Early November has us calculating and recalculating our winter pasture reserves, or ‘stockpiled’ pasture, that is, the half or so of our grasslands that have been set aside starting in late July/early August to grow and mature grass for winter grazing. In a perfect world, if we do it right, we only have to feed hay if we get a hard ice crust over snow; all the rest of the winter our animals are in the pasture grazing. Grass that has been stored like this is demonstrably better feed than ‘made’ hay, and we’ve got a lot less work in it, too. Plus, animals that spend the winter in the field drop their manure and urine in the field, too, and if you’ve never cleaned out a lounging shed with a winter’s deep bedding in it you probably can’t appreciate what a big job it is without heavy equipment.
But in this our less-than-perfect world, we can plan and think and plan and think some more, and still we won’t know until it happens if we’ve set aside enough grass for the winter. One reason is the weather, both right now, and in January, February and March. Right now (and for the past two months) the question mostly had to do with getting enough rain to start the grass growing after the hot season (it came, but it was late) and how long the really cold weather hods off and lets the grass go on growing, albeit slowly. Later in the winter, if it’s very cold or very wet or very icy, the cow’s may need more grass than we have set aside. And finally, if we don’t cull enough animals now — sell them or butcher them — instead of coming through the winter with a certain number of well-fed animals and little money spent on hay, we may have a few too many scrawny animals and a big hay bill.
So — two steers are boarding with our friend Dale, who raises Navajo Churros and has some extra room, and two steers were butchered. One lactating cow and her calf were downgraded to the dry cows’ pasture, where, since she is no longer in the milking string, the cow’s nutritional needs will be less, and will be satisfied with our less-nutritious forage. Two heifers are staying for replacement stock, but two others will be culled if the vet says they haven’t settled to breeding. The current year’s calves all stay — the steers and bulls are next year’s steaks, and heifer calves constitute our hope that with time we’ll develop a strain of dairy cows particularly suited to our farm — what is called a ‘landrace’.