There is likely a reserve of old grass seed in the soil. When the light is there they'll sprout.



  12. Sy Smith says:

    Hello, Neat post. There’s a problem together with your site in internet explorer, may test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace leader.

    • Yes, see the note in the right sidebar or see this post. The problem is with Internet Explorer 8 which Microsoft has replaced with Internet Explorer 9. They know about the issue. Upgrade your web browser or switch to Safari, Opera, etc and you’ll be fine.

  13. Flora says:

    By now those fields must be starting to look really great!

  14. Melissa says:

    I was thinking the same thing as FLora– many years have passed, the five that you mentioned, and I wonder what that field looks like now?

    I like the idea of girdling the trees to kill them off now, and harvest later. I have noticed when the sheep do this for me over the winter, the trees still leave out in the spring, and then die off quickly. My husband likes to cut down the trees in full leave and let the sheep harvest the leaves, then he cuts up the tree weeks later.

    A slow process. THe land benefits from the grasses sprouting and holding the soil, what little there is. And then I spread manure by hand.

    You have spark a few more ideas on how to manage our little piece of over grown farm land. MANY thanks.

    • The ones that we’re shifting toward pasture are now grasses, alfalfa, clovers, millet, rape, kale and other forages. The ones which are not so far along in the cycle are filled with delicious blackberries, raspberries and blueberries as well some but less of the forages listed above which are now dominating the more advanced fields. It is a gentle, slow process of conversion.

      • Melissa says:

        Well three years later the girdled trees are still standing. Lol . Truly amazing what damaged trees can survive. Have decided to give my youngest son the job of stripping the bark and see if that gets the job done. Thanks for your endless inspiration.


  15. Taylor says:

    What was the cost to do this? I’m looking at 30 acres of hillside cleared once a long time ago for pasture.

    • The cost was negative. We didn’t pay to have it done. We got paid for the lumber. We do sustainable forestry and we did this as one of our jobs. If you’ve got even pulp wood on that hillside you may well be able to earn money off of it.

  16. Sean Govan says:

    Were you able to operate that equipment youself, or was someone else driving? Is it hard to learn?

  17. Sean Govan says:

    That is one of my complaints also!

  18. benja says:

    Greetings. May I ask how your pasture is doing so far? I have a 11 acre lot that was clearcut 2 years ago in Nova Scotia. I am thinking of how best to go about turning it into pasture. I am thinking of using some of your processes. If you could post some photos of the yearly progress I would really appreciate. Thank you.

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