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.
We 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.
The 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.
The 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.
As 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.