Diary of the Winter Stockpile: Day 72

November 1 we were grazing the cows in our yard. I had successfully delayed mowing to the point that the yard functioned as a stockpiled pasture. November 12 the cows were grazing their way around the barnyard. We cut several cuttings of hay in the barn yard each year and the grasses had recovered sufficiently that I thought they should be eaten by cattle rather than smashed by a tractor. By Nov. 16th we felt the alfalfa was ready to graze (or nearly so) so we walked the cows to the alfalfa field.

GrazingStockpile5We started the cows on the fescue and clovers that had regrown since the last hay cutting then, over the course of several days, moved them into the alfalfa field. The first week or so of grazing was not pure alfalfa…it had grasses mixed in. Bloat is a real concern and rapidly changing forages can be problematic so this was when we started feeding a bale of hay each morning. Giving them dry matter early in the day, then moving the cows around noon (after the frost had dried) eased everybody’s worries.

So around Nov. 20 we fed the first bale of hay. The idea is to feed 30 days worth of hay over the course of five months. That way the cows are still eating fresh green forage (which they seem to enjoy) but with a little bit of supplement to make sure they are getting just what they need while also spreading their own manure across the farm. This was inspired by my conversation with David Hall. Early on we were asking 11 cows to share one 60 pound square bale. When the snow got heavy we would split out two bales. The balance of their daily dietary needs was provided by the stockpiled forages. Anyway, enough theory. Let’s look at some more pictures.

GrazingStockpile3The remaining stockpile is looking pretty brown. Fortunately, when the severe cold weather hit last week, the grasses were insulated by a layer of snow. It may not look like much but the cows really seem to appreciate it.

GrazingStockpile4The wilted turnip greens, the turnips themselves, the fescue and other grasses along with a few fallen leaves and the cows are doing quite well. Each day we give them a little more ground (you just get a feel for how much to give them by looking at standing forage, previous day’s utilization and gut fill) and we use that ground as a clean plate for feeding them the day’s hay. I try to feed hay on high ground if I can. If they look hungry we give a bale of grass hay in the afternoon and I try to do better estimating the next day’s pasture. Each night the cows find some reasonably clean sheets and go to bed, often under a tree.

GrazingStockpile2As the pasture freezes and thaws the cows can really cause soil disturbance…disruption…they can really make mud pies. So we try to move the mineral feeder and the water trough regularly, spreading that impact over a greater area. I’m not against mud pies. They will recover before summer. I’m against cows slipping on ice around the water trough. For the most part, though, the pasture is staying in very good condition. We had an inch of rain on Friday on top of 8-10″ of melting snow. The pasture is no worse for the wear.

As always, this is more “how-we” than “how-to” but managing grazing through the winter has, to this point, been a positive experience for us. It really is no big deal to build a little fence and haul a bale out to them each morning. Far, FAR better than the chores required for the short period of time they were in the barn.

4 thoughts on “Diary of the Winter Stockpile: Day 72

  1. This post gives me a bunch of newbie questions. I assume the cows are moved off the roadway at night, only grazing during the day.

    After the cows have grazed, do you ever put hogs on the pasture? The hogs would mix in the manure, but would they tear up the pasture too much and mess us next year’s pasture growth? Or am I off time-wise? Would the hogs go on another time of the year if at all?

    Last question may only come from CA. Do you have any stream restrictions? As in the cattle can’t graze within 50′ of a waterway as we are limited here.

    Thank you for this post. The picture and descriptions really bring home what is happening for me, and give me ideas for our situation.

    • I guess that picture was misleading. In that picture we were leading them down the road from the barn lot to the clover and grass. That’s just a picture of them in transit from A to B. I had a cool picture of the cows following Julie as she led them down the road but the focus was off so we couldn’t use it. The cows in the picture you see are nibbling alfalfa. What you don’t see is Julie leading and me acting like a patient border collie walking side to side behind them to keep them moving while they snatched bites here and there. For the most part we just lead our cattle but to keep them moving past the green alfalfa I had to follow behind and push gently.

      I have considered allowing my pigs to graze with or behind the cattle. Greg Judy talks about doing that in his books. He specifically seeks out certain genetics for the purpose.To this point I have preferred to raise the pigs separately. I use the pigs on the pasture if I need them to do a specific job for me but otherwise pigs are forest animals and we try to keep them there. If that fails, we really, really like keeping the pigs on deep bedding.

      The deep bedding can then be composted but we are currently going another step with it. We are shoveling the deep bedding out of the pig’s winter housing and dumping it into the greenhouse for the chickens to scratch through. Oats go right through a pig. Right through. The chickens love it. So we had warm, happy pigs with that bedding. Now we are adding to the bedding in the greenhouse. The chickens are scratching out the seeds and mixing it into the existing bedding pack and we won’t have to move it again this year. We’ll just use it in the greenhouse to grow our plants. Over time it could get too deep but we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it. Right now I need a mountain of bedding to cover Grandpa’s rock collection.

      Pigs on turf in the winter makes a big mess. The fescue would recover but, and this is experience talking, plant diversity suffers. It is a good strategy for remodeling but I can’t say I suggest it as a policy. Pigs do very well in the woods. I would point you to this video for some fun and encouraging pig raising math. You should also check out Salatin’s Pigs ‘n Glens video. Not a lot of detail on how to raise hogs but lots of information on keeping costs low and building effective pig fence.

      States differ on water policy. It is obvious that cows can be used to overgraze and pollute waterways. But research shows that they can be used in disturbance and rest cycles to preserve waterways. It depends on how the cows are used. If the state tells me I can’t use land within 50′ of a waterway I’m going to lose access to a lot of grazing. A lot. Enough that I would move to a more sensible state. Or country. I think heavy-handed bureaucratic policies are misguided and will be regretted by future generations. I also don’t like to be told what to do.

      • It’s interesting you mention the oats and chickens. I have been using oat hay and straw hay for our chickens. When I walk out to the chicken pen then run to me like the Pied Piper and when I throw them oat hay they go crazy picking through it. Not so with the straw. I soon figured it was the oats on the stalks they were after. The straw is now used for their bedding. Both are changed every once in a while and composted for use on the garden.

        Remodeling is a good word for what the pigs can do, and that is what I was really thinking of. They could remodel new forest land and get rid of unwanted bushes and plants, making it available for themselves or other animals. The land I’m looking at is much more overgrown than your land.

        We were already looking at the Pigs and Glens video. I’m looking forward to watching the youtube one this evening.

        Thanks again.

        • “much more overgrown…”

          Apparently I haven’t taken pictures in the right places. Or maybe I should dig up some more Before pictures instead of all these 4 years After pictures. lol

          The best brush beaters we have are the cows. My gosh! they can bulldoze through anything. But they don’t like thorny trees. That’s my job.

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