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The Other Cows

June 13, 2012

Cows take up a lot of all my days.  Not just Jane and Blake which are a whole different animal, but the beef cows.  Their program is a little different.  Not quite as fraught with worry as the dairy side of bovineness, but a whole set of chores that requires attention each day.  I move them each day to a new paddock, of a size to be determined by me and them in a joint venture sort of way.  Collaborating with cows – I couldn’t ask for better partners.


The cows are currently “down below” in the Coyote field, so it’s a jaunt to get there.  On the way I can check the hay field for progress…which is progressing slowly to my way of thinking.

Going through the woods is my favorite part, Windflowers and Devil’s club are blooming right now, and besides I just like the deep, dark rain forest.


When I break out into the light, I always breathe a sigh of relief when the cows are where I left them.  Sometimes the sight that greets me is cows out, which means lots of fence investigating and a fresh battery.  This day I can’t see them, so I know they are still “in.”


Yep, patiently waiting for me to move them.  This is where we start the collaboration – I look at the cows and how they greet me.  A simple one bawl from one or two is  a HI!  Or many bawls is a “Where have you been?  Our paddock was too small, crappy grass, or too…yesterday!$#&!!  Everyone is where they belong, they are well fed and that means no glaring from either side 😉


The brat pack.


Calm to the point of sleeping.  I also look at the paddock to see how much residual is left and if I need to adjust the paddock size a bit.


This is our oddest shaped field and it also comes with the oddest keylines.  To alleviate too long of fences and to accommodate the keylines, the field is broken in half and currently the cows are in the second half.  To build my new paddock, I assess the cows first, and then the grazed paddock and then the new grass.  Things I am looking for are types of grasses and forbs and quantity of forage in the next paddock area.  Normally the steeper the ground, the worse the soil, due to past erosion and land uses.  (This applies almost anywhere in a temperate climate.)  I’m getting into some steep ground here and the grazing is mediocre.  I have fattening beef and lactating cows right now, so each day presents a challenge as the landscape and the cows dictate.  That is why I think grazing with electric netting really limits your graziers edge.  My fencing tools are pretty simple, and easy to adapt to meet the needs of the cows and the land.  I like the electric netting and use it every day, but for cows it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Too limiting, much like the fixed system of dividing the pasture into X number of permanent paddocks and calling that rotational grazing.  Sure it’s rotational grazing if you want to get literal about it, but that’s about all it is.

Once I decide on the paddock size, I set out with posts and hammer in hand, I pick a tree or post on the horizon and head for it, pacing off 20 steps or so and put in the posts as I walk along.  In the photo above you can see the path in the grass where I walked.


I have to now walk back and roll out the wire.  To save energy, time or whatever you want to call it, I take out all the posts in the back fence.  I have to walk back to the beginning anyway, I may as well be doing something.  This also gives me a chance to mess around taking photos, and most days to look at the actual pasture.  Do I see any worm castings, weeds I want to dig out, weird looking manure, etc?


To make a sturdy gate hook, I just use an additional post to distribute the pull I am going to put on this long fence.


To end the fence I also use two posts to act as a brace of sorts and a place to park the spool of wire.


There is a sturdy permanent fence around the perimeter of this field and it acts as the end of all the paddocks or the beginning depending on which half  of the field that is being grazed.   At this point in the process I have to walk back to let the cows in, so I roll up the back fence wire and I’m done except letting the cows in and moving and filling the water troughs.


Besides paying attention to their demeanor when I arrive, I need to look at their rumens and see if they’re full or not.  The beauty of rotational grazing is that you can fix your mistake the next day if you short your cows.  Providing you have enough grass to begin with, that is.


They are eager to move into the next paddock but they aren’t that hungry, which is another sign that I am getting the paddocks sized right.


It sounds like a lot of work for just cows, but it’s probably one of the most peaceful times of my entire day.  Don’t tell Jane 😉

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44 Comments leave one →
  1. jenj permalink
    June 13, 2012 12:13 pm

    Those are some fat, shiny, beautiful-looking cows. Wow!

  2. June 13, 2012 12:14 pm

    Mine too. Cows look good. I love those white faces…

  3. June 13, 2012 12:28 pm

    Thanks for all of the wonderful posts. Just taking and editing the pictures can be time consuming in an already full “farmer girl’s” day! Beautiful bovine! It’s the way beef should be!

  4. June 13, 2012 1:03 pm

    Great post and pretty pictures! I am looking forward to when we are ready to add cows to our farm!

  5. June 13, 2012 1:54 pm

    I’m sitting in my office, with no windows, and as I read this post I can feel the sun on my shoulders, the wind rustling my hair and the distant chud-chudding of cows working on the new grass of the pasture.

    Thank you for this mental break. I owe you one. 🙂

  6. June 13, 2012 1:54 pm

    *Sigh* your post made this old country girl’s heart ache….
    Absolutely beautiful pictures I enjoyed the walk with you..
    I smiled looking at that elec. fence to days I would accept a dare to hold onto it

  7. sustainableeats permalink
    June 13, 2012 3:30 pm

    That’s amazing that just a single strand short fence like that keeps the cows in. I always have pasture envy when you post your grazing pictures.

    • June 14, 2012 5:18 am

      Annette, he he, it’s a psychological barrier and it works on me too, I hesitate to grab the wire even when I know I turned it off! As for the grass, it wouldn’t be possible without the cows!

      • sustainableeats permalink
        June 14, 2012 8:49 am

        I’m such a slow learner I’ve actually zapped my face multiple times, leaning in to take a picture or something like that. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been taking as many pictures lately. ;p

  8. June 14, 2012 12:14 am

    Gorgeous cows and pasture! Is calving over for the year?

  9. Eva permalink
    June 14, 2012 6:22 am

    I’ll never have cows but i still enjoy reading your blog. The way you think and interact with them is so interesting – always a step ahead. The photographs really add to the writing.

    • June 14, 2012 7:21 am

      Eva, thanks! I really like the interaction with cows, if you listen they really treat you like one of them. They are smart, funny and nice to work with.

  10. Elizabeth permalink
    June 14, 2012 7:42 am

    Matron-
    How do you water? Do you have a portable system?
    Good looking beef. Makes me hungry just looking at them 🙂

    Elizabeth

    • June 14, 2012 9:04 am

      Elizabeth, I haul water and move the troughs each day. I’m driving to the field anyway, so it works well for us. The cost to put in permanent lines to our fields is horrific and our water sources are all downhill from the pasture land. And unfortunately no ponds are allowed so we can’t store water in that fashion. 😦

      • June 15, 2012 6:11 am

        …allowed? Did I hear you correctly? Allowed? ALLOWED?!?!?

        • June 15, 2012 12:23 pm

          Yep, pretty anal on the state’s part considering we have such an abundance of water during the rainy season and a natural drought every summer. Unless you have one grandfathered in, the permit process is almost insurmountable and not allowed here in our drainage. And if you think you can sneak one in, look out, because it costs a lot to have it removed “properly” in addition to the fines… If the Californification neighbors don’t turn you in, the state spots the ponds from the air. Personally I know of two that have been drained in the last 10 years, and I know the excavator who put them in illegally…

        • June 15, 2012 12:56 pm

          Can you catch the water from your downspouts? What if you retain it in swales? What if you increase the soil organic matter to sponge up water in a miserly fashion? Are you telling me that if I get fed up with the People’s Republic of Illinois I’ll be worse off in the People’s Republic of Oregon? Really?

        • June 15, 2012 1:37 pm

          HFS, it’s all a problem of storage, and then transportation. Yes, if you live in PDX and want to be all green you collect your rainwater or put in a “water feature” but ag is kind of a dirty word around here, since salmon need to be saved. So our solution is to dryland garden, and our pastures are in good shape we don’t really experience much of a drought here, our neighbors who continuously graze though, that is a different story, they are hurting for pasture come July. I am truly a grass farmer, or I should say a grass shepherd.

      • Elizabeth permalink
        June 15, 2012 7:13 am

        (Yeah, we have that “permanent line” problem too.)
        So you haul water out to the cows in a large container, then dump it and move it at the end of each day?

        • June 15, 2012 12:07 pm

          Elizabeth, yep, I leave them enough water for the 24 hour period and repeat the process the next day. Exceptions to that are when we have rainy days and they barely drink any water, for those times I can plan my paddocks to share the trough(s) up to 4 days and just adjust the fence a little at each move so I don’t have 4 days traffic in one spot. Temperature, time of year and type of feed really change how much water is required. In spring on a rainy day, 20 head might drink 5 gallons, today on a 70F degree day, they will have 5 gallons left out of 200.

  11. June 14, 2012 3:01 pm

    Thanks for all the details once again. We want to set up a system like this, just need to get organised with the water and fences. We are hoping to put down a bore, and with our dams we will have enough water sources to pump to each paddock. I love your description of the joint venture! And the difference between dairy and beef cattle is something I’ve just noticed. Our tame diary cattle run towards me when they see me, but our beef steers run away, at about the same speed!

    • June 14, 2012 4:57 pm

      Liz, once you start rotational grazing with those steers, you’ll be surprised how tame they get. They start associating you with food and water and you’ve got them in your pocket almost 🙂

  12. June 15, 2012 6:32 am

    This post can be found in Nita M. Husbandry’s upcoming book “Viva la Vaca!” Chapter 4: Wiry Fences and Fat Cows

    Hmmm. That name appears to belong to a theme restaurant. We can do better.
    “Grazing in the Rain”
    “Holostic Livestock Management with Pictures that are Actually Illistrative, Written in Plain English” Spot on but too long. Have to keep working on that title.

    • June 15, 2012 12:16 pm

      HFS, Ha Ha – with actual interviews with the cows themselves narrating!

      • June 15, 2012 12:23 pm

        I think he’s right – your writing style and detailed pictures really go a long way to explaining the managment intensive grazing system – better than most things I’ve ever read elsewhere. But pick a better title.

      • June 15, 2012 1:24 pm

        Don’t laugh. You’re a natural. Go self-publish through Amazon and start monitizing your blog. At the very least put up a paypal link so I can repay you for my daily education.

        Cows don’t narrate well. They mostly express a bored indifference unless it’s time for new grass.

        • Kristin permalink
          June 16, 2012 2:00 am

          He’s right, Nita. And with that photographing, comment approving daughter of yours, you’d have a co-author. Format it for the Kindle and price it right, they’ll sell like hot cakes.

        • June 16, 2012 2:54 pm

          I’d buy any book you wrote Matron, I need all the help I can get to figure out this grazing system and get our pasture right! Thanks again for all your posts, I learn so much every time.

    • June 15, 2012 12:49 pm

      Illustrative. Illustrative. I think it was a typo but it is possible the redneck in me typed phonetically. Example of phonetic spelling of colloquial pronunciation: Tourlet. Used in a sentence: “Tha dern tourlet done got plugged up ‘gain.”

      • June 15, 2012 1:31 pm

        HFS, I knew what you meant – trust me redneck loggerlish is even more complicated to type! I gotta put on the dog and teach a grazing class on Tuesday, some folks might know what I meant by that, but some might not 😉 Translates to clean shirt, and clean shoes, clean jeans optional! And now that I smell like milk and cottonwood all the time I think that may raise some eyebrows!

  13. Kay permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:53 am

    You have some of the nicest looking beef cattle I have ever seen, and I live in farming country.

    • June 15, 2012 12:14 pm

      Kay, thanks, they are just homegrown mutts, but I like them. I need to do a post though on mistakes and outliers. Not everybody is slick and shiny and figuring out why is as bad as fretting about the Janemeister!

      • Kay permalink
        June 16, 2012 7:12 am

        Well, if you could see my neighbors cattle,it would make you would cry. It is pitiful what this guy has done to his cattle. His fields are filled w/ junk (weeds) due to way over grazing his land, and it shows in the quality of his animals, so I am sure even the ones that you consider to be outliers and mistakes look fantastic next to his. 😦 I wish he would just get out of the cattle business. I will take quality over quantity any day of the week. They are always trying to bust through the fence to get to our land, and I cannot blame them.

  14. June 15, 2012 8:58 pm

    What is the reasoning behind the county not allowing ponds to be built? I believe our neighbor, that lives between the two of us, has a “wetlands” which I would just call a pond. He got money from some organization to help build it.

    • June 16, 2012 5:30 am

      CT&S, it’s the state – if you’re restoring a wetland that is different than a pond. Ponds wouldn’t work on our land specifically since unlike most areas, our flat land is on top the ridge. Unless I build a pond in the sky I would have to pump water to my fields, cows or gardens. I’m just taking the path of least resistance. No point in watering my garden if I keep my dryland skills up, and no point in breaking the bank to build a tank large enough to store a summers worth of stagnant water for the cows.

      Ponds would be great if it wasn’t like pulling teeth to get one installed.

  15. June 29, 2012 10:31 am

    I read a book once that said a good farmer is really a gardener of the pasture. That is you i believe. Whe you think of it as a garden with all its different components it really does make sense. I just spent an hour walking around our tiny piece of land, looking to see what was growing, wacking out a few thistles, watching what Daisy was eating, Staring at my hereford heifer and moving the steer, generally having a think about forage. It is indeed a good period in the day. Your land with the wee forest in beautiful.. c

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