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Done Grazing

December 26, 2012

Having snow on the ground makes it official.  I am now feeding out hay.  Due to the nature of our soil, we don’t have pugging problems despite the heavy rainfall we receive.  For those new to grazing, pugging is where the animals hooves churn up the soil into a muddy mess.  It helps to have high organic matter soil, and a healthy sod, some locations just can’t handle wintertime cow or livestock impact.

Last winter I fed hay outside in a pasture where we have a difficult time spreading compost.  We also cut hay on this field each year, which means we really are robbing it if we don’t replace what we haul away in hay.  A good way to add some manure and carbon is by feeding the hay on the ground in a different spot each day.  We make small squares so this is an easy job and a good way to distribute the feed for the cows and pasture at the same time.  With the hay distributed in small amounts the cows do not concentrate too much manure in a fixed location or waste much hay.

I’m not ready to move the cows in just yet.  However, if I was trashing my pasture I wouldn’t be doing this.  Each farm and farmer is different, proceed with caution.  I do know the cows are happier outside with room to roam a bit, rather than being confined to the feeding shed.  For this situation I have the cows in about a two acre paddock for approximately two weeks, any longer than that, and I run the risk of adding too much manure.

Feeding hay isn’t a lot different than grazing.  I’m looking for full rumens every day to see if I am allotting enough hay.

full rumen

full rumen

Full rumens mean warm cows, although it’s not really cold here compared to many locations in winter.  If you look on the left side of the cow there is a triangular shaped area below the short ribs, behind the long ribs and in front of the hips that is where the rumen is positioned on the cow.  You don’t want to see it sunk in or ballooned up.  Sunken indicates a hungry cow and an empty rumen, and ballooned above the ribs indicates bloat.


Different from summertime daily water trough moves, I switch to a fixed location water trough placement for this winter feeding period.

This short outside feeding period feels like a huge break, I don’t have to build daily fence, and we have not moved to the daily barn chores where we are bedding daily yet.  It’s nice having a small respite from full-on chores on these short gray days.  🙂

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Quinn permalink
    December 26, 2012 6:36 am

    I do the same thing with flakes of hay for my goats this time of year. Goats must be the hay-wastingest animals there are, but at least my winter paddock is gradually becoming a patchwork of manure-and-hay-rich squares.

  2. Quinn permalink
    December 26, 2012 6:38 am

    Forgot to say, just the words “sauerkraut soup” make my mouth water! I’d be having it for breakfast if I could 🙂

  3. Tammy permalink
    December 26, 2012 2:09 pm

    What do you do with the milk cow in the winter? Thinking of getting a single cow and not sure how to manage her. I’ve found an 8 month jersey hiefer………rare in my area. I have an empty stonedust paddock and horse stalls. I curently have several horses (living outside on stonedust for the winter), goats, chickens and two meat hiefers. Although I have experience with beef cattle, the dairy thing is new to me.
    Thank you for all your posts and any info you can give me. I bought my farm just 2 years ago and gleen much useful information from you.

    • December 26, 2012 9:36 pm

      Tammy, my milk cow is in a seperate pasture with a 3 sided shed available for her to get out of the weather if she chooses. The loafing shed is bedded and I pick it daily and refresh the bedding. She has free choice grass hay and gets grain at milking. Congrats on your farm!

  4. Kristin permalink
    December 26, 2012 2:51 pm

    I would likely get pugging here in TN. But even more worrisome, I think my sheep & cows would continue to graze the dormant plants and really set them back, even at a weekly or bi weekly move. Is this something you find to be an issue?

    • December 26, 2012 9:34 pm

      Kristin, what I find to be the biggest issue is living with the decisions I make and the unintended consequences. In my boat, we used to continuous graze, well, continuously, so 2 weeks compared to 52 looks pretty good actually as far as the pasture goes. I haven’t found anything yet that isn’t a trade-off. I could put the cows in right now and have to buy more straw than I have budgeted for the year or have room to store, and that may mean more grass next year and less money in my pocket right now. For me it’s always a juggling act. For inquiring minds, I have my sheep fenced right now in an area that I want set back, they are so good at taking everything down to the nubs! The cows not so much 🙂

  5. akaangrywhiteman permalink
    December 26, 2012 4:48 pm

    Joel Salatin interviewed on Lew Rockwell.

  6. December 26, 2012 11:09 pm

    I envy your lack of pugging. Our land is a mix of sand and clay and where we have the clay underneath, even with a good layer of soil we still get pugging due to high rainfall that we have had the last couple of years in autumn (fall). Not sure what our alpacas are going to do with their paddock, our foot of snow is melting rather fast and a good freeze is not forecast for another day or two.

    I like what you have to say about the trade-offs. I can sympathise a lot with that. We would like to maintain the wildflower meadows but this year we have had enormous wild boar damage and that will probably mean reseeding with a commercial mix to maintain a grass swathe. It will mean a better quality grass, but without the local flora, then again the alpacas don’t mind the lower quality feed, they are more efficient than sheep and cows at converting the poorer quality feed apparently.We also had to trade off the amount of damage we inflicted on our land putting in an electric cable with the benefits of having electric in and taking advantage of someone being available to do the work, you grab that opportunity with two hands here in Latvia.

  7. Elizabeth permalink
    December 28, 2012 3:44 pm

    I’m really new to cows and can’t quite figure out how you “look for a full rumen”. Can you elaborate?
    Thank you for your continuous discussion of how you care for your cows/ animals. I learn something new (almost) every time I tune into Throwback!


    • December 28, 2012 4:49 pm

      Elizabeth, excellent question, so I went back and edited the photo with an explanation so it was easier to visualize. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

      • Elizabeth permalink
        December 29, 2012 8:02 am

        GREAT! Thank you. That is a great help…… I’m SUCH a visual learner!


  8. marilyn permalink
    December 30, 2012 9:12 pm

    How many inches of rain do you get in your area? Also, do you have any blogs on your loafing shed? I remember reading about it, but can’t find the entry. I need to figure out what to build…

    • December 31, 2012 7:17 am

      Marilyn, in a dry year about 90″, and upwards to about 120″ is normal, then it’s dry from July through September or October usually. This post explains sheds fairly well. We have one that is easy to clean and one that is not.

      • marilyn permalink
        December 31, 2012 10:05 pm

        WOW! You give me hope! I’m in the Oregon rainforest too, but we get on average 60″ a year. Ok, I have my marching orders to get my hill pastures in shape to hold cows without pugging ;-). I think I can be forgiven for keeping them off the river pastures – they flood regularly – though I look forward to learning how they improve with better-managed grazing.

        And thanks so much for the pointer – I don’t know why I couldn’t find it earlier. You are such a blessing.

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