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We’re pretty happy with how our cows thrive on stockpiled forage, and these pictures show why.  Thick coats, well-padded hip bones, calm, contented demeanor — these are happy cows.  Note that these animals have spent the entire winter out in the pasture, with no supplementation except minerals, eating standing forage saved since last July/August, the only exception being a few days when there was so much ice on the snow that we fed square bales in the pasture.

People often email us with specific questions; sometimes the answers might be helpful to other folks, too.  This gentleman has seen our video series with Living Web Farms, and asked about the multi-wire reel we exhibited at that event.
Hi, Carl!  We’re glad the video is useful.
The multi-wire reel (that one actually has three wires) is a DIY dodge authored by Tony McQuail, an Ontario farmer and author, who uses it to pasture his draft horses.  It’s a plain plastic extension cord reel, like what you would buy at the home improvement store.  He loads it with three strands of turbo-wire (heavy-duty braided twine), and ties the three strands off to a single step-in post that stays with the reel.  We only put a maximum of about two hundred feet of twine (each strand) on a single reel, because, as you guessed, if you get them tangled you’re going to have a mess.
We use it the same way he does, as a cross-fence across a fenced pasture; that is, from one side to the other of a pasture with a permanent electric perimeter fence.  On one side of the pasture we set the single tied-in step-in post, attaching it to the perimeter fence with a short contact wire (about 18 inches of insulated wire with aligator clips on each end).  Then, carrying the reel, and with the three strands of twine separated by our fingers so they’ll run out without tangling, we step out the fence, setting additional posts every ten steps or so, until we reach the opposite side of the pasture/opposite fence, and set a last post.  Then to keep the tension even on the three strands of polytwine, we pull another three feet or so of twine off the reel and tie it in a hank around one of the perimeter fence wires.  Those plastic reels are light enough that they hang pretty easily from a fence post; or, if the weather is dry, I think Tony just puts it on the ground.
I wish I could draw it; I know verbal instruction can be confusing!
Picture it this way:  say you cut three strands of braid, all the same length, and tie them in to an extension cord reel.  Then wind them all onto the reel — they won’t load at exactly the same rate, so by the time you reach the ends they’ll be a little uneven, but not too much — and then tie off the ends at graduated heights on a step-in-post.  This is the basic apparatus.  Shove a contact wire in your pocket, and half-a-dozen extra posts under your arm, and you’re ready to start.
Say you’ve got a pasture with decent perimeter fences that will contain whatever species you’re planning to graze — if sheep, say your perimeter is five strands of high-tensile, or maybe some hog wire — and all you need is a way to break that pasture up into smaller pieces, you can cut out one end with a three-wire reel and graze that on day one.  The next day, take a second three-wire reel and cut out another section next to the first, pull back the first cross-fence at one end and let the animals through, move their water up, and let them graze this second section.  Day three, take down the first (original) cross-fence and jump it over the second one and let them through again, and so on down the line.
I dont’ know where you are, but we’ll be doing a full-day workshop on farming, with about half the day devoted to fence, the second weekend in April, here at our home farm, if you are interested.   We’ll also be doing a half-day grazing workshop in Asheville at the Mother Earth News Fair at the end of April, and a full-day workshop in Front Royal, VA, in October.  It’s a lot easier to demonstrate fence than to make it clear in words!

raising calves

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(This is a copy of our reply to a question about how we rear calves.  The post that was being referenced was published six years back.)

Thanks for the question, Nick! Wow, we haven’t looked back at this for a good while, and now it’s six years old. Time to put out a new post on calf-rearing. I’m not sure whether you want information on feeding, or on weaning (from milk altogether), so I’ll put down both.

We haven’t fed grain to any ruminant in several years. Even our lactating dairy cows are all grass, all the time — they winter on stockpiled forage. Our bottle calf protocol (which goes for weaned-rom-mama-but-not-from-milk calves, too, bc. mostly they come off their mamas before we’re ready for them to be weaned from milk, so they go from mama to the bucket) is as follows: newborns stay on mama for eight to twelve weeks, then they go to the bucket, about six quarts per day. Newborns that are bought in get a couple of feedings of saved colostrum, then go to two two-quart feedings of straight cow’s milk per day, but we add an egg, beaten in, into each feeding, as a preventive of scours. After a couple of weeks they are up to six quarts per day. All calves stay on milk for at least fourteen weeks; if there’s a lot of skim milk or whey around, they might get that for a bit longer. They always have access to water and good forage or hay. We take them down to a single feeding per day for about a week before we wean them altogether. When they come off milk, they are on grass alone.

If it’s July when they come off the bucket and the grass is mostly tought and lignous, they are going to be set way back, so don’t do it if you can help it; wean in April or May, if you can, or else when the fall grass starts to come in again.

If they are running with older animals in a rotational/management intensive situation, wonderful, but because competition is intensified in the smaller paddocks, it makes a big difference — on our farm, anyway — that we fence with a single strand of polytwine and just two or three joules on the charger. This means the little guys can slip out under the fence and graze in front of the rest of the group. They get the best forage available, but because they are only a little way in front of the herd, they aren’t doing any harm to the grazing sequence, since the mature animals will graze that spot the next day.

Understand, these are baby dairy bulls that are being raised for a life of grass. You do understand that by weaning from milk at three months we take away the natural advantage of mama’s later weaning (and bigger servings) without compensating for the calories with grain (a food that disrupts the proper development of their rumens). They are going to grow much more slowly than a Hereford calf on grain, silage, haylage, baleage, and whatever else, and somewhat more slowly than a calf that stays on mama for six months. It’s a trade-off, but it works for what we want, which is Jersey beef (delicious) that is all grass with no bought-in supplements.

Intensive Grazing Workshop for Homesteaders

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Spring really is coming to eastern Ohio. We’ve pulled our taps and put away the sap pans — grass and spring rains can’t be too far away! Come to our April workshop to get hands-on experience with intensive rotational grazing at one of the most challenging times of the year – spring greenup. We’ll be moving fence, setting up practice paddocks, and planning the grazing year. Or catch one of our half-day grazing workshops at the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC, or Frederick, MD.

sharing mineralsCheck out our spring workshops on the ‘classes‘ page (under ‘about’ in the sidebar menu, not the menu at the top of this page).  Grazing, animal husbandry, water, fertility — come spend time with us and develop ideas for your own independent farmstead!

In answer to questions about winter stockpile:

‘Stockpiled forage’ means mature plants left standing in the pasture and reserved for use after the growing season.  Note that we say ‘mature’ plants, not senescent or lignous.  We time our summer grazing to leave half the pasture acres untouched after their mid-summer grazing.  For this part of Ohio (east central, zone 6), that means that somewhere around the middle of July, or a bit later, whatever we graze over the next six to eight weeks is going to be taken out of the rotation for the rest of the growing year.  About half the farm will be grazed over this lste-summer period.  Then in Sept/Oct/Nov we graze the other half, leaving the earlier pastures to regrow.  We’ll probably make two rotations on the part we’re not stockpiling, depending on what the weather is doing.  In a perfect year — 2018 was pretty satisfactory — we’ll get some good rains and lots of regrowth, and the stockpiled pastures will be fully mature when the cold weather sets in.  Then come late November/early December we finish grazing the fall pastures and start around on the stockpile.

It probably goes without saying that we’ve stockpiled the pastures where we have the most frost-free water (spring-fed tanks).  We don’t like permanent lanes and the impact they get, but in the winter when there’s no snow on the ground we have to leave a temporary lane open back to water.  We use reels to build the lanes, and move them often to minimize the opportunity for back grazing.  Some of the bunch grasses (especially orchard grass) are going to be hit too hard if the cows get bored and start lounging back toward water, so we watch for this and shift the lane fence accordingly.  This method works well for us, and the improvement we’ve seen in our pasture composition and productivity over the last six years has been very satisfactory.

We’re looking forward to speaking at PASA, long one of the best eastern sustainable ag conferences.  This year looks really good, with so many talks we’d like to attend that we’ll have to split up to fit them in.  We’ll be speaking on Friday afternoon (‘Pastured Permaculture:  Building Sustainable Farms with Grass and Ruminants’) and Saturday Morning (‘Feeding the Farm from the Farm’ — otherwise known as ‘get rid of your feed bills’).  This is a great chance for people in and around Pennsylvania to pack a whole lot of learning into two days, with good company, good conversation, and good food thrown in.  To top it all, it’s one of the most reasonably priced conferences around.  If you haven’t already registered, you’ll find more details and online registration here .  Grab us between talks and let’s do coffee!