The Other Cows
ows take up a lot of all my days. Not just Jane and Blake which are a whole different animal, but the beef cows. Their program is a little different. Not quite as fraught with worry as the dairy side of bovineness, but a whole set of chores that requires attention each day. I move them each day to a new paddock, of a size to be determined by me and them in a joint venture sort of way. Collaborating with cows – I couldn’t ask for better partners.
Going through the woods is my favorite part, Windflowers and Devil’s club are blooming right now, and besides I just like the deep, dark rain forest.
When I break out into the light, I always breathe a sigh of relief when the cows are where I left them. Sometimes the sight that greets me is cows out, which means lots of fence investigating and a fresh battery. This day I can’t see them, so I know they are still “in.”
Yep, patiently waiting for me to move them. This is where we start the collaboration – I look at the cows and how they greet me. A simple one bawl from one or two is a HI! Or many bawls is a “Where have you been? Our paddock was too small, crappy grass, or too…yesterday!$#&!! Everyone is where they belong, they are well fed and that means no glaring from either side
This is our oddest shaped field and it also comes with the oddest keylines. To alleviate too long of fences and to accommodate the keylines, the field is broken in half and currently the cows are in the second half. To build my new paddock, I assess the cows first, and then the grazed paddock and then the new grass. Things I am looking for are types of grasses and forbs and quantity of forage in the next paddock area. Normally the steeper the ground, the worse the soil, due to past erosion and land uses. (This applies almost anywhere in a temperate climate.) I’m getting into some steep ground here and the grazing is mediocre. I have fattening beef and lactating cows right now, so each day presents a challenge as the landscape and the cows dictate. That is why I think grazing with electric netting really limits your graziers edge. My fencing tools are pretty simple, and easy to adapt to meet the needs of the cows and the land. I like the electric netting and use it every day, but for cows it just doesn’t make sense to me. Too limiting, much like the fixed system of dividing the pasture into X number of permanent paddocks and calling that rotational grazing. Sure it’s rotational grazing if you want to get literal about it, but that’s about all it is.
Once I decide on the paddock size, I set out with posts and hammer in hand, I pick a tree or post on the horizon and head for it, pacing off 20 steps or so and put in the posts as I walk along. In the photo above you can see the path in the grass where I walked.
I have to now walk back and roll out the wire. To save energy, time or whatever you want to call it, I take out all the posts in the back fence. I have to walk back to the beginning anyway, I may as well be doing something. This also gives me a chance to mess around taking photos, and most days to look at the actual pasture. Do I see any worm castings, weeds I want to dig out, weird looking manure, etc?
There is a sturdy permanent fence around the perimeter of this field and it acts as the end of all the paddocks or the beginning depending on which half of the field that is being grazed. At this point in the process I have to walk back to let the cows in, so I roll up the back fence wire and I’m done except letting the cows in and moving and filling the water troughs.
Besides paying attention to their demeanor when I arrive, I need to look at their rumens and see if they’re full or not. The beauty of rotational grazing is that you can fix your mistake the next day if you short your cows. Providing you have enough grass to begin with, that is.