Fall into Winter Grazing
Besides the garden winding down for fall and winter, so is the rotational grazing. This is my third fall/winter to graze late and I have learned some things and remembered things I knew, but forgot.
The first year, I still didn’t have much of a concept of stockpiled forage. The cows put down lots of manure, but I had my paddock sizes too small, and the grass was not rested enough so the cows took the sward down too low. I had a few flushes of weeds, that I am now just getting under control. It never pays to be complacent about rotational grazing, just like gardening, every season can and usually does throw you a curve ball. You have to be ready to catch it, but usually you don’t see it coming… .
The upside, this is my worst field, and it is improving slow but sure. I did better last winter, but this year I hope to do even better.
Sure, the cows ingest some of the brown, but for the most part they are trampling the brown and eating the green. That is the perfect mix for improving your pasture, soil organic matter and giving the soil life some cover during the winter also. That is what I missed the first year – my grass was too short (not rested enough) and with small paddocks, there was no trampling of carbon, it all was consumed by the cows. Entirely my fault. Straight manure will not build pasture very fast, it’s better than nothing, but not ideal.
I still have to pay attention to my keylines otherwise I can’t get the cows to graze the weak, hilly areas let alone place ample manure there. This is paddock 12 outlined in this post from last year. I pretty much stuck to the same plan this year for this particular field, and there is considerable improvement in this field in its third year of late grazing, enough so that family members where surprised at the growth and regrowth of this field. If they notice, I know I’m doing something right ;)
♣ Adequate rest which results in more stockpile, I had to up my game in the carbon department.
♣ Larger paddocks so they don’t have to clean their plate. Leave some carbon with all that manure and urine.
♣ Change my rotation for this field to take into consideration of the microclimates for this particular field. The entire south side is shaded by dense conifers. I will graze this side first before it gets too cold. The last two winters it timed out that the cows were on this side during our coldest weather, just out of reach of the sun. Duh! Frozen cows, frozen grass, and frozen water…I’m slow but I eventually get it. I know better than to
provide force shade for livestock during the winter, yet here I was sticking to my “flexible” rotation plan. Sorry, cows.
♥ Overgrazing is how long and often animals have access to the plants, not how short they eat it. One day of intensity will invigorate your pasture and soil, after that you’re on the downhill slide. Keeping animals in the same paddock for weeks or months and then rotating just means you’re most likely turning your entire pasture into separate pathogenic sacrifice areas especially if you live in a non-brittle environment like I do. Exceptions to that are understocked pastures for instance, Jane and Willy have access to a 10 acre hay field, they can’t graze it hard enough to set the entire acreage back, nor can they tear it up either and make it into a mud hole. Their management means keeping them close to the house, so they are treated differently.
♥ Just like your garden, start planning your 2012 fall grazing now.
♥ Be flexible, sometimes the answer is right under your nose.