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Grass Hugger & the State of the Sward

September 24, 2013

Guilty as charged, actually I was accused this summer of being a tree hugger.  Only because we didn’t tag on with the logging next door.  I am so not a tree hugger, if it were the right timing we would have logged.  It wasn’t the right timing.  The accusatorial logger is the same guy I have been trying to convince to start rotational grazing.  Well, so much for that, they sold their cows this summer and are planting…trees.  Oh well, he can call me a tree hugger if he wants, I think if he had hugged his grass a little more, he might not have felt like selling his cow herd.  I have no idea how easy it was for him to sell his herd, his family had cattle since the 1920’s, maybe it was easy, I do know it’s none of my business.

So all summer I have been hugging my grass, which is my term these days for stockpiling forage in my pastures for my beef cows.

sweet spot

sweet spot

Scratching phantom horns

Our dry spring and subsequent dry summer really slowed down the growth of the grass.  We had a great garden and hay making year and an okay grass year.  But looking at my stockpile, I think I’m going to be about 30 days short this year on my last grazing date compared to the dates over the last three wet spring years.  Lesson one, don’t count your grass before it has grown, you never really know what the weather year will bring.  Another thing too, is that don’t despair, if you’re out of grass and feeding hay, a good way to build fertility is to continue the rotation and feed too in each paddock, that way you are distributing the manure, urine and any hay that doesn’t get eaten steps in for the brown in a stockpile situation.  Lesson two, what you’re doing today to your pastures is affecting next years growth, so think ahead.  Lesson three, if you are grazing the fall greenup make sure to offer hay to balance the cows rumen, if they don’t need balancing they won’t eat it, if they do, the hay will disappear.

Stockpiled forage

Stockpiled forage

Despite writing about gardening and preserving constantly the last month or two, the grazing still goes on, whether I write about it or not.  Every day I move the cows to a fresh paddock, and assess them, (my most enjoyable part of the day) and I assess the forage.

cow's eye view of the stockpile

cow’s eye view of the stockpile

It’s hard to see with the camera, but the green is there underneath the brown and sprinkled throughout the sward.  The perfect method of fertilization is to let the cows do work.  They eat the green with a little brown, condiment style, and trample the rest.  An ideal way to improve a pasture, instead of bringing in fertilizer materials, we’re growing it, and letting the cows “spread” the wealth.

Red clover

Red clover

white clover

white clover

A recent article in the Stockman Grass Farmer really brought home the folly of anticipating the fall green up to fatten your cattle.  Those tender young shoots that begin to grow are not much more nutritious than the spring green up and in fact can make your cattle lose weight due to the moisture content and “washiness” of the grass.  The old timers used to know that, that’s why cattle were fattened in the fall on grains or crops, the new grass after the fall rains just wasn’t nutritious enough.  It’s good for your grass too to let the fall green up go ungrazed, the grass should be getting a rest and replenishing its root reserves to get ready for next year’s grazing rotation.


pay attention to trampling for soil and grass feeding


And inspect the cows for rumen fill to see if you gave them enough to eat the previous day.  The beauty of rotational grazing is that you set foot on all your land, and you can observe your cattle.  Dairymen see their cows twice a day, beef cows aren’t so lucky usually.  I can see by looking at this cow that I didn’t judge the grass correctly the previous day, her rumen, the triangle-shaped area in front of her hip and below the short ribs on the left side is a little sunken in.  More grass needed.

check for rumen fill

check for rumen fill

I could spend all my fall days like this, sitting here watching the cows, (see my foot in the bottom left hand corner) but since I took these photos last week, it has been so wet, I doubt I’ll be doing much pasture sitting!  We’re still weeks away from first frost ( I hope) but we’ve started lighting the fire at night.  It takes off the chill and dampness and tells us winter is really on the way.  Besides the wet grass and warm fires, I have been hearing the high geese flocks, which is a little early I’m thinking, I hope they are just being prudent, and getting while the getting is good.  I am NOT ready for winter!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2013 5:49 pm

    Hmm. You’re grazing a field that looks like our home pasture, which I have been irritated with DH about all summer for not brush hogging. Our animals have been on leased pasture since April 15th and will hopefully not come home until November 15th. Should we mow the field, though, before they come home, or leave it alone? (It was brush hogged last June, but we had a baby this June and time got away from us as we adjusted. We feed hay and haylage all winter. Still, should we mow or leave the growth as is? (It’s about knee high and mostly brown, although there is a little green underneath.)

    • September 24, 2013 8:00 pm

      Amy, first of all CONGRATS on the new little one!!!

      I would leave it alone if it were me, that is your grass food out there. Or leave it and don’t let the cows onto until spring, then you’ll see even quicker results. My ground doesn’t pug, because we are up so high, so I can have the cows out on pasture during the winter our soil drains so well. The goal is not to graze it down but to get the cows to bend over that green and trample it down to provide food and cover for the pasture. It’s hard to get trampling though without small paddocks. So a lot depends on winter conditions in your pasture. Frozen ground works good too, but you and I both know that doesn’t happen here too much.

  2. September 24, 2013 6:23 pm

    Right on. Cool post. I am finally grazing the cows where they haven’t grazed since late May. Cows are looking really, really good and the fescue behind them is coming on strong in the cooler weather and occasional rain. In some places the summer grasses are giving up and the fescue is taking over. We shouldn’t hit the real stockpile for a few more months and this year it is conveniently located near the barn so I can feed hay out there.

    • September 24, 2013 7:54 pm

      HFS, we didn’t really have any rain since about mid-June until just recently. In fact I pulled a celery root out tonight for dinner and the soil is still dry about six inches down. I am glad to have the grass that I have. I’ll end up closer this year at feeding time because I swapped pastures this year and skipped ahead.

  3. September 25, 2013 3:20 am

    Here in Western Mass. we had rain, and rain, and rain, and the grass grew and grew and grew. We still have lots of green high grass, even though the cows are almost through the second trip around. In a week or so, they will start the third trip, on pasture they left in mid-August.

    On the third trip, they will move faster over it, as it’s not quite as high as previous. We figure we’ve got about 5 weeks of grazing left from today. But the pasture will determine the size of paddocks and the moves, as always. There’s 17 acres of mixed quality, as we are bringing along 2 fields in addition to our own.

    Saw no empty rumens last night when we walked out with our cattle breeder to look them over. They are in very good condition with beautiful weight gain since they returned in mid April.

    The breeder brought a new heifer last night, one he wanted to make sure the bull couldn’t get at. That makes the herd at 8, or 7 and 1/3. The 1/3 is a premature calf who has filled out nicely, but will always be small. Mixed herd of yearlings, the momma cow and 1/3 calf, mixed breeding but predominantly Devon.

  4. Chris permalink
    September 25, 2013 7:37 am

    I am NOT ready for winter either! Love that blue sky in your last photo…I hope we haven’t seen the last of those!

  5. Eumaeus permalink
    September 25, 2013 8:34 am

    Curious what you are waiting for on logging. I’m a fairly new reader and haven’t heard you talk about forest management yet. I’m curious how you manage your woods b/c I really respect how you do most everything else.

    • September 25, 2013 10:11 am

      Eumaeus, there is this pesky thing called taxes…due on severance of the trees. This was not a good year to be adding more to the tax bill 😦

  6. September 25, 2013 9:43 am

    Fire on for the first time tonight and the geese were heading south on Sunday. It looks and feels like we might have our first frost tonight. The temperatures seemed to have tumbled so quickly this year that we are really feeling it. I’m with you, not ready for winter yet but we expect our first blast in a couple of weeks, but hopefully it won’t last anyway

    • September 25, 2013 10:10 am

      Joanna, I know it’s odd, we usually have a dry fall or at least bouts of dry days, but it’s cold, (at least compared to the 90’s recently) the snow level is creeping downward and we can feel it. Hard to get the clothes dry before it’s time to go out and get wet again 😦

  7. September 25, 2013 2:25 pm

    Here in Texas we’re still struggling with low to no moisture. We’re rotating our pastures and feeding hay, there’s just not much time (or moisture) for the grass to recover before the cows are back. But I’m thankful we have hay stockpiled and I’m hopeful we’ll receive at least some fall rain. We were blessed with about 2.5 inches last week, the pastures have responded by not being quite as crispy! LOL Fall calves are being born and life is good…

    I always thoroughly enjoy reading your posts – thanks so much for sharing!

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

  8. September 25, 2013 6:28 pm

    Hi, I’m writing from the east coast of Australia so our conditions are a bit different. On the property we mind for someone else whenever the animals move out of a cell we harrow with chain harrows to break up the manure piles. If the grass is tall and rank we will slash to encourage fresh growth. The slashing finishes about mid Autumn as the regrowth is too slow but we do carry on with harrowing. Do you harrow?

    • September 25, 2013 7:57 pm

      Len, we only harrow in the spring here, and not every year. I’ve found that with the trampling of the litter the dung beetles and other critters have enough cover to make short work of breaking up the manure. I used to harrow a lot…no more.

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