It’s Not Water, It’s Food
farm visitor a couple of weeks ago asked, “Do you have any Queen Anne’s Lace?” Well, uh, we don’t have any…unless I go into the county right-of-way near our hedgerow were the conditions needed for good pasture are usually found wanting. I like the little lacy fellows along with ox-eye daisies just like any other good farm girl. But I draw the line at calling them pasture pretties! I do NOT want to see them in my fields. They indicate low humus in the soil among a myriad of other things, mainly hunger.
Now the summer lament in Western Oregon is, “Oh, if it would only rain…then my pasture would be green again.” True, rain and irrigation do help keep things green. But I view them as a crutch. We used to cry the same song when we ran out of grass in August and the pasture dried up to an unsightly tan carpet. Where is that darn rain when you need it? Shrug. Actually it’s never really rains here during the summer. We in Cascadia almost always have a long wet fall, winter and spring, and then the spigot turns off for the summer. Period.
We started taking steps some time ago to drought proof our farm. We dryland garden, we put in municipal water for emergencies while it was still affordable, and we learned through trial and error how to make our pastures more resilient during the summer drought period.
We still have plenty of grass for grazing. More in part from High Density, Short Duration grazing than from MiG. I still move the cows every day, but the pace is leisure with mob stocking compared to the old style management-intensive grazing we used to do. Not to knock MiG completely, but it was a frenetic pace, and we still ran out of grass come October. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and make mistakes when you try to hit your paddocks six or seven times a year. If I remember right the MiG gurus call it forward acceleration. You go too fast through your paddocks and pretty soon you’re back to the beginning and depending on the year, maybe the grass isn’t rested enough, but you’re stuck. The cows gotta eat every day, so you let them eat and then the grass gets set back, again. And pretty soon, you’re scratching your head and ready to give up.
When that happens, you need to pull your stock and feed them hay to get over the hump. There are two times a year that your pasture shouldn’t be grazed, winter if you have pugging problems, and summer when your grass is bone dry and you’re doing the
bandaid rain dance and hoping for a miracle to save you from what you have been doing to your pasture. What you did last year to your pasture is what is showing up now, and what you’re doing today will show up next year at this time. Hard to believe in our real-time world that what we see right now is a product of what we may have unknowingly done last year to our grass and the soil it grows in. Trust me I know all about “mistakes.” I am battling a hardpan in two greenhouses that saw pigs more than ten years ago. Give a pig a hog nipple, and they make a wallow. Soil is forgiving to a point and so are the plants that live there, but us humans need to get better at “seeing” and feeling what is beneath our feet. I am forever thankful for my brother who taught me to “feel” such things as soil, when to shift a transmission, air in the ram pipe and when a cow 40 acres away is “off.”
This is what the stockpile that I’m grazing right now looks like. The deer and calves have been wreaking havoc so some of it is mopped down. But if you stretch it out it is BH. (Breast Height) That’s pretty tall, and the undergrowth is green and lush with orchard grass, clovers and other forbs.
No stockpile and no grass right now? It might be time to address your stocking rate and/or grass management techniques. Maybe you have too many animals for your land or you are too lax with your grazing. A general rule of thumb is you can never move the stock too fast, but you can will usually move them too slow. Meaning it’s pretty easy to leave them too long to the detriment of the pasture. Rotational grazing takes discipline.
A good way to make a fake stockpile is to still move your “herd” daily but feed them in each paddock. While certainly labor intensive as far a hauling feed, at least you would be somewhat mimicking the mob grazed stock pile effect by adding carbon in addition to the manure the herd leaves. Any hay that doesn’t get consumed becomes fertilizer. And truth be told it’s about the same amount of chores and fuel used if you put your stock in a sacrifice paddock instead and had to gather the manure and then haul it to the pasture.
♥ Tall grass has long roots that reach deep to moister soils which in turn makes the plants more resilient in an extended dry period.
♥ Grass that is allowed to express itself will be tall and have deep roots.
♥ Adding cows after the grass has been rested properly adds to the biological activity by trampling and manuring, as long as you don’t violate the second bite rule.
Even on the north slope of this pasture the grass grazed in late July is coming in nicely. I think the take away from seeing this in photos isn’t how wet western Oregon is and how easy it is to grow grass here, it’s how when your grass is alive and not dormant, it can take the rain that comes in fall and if the rains don’t come…at least your grass is plugging away growing and maintaining a healthy sward.
Most farm land I see these days is hungry more than thirsty. The steady exodus of farm livestock off the land over the last three decades has taken its toll. You can see it in the color, deep green and lush usually indicates livestock activity. Pale, wan and brittle usually means land devoid of animals. Healing takes time and livestock on farmland managed to their full potential are like a restorative salve. Make your pasture pretty, not with flowers but with green grass.