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Stockpiling the Cow Pantry

November 2, 2012

Calling the forage stockpile a pantry for cows is a little bit of a stretch for most people I think, but if you think about it, that’s really what stockpiled forage is.  A pantry.  Food put away or stored for later use.  Until I really understood that stockpiling meant stockpiling, I was at a loss as far as how the concept of stockpiled grass worked.  But growing up on a continuous grazed farm meant that is how I viewed the grass, continuously grazed all the time.  Such simple words with such simple meanings, stockpile and continuous.  Now I see that they do not belong together at all when it comes to grazing.

July 17, 2012

In order to stockpile forage you need to restrict your cattle and increase your rest period on your grass so it can regrow.  Cattle need some long-stemmed forage for their rumens to work properly.  If you don’t let it grow, they are not getting any long-stemmed forage.  Cattle also have to tear off the grass, they do not have top teeth in the front to bite down close to the ground, so taller grass really is in order for cattle.  Sheep and horses can nip your grass right down to the roots, and can starve cows right out of the pasture.  On a continuous grazing situation you see cows on short grass and that means lots of supplemental feed.  Fine if you can afford it.  For us it doesn’t make much sense to buy what we can grow easily with just a little tweaking in our attitude and management.  We view our personal garden the same way.  Why buy it if we can grow it?

When you stockpile your forage and let some plants express themselves with stalks and seed heads, a magical thing happens.  You have just grown your own fertilizer, feed and seed in one step.

Orchard grass or Cocksfoot


Red Clover

Then you need to just add some animal impact in the form of timed grazing, hoof action and manuring and you have just fed your cows, reseeded your pasture and fertilized at the same time.  Step two.

One day – high density short duration grazing.

The secret is to have tall grass for your mob, so they can feed on the good stuff, trample the ripe grasses for carbon and seed dispersal and leave their nutrient rich manure and urine behind.  Rest and movement are the keys to success with mob stocking.  Step three.

Just to be clear though, I am using beef cows for the mob stocking, results could be disastrous or less than stellar with high producing dairy cows of any breed.  For a comparison just think of the Cornish Cross meat chicken debate versus a laying hen.  Some high producing animals are a little less resilient, shall we say, and leave it at that… .

A couple of tips:

♣  Many things contribute to short grass, no rest or the most common, overstocking.  To pull this off you may need to sell some of your cattle, or make a sacrifice area and feed them.  Hopefully in a loafing shed set-up where you can bed them and gather their manure for future fertilizing efforts.  We destock by selling meat before the grass growth slows down.

♣  Make sure you don’t have any other grazers free-ranging about eating the grass.  Horses and sheep come to mind, or pigs and poultry.  For this to work, you need to give your grassland total rest.  It’s not fair to complain about running out of grass for the cows when you have other livestock not following the rules.

♣  Be flexible, electric fencing is portable and makes the grazing world your oyster.  Use it, tweak it, and pay attention to the results.  You will make mistakes, too big of paddock or too small, the next day is when to fix that.

♣  Keep a journal if that is what is helpful for you.  I use a wall calendar to note what day the cows went to which field, that may not work for you.

♣  Learn your land, and listen to it.  Learn your animals and listen to them.  Starting is the hardest part, the rest will flow.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2012 9:54 am

    “Learn your land and listen to it,” so sensible and yet those who live an urban life may never understand that. As a town lass who always lived on the edge of town, it wasn’t completely obvious, it became more obvious when I spent quite a bit of time walking around the village we moved to in all seasons and now we actually do farming ourselves I more fully understand that.

  2. November 2, 2012 11:06 am

    I have been obsessing about how to do this with my high falutin’ dairy goats. I don’t have continuous pasture but I’m starting to subfence, resow and plant more bushes and trees to coppice for them to increase the yields per acre. Parasites are always an issue with goats if they are providing the manure so I probably need to schedule the sections so that they are used only once or twice a year. And I don’t know realistically how much forage 1/2 acre can provide 4 adult goats and their offspring year in and year out but I’m going to try. Thanks for the inspiration as always, Nita!

  3. Barb in CA permalink
    November 2, 2012 8:52 pm

    “Just to be clear though, I am using beef cows for the mob stocking, results could be disastrous or less than stellar with high producing dairy cows of any breed.” Please explain why? I am a total greenhorn, but I’m trying to learn as much as I can. Thank you.

    • November 3, 2012 8:51 am

      Barb, these days most dairy breeds are bred to produce a lot of milk sometimes to the detriment of their own health. So they need a higher plane of nutrition to keep producing that milk and not use up their own reserves. It can be done with irrigation and supplemental feed, but it’s not as easy as with beef cows who convert their feed differently. On our farm I can time calving for when the grass is the most nutritious, very few dairies want to be seasonal and time calving and milking with the best forage, many choose to calve and milk year round for their customers convenience, and buy feed to make up for the forage shortfall. It’s always funny to me that the most demanding consumers are the ones who are usually the most vocal about poor conventional dairy or livestock practices and then they turn around and demand the very same thing from the small, “natural” farmer. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease and I’m convinced that most activist consumers don’t know $hit from apple butter, or they would not be asking small farmers for eggs, and dairy or even meat out of season, they would walk the walk and realize that there IS a season for everything and stick to it. The on demand store system currently in place has made a very demanding consumer, they should look back at themselves before complaining about farming practices that have morphed to match consumer demand. So back to the beef cattle and timing question – our grass is not the highest in nutrition right now, so to mitigate that, my cows have to be going into maintenance mode, half way through lactation and short bred, so they can tolerate some of the lower nutrition forage. If they were just calving now, or calving all over the calendar it would be hard to get much in the way of good results. Same goes with meat, harvesting meat animals when the plane of nutrition is the best makes the most sense, rather than the traditional fall, need cold weather, before refrigeration train of thought that is so pervasive. I realize that too would be different in the south where the grass grows differently.

      Besides all above, a milking cow needs to be brought to the barn twice a day, or the milking apparatus taken to the cow(s) so that alone is a logistical nightmare, requiring lanes or extra equipment to move the milking equipment and resulting milk. Currently, my beef cows are a mile away, if Jane was with them I would either have to go get her and make her leave her herdmates (not fun) or take the buckets and paraphernalia to the herd and then transport the milk back.

      • Barb in CA permalink
        November 3, 2012 9:08 am

        Makes perfect sense. From reading earlier posts, I thought so but wanted to be sure there wasn’t something I missed. Thank you for your willingness to pass on all your hard-earned wisdom.

  4. November 3, 2012 12:24 am

    I love your posts on grazing! Actually I just came home from a workshop with Roger Savory (Alan Savory’s son – Holistic planned ultra high density farming). Wow, now I have some ideas to chew on! Having read lots of your grazing posts, I then wondered which method you follow or is it just a combination of lots of methods until you found what worked on your farm? some of the things that Roger said today were very helpful and some others I don’t think will work in our climate. And then put that together with Joel Salatin’s Mob Stocking ideas, and Peter Andrew’s ideas (an Australian who advocates destocking and regular mulching of your paddocks), I’m sure we’ll come up with something, I was just interested in your influences and any recommended reading.

    • November 3, 2012 9:12 am

      Liz, I read In Practice a lot when we started this, and a lot of Salatin when he just had a few beef cows, but I have to say Greg Judy with Comeback Farms made the biggest impact here. Even Salatin conceded that Judy just may be right…about mob stocking. I had a hard time finding anyone who would say though, that you didn’t have to have hundreds of cattle to do this. I will never have 100’s of cattle, so I just started slowing down the herd with minute paddocks and tried it. It’s hard to let the grass grow I think, we have been taught that it must be clipped and beat into submission or grazed so short the cattle can’t eat properly, it’s hard to make the change. Especially when your neighbors feel like their two cents is always warranted because you are doing something different than them. Lately the training your cattle to eat weeds seminar has been making the rounds and everyone I know is telling me I should try this. I have to be polite and nod…I can’t say that the only weed I have that is a problem is poisonous and the cows are smart enough NOT to eat it. That just goes to show that one size does not fit all and everyone has different things to work with. It’s been mostly trial and error and plugging away until I see the results I want. And read, read, read some times it’s just one tidbit in an entire book that causes the aha moment, sometimes it’s a video or a photo.

      This isn’t something that I could ever do, but I liked the story about this dairyman and his AHA moment.

      • Barb in CA permalink
        November 4, 2012 7:55 am

        Sorry to butt in on your thread Farmer Liz, but could I ask MOH about In Practice? When I Googled the title, I got absolutely nothing connected to agriculture at all. Even Amazon doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I’m assuming it’s a book, and it’s probably out of print, but now I’m curious. Is that its complete title? Author? Thanks.

  5. Kristin permalink
    November 3, 2012 6:11 am

    Great post, as usual Nita. I’ve been doing fairly well mob stocking a small flock of sheep (10-20, depending on season) with 2-3 dry cows/steers of varying ages. They are doing a remarkable job trampling. Net fencing is a MUST with sheep though, otherwise, as you note, the sheep don’t follow the rules. But the grass much be pretty mature. I can give the milk cows a decent sized area of lovely grass & clover. They’ll eat the clover into the ground and leave the fescue long, green, and lush. Stinkers.

    • November 3, 2012 9:17 am

      Kristin, that’s great! I’m currently mad at my sheep, for reminding to electrify their fence! They have decided that mangels are the preferred root of choice, they pull them out and eat half and leave the rest 😦 I finally put the last of my Electronet to rest, and am using the Poultrynet now. It has held up longer, with more abuse and the sheep respect it much better. Unless I forget to hook it up of course 😦

      I think your cows know Jane the spoiled princess, who eats much the same way, go figure.

  6. November 3, 2012 9:28 am

    Thanks for the helpful post, as always. For one thing, I just learned that we have a fair amount of timothy!

    I have a question. We’ll be taking our two pigs to the butcher one week before we take our steer. The pigs have left a lot of long-stemmed grass in their 2-acre pasture. Would it be okay to put the 3 Dexter cows in there for our steer’s last week? Or are there any potential parasites they might get? We can, of course, give them a mix of DE and mineral salt at the same time.

    • November 3, 2012 9:44 am

      Susan, cows are pretty parasite resistant anyway, and especially with long stemmed forage. The parasites are closer to the soil level, another reason that grass should be grazed short 😦

      I think it would be great and give the poor fellow some company his last week 🙂

      • November 3, 2012 10:59 am

        Thanks, Matron, we’ll do it! He’s in with the heifer and cow now, so he’s got company, but this will give us one more pasture to rotate to. Of course, it’ll have him right behind our house to look at how pretty he is and make us feel even worse when we take him to the butcher! 😦 It really is hard. I have to keep reminding myself that this is these animals’ Purpose in life and that at least we’ve given them a wonderful life as opposed to the lives that so many meat animals live.

        • November 3, 2012 12:49 pm

          Susan, it’s tough, but a necessary part of farming unless you’re a rescue outfit 😦 And like you say, you have given him a very good life and he will return the favor by feeding your family.

  7. November 3, 2012 5:15 pm

    I love coming in and reading your posts and then reading your comments too. I do learn so much. We are getting to the end of our grass now. Only one more corner and all the long stuff is gone. Next we go to what i call the sacrificial paddock, the pigs dig it up all summer then Daisy and the beef cows winter over on it, then it is tilled and resown in the spring. A new field each year. This year it looks like the cows will have to come into the sacrifice paddock a wee bit earlier. the sheep are in the other one. The drought held my lovely fields up and i am so protective of them. We have quite a store of pumpkins and hay for Daisy this winter, so i am hoping she will be able to milk for a while. Even though she is not bred i do not want her getting scrawny.. c

    • November 3, 2012 9:03 pm

      Cecilia, you guys put up some nice hay, everyone should be snug all winter 🙂 She should milk a good while especially not being pregnant. Is that a choice to not breed her? I know some people milk through and skip pregnancy. Jane is due June 4th – fingers crossed it goes OK. Much hand wringing here from her human mama 😦

      • November 4, 2012 5:25 am

        We tried to breed her using AI but it did not take, it was terribly hot here this summer ..then it was just getting too late in the year to try again, as i would like her to calve in the early spring right onto beautiful good pasture.
        I have worked hard to get a good mix of legumes and grass for a milking cow, it would be silly to waste it. I would rather have the good creamy milk from grass when she is in that high production period. To calve in the middle of winter makes no sense to me at all. It gets mean cold here. She would be on hay, inside. Yuk for calving.
        Also for cheese I need that lovely summer milk. So i am going to attempt to milk her straight through the winter and try again early next summer, Reorientating her cycle to suit the conditions. Does that makes sense. Her breeder thinks i am bonkers but all her cows are on concrete eating hay and corn all year anyway. I do not feed corn at all.
        I really am feeling my way and just trying to use common sense. I could do with reading your grandfathers book.
        Did you breed jane to a smaller beef cow again? c

        • November 4, 2012 5:45 am

          Cecilia, I totally agree on the spring calving on grass, it makes such a difference to the cow and calf health wise. And the milk is higher quality on the good grass. Jane didn’t take on the first AI attempt so I put her in with the beef bull who is a Simmental/Hereford cross. His calves size appears to be determined by the cow, I had some bruisers from my bigger cows and nice sized ones from the smaller cows, I suspect Jane will have a big calf, she is a big girl. Some cows don’t do well with AI and there are lots of factors contributing to that. Bull service is the easiest but not always an option 😦

        • November 4, 2012 6:13 am

          Daisy is a very big girl too, ah well.. she did ok with AI the first time so fingers crossed.. but not yet.. have a fab sunday..c

        • November 4, 2012 6:28 am

          Cecilia, Jane settled the first year with AI on the first attempt, this year the first attempt fizzled, and I was very impatient 😦 I think she like the bull better than the AI guy 😉

          Have a great Sunday yourself!

  8. November 4, 2012 12:53 pm

    How many acres total of pasture do you have, and how many head of cattle?

    How does your stocking rate compare to the farms around you that run cattle?

    • November 4, 2012 2:31 pm

      Bruce, we have about 40 acres of pasture, and vary between 20 – 28 head.

      Our stocking rate is a little higher, but the biggest difference I see between other local farms and us is that we are not buying or making hay on other peoples ground now because our forage has improved that much.

  9. November 27, 2012 2:31 am

    Thought you might be interested to see this link

    So they are onto the idea of mob stocking in the UK too

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