Strolling Through the Pasture May 2013

I’ll start off by making a loop around the cemetery hill then we’ll head North.  Looking toward the cemetery I’m standing in grass that won’t be grazed for about 2 weeks…but what a difference two weeks makes.  Compare this picture with this one taken two weeks later with this one taken another two weeks later.  What a difference two weeks makes.  Closest to the cemetery is ground that was grazed two weeks ago.  Recovery is happening but it really didn’t get trampled as well as the pasture in the foreground.

MayPasture1The fescue is tall but the other grasses have a lot of growing ahead of them before I can graze them again.

MayPasture3Maybe this is a better picture.  The cows ate whatever this was right down to the ground.  That’s my fault, not the cow’s fault.

MayPasture4We grazed across the remaining bottom ground South of the branch then crossed the branch and grazed it out.  You can see the line where we put electric fence 2-3′ inside of the perimeter fence.  I really didn’t want my cousin’s Angus bull to get any opportunity with my Shorthorns.

MayPasture5Also notice the abundance of honey locust trees.  I’ll be busy next winter.

Cows grazed the best out of this, trampled quite a bit but we still didn’t have enough pressure on the land.  Too much fescue was left standing.  But there was a section in the middle that got missed in the grazing rotation.  The diversity of species there is amazing and shows where the above picture started.  A good stand of red clover and a mix of weeds including goldenrod, burdock and multi-flora rose but there was a total lack of chicory and dandelion.  Maybe because it’s wet, sandy bottom ground.  Who knows.

MayPasture6Notice none of the fescue heads were nibbled off.  Yup.  We messed up.  Oh well, we’ll trample it hard when we come through again in June.

MayPasture7The next area was grazed a little over two weeks ago.  Portions of it are recovering well, other portions are totally dominated by white clover and the recovery is slow.

MayPasture8Back to the South the bottom ground is recovering well.  A fair portion of the growing green stuff is goldenrod but this has been a weedy mess for years.  Two years ago (maybe three?) the 6 of us spent an evening with a tractor pulling hundreds of saplings our of the bottom then I mowed it (I mowed because I didn’t have cows).  Now I’m hoping to continue improving the stand by way of cows.  Check in again in a couple of years to see.

MayPasture9The stand is recovering well but there are a lot of hoof prints.  We got more than a foot of rain toward the end of April, several more inches at the beginning of May.  I would guess we have had 16-20″ of rain in the last 6 weeks.  Anyway, hoofprints…

MayPasture10Follow this link to see the flood water standing in the bottom.  This is the same area (side view) today (…well, Sunday).

MayPasture11Up the hill, my fallen tree is getting lost in the grass.  I thought the grass was tall last time we grazed here.  I have never seen this much grass here before and am anxious to see what it looks like in another month when the cows return to it.

MayPasture12Now we have made the loop and we’re back to the cows.  They have nothing to say to me and are clearly unafraid.  None of them want to snuggle with me but the dairy cows are nearly pets.  The others know I’m the guy who can move the fence forward, I mean nothing else to them.  Look carefully at the picture and you can see the next division we’ll open up the next morning.  Two fences behind the cows.  We just roll those two cross fences backwards then push the water and the back fence forwards leaving 2-3 days of grazing area under the cows at any given time.

MayPasture15A little further South, looking South I can see the few acres I have set aside for drought.  By my measurements I am actively grazing less than 10 acres with 8 heifers and two calves.  I have 4 acres set aside as a reserve along with odd patches of hilly, wooded areas I don’t care to pasture heavily.  Add to that 3 or 4 acres of alfalfa (well, mostly alfalfa….well, mostly alfalfa and orchardgrass…well, mostly alfalfa and orchardgrass and a few bare spots where the chickens killed the plants standing in mud during days of heavy rainstorms) that we’ll use for hay.  I hope to graze this pretty hard starting in July and again in November or December.  The plan is to set aside a portion of the farm each year for stockpile.  This gives my main pastures additional recovery time just when they need it and builds standing forage for winter grazing.  I’m not exactly making this up as I go along but I am playing by ear.  Stay with me as I learn.  Anyway, straight ahead of the brush pile is an old bridge.  The stream flows from right to left under the bridge.  Everything across is set aside for July.

MayPasture16Now moving West we come to the place the pigs were in March.  It’s hard to hurt fescue…

MayPasture13…but there are some spots where the pigs managed to set it back.  Those spots are dominated by chicory and dandelion.  I’ll need to work to get more clover growing here going forward.  There is always more to do.

MayPasture14We’ll just have to wait and see what the cows eat here in a few weeks.  Hopefully it’s not too stale.  I may follow Gabe Brown’s advice and sew in cowpeas, sunflowers and millet as the cows stomp through, then winter annuals when they go through again in the fall.  Who knows.  Again, playing by ear here.

In spite of my best efforts to build big grazing areas early and cover the farm quickly I fell behind.  It all got away from me.  Now I’m slowing down a little, trampling more grass with narrow grazing strips and just hanging on.  The plan is to double our herd size next year as our farm triples in size.  Yeah, I know…but you have to work within your budget.

How is your grass growing?

4 thoughts on “Strolling Through the Pasture May 2013

  1. So, probably a dumb question, but if they never eat the fescue, since it’s clearly the boring food in their salad bar, and just trample it in, won’t it eventually dominate the pasture?

    • Nope. Fescue already dominates and won’t be beaten but the rest and nutrient cycling lead to diversity in the forage stand. My initial response was about 5 paragraphs long so I’ll stop here and just write a blog post.

      Also, Fescue is a great standing forage for winter grazing.

  2. Whew! That was an amazing trip around your grazing areas. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts and observations on how things are growing and what you are working toward with your cows’ help. I’m smack dab in the middle of my first rotational grazing year with my little herd – 8 cows, 3 heifers, two steers, 6 calves – and it is quite a learning curve. Never having seen some of my pasture areas throughout the growing season, it’s been a little hard to predict growth. so we’ve been moving and eating and trampling and fertilizing and, like you, I hope to keep some forage in reserve but keep up with the rest. Most days I feel like I’m going to run out of grass. That’s why I buy in good hay from a neighbor, so I can span any gap even in the middle of summer and keep adding carbon, besides. Fun times! Great post, thanks again,

    • You know, that’s something I hadn’t really considered. I don’t know my pastures as well as I should but I know them pretty well. I know where the cows stand on hot days. I know where the clover tends to grow. I know what it is supposed to look like in July. But with the change in management toward the high-density grazing, it’s all changing. It’s like it doesn’t matter what it DID look like in years past, now it’s different and I have to learn by observation, trial and error.

      You are surely not bringing much hay in yet are you? I didn’t think the grass would ever get ahead of us. We were really covering some ground early on. Then, within a week, it suddenly happened. Everything grew two feet and went to seed. Even the wild oats are putting on seed heads now.

      I walked some of the reserve pasture yesterday but stopped early because I scared up a number of birds. Another advantage of the reserve is the benefit to wildlife. Ground nesting birds have a good home. The clover looks pretty good in there though.

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