A cyber “friend” told me yesterday I needed to let everyone know that I was dreading Jane freshening. So here it is. I’m scared shitless. That cat’s out of the box. My cow world is divided up into two parts. Beef cows and one dairy cow. I don’t worry about the beef cows, I do worry about the milk cow. It may sound callous but I can replace a beef cow pretty easy. A family cow, not so much. They don’t grow on trees and if someone is getting rid of one it’s usually because something is wrong with them. Plus I like Jane, I do not want to see her in pain, ever. Lots can go right with a dairy cow and lots can go horribly wrong.
To that end, my expectations on the beef cow side of things is that they will calve unassisted and the calf will be strong enough to get up and latch on for some life-saving colostrum before I even arrive on the scene. That’s why I like late spring calving. No weather problems to worry about and less likelihood of cougars eating the little tenderloin right out of the gate. That being said, my calving season this year is messed up do to rental bull technical difficulties last year. So today is the start of round two of calves from the second bull who apparently didn’t have technical problems…
I found this little sweetums this morning taking her first drink, I built my new front fence and ushered her into the new paddock. Then I walked back to the house to get the camera. Can’t document if you don’t have the right tools. I’ve seen this 100′s of times but you haven’t. So I’m sharing. Note to self: Take Camera.
Made my day. And freed me up to worry about Jane.
Grazing gurus will tell you that your paddocks are too small if the cows clean up their paddocks and then start eating under the fence…this cow grazes under the fence right after she gets into a new paddock. If I lower the fence she gets down on her knees and starts grazing. Smart cow I guess.
Today was a good time to get some one-on-one with Grady, no need for a Hillbilly Doorbell in this pasture, so a dog trade was in order. Trace got another morning nap in at the house and Grady got to go on a “big adventure.” He was pretty happy to stay away from those mama cows and pretend to be guarding the truck.
Moving the cows to a different pasture is the easy part. They walk, or run. Gathering up all the temporary fencing, troughs, fence energizer etc., is what takes some effort on my part. Early this week I needed to move the cows from our lower pastures through the timber to the pasture in the top left of this haying photo. My first order of business is to lay out the new fence so it’s ready when the cattle arrive. Then go fetch the other fencing and the cattle.
Farm dogs are pretty necessary. I need someone to talk to besides the cows.
The lower field was finished and I squeaked out three days grazing on the perimeter of that field. Part glen and part open space. My usual procedure is to take down all the fence around the cows and load up. They know the drill and wait for me to tell them what is next. Their only choice is to go into the timber so it’s not like they are “out” or going to get into too much trouble.
Sometimes I drive ahead with them in hot pursuit and other times the procedure is a little more laid back. As it turned out the cows were not in a hurry this move, so I took the opportunity to drive to the upper pasture, and walk back with my camera.
You can always count on the lead cow to make your life the easiest or the most difficult. Lula is one of those girls. She’s so tame that she does not shoo or move unless she wants to. But this day she was perfect. She’s Jane’s aunt and a big galoot. Half Guernsey, half Hereford and purebred Attitude.
A cow like that is priceless for training these youngers to the procedure. We’re all a little breathless from our trip through the woods, so I make them stop at the gate and then I open the electric fence (that’s the gray thing in left corner of the photo), call them and let them in.
The single hardest concept about Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) to understand is how to use time in relationship to your land. It’s not just about building fence and putting the stock out there to pick around. If you mob them up and move them every day you can meet several objectives at once. It took a long time for us to figure this out, coming from a continuous grazing, free-range mentality.
♥ Feed – it’s best to have fresh forage for the stock every day.
♥ Weed control – cattle will eat many “weeds” if you mob them up with one day paddocks. Save the hog mower for after the cows move through. Pay attention to what they eat and what they leave. You’ll save fuel and time, and maybe only have a few weeds to contend with. We have two, tansy ragwort and blackberries. Every other plant in the pastures is palatable and gets grazed.
♥ Fertilization – manure and urine are the obvious contributors of course, but the plants provide important nutrients as well. As the grass is grazed the roots self prune adding to the organic matter of the soil, and if you have your stock mobbed you get the trampling effect above ground as well. Ready made compost only you don’t have to make it or apply it, you just need to apply the grazing pressure.
I think though we all in our minds have photos of cattle in green grass like the one pictured above. But with MiG you have to take some ugly, you do have to add disturbance into the picture. In the pasture and in your mind.
This field now looks like this:
Or more specifically like this:
You don’t have to be a maniac and move the cows every few hours like some mob stockers do, once a day is about the perfect balance. You have a life too you know, and once a day allows you to correct any mistakes in over-allotting or under-allotting pasture. Too many times a day is almost as bad as moving the cows on a weekly or every two-week schedule, you can’t really observe on a daily basis if you’re on the tight or loose schedule.
We’re experiencing a dry summer this year, drier than normal since we had a dry winter and spring. Friends of mine who don’t rotationally graze are running out of pasture and begging for this rainstorm today. We’ve got plenty of grass, and the fields are coming back good after grazing or hay mowing. All a sign that we are getting better at our timed grazing and rest periods. Most pasture problems come from over and under. Over-grazed or under-grazed. Yes, too much rest is as bad as too much grazing. Over-stocked or understocked. Too many cows is as bad as too few in relation to pasture health.
The most important thing is the one day time frame. The function of time, in timed grazing. I feel my friend’s pain, I know what it is like to be in a dry summer, and be lamenting the lack of good grass in July. Just as a benchmark for us, and a good farm record we take lots of photos of the fields at all different times of the year. We take notes too, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some photos of different fields taken this past weekend the third week of July.
There is nothing special about our pastures, they are a mix of what is adapted to our climate and the grazing pressure we apply. But I have to say the single biggest changes have come about from the daily moving of the cattle, which applies adequate impact, and then adequate rest. Our pastures have grown by leaps and bounds because of the change in how they are managed. Loving it.
More pictures later…forgive my loud cow calling and the shortness of the video. I had to turn around and run in order to beat them to the gate of their new paddock.
If looks could kill, this is Jane’s mad look.
Her calving date is getting closer so she needs a daily inspection from me, and some fly repellent on her tummy and udder. The mad look is caused by her intolerance of the fly repellent. Tough titty I say. I wipe on the repellent with a rag, so I can get better coverage and not have any more of the essential oils in the air. Jane’s reaction tells me that it hurts her nasal passages more than anything. The game is that she is semi-glad to see me, until she gets a whiff of the NO-FLY. Then she takes off. But being Jane, taking off means she walks away quickly about one hundred feet and then gives me the look. Then she allows me to halter her and lead her back to a stout post. Then she throws her Jane tantrum, which is really not a tantrum at all in the cow world. “Roar”, I tell her, you are one silly girrl.
All the bag filling, etc., are important but the position of the calf, and the indentation of the pin bones will tell you calving is really imminent. Like twelve hours imminent. The standing joke around here is that when I am really nervous about the milk cow calving at any minute, we have two more weeks to go. I’m not nervous yet… .