Grass Hugger & the State of the Sward
Guilty as charged, actually I was accused this summer of being a tree hugger. Only because we didn’t tag on with the logging next door. I am so not a tree hugger, if it were the right timing we would have logged. It wasn’t the right timing. The accusatorial logger is the same guy I have been trying to convince to start rotational grazing. Well, so much for that, they sold their cows this summer and are planting…trees. Oh well, he can call me a tree hugger if he wants, I think if he had hugged his grass a little more, he might not have felt like selling his cow herd. I have no idea how easy it was for him to sell his herd, his family had cattle since the 1920′s, maybe it was easy, I do know it’s none of my business.
So all summer I have been hugging my grass, which is my term these days for stockpiling forage in my pastures for my beef cows.
Our dry spring and subsequent dry summer really slowed down the growth of the grass. We had a great garden and hay making year and an okay grass year. But looking at my stockpile, I think I’m going to be about 30 days short this year on my last grazing date compared to the dates over the last three wet spring years. Lesson one, don’t count your grass before it has grown, you never really know what the weather year will bring. Another thing too, is that don’t despair, if you’re out of grass and feeding hay, a good way to build fertility is to continue the rotation and feed too in each paddock, that way you are distributing the manure, urine and any hay that doesn’t get eaten steps in for the brown in a stockpile situation. Lesson two, what you’re doing today to your pastures is affecting next years growth, so think ahead. Lesson three, if you are grazing the fall greenup make sure to offer hay to balance the cows rumen, if they don’t need balancing they won’t eat it, if they do, the hay will disappear.
Despite writing about gardening and preserving constantly the last month or two, the grazing still goes on, whether I write about it or not. Every day I move the cows to a fresh paddock, and assess them, (my most enjoyable part of the day) and I assess the forage.
It’s hard to see with the camera, but the green is there underneath the brown and sprinkled throughout the sward. The perfect method of fertilization is to let the cows do work. They eat the green with a little brown, condiment style, and trample the rest. An ideal way to improve a pasture, instead of bringing in fertilizer materials, we’re growing it, and letting the cows “spread” the wealth.
A recent article in the Stockman Grass Farmer really brought home the folly of anticipating the fall green up to fatten your cattle. Those tender young shoots that begin to grow are not much more nutritious than the spring green up and in fact can make your cattle lose weight due to the moisture content and “washiness” of the grass. The old timers used to know that, that’s why cattle were fattened in the fall on grains or crops, the new grass after the fall rains just wasn’t nutritious enough. It’s good for your grass too to let the fall green up go ungrazed, the grass should be getting a rest and replenishing its root reserves to get ready for next year’s grazing rotation.
And inspect the cows for rumen fill to see if you gave them enough to eat the previous day. The beauty of rotational grazing is that you set foot on all your land, and you can observe your cattle. Dairymen see their cows twice a day, beef cows aren’t so lucky usually. I can see by looking at this cow that I didn’t judge the grass correctly the previous day, her rumen, the triangle-shaped area in front of her hip and below the short ribs on the left side is a little sunken in. More grass needed.
I could spend all my fall days like this, sitting here watching the cows, (see my foot in the bottom left hand corner) but since I took these photos last week, it has been so wet, I doubt I’ll be doing much pasture sitting! We’re still weeks away from first frost ( I hope) but we’ve started lighting the fire at night. It takes off the chill and dampness and tells us winter is really on the way. Besides the wet grass and warm fires, I have been hearing the high geese flocks, which is a little early I’m thinking, I hope they are just being prudent, and getting while the getting is good. I am NOT ready for winter!