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Pasture walk – November

November 16, 2010

I am literally walking most days to move the cows.  I only drive if I have to haul them water, which is about every fourth day this time of year.  I am on my last stockpiled pasture and hoping to graze until January 1st – about.  That will depend on the temperature and the condition of the cows.

They are pastured about a mile away right now.  You would think walking would be slower, but it actually takes me longer to drive and open and close all the gates.  I hate getting in and out of the rig to open and close gates.  I would rather walk.  All I need is my hammer and a small bucket of minerals.

Of course, I do get a little distracted in the woods.  I can’t help but look for mushrooms.

Just a little side jaunt off the skid road is all.

Pay dirt if you look real close.

So here is what a stockpiled pasture looks like in my area.  Lots of good green undergrowth along the brown (carbon.)

They have plenty to eat.

The cattle are hardly drinking any water because of the cool temperatures and the wet grass.  I filled this yesterday when I shifted to a different keyline and if they drank any it isn’t showing.  By splitting the trough with electric fence and planning my fence pattern I can get 4 days out of this trough fill/move.  I like that.

Portable electric fencing makes rotational grazing easy.  Our permanent fences are permanent and our temporary fences are temporary which gives us great flexibility in cow placement and impact.  Simply by unhooking this gate, I can shut the power off to the fence where the cattle are and I can move them quickly and check for loose wires etc., without having to walk all the way to the energizer and battery and shut off the fence.  I have already walked 3/4 of mile to get here, and I still need to go back,  so I am more than happy to save any steps I can.

Saving those steps would not be possible if I didn’t design my temporary paddocks right.  This is the end of my paddock and it isn’t connected to the hot wire.  Electric fence works best if not connected to itself.  It needs an open end.  With an open end I can unhook that gate handle on the other side and I don’t have to worry about my fence being hot, until I hook that gate to the hot wire, when I am finished moving the cows.  Remember design your temporary fences in a temporary way, otherwise daily moving of your stock will be a pain and won’t get done.

The beauty of rotational grazing is the resiliency that is built in with daily paddock moves.  This time of year my grass is starting to lose its goody.  That means I need to monitor the condition of my stock.  Which is pretty easy since I am responsible for “feeding” them everyday.  In our old continuous grazing plan (which by the way is NOT a plan) I would be screwed about now, and feeding hay.  Why? Because by letting your grazers at the grass all throughout the growing season, they are setting back the grass by leaps and bounds.  That makes it expensive to keep livestock.   Hold back your stock, let the grass grow and then meter it out – no one throws out a seasons worth of hay on the first day of feeding and expects it to last all winter, you meter it out – do the same with your grass, or commit yourself to buying in or making lots of feed, and as a side note, I have never seen cattle do better on hay or grain of any type than they do on good green grass they harvest themselves.

The first thing I want to see is contented cows when I step out of the woods.  No bawling and no sunk in sides, indicating they are being fed enough.  I took these picture immediately after the paddock shift.  They started grazing immediately but they aren’t starved.

Jane’s aunt Virginia, my indicator cow.

Learn to watch your cow’s left side in front of the hip and behind the short ribs.  If it is sunk in deeply the rumen is empty and they need a larger paddock (or more hay if you’re feeding.)  This is also where to look for bloat, a life threatening condition.  I look at all ages, but “Veeg” is half dairy and old, so she will show condition problems sooner than a beefier, young cow.  If she starts to back slide I will pick things up – either larger paddocks or supplemental hay in conjunction with the grazing.

A long yearling and spring calf – both look good.

Lola, looking fat and sassy.

No post about grazing around here is complete with a look at the manure!  Just call me Lady Caca.   The brown vegetation gets trampled and mixed with manure in small paddocks.  Ready made soil building machines are what cows are.  Don’t believe all the bad things you hear.  Rudolph Steiner can’t be that wrong.

Close-up.  Sorry, I like seeing all this manure being put in the pasture where it belongs.

So I am happy with the way the pastures look, with my old continuous grazing days I would have been feeding hay for at least a month by this time.   Old schedule:  feed cows and pick up chestnuts.  Now it’s:  move fence and pick up chestnuts, which means I still have grass!

After moving the cows, it was time to head back to the house pasture and see what Jane was up to.

Eating as usual.

Jane and Ty – November 2010.

And curious.
The weather is windy and warm and the cows are goofy.  It helps to wear layers for bull fighting.

I’ll finish with silly Jane.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 2:49 am

    This year, the drought ruined our plan. But we were able to pick up 10 more acres, over tripling our acreage, to prevent it happening again. Next year, we’ll have plenty for the rotation, enough to devote 1 acre to pigs and broilers, and enough to do stockpiling for this time of year.

    We hope this will be the last year of feeding hay early. The one thing that drew me to your blog, besides the wonderful writing, was the clear concise pictures. I am a visual person, and pictures are worth a thousand words.

    • November 16, 2010 6:22 am

      Pam, this has been a total steep learning curve for me too. I grew up feeding hay from fall to spring and spending all summer making it. We make so much less hay now, and our pastures are improving. And I agree, a digital camera makes this so easy. This blog is a great record for this part of our farms history.

  2. November 16, 2010 4:15 am

    O.k. So can you explain why an electric fence works better with an open end? Cause hubby says you are violating Kirchoff’s Voltage Law with an open end. O.k., not exactly violating it but the voltage in a loop will be higher, there will be less resistance vs. a open ended run. So is your statement a technical electricity thing? Or just practical in that you can turn off an entire length of fence without turning the charger off?

    • November 16, 2010 6:20 am

      Kristin, the fence tip (which is just a tip) was one I learned at a Heifer Intl symposium on pastured poultry. Prior to that I had inconsistent electric fence experiences. The most vehement promoter of this is Andy Lee of Chicken Tractor and Day Range fame. I am not wiring a house, I am trying to keep my animals where I place them. The animal completes the circuit if it touches the fence. I hope no one finds out I don’t connect all my feathernets at the clips either :O I don’t write much about my cows or sheep getting out because they don’t, because my fencing is doing its job. Sometimes my paddocks do connect depending on the shape of the keyline, but most of my permanent electric fence that I use to get power to the middle of my fields is open ended, and sometimes I do turn the charger off, it just depends on the field, where the cows are in the field etc. Flexibility.

      • November 16, 2010 6:35 am

        Electric fencing is an open ended system so does not violate K’s law. For this reason very little power is actually used on the fence UNTIL vegetation or a contact completes the circuit to ground and hence back to the energiser by way of the earth stake (or return earth wire). When that happends K’s law comes into play and a voltage drop does occur.

  3. November 16, 2010 4:56 am

    wow…now i know a lot more about cows than i did before. they are gorgeous!

  4. Marianne Reimers permalink
    November 16, 2010 5:49 am

    I have a question about grazing. We live west of Portland and have a small, non-irrigated 3.5 acres of pasture with 12 sheep. We did better with rotation this year and didn’t turn to supplementing with hay until the beginning of August (also because of wet weather.) When we 1st started, we heard a talk by OSU ext. about the need to pull the stock off the pastures in Fall as this is the most important growing time for the grass. They said (much better than I am here, of course) if you do this, you will have better grass in the Spring. However, I read alot about winter stockpile & am wondering if we keep them off Sept & Oct-ish, if we can put them back in late Fall/winter or is the winter stockpile another completely different pasture that you have set aside for use in the winter. Since we have such a small amount of acreage, we have to take what everyone else is doing and miniaturize it for our little place. I sure would like to get out of the hay rut, even if we can just decrease using it it a little.
    Thank you in advance.

    • November 16, 2010 7:50 am

      Marianne, they are right about keeping the stock (especially close eaters like sheep and horses) off of the fall grass. I am keeping the cows off my fall grass because that violates the rule of the “second bite.” We do not irrigate either, we have roughly 50 acres of pasture and run about 20 head of cattle and make hay here also. Where my cows are pastured now is grass that grew during the summer, for my stockpile. I achieved this by a long rest period. It is a steep learning curve, and I too have had to take what I read and rachet down the numbers. When I read that I can’t do High Density Short Duration grazing because I don’t have 100 cows, I get a little testy. Sure, I won’t get the dramatic results with a smaller herd but I am getting results. The longer between moves and the larger the paddock the more you can impact your pasture in a bad way. Smaller paddocks and frequent moving helps. And a biggie here, sheep are much different than cows. Cows are much easier on the land and grass although no one believes that. If I want to set an area back I put my sheep there. One thing to keep in mind is that you won’t magically be able to quit feeding hay, it takes time to build a pasture back up if it has been set back by years of overgrazing, (not to say that you were the one that overgrazed it either.) It may be a numbers thing, too many for the acreage or it may be a timing thing. The timing is the easiest to change. But it is hard to rotationally graze with a set stocking rate, meaning that it is easier to adapt to the grass if you are willing to sell some animals off. Read some different material, and start thinking of yourself as a grassfarmer not a sheep farmer. Acres USA, and Stockman Grassfarmer are good places to start and if you don’t want to bite for a subscription, read some of the online articles to get a taste. The extension service can be a great service (lifetime 4-H’er here) but they only know what they read in books and even if they get out in the field much they still are pretty set in their ways. One of our friends is an extension agent, and he’s good and can be fairly open-minded but he has stood right in my yard and told me our water system will not work, even though it does. All because of what he learned in college about water systems. We don’t dare get out the dowsing rods when he is here because he would just think we are totally crazy. So take in all that you can, and use what works for you, you may come up with a whole new workable way of grazing for your land that suits your particular set-up.

  5. November 16, 2010 6:47 am

    I notice you use the electric wires in conjunction with barbed wire. This frowned on in many countries as an animal or human caught in the barbs will be getting zapped by the electric fence whilst trying to extricate himself.

    The other issue is the points on the barbs attract electricity and where they are close enough there will be a small latent current travelling between them so I’m willing to bet that your batteries don’t last as long as they should.

    • November 16, 2010 7:54 am

      Mananzwa, yes I have been that animal! I haven’t had any problem with the battery charge, the energizer supplier advised recharging every 4 weeks, and we usually recharge in about 5 weeks. The plastic insulators are doing their job, or my fence would be grounded out immediately, and it is very apparent when that happens.

      As for the barb wire, I know it is a an old West thing, but in my entire life I have never seen problems caused by it. Maybe we just have quiet stock and ample feed?

  6. November 16, 2010 7:40 am

    What a beautiful walk! No wonder you prefer walking. Thank you for all the helpful info on rotational grazing.

    I have a question about Jane’s collar. Is that what you use to lead her?

    Also, our first cow (probably a mistake, in retrospect) has horns and is not tame at all. While she was away being AIed she got rid of her halter & we haven’t been able to get one back on her. Now that she had her calf almost two weeks ago, she won’t let us nearer than maybe 4-6 feet. I know we need to be handling her heifer since we want to use her for breeding, milking, etc. I just don’t know how to go about it or how insistent (i.e., forceful) to be. Do you have any wisdom to impart?

    • November 16, 2010 8:01 am

      Susan Lea, I keep that collar on Jane so I can catch her in hurry if I need to. To lead her I use a halter so I have nose control. I trained her to lead the first week. It is much easier when they are little than when they are big.

      You could have your cow de-horned, and I would recommend gentling her down as well as the calf. Try feeding a confined space and get a halter on her then. Once you get a halter on her, tie her to a stout post (down low) and teach her to stand tied. Then work your way to leading. Make friends with them first – I recommend grain as a motivator – even if you want to be grassfed, treats work, but only on your terms. A 50# bag of grain is a lot cheaper than a trip to the ER with broken arm!

  7. November 16, 2010 8:08 am

    Nita, you are a wealth of knowledge. I find rotational grazing and everything you write about facinating. Your cows look very happy and well fed.

    Your chantrells are beautiful. I have never eaten them before, but I imagine they are delicious.

    Thanks for all you do for educating us in farming.

    • November 16, 2010 8:12 am

      Finding Pam, you’re so sweet! I left the Chanterelles this time but it was fun looking for them 🙂

  8. November 16, 2010 9:15 am

    I always learn something new. Thank you! We are not yet rotating animals on our land, but we are reading and preparing (we have much fencing to fix) and I am learning so much. Your blog is a wealth of information and hard earned knowledge. Thank you for sharing!

  9. November 16, 2010 1:08 pm

    They are looking good! We don’t feed much either, as like you, we pasture manage. Sure makes for a happy cow and farmer!


  10. November 16, 2010 2:51 pm

    I am glad to know I am not the only person out there that likes to take pictures of cow poop in the pasture.

  11. November 16, 2010 3:09 pm

    Great post as usual…I like the wet and green look…….FAR better than the ice and white 😉

  12. jeannette permalink
    December 8, 2010 9:28 pm

    love the jane video. just the sound of her breath makes me think of hay and sweet dreams.

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