Determining paddock makeup is a balancing act, but not a tightrope walk. How large an area any given number of cows, heifers, steers, yearlings, two-year-olds, and maybe the vacationing ram and the pet pony need for a set period of time depends on many factors, all of them in constant flux, but if the ideal exists we’ve never seen it, and, as Mr. Joel Salatin says, “Good enough is perfect.” You don’t have to be an expert or have a PhD in pasture composition to practice rotational grazing; you just need time, some fence, and a ruminant. Right now there are six brood cows, four lactating and two about to calve, plus a six-weeks’ calf and a retired ram, in one paddock at the monastery, and seven yearling steers in the other. We split them up not because they need to be kept separate but because we don’t like walking a quarter mile round trip to bring the cows up to milk, so the steers get the back of the farm all to themselves, and the milk cows stay out front where they aren’t so far from the dairy. As the grass comes in, we can see the dark spots of high fertility where last winter’s cow pats were unloaded; in twenty years, we hope the whole pasture will be that color. Right now the brood cows get about forty by sixty paces of timothy/orchard grass/clover with a healthy admixture of weeds, or rather more, every twelve hours; the steers are on larger paddocks because the grass is generally thinner out back, and because we only move them once a day. All the animals are on either rain water or spring water; city and well water don’t appeal to them.
As the summer progresses, paddocks will be calculated partly by what is in them, and partly by how fast we are trying to go around the farm. In late July, we’ll start omitting areas from our rotation; that grass will be our stored stockpile for winter.