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Posts Tagged ‘rotational grazing’

If you ever see a cow standing with her neck arched, mouth open, saliva dripping from her jaws, respiration about eighty breaths per minute, get her out of the sun.

These early spring days hit the cows harder  than hotter days will do in July, when they are acclimated to it, but what do you do with a cow who has water, shade and salt and prefers to stand in the sun and pant?  It was time to take that group of cows across the road to a wooded pasture, so over she went with the others, and after an hour in the shade was frisking with the rest.  Still, we don’t like to see a cow get in that condition, and she wasn’t the only one; there were two among the lactating cows which were approaching meltdown.  These were on the woods on the east side of the pasture, where the shade is thinner in late afternoon, so in the morning we gave them a paddock on the west side so that they would have the best shade between noon and four o’clock milking time, which did the trick.  Thank goodness; we don’t want a bunch of cows with heat stroke.

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We walked out to look at Sweetheart this evening before bed.  She is four days past due calving, but seems unconcerned about it, a state I can’t appreciate, having always been wildly impatient under such circumstances.  The night promises to be cool, and we sat in the orchard with children on our laps trying to stay warm.  Other children slid under the hot wire to play with Rosa, the month-old black heifer calf, who came to see what was up and then stayed to play a game of peekaboo with a pair of tennis shoes.  The children lay on their backs in the grass and the cows, who can never resist a recumbent human being, came and sniffed their hair.

This year we are moving faster over the pastures, watching the orchard grass head out and trying to make our way all the way around in forty days on the second pass.  Despite the scant rainfall, the regrowth has been rapid, and we are teetering between wondering if we will be short on forage in July, or if we should clip behind the cows.  Guesswork, really, there are arguments both ways —

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new grass

Thirteen steers, heifers and dry cows came up from the back of the monastery farm to graze some new pasture on the road, grass on a neighbor’s land that we’ve never used before.  It’s a great thing to see land coming back into agricultural use after so many years under the brush hog.  All those rumens full to bursting, so when we open gates the cows are almost blase’ about coming up.  The new calves look like something made by Gund.

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spring sleet

At this time of year the livestock moves over the pastures very quickly, and paddocks are consequently large, which means they take a long time to set up, so when the sleet started yesterday afternoon it caught us in the field and there was no getting away until the fence was up and the cows set for the night.  Sleet bouncing off the back of our necks and a strong wind which wasn’t warm even if it was southerly, and the cows trying to make a sneak into the woods while the fence was down, and who can blame them?  By the time the lactating cows were milked and put in their own little paddock by the run-in shed we were saturated, and there was rain puddling in our boots.  Still — we wouldn’t trade this for anything.

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green grass!

There are few kinds of relief to be compared to that of the grass farmer when spring green-up finally arrives; maybe the only one would be the sensation of a man in a strange city when he finally spots the door marked ‘Gents’.  We have been holding on by the skin of our teeth for three weeks, feeding the last of the hay, and whatever else we could scrounge, while we held the cows off the tiny points of green that were slowly, oh-so-slowly poking through the sodden brown trash left from our stockpiled forage.  The persistent cold weather and near-constant overcast were not encouraging to those little green shoots, and they weren’t sure they were really welcome on the Beautiful river.

Now we have green!  In just a few days — three, four at most — the rain stopped, the sun shone, and the grass popped and kept popping!  We split the cows up again and put twelve — dry cows, steers, yearlings — on the back in enormous paddocks where they can spread out and graze all they want without hitting anything too hard, and put the four lactating cows in a front paddock where they can walk back to the dairy without tearing up ungrazed pasture.  There is a beautiful brown Jersey heifer calf in there, too, because Honey, the three-year-old F/J cross, calved on Palm Sunday vigil.

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Wednesday, March 25, the Annunciation:

All winter we’ve held the lactating cows up front on the better forage, while the dry cows, heifers and yearlings cleaned up out back on the paddocks farthest from the dairy, and therefore the longest walk for the milkers.  Monday morning we ran all the cows up to the front of the farm and put them in one paddock, where the the sixteen of them actually look like a respectable herd.  They are pastured now on what we would call a sacrifice paddock, an area where we are going to create a lot of impact, more than we would want in a regular rotation.  There are two reasons for this choice:  one is so that the last of the stockpiled forage will be held in abeyance until green-up, so that the first spring paddocks will still contain some brown, high-carbon stuff to slow down the passage of new green grass through the cows’ gut.  The second reason for hitting this paddock hard is that this corner of the front pasture is only lately reclaimed from the jungle.  Last fall when we ran the cows over that paddock there was a lot of good grass they missed under the briars and cane, because they wouldn’t shove their faces in among the thorns to graze.  Feeding hay on that paddock now, with four-times-sixteen that’s sixty-four hooves cutting into the soil, we’ll disadvantage the cane before green-up, as well as adding lots of good organic matter, some biological activity, and whatever grass seeds spills from the hay or makes it unscathed through the cows’ digestive systems.  Coming up on calving we don’t want too much protein in the dry cows, anyway, so this is a win-win:  good nutrition now, better grazing later.

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Sharing our grass-based family farm systems with other interested people is always a pleasure for us.  Saturday, January 10, a dozen people braved below-zero temperatures to attend our full-day sustainable  homesteading/ rotational grazing seminar sponsored by the Shepherd’s Bridge in Deersfield, Ohio, where we spent six hours sharing farming experiences and some delicious home-cooked foods.  Attendees included people of all levels of information, from no farming experience at all, to a couple of dairy farmers and a professional greenhouse grower; but low-input integrated farming is becoming important to a wide public, making our workshop days some of the most interesting we spend.  We look forward to the OEFFA conference in February, when we will present on grass-based homesteading, focusing on rotational grazing and the family dairy cow, and to the summer, when we will host several on-farm seminars and farm tours.  See out 2015 schedule for more information on our summer courses.

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