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Grass. It’s What’s for Dinner

June 19, 2013

Well, actually grass is kind of a monocrop-like term I like to avoid.  But I still think you know what I mean.  Our pastures are a veritable smorgasbord of forage plants.  Pasture is what’s for dinner here in the form of beef, washed down with a glass a whole milk.  I can’t or don’t want to eat grass but I surely like the taste of beef.  And milk.  Cows make me whole, or rather they make the land whole.  Or “wholer”, I know that isn’t a word, but the cows complete the circle here, providing so much more than they take.  The story is so old now it is new again, a low input system that relies on sunlight, forage and livestock to replace what we take and in the process enhancing the land.  It used to be what you did if you wanted to keep stock (farmstead frugality),you matched the stock to the land and you didn’t bring in fancy (not local) feeds.  Grassfed ruminants put the local in local.  It grows there, it’s eaten there and is replenished there.  Now we have high input poultry, hogs and dairy animals to contend with and bring in feed.  Where did it all go so wrong?

happy meal - for cows

happy meal – for cows

Our pastures are not fancy, but they are chock-a-block with edible diversity.  If you follow Gordon Hazard’s rule that the best pasture for your area is what is growing in the roadside ditch, then that makes it pretty easy.  Unless of course, your roadside ditches have been herbicided to death.  Then maybe not, but as a general rule, perennial polycultures rule in grazing.  Right alongside grazing management which can place fertility where it is needed and apply some animal disturbance to churn up long ago cast aside seeds and breath new life into tired old grasslands.  Throw in some hedgerow grazing and you’ve got the makings for some great forage for your stock.

No wonder Salatin calls it Salad Bar Beef

No wonder Salatin calls it Salad Bar Beef

Our pastures are great right now, and the cows are showing it in condition and milk output for their new calves.

100_5228
The photo below shows this guy’s happy lines on his barrel and his neck.  It’s called condition to the cattleman’s eye.

happy lines

happy lines

Note his lack of flies too.  Ample feed, water and minerals make this all come together.

IMG_5613

Trifolium pratense (Quadfolium)

But we didn’t start out this way, the tincture of time had to take hold before we noticed that the minerals were making a difference  in fly counts (on some cows) and the daily fence moves had a restorative effect on the pasture plants.  A journey that I have been more than happy to take.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2013 1:09 pm

    Beautiful!!

  2. June 19, 2013 1:24 pm

    The lack of flies really is astounding. A few times you’ve made reference to healthy cows having natural defenses against them- do you have any recommended reading in this regard? Thanks, in part, to your influence here, we’ve gotten our first family cow, and we’re just learning our way around flies.

    • June 19, 2013 3:22 pm

      David, the healthier they are the more resistant they are to flies. But “healthy” is a relative term, with real healthy, to not as healthy and lots of room in between. Salatin mentions it a lot, and uses eggmobiles on his home farm for scratching out fly larvae in the cow pies, but he recommends 50 acre minimum for this to work, which doesn’t work in too many cases. In our cows we have noticed some cows have more flies and in those cases they usually have other issues as well, and their calves will have more flies too. If everyone has the same amount of flies it’s most likely nutrition of the feed, or lack thereof, if some have flies and some don’t then you look to the individual animal holistically and try to figure out what you can tweak to help her or depending on other problems, maybe cull or at least not keep offspring for breeding. In modern times we tend to want to exterminate or exclude everything instead of really looking at the “fly in the ointment.” I would wonder about a herd of cows that didn’t have some flies buzzing around, as much as some that had unbearable fly problems. Good minerals, and long pasture rotations help. I had to leave my cows in a two day paddock last week (it was planned I had to help a friend with a project) and I was shocked at the fly numbers just by leaving the cows near their manure for two days instead of moving them to a fresh paddock. So the flies are there, just not bothering the cows usually, and by the time the cows get back to the paddock those flies are long gone.

      All that being said, I put repellant on the family cow and she has a fly mask for her face. Family cows are hard to come by and I couldn’t justify culling her because she has flies.

      • Regina Pishion permalink
        June 20, 2013 2:09 pm

        I can’t justify culling Penny either, nor the three horses. 😀 Repellent and fly mask for Penny, just repellent for the horses. Well, Penny had a fly mask until she undid the stitching in the eye dart seams by scratching with her hoof. She’s down to the repellent only regimen like the horses.

        What is fascinating is why one animal will be black with flies and another next to it will have seven or eight. Been watching my Appy for years and if I could synthesize his natural repellent I’d be a rich woman.

  3. June 19, 2013 3:05 pm

    What do you use for minerals–blocks or loose? Any particular mix you recommend?

    • June 19, 2013 3:09 pm

      I use loose, not mixed, mostly kelp and Nutribalancer from Fertrell, plus either Redmond or Sea-90 for salt.

  4. June 19, 2013 4:02 pm

    We’ve had really good results the last couple of summer seasons in using fly predators instead of chemicals around our barn areas where manure and flies do tend to build up. Spalding Labs sells them, and they have made a big difference in the ambient levels of flies. Additionally this year we acquired a bunch of dung beetles to bury fresh manure before the flies can lay their eggs in it. Hopefully that will improve the pasture health over time as well as make the fly situation more livable for our livestock and us.

  5. June 19, 2013 7:33 pm

    Helpful as always! Thank you!

  6. June 20, 2013 1:25 am

    We’ve been using Jerry Bruneti’s minerals this year after using Fertrell’s for several years. We do daily moves also. And the flies are much fewer this year than in past years. Not that they had been terrible in the past. I’d also used DE a lot in the beginning but less so the last couple years.

    We found here that we could not use the Redmond salt because our iron in the soil is so high, the cows won’t eat it. We’ve gone to plain white salt.

    • June 20, 2013 4:58 am

      Pam, I wish Jerry had distributors on the west coast 😦 Until then shipping costs prohibit me from buying his products. Have you tried Sea-90? The cows love it, and are a little meh about the Redmond as our soils are high in iron too. Although Jane prefers the Redmond to the white Sea-90? Anyway, any minerals make a difference – yeah for less flies!

  7. michelle permalink
    June 20, 2013 7:08 am

    Would the minerals do the same for horses? Do horses need loose minerals same as cows? Sorry in advance if these are ignoramus questions.

  8. Rock Island Newt permalink
    June 23, 2013 3:00 am

    So glad to read what you wrote about the best pasture being what is growing along the roadside. So many farms in our area have gone to monoculture fescue planted after a heavy dose of 2-4 d that it us amazing we have any native grasses left. Our herd does just fine on native pastures with a bit of clipping and weed management and for the 1st year we hit 100% calving ( 42 for 42) last fall. Keep spreading the word. Native forages, minerals, rotation and water. It’s good for us and good for the land.

  9. Nicole permalink
    July 6, 2013 3:15 pm

    Hi Nita,

    I am a long-time (often silent!) follower of your blog. My husband and I live on 11 acres in Ontario, Canada and we often read your posts about growing pasture and rotational grazing. Neither of us come from a farming background, and this business of making hay and raising animals on pasture is new and rather confusing to us. We are currently working toward improving our pasture quality (of which we have approximately 4 acres of available space), with the eventual goal of raising pastured beef, poultry, and possibly pork and lamb for our own consumption.

    We’d like to re-seed our pasture but we are unsure about what mixture to plant. The farmers around here all plant a mix of timothy and alfalfa for hay, but from what I’ve read on your blog, more variety would be desirable when using it for grazing. We live in Zone 5a/4b, and currently the field is full of red clover and grass (planted from seed by the previous owner, I’m unsure of what kind), as well as a smattering of other plants (some plaintain, dandelion, thistles, etc). Do you have a sense of what sort of seed we might want to buy in order to re-seed our pasture in preparation for getting some animals to raise? Also, do you have any advice about how much space is needed for rotational grazing for a couple of beef cattle? I know this is probably a complicated question with a number of caveats, but just a general sense would be helpful. If it is easier, you can respond to me via email at nethier@hotmail.com.

    Thank you so much for all that you share on your blog! We have learned so much from you over the years.

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