Strolling Through the Pasture March 2014

The pastures are finally greening up and we still have a little stockpiled grass for the cows. Whew! Let’s follow the cows through the pasture over the winter and see what they did.

The cows started on the stockpiled pasture in January. This had been grazed in July and rested since August. The fescue was thick and tall and there was a good amount of sorgum, sudan grass, turnips and radishes in the stand. I was disappointed at how little clover came out but maybe next year. For reference, this is what it looked like when the cows grazed it in July

EarlyMorningMove

We bunched the cows up densely all winter and supplemented them with 6-12 pounds of hay each day from November first. Basically, we offered a single square bale of alfalfa in the morning and a single bale of grass hay in the evening most days, but just the grass hay when the weather was nicer. Otherwise, the cows were expected to push the snow aside and eat what they could find. It worked out great. The cows came through winter in great condition. This was suggested to me by David Hall who said he tries to feed 30 days worth of hay to his cattle, spread over 6 months. I didn’t do quite as well as that but my pastures are getting better and it won’t be long.

But this isn’t a post about cows. This is a post about pasture. You have to know the story so you will understand what we did. We put down a lot of manure. Like a lot.

March2014_1

Those manure pats have been frozen for 3 months but you can see the density. By taking the hay to the cows and offering the cows fresh ground at regular intervals we have an even manure distribution. I moved the hay so I don’t have to move the manure. You down?

Turn to the right and go up the hill and we get to the remains of a big patch of turnips.

March2014_2The manure coverage is not as dense here. We had a spot of wet, cold, windy weather so the cows tended to shelter and concentrate their manure under the trees. But still, it isn’t bad. Notice the little bits of green grass coming up here and there. More on that as we go.

March2014_3Further up the hill and a bit to the west the manure coverage is better. Here the forage was stronger. Still a few turnips (which make the cows loose) but plenty to eat and a good great amount of litter covering the soil. In fact, that’s kind of a uniform thing across all of our pastures. We have a thick layer of litter over all of our pastures. Here it is particularly thick. Much of it is stems from the goldenrod stand that dominated the landscape until July but the thick grass that grew here is still protecting our soil. A few pictures from now the real value of the litter shows itself.

March2014_4In the picture above, I have crossed the creek and I’m looking back toward where I stood in the previous picture. I was standing up to the left of that power pole on top of the hill. Notice how green the South-facing slope is already. Also notice the manure density and the soil litter. Pay no attention to the scrubby trees, the brush pile or the small pile of metal I haven’t finished hauling out.

March2014_5This is the cemetery hill and this is what I’m talking about when I say “litter”. The cows weren’t allowed to (or interested in) eating down to the dirt. We just kept them moving along as they dug through the snow for food. As a result…

March2014_6

the cemetery hill is several weeks ahead of the surrounding farms in terms of grass growth. That’s all well and good but what are the cows actually eating? I mean grass hasn’t grown here for nearly 6 months.

March2014_7They are eating whatever grew 6 months ago. They trample dried stalks of tall weeds, crop close to thorny trees and even nibble at tree limbs. Fescue is the main portion of their diet but they eat leaves and whatever else they can find.

March2014_8

With the recent freeze/thaw cycles we have about 2″ of mud on top of several inches of frozen ground so the cows are making a bit of a mess of things. The picture above is what things look like around the watering troughs. That’s some pretty serious cow impact and will require an extended recovery time. But that’s part of the plan. I have saved this bottom ground as a sacrifice area to preserve the rest of the pasture for later grazing. This will recover and, I believe, be better than ever. We just have to give it time.

March2014_9

If you are concerned that I’m pushing the cows too hard I want to say that my cows are clean, in excellent condition and their manure is perfect. My concern is with the land. Maybe I’m pushing that too hard. I don’t think I am but I don’t want to find out I’m wrong. We are currently moving the cows daily and rolling about four days worth of grazing with them. These are currently larger grazing areas than they would have in the late summer or even than they got in December and January but the forage quality is decreased and it’s pretty muddy out there. We also try to give them room to stretch their legs. Rolling four days worth of grazing forward seems to work well for us.

March2014_10This picture should give the reader an idea of how much space we give 11 cows. There is a line below the cows showing yesterday’s grazing line…that’s where the fence was. The white cow at the top right is almost up against today’s fence. I haven’t moved the water troughs in the picture above but generally, one 100 gallon watering trough stays at the new front fence line, a second trough lags behind. As the second is emptied I move it ahead of the first. We put a cup of apple cider vinegar in each as we fill them and the cows seem to appreciate it. We also drag their mineral box along every few days.

We have enough standing grass in the bottom to get us to April 1. At that point we plan to graze along the Eastern edge of the South pond. Then we’ll move to the draw East of the big alfalfa field. Dad doesn’t think that has been grazed in years. Decades possibly. That gives us time to establish our grasses before starting to graze in earnest. I suspect we’ll spend most of April grazing 1/2 acre per day with our 11 cows. A portion of our farm will remain ungrazed all year. A portion will be set aside for late summer and a portion will be used in the spring then rested later in the year. More detail to come. For now it is enough to celebrate that it is March and we have more grass than we can eat and hay left in the barn. It worked!

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2 thoughts on “Strolling Through the Pasture March 2014

  1. Great explanations. I’m going to think this one through more. I have to ask a rookie question. What does ” Rolling four days of grazing forward” mean? Do you layout fours days of movement before committing to an area?

    • Sorry. That could have been more clear. Each day I open a new area for grazing. Each day I move the back fence forward. Four days from now today’s grazing area will be unavailable. The cows have access to four days worth of ground at any time. I give them a large because I want the cows to find a comfy place to lay down each day, access shade on warm days, high ground on wet days and fully utilize the available forage. I move the area forward because the grasses are breaking dormancy. I don’t want the cows to take a bite off of young, tender, emerging grasses.

      I wrote another thousand or so words in response so look for another post on this topic soon.

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