We are returning to pasture that was last grazed in early July. Through the summer we ran 10 cows on 13 acres of pasture. In that time we sold a heifer, borrowed and returned a bull and bought two new shorthorn heifers. 87 days ago our pasture looked like this:
Then it recovered. What we found most interesting was the transition from fescue (a cool season grass) to bermudagrass (warm season). The cows like the bermuda grass much less than they like the fescue but that’s a little bit like picking which of two shoes to have for dinner. The fescue seems to trample better as it makes a dense mat and the bermudagrass leaves a standing tangle. We also overseeded with a mix of clovers, millet, cowpeas and sunflower. It gave us a nice crop.
We harvested the sunflower heads and, as usual, let the cows have the rest in small one-day pastures. Obviously we’re packing the cows in pretty tight to stretch 13 acres into three months…though I hope to do better next year. During that time we grazed our drought reserve for the first time this year.
Then the cows moved on. As the weather allowed we grazed open ground away from the shade. Fortunately we had unseasonably cool weather the first week or so of August and we could graze some ground I had written off until fall. We also stretched our pasture by grazing around the odd edges of the hay field and the pond.
3 months is more than enough time to break the pathogen cycles. More than enough opportunity to rest the ground, more than enough time for the grass to fully recover. But recovery is coming to an end. Grass will continue to grow, though slowly, through mid-December. Every inch of grass that grows is a day I don’t have to feed hay. This is a week’s worth of fescue growth.
The plan now is to continue the slow rotation on everything but the stockpiled ground as long as it lasts. If things go well, that will take me to December 1st. However, after we get a solid freeze that kills the alfalfa I plan to graze through the alfalfa stand. That could tack on a month of grazing…so now we’re looking at January 1st. There are also a few acres of reserve hay ground that we couldn’t mow this year. If we could graze that I could gain yet another month. So now we’re looking at February 1st. At that point, we’ll put the cows on the stockpile which is conveniently located near the hay barn. By strip grazing the stockpile a little each day we should be looking at March 1st…maybe a little less. Then we’re in the heart of mud season and the hay feeding will begin in earnest, though much of our farm will have standing forage that has been recovering since October. When the thaw completes we’ll hit that recovering ground before moving on. Who knows when that will be though.
March 1st is an important date for us as that’s the date our tenant will remove his cattle from the additional 40 acres we purchased. That ground will need to recover until at least April 5th before we start moving the cows quickly across large pastures. Then we’ll set aside a portion of farm to rest for the year (probably planted with a number of new trees), a portion of the farm we’ll only use during calving, a portion we’ll stockpile for drought and winter, a portion we will cut hay from…you get the idea. I have a lot of plans for how to utilize 60 acres but 11 cows and their calves can’t do it alone. I’ll share more of next year’s grazing plan in detail as I firm it up but it really won’t take shape until I’m stuck inside this winter. For now my focus is on grazing from now until March 1, leaving as much hay in the barn as I can in case next summer is a doozey.