Grazing Through the Drought in Western Oregon
rought is no stranger to Western Oregon. Our summers are always on the dry side. To me, the definition of a drought is when you normally get rain during the growing season and then all of a sudden the weather pattern shifts and then you don’t get the rain you depended on for your crops. I may be wrong, but despite all the weather data being compiled now that we had the driest July, August and September on record, it really didn’t mean much to us on our farm. I’ve seen worse, and it doesn’t make the record books. Worse, how could that be? Well, worse for us would be maybe a little rain in September (again, that’s normal too but would skew the weather data for those three months) and then not much in the rain gauge until December. That’s dry. We can tell because of our spring, it doesn’t recharge until we have six inches of rain in the fall.
We started on a drought-proofing journey on our farm in earnest when we started rotational grazing. I’m happy to say its working, and working quite well due to high density, short duration grazing. We used to run out of grass in the fall and have to start feeding hay. Unless it snows I have enough grass stockpiled to last until into December when we can house the cows in the feeding shed and feed hay at that time. I like not feeding hay, it’s expensive to make and handle and if you are buying hay – wow – I can’t imagine how much that must cost. I buy a few expensive bales of candy hay for Jane and yikes! IT IS EXPENSIVE! We’re talking condiment here.
I have to say until I understood about stockpiling forage, it was hard to make the rotational grazing thing work real well. Sure it was an improvement over our willy-nilly, free-range, continuous grazing days, but it wasn’t sliced bread either, we still made a lot of hay and ran out of grass.
Once we understood the stockpiling concept and starting implementing that, we became empowered and free of the weatherman scare tactics and data compiling. While all my friends were lamenting the “drought” I was smiling thinking about how much longer the stockpile would be nutritious because it wasn’t being subjected to our normal fall rains. I gained 30 days of more nutritious grass. Wow, talk about a paradigm shift.
While people were wanting the fall rain so the grass would grow, we were steadily moving the cows through the stockpile. Don’t get me wrong, rain would have been great, but with planned grazing it’s not the savior, planned stockpiling is. To have adequate grass next year you shouldn’t be grazing new succulent grass that is spurred on by fall rains anyway…
My stockpiled grass is a good blend of green leaves for grazing and brown carbon (ripe grass) for trampling and that is the secret to more grass. Instead of nipping the grass in the bud and mining the soil continually, the cows are feeding and fertilizing at the same time. I used to think removing all the grass and adding lots of manure was the answer to more grass. After awhile I could see that wasn’t the case. We tried the oft-touted method of moving the cows through lightly and grazing the grass at a certain height. That didn’t make much difference either, we still ran out of grass at the end of our typical Mediterranean-type summers. Stockpiling and long rest periods are the real answer.
This photo really shows what I mean. While others in my area where out of grass and their pastures were stalled. Our pastures were showing regrowth through the driest part of late summer and into fall. Deep rooted pasture plants are the sustainability and resilience of your grazing future.
As you can see behind the cows the stockpile appears to be brown and it is, but when you actually walk through the stockpile and look at your feet you can see how much green forage there is.
Next post: Tips and tricks for achieving the cow pantry – the stockpile.