ariable stocking rate? What’s that? That term gets bandied about a bit in graziers circles. Basically it means using various methods of matching your stock numbers to the grass growth rate which fluctuates depending on the season. One way is to make hay with the surplus grass and stock the barn pantry with the extra forage for the winter feeding period. Another way is to bring in more animals to match the spring flush and remove them when the growth slump occurs. For us, it just makes sense to vary our stocking rate by harvesting our meat animals before the grass starts to wane, in addition to making hay for winter feeding.
This time of year with the beef for meat already harvested, I can begin “landscaping” with the cows. I have done a little clipping this year, mostly areas that need some blackberry abatement, but the grazers are my tool of choice. They can get right up to a fence much easier than you can with tractor. In the photo above we are going to cut the field on the left for hay, the cows are to the right and I needed the fenceline cleared so I could run my power to my daily paddock fences from the semi-permanent hotwire that runs along this permanent fence.
We’re right at 65 days rest for the pasture now, so that means some growth on the wires too. I could either spend hours pulling grass and clipping berry vines, or I could spend 15 minutes fencing the cows there, come back the next day and do a spot check on their work. I chose the cow method. It’s nice having that end of the hayfield open anyway. It gets a little more air to the first round which always dries slowly anyway, and I got my fence line cleared for free.
They did an excellent job. Note, when I expect them to eat this close to the permanent fence I do not have that wire hot, otherwise they stay away from it for fear of getting shocked. In all my electric fencing endeavors, I try to have only the minimum amount of fence electrified as possible, since I am using a 12 volt battery to run my fence. It also makes it easier to check if there is a problem.
It’s a little early to start landscaping with the cows since they’re still early in lactation and I want to observe the cows condition. So I won’t get too crazy with slim, rectangular paddocks, preferring to stick to more square-shaped paddocks as the terrain allows. Above the 14-year-old cow on the left is as slick as a whistle, while her 3-year-old pasture mate on the right has not shed all her winter coat. If I want to stick to Greg Judy’s and Ian Mitchell-Innes’s rules of culling anyone who doesn’t lose their winter coat by June 1st, I would have to cull this young cow. I’m not culling her, but I do take the blame for her condition. I got greedy and bred her to calve at two instead of three. She did fine, until I discovered she wasn’t very quick on the weaning part of lactation. She would have benefited from forced weaning from us. We’re not set-up for that, so I will watch her this winter to see if she gets run down again. There may be a change in plans…
This the third season of tall grass mob-stocking for us, and I have seen a vast improvement in our forage, both quality and quantity. Good areas respond quicker than poor areas, but any improvement on any part of the pasture is welcome. This spring, orchard grass sprang up on a hillside that had always been infested with oxeye daisy and could barely squeak out Jap clover. Seeing clumps of orchard grass and timothy growing on that north slope was pretty exciting. Yeah, I get a big bang out of watching grass grow