Some of our thinnest, weediest, briary-est pasture is out back by the woods’ gate, where last year, after the mid-summer grazing, two months of dry weather meant poor regrowth for the cool-season grasses we were counting on for winter stockpile. Lost us at least a couple of weeks’ grazing for the dry cows and steers in December and January, but we passed over it lightly, leaving plenty of cover. On the first pass this spring the regrowth was still rather thin — not that there were bare spots and exposed soil, just short, unthrifty grasses and plenty of the low cane we call ‘tanglefoot’. We wanted to hit it lightly, and each paddock was bigger than the last as we tried to minimize close grazing. We don’t have a guidebook for how to remediate this kind of pasture, so we have to make it up as we go along. A week or two later, regrowth seems to be coming on all right. Intensive grazing seems to be more art and intuition than science, at least in the day-to-day decisions, and the results are remarkable.
Archive for April, 2016
The trick about intensive rotational grazing is the intensive rotation, isn’t it? Every year is the same. We think, read, think some more, and then set up a paddock; twenty-four hours later we take a look at the impact, ponder again, and set up a new one. Perfect grazing probably only exists in the imagination, but even our amateur efforts always seem to improve the pastures.
Green-up started early this year, with warm temperatures and sunshine in March. Grazing the last of the stockpile with early grass coming up through was ideal, and, anyway, we were running pretty short on hay, and while we could have hauled more, we figured maybe we didn’t need to. We put all the cows together (dry cows, lactating cows, and steers), and took them around the farm in a three-week turn, covering almost everything. Maybe it was a little early. The ideal (according to present wisdom, at any rate) is not to show any hard lines between grazed and ungrazed on this first pass, but who is going to define ‘hard’ in this case? April rain is a little thin; if the ground dries out, regrowth is going to slow way down. Half an inch of rain last week got things jump-started again, and considering this is, after all, only late April, we’re looking at good grass for beginning our second pass over the farm. The animals are fattening visibly, and the milk in the bucket has doubled.
Hope it rains tonight.
We finished hauling about nine or ten tons of stable litter tonight — horse manure and sawdust bedding, rotted black — and we feel a little more sanguine about this year’s garden, but we do need the rain. Three-tenths of an acre of potatoes, give or take a little, are in the ground under a light mulch of rotted hay; when the tops appear, we’ll mulch again, more heavily. Two-tenths are in field peas, for green manure, which will be tilled under and planted to field corn in late May/ early June. All the spring vegs are in the kitchen garden, coming up nicely, but, like everything else, they need the rain.
Did we mention we are hoping for rain?