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Tall Grass, Tall Tales

July 11, 2011

It’s hard to know where to start in the circle of cows and grass and hay.  It’s easy to sit on the fence or the sidelines and play when called.  Then I saw a quote attributed to Louis L’Amour that goes something like this, “If you sit on the fence all you get is a sore crotch.”  So I got off the fence!  If you live in a farming community, you know FOMO was invented long ago, the fear of missing out has been alive and well as far as having bigger tractors and the most equipment.  The first guy that cuts his hay is considered the guru, and everyone begins the scramble.  It’s as bad a fishing stories; how many tons, how many days faster can you get the dang stuff in the barn.  We have to look at our hay harvesting as just another part of the entire picture.  And, we also have to watch the weather.  Moon’s dry, but the high pressure isn’t strong enough, no strong NW wind.  Our hay won’t cure properly with 70ºF weather.   Hay can be a lot like baking bread, you get a feel for the dough, and you know how and when to proceed.  I’ve never seen a loaf of bread that was enhanced by adding more equipment or by speeding up the process.  And, I know the difference between the neighbor guy’s field and mine.  Besides the fact that his is already baled and on its way off the farm.  Their place hasn’t seen a cow pie in 20 years, yet they still get lauded for getting their hay done FIRST!  First does not trump nutrient-dense, sorry to say.  So, I guess nutrient dense is what I am after, not first.

Jumping into the circle that is a biological farm, anywhere is fine, but I will start with last August for a beginning point.

I breed my cows in August for late spring calves because:

♣  The cows have been on grass for a couple of months then and have had a proper cleansing after a winter of eating stored forage.

♣  It’s warmer and the calves do better than when they are born in the snow and mud, or in a barn because it is too cold to be born in the snow and mud.

♣  The cougars are busy eating fawns and elk calves and are less likely to snatch a calf.

♣  I like to sell my beef during the best grass (early summer.) It’s the most nutrient dense at that time.  There is a reason June is dairy month, that’s why I make my butter during that time too.  When I have a cow, that is.

♣  Once my two-year old beef is sold, I can begin “landscaping” my pastures, since I don’t have to manage for meat, I can get serious about mob stocking and rejuvenating some pasture.

Historically, we cut have cut certain fields for hay, mostly because they are flat and close, and much easier to make hay on than steep fields.   You can build forgiveness into the depleting hay making system, if you apply amendments to help replace what you have taken.  Lately as our area has gotten more attention from “recreaters” and lots of our neighbors are acreage dwellers, we can no longer haul composted manure down the road without getting the finger all too frequently.  So time for regrouping.  It sucks having a county road cutting through your property.  That’s progress, I guess.  Enter tall grass mob stocking.  I can just have the cows place the manure and trample the carbon for me in designated pastures and leave the manure spreading for the field adjacent to the compost piles. No more finger waving on either side and lots less time in the tractor seat.

Next year we can hay here again, and give this treatment to a different part of the pasture.

One and two-year old siblings side by side.

As soon as the last beef left, I started doing 2 paddock shifts a day.  It adds about 10 minutes to my chore load.  The cows get the same allotment, it’s just divided in two.  But with smaller paddocks I get more trampling, which is what I want.  I am trying to recreate the composted manure I would be spreading, so that means carbon (grass) and manure in combination.   A combined herd of all ages acts and grazes differently than a herd of young feeder stock, giving you maximum herd effect.  Basically I am giving the earthworms that live in the pastures more to work with, a roof of their heads (trampled carbon) and food (manure and carbon), they in turn will enhance the pastures with their lime rich worm castings.

Waiting for paddock shift.

I have to watch the rumen to make sure the cows are getting enough to eat.  If they are sunken in they need more grass.  The more you watch your stock the more you will get it right.

Virginia – Jane’s aunt.

Virginia is half Guernsey and she’s old.  She’s a good indicator cow for me to watch for condition summer and winter.  Back fat is where the milk comes from so you want to see back fat on your cows, beef or dairy.  Grazing tall grass gives them energy and protein in the same bite, and keeps them in good condition.  Long stem forages have a positive effect on rumen bacteria, which in turn has a positive effect on the land.  All manure is not created equal.

Open the gate and let them pass.

As soon as they come into the new paddock, everyone starts to graze.

I have a little less freedom when the cows are more crowded.  I have to think a little more deliberately about water trough and mineral box placement.  It’s easy for a boss cow to push someone through the fence when they are at the mineral box, so I never place the minerals by the front fence.   Near the back fence or by the permanent fence causes less consternation (for me).  If someone gets pushed into new grass, the herd wants to follow, if they get pushed into the old grazed area they don’t care.  Less potential for fence fixing for me.

Also lots of girls are in heat, so it can be quite a fest with everyone getting in the act.  Lots of partying going on… .

Things calm down a little when they move to fresh grass.

Dinner time for all.

That’s whats going on here in the grass world, and I have a post over at Simple-Green-Frugal Co-op about the garden world here in July.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    July 11, 2011 8:29 am

    I’ve been following your farm adventures for awhile, but this is the first time I’ve seen mention of Virginia. Being part Guernsey, I assume she is/was a milk cow. How many milk cows do you have besides Jane? Do you breed them, or do you have only one milk cow at a time? Thanks for the explanation, and for all the wonderful information.

    • July 11, 2011 1:14 pm

      Debra, I don’t mention “Veege” much because she is just a such a permanent fixture I guess. But she has always been a beef cow, even though she is a half breed. Her and Della’s mom, Lee was the first dairy cow I ever bought that I didn’t raise. I still miss her, in the time I had her I learned a whole lot about metabolic issues in dairy cows when they are raised conventionally, as opposed to a more natural rearing. Poor thing, she never had a good start and I never could fix it. She was one of the sweetest cows I have ever been around. Della, Virginia and Lula are her daughters. Virginia and Lula inherited her quiet disposition, Della had to learn patience…or actually teach me to be more patient 😉

      I only keep one milk cow at a time, and at the most have had two. Too much of a pain for me to have more than one 🙂

  2. Jenny permalink
    July 11, 2011 9:27 am

    When I retire, will you adopt me? I’ll schlep through the pastures with you, or for you, and push cows.

  3. July 11, 2011 9:32 am

    I have been twiddling my thumbs for days waiting for a post. I have cow envy. I want compost makers walking around on my land!

    I am curious if you have ever made hay by hand. I purchased a scythe this season and I’m trying to figure out just how and when one makes hay. As with all things homestead related, the learning curve is very steep and there seems to be a thousand opinions on any given subject.

    I’m only on three acres, mostly grass, and I’m trying to learn how to make good use of it prior to actually owning an animal that might need it. I also live on an island, so any amendments are scarce so any amendments you can make yourself are valuable.

    I currently reading Steve Solomon and all his neigh saying about our native soil fertility is rather depressing. I suppose you import minerals in the form of supplement for your herd rather than fertilizer for you garden.

    I’m rambling…thanks for the post.

    • July 11, 2011 1:29 pm

      Anna, yeah I admit cow manure excites me! It’s a glorious thing in the right place 🙂

      I have played around with a scythe and loose hay and with never got too far…mostly because we have too many animals, and time is of the essence at haying time. Not saying it doesn’t work and actually it’s quite easy if you get the hang of it and your scythe is sharp. But watching a cow gobble up a 50 pound bale+ every day in the winter makes me glad for our equipment and my dear hubby who didn’t really know what he was signing up for so many years ago. Cutting your grass, and leaving it lay is good fertilizer, you are getting part of the deal – when the grass is cut or grazed the roots slough to match the top and that makes organic matter and the carbon on top is a soil builder in itself. Leaving it stand is inviting succession to more woody species – especially here in the PNW where you turn your back and a something big sprouts.

      Steve Solomon is pretty good, but he is pretty honest. There is a lot of poor soil here that is great for growing trees and needs some help to grow vegetables. Adding any kind of livestock to enhance and replenish is the best way for ongoing supplementation. I do buy good minerals though for the cows and chickens, and it comes through in the manure and onto the soil one way or another.

  4. Livia permalink
    July 11, 2011 9:57 am

    Wow N., that is a beautiful bull! Maybe one of these day you could post a picture of him closer-up? That would be so great!

    My heart warms up every time I read your posts. It is something about a job well done, the way things are supposed to be done that just fills me with joy.

    I am hoping, secretly that one day in the future I will be more like you:).

    Thank you, again for the useful posts!


    • July 11, 2011 1:33 pm

      Livia, oops – that’s a cow, we call her Down and Out because one horn points down, and one points out. When a cow is in heat, cows, steers, calves will all ride them around. Great way to detect heat – just watch them and if is apparent.

      You’re so sweet, thanks so much for the kind words and good luck with getting farming going at your place. 🙂

      • Livia permalink
        July 11, 2011 2:12 pm

        Yeah, oops! It seemed like she was bigger than than the others, and I thought she was a bull:). I was wondering about it myself, since I don’t remember reading about one in any of your posts.

        I love cows!


  5. July 11, 2011 1:27 pm

    Lime-rich castings… Really? I hadn’t realized that. Looking for best ways to raise lime content in my rainforest pastures…

    Just finished baling my hay. Thick stand of mostly fescue for grass and wonderfully strong intertwining of bigfoot trefoil. Lush lush lush, baled with good green color still. Good feed for the girls next winter.

    • July 11, 2011 3:59 pm

      Marilyn, Jerry Brunetti has written a two-part series on Herd Health and minerals in the June and July Acres. It’s very good and explains the role of minerals, and imbalance of minerals.

      Too cool to cut here yet, waiting for dry weather 😦 Actually waiting for HOT, DRY weather…it’s supposed to rain tonight and it has been dry, but not dry enough to dry our hay yet.

      • July 11, 2011 5:56 pm

        Yes, thanks, that is an excellent article. We are comparing that to the results of a liver analysis, and will do so again after some of the boys go to freezer camp this fall. We have iron in the water coming from the well (which can bind up certain minerals), but the critters drink water drawn from a creek – haven’t gotten that analyzed yet. Soil analysis shows we are definitely lacking in lime, but we are feeding dolomite free-choice and the liver analysis was actually a little high in calcium. I didn’t realize worm castings were lime-rich, though. That’s pretty cool!

  6. A.A. permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:33 am

    The hay story you wrote–it’s sad how people compete in things they don’t really either care about or enjoy. The sad part is how competing is about the only kick left, not that that’s they way they want to see it. So much to prove and nothing to gain, everybody loses, add your favourite proverb. Did you brutalize the farm real good today, hon? Is this Sparta? Seriously. I keep waiting for all the people crack up laughing so hard, and waiting, and waiting.

    I think having animals around helps develop a bond with the land and seasonality. Obviously running a confinement operation doesn’t do that, but otherwise I think animals help. From the farmers I know, I think making them get rid of their animals has made it so much easier to break their spirit. Traditionally, there’ve been a lot of small farms here that didn’t “outsource” stuff, but did most of what they did by themselves, helping each other out of course. It seems that what those farms did didn’t change all that much when horses were replaced by tractors, except for the scale. Artificial manures had a lot to do with getting the farms to where they are (not) today, but I think making animal husbandry hyperregulated and reducing it to a cost has also had a big effect. A small farm is easily illegal today and it’s the animals that seem to have crossed the line. And it’s also the animals that could make the small farm work!

    Maybe I missed it in your post, but did you make hay from the field in the pictures last year, or when was your last time? It’s so difficult to get the trampling effect show in pictures like when you’re there, by the way, well done! I wish my cows had as much back fat as yours, but the couple of keepers are definitely standing out, and the rest aren’t doing exactly “bad” either, just not excellent.

    You wrote that you’re selling the beef around this time. If you kept the beeves on the farm until fall before selling them, how would that affect the meat quality apart from not being as nutrient dense? If you had good grass through the season? I’m only asking because if I home butcher, in the cool weather I could hand and age the meat for a few days, and in the summertime I would need a lot of fridge space for that or have to skip it. I prefer well aged meat myself, so I don’t mind when it gets bluish and smelly pretty soon after butchering in the summer, but that’s not the kind of tender most people prefer.

    • July 13, 2011 2:41 pm

      AA, we got a good dose of rain this past few days so that dampened the haymaking race a bit around here. I agree with the spirit being broken when animals are no longer part of the picture. I knew several old folks whose grown children just couldn’t stand helping Gpa with the cows anymore and pressured them so sell. Pretty soon they didn’t have a reason to go outside or do any planning and they just withered away. Sure they would be working at a slower pace, but at least they would be doing something meaningful to them.

      You’ll laugh, this is the first time in my life with the exception of a few forage corn crops and one fallow year that hay hasn’t been made on that field. I’ve struggled with this plan all winter and spring right up until I opened the gate and moved the cows to that pasture. I love that field! And I smoked my first and last cigarette there too, I believe part of my lungs are still out there after the coughing fit!!

      I could keep the beeves until the traditional fall butchering time, but grass notoriously starts falling apart here in July (mine doesn’t anymore) and refrigeration is a viable option these days. It makes sense to wait if you need cool weather, I don’t think the quality would be that affected. You do what you have to do. I’ve eaten good beef in January from a cow injured in an ice storm, and she was pretty darn good and a long way from green grass. I just read a post from an Oregon blog extolling the virtues of grass fed beef, and pasture management. The cows were Angus, they were thin, had the red hair signaling a mineral deficiency and were standing knee deep in grass! The grass looked pale too, but the post was penned by a customer and was quite a testimonial to “good” grassfed beef. So I guess it’s all subjective and a journey, or not… There are all kinds of ways to manage a pasture just like anything else. They cut a lot of hay, and probably don’t know about deep bedding, stockpiling and trampling. With 100 head they could do a bang-up job in a year and see a remarkable difference. But being married to equipment and the process is a tough relationship to break.

      As a side note,

      • July 13, 2011 3:15 pm

        The last “real” farmer who owned and loved my place sold his cows years back, but leased his pastures to the organic dairy farm up the road for their heifers. Mr. Newton lived in town the last couple of decades of his life, but drove to the farm to move the cows to fresh pasture every day, and do stuff around the place. He passed away in his mid-nineties, doing what he loved.

        I see his skill and care everywhere I turn. Last week I was blessing his work as I cut my hay field. Beautiful feed.

  7. A.A. permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:45 am

    I’ve also got an off topic question that’s fairly urgent if you reply. The cow with the big udder has been getting a lot of gadflies on one of her teats lately, and now the calf’s not emptying that front quarter anymore. The last few days have been better gadfly-wise, but the teat’s far from healed. The cow’s eating and ruminating and pooping alright, and I’ll start following her temperature. That front quarter of her udder is pretty hard, the cow doesn’t like my touching it, and she definitely doesn’t want me to touch the teat. This is the one that doesn’t let her calf drink unless I tie her ankles, and the calf’s stealing some from the rest by now, but he’s there to drink quite a bit when I hold the cow before the paddock shifts. I thought I’d keep at this until the cow’s recovered her weight and her fat before butchering, but I’ll do it sooner if the cow risks getting sick over this. What do you think? Is it possible for that one quarter to go dry over this and cause no other problem? It’s difficult to get another opinion here than antibiotics and off good food, or else she’ll get sick and get bad for butchering in no time. When the cows first calved, that was a concern then too when the back teat didn’t get emptied on some cows right away, but it proved the cows did just fine and showed no sign of sickness.

    • July 13, 2011 2:21 pm

      AA, I think she’ll just dry off in that quarter and be done with it. I doubt it will make her sick(er) and if anything it may help her pick up a bit because she will be producing less milk. Hopefully the calf is getting enough.

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