Rolling the Grazing Forward

A reader asked what I meant yesterday when I said, “We are currently moving the cows daily and rolling about four days worth of grazing with them.” Those words were, apparently, not as clear as they should have been. With the help of our trusty Agricola game pieces (and a few matches) I will demonstrate what I meant. We’ll start on day 4 and roll through day 7 with the help of some toy cows. First, a quick look at what the blocks mean.

MapLegendAnd we’re ready to begin. The cows are in the corner of the perimeter fence in this illustration. They have been here for four days. For illustration purposes, each day they get a new row of three blocks. There are two watering troughs that move with the cows and a free choice mineral feeder. The lagging watering trough is allowed to go empty so we can simply carry it forward. The mineral feeder has to be dragged so we move it less frequently.

Day4

I want to point out that the cows spend most of their time on the freshest strip of ground. They get up to eat then lay down to chew their cud. What happens when a cow stands up? It manures. Cows like to lay down on fresh ground. They don’t like to lay in manure. So the cows are always moving to the fresh ground, leaving a path of muddy, manure-covered, hoof-printed destruction in their wake. The fresh ground is like couch, cupboard and toilet all in one. So they always need more.

Day5

So we move the cows. By day 5 we are beginning to fence out the first waterer. We want to let that go empty. There are times when it is entirely appropriate to dump 100 gallons of water on the pasture but not at the height of mud season.

Day6

The next day we move the cows again. They are always where the action is. The action is right up by the new fence. The back fence creeps forward one day at a time…rolling four days worth of ground forward. By day 4 new blades of grass are starting to peek their heads up. It would be detrimental to this year’s grass crop to allow the cattle to take a bite now. So we move them on.

Day7

It’s day 7 and you’re getting the idea. We have had to move the mineral feeder forward. Sometimes we fence them out of the mineral feeder for a day just to make it easier for us. The cows are always eating, stomping, lounging and manuring on fresh ground. They really only go back to get to the water. But right now I think it is important to give them the extra room, even if they don’t use it. They may face a choice. They could stand in the wet mud on a rainy day or they could stand under a tree on a bit of high ground. I would like to give them the option.

It is important for me to add that this is not our year-round strategy. It would work…ish. But it’s not what we do. This is this month’s grazing strategy. All winter there has been no back fence. We just allow the cows to move forward. Now that grass is growing again we are bringing the back fence along to protect tender young plants. When the grass starts to grow really fast we’ll start to move the cows really fast. Right now they may gain 1/16th of an acre/day. In April I anticipate giving our 11 cows 1/2 acre/day. The cows will just nibble the tips and select the choice morsels as they gear up for calving in May. When the grass growth slows the cows slow too. But that’s a subject for another blog post…or book.

Just a couple of other notes on the ground we are currently grazing. This ground was planned to be this year’s sacrifice area. The whole farm is a muddy mess, except the few South-facing slopes. To protect the rest of the farm we stockpiled fescue everywhere we could and planned to be on the flat bottom during the thaw. Next year we’ll find a different flat spot to graze in March. If it’s too wet we’ll just take the cows to the barn and feed them there but that creates an awful lot of work for us feeding, bedding and later composting and hauling the manure.

Finally, because of the amount of disturbance the cows are creating right now (which really isn’t too bad) we will allow this ground to have an extended recovery period. We will finish grazing this by April 1 and we may not return until June. Maybe even July. 60 days is a long time in the spring, keeping in mind what I said about offering the cattle 1/2 acre grazing areas while the grass is growing quickly.

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5 thoughts on “Rolling the Grazing Forward

  1. Now it makes sense. Four days of pasture at a time, rolling forward for a new day’s worth (1/4 of total) each day. Thanks.

  2. Great detail and demonstration in this post – many questions though, hope you don’t mind / brace yourself! lol Do you have a water line in that field that you follow or haul water out to the tanks? For clarity I believe the perimeter fence here is permanent and electric. Do you just tie into that with a single line? If so and you run cow/calf pairs how high off the ground is your line to keep everyone in?

    What do you cross fence with i.e. InteliTwine, rope or high tensile? Can you just tie in anywhere on your perimeter electric or do you start at a perimeter post? Do you use a connector to link with or just literally tie it on to the permanent fence? I would love to see a photo of how this works.

    What do you use for posts in your cross fence? Step-in rods, pigtail or rebar? What longevity are you finding with what you use?

    Not sure if you show the next few days of fence line for the purpose of the demonstration here only or whether you actually lay that out in advance? I like the idea as a time saver for people with J.O.B.S. One day you will have to start a new blog series on Walking Thru the Seasons of HFS. You are at a job for 8 hrs+1hr lunch+commute and there goes 11 hrs in the day. Eat, sleep, shave, shower and be a parent and spouse AND blog! What does an average day or wk look like for you in each season to accomplish all you do stewarding your farm? You must be very efficient despite the united Jordan family mission where I am know everyone pitches in. Maybe one day we will get a “behind the scenes” day in the life of HFS blog of how this all goes down in the various seasons.

    Yikes my inquiring mind wants to know a lot! I can wait for your upcoming fencing blog for these answers no worries. Thanks!

    • This requires a post…or three. Let’s try the short answer because I may not be able to write for a while (but I can publish a backlog of stuff I have already written).

      We currently hook on at the well spigot and run hose. In freezing weather we have to keep the hoses drained so we try to keep the cows closer to water in the worst weather or we make them walk. More about water lines another time.

      Step in or rebar depending on conditions. Rebar lasts forever…we just keep straightening it after the deer crash through it. Pigtails are awesome but won’t take the abuse. They particularly don’t like being hammered into frozen ground. Single wire. Calves mostly stay by mom. Mostly.

      I put a pigtail facing the perimeter fence and loop the polywire around the perimeter wire and anchor it to the pigtail. No clips. Low tech

      Behind the scenes! LOL. It ain’t pretty. We should all slap on beards and have a reality show. They would have focused on yesterday. Julie wanted to go on a “date”…whatever a date is. “Ain’t got no time for romance! I caught you 17 years ago. Today we gotta cut brush!” And that’s what I’m doing today. As soon as the sun is up I’ll be running a chain saw in a fence row. Saplings are coming up and limbs are growing out. I’m going to reclaim the edge of a field today then chip the limbs next weekend (or the weekend after). But there are big thorny things out there too that I have to cut. And gardens to plant. And horses to bed. And I have to clean out the brooder. And part of the hackberry tree that fell on the yellow house is STILL in the yard over there. And the clutch is out on my Oliver. And you are right, I have to balance all of that with 17 hours in a car each week and 40 hours at a desk. Thank God the days are getting longer.

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