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February 14, 2014

That about sums up how most winter pasture gets treated.  Who cares?  Throw out some hay and as long as the cows are fed, what’s the diff?  Really, it doesn’t matter as long as you want to keep yourself locked into buying or putting up more hay.  A little massaging the pastures in the winter is okay, especially if you have some stockpiled grass to spread out the impact of the cows’ weight.  Or if you live where there is a lot of snow cover or the grass is dormant.  Again, here’s another post for us who live where it doesn’t freeze very often or if it does, one day of warmer weather kicks the grass into gear.  I want to present my view of the pasture and how it appears to me, then the cow’s view which may help you “see” your pastures in a different light.  And why the feeding shed with deep bedding is a good tool to add to your grazing operation.

February 13, 2014

February 13, 2014

This is how I see the pasture, it looks bleak and nothing like the verdant green we associate with spring and summer around here.

cows eye view - pasture awakening

cows eye view – pasture awakening

This is how the cow sees it, tender little shoots of grass – to eat.  We had temperatures down to 11°F just last week and once the temperature moderated the grass began to grow.  I’m sure in some small way letting the cows on the grass could save on the hay bill.  But not really, because this is when the grass needs the most “tending” or actually rest.  Nipping this grass right now is the quickest way to less, or even very little grass come summer.  I have read that you can set your pasture back as much as 30% by grazing too early.  It’s hard to measure but that is a sobering thought.  Thirty percent Gah!  In the Pacific Northwest we have a “drought” every summer, so shepherding the grass right now is a great way to extend the rainy season via stronger grass roots and the resilient sward that is the result of proper pasture rest.


These photos are in the field we did a slow winter feeding rotation consisting of two weeks per paddock during December and January.  Roughly twenty head on three acres, for two weeks, move and repeat.  There was some stockpiled grass that was eaten and trampled in for carbon, but any longer than two weeks stay during our dormant season would push us in the wrong direction.  A side note here too, we don’t really have pugging problems here in our pastures, well-drained soil is a blessing.  Pastures downhill of our location aren’t so lucky.  This practice is not a good idea if you have any issues with pugging or runoff.  Period.

So in a nutshell if you want this:

May 2013

May 2013

You may want to do this during the winter:



We moved the cows in just before the last snow storm hit because we knew the grass would begin to grow soon after that.  The hazel is blooming, and the day length is increasing rapidly.  Time to start the deep bedding to allow for some rest of the pastures.

This is how the shed looks each morning.  We add carbon each day and it’s a lot of work.  Depending on where you live and what your carbon source is, you may be able to get by with less chores by using a higher carbon product like sawdust or shavings.  We use straw so this is a daily chore for us.  Once a week we add Azomite or lime too to supercharge the final material.

Stink eye

Stink eye

Besides carbon we add a dog for the “don’t make me get my flying monkeys” effect.  This keeps the cows outside while we bed the shed, we’ve tried gates, and various other closures.  But the dog works the best and is the least amount of work.  Bedding with the cows inside is a nightmare and a good way to get kicked, so out they go so we can work.

"Cousin Dupree"

“Cousin Dupree”

Little is just too little to do much more than observe.

But he can perfect the stink eye trick.

after one week of deep bedding

after one week of deep bedding

After about a week things start to cook, the deep bedding won’t fully compost, but it will reach about 115 degrees or so, and will be stable.  It seems after a number of years our compost thermometer is now reading ten degrees colder than the actual temperature.  But it’s still serviceable for this use, we just need to know if the bedding is heating up yet.  It is!

Thank you for watching the latest episode of “As the Compost Turns.”

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Shannon Gene Templeton permalink
    February 14, 2014 12:44 pm

    Great info…keep ‘em coming.



  2. February 14, 2014 12:45 pm


  3. Elizabeth permalink
    February 14, 2014 1:35 pm

    “As the Compost Turns!” Yippee! I can’t wait. I love my “stories”!

  4. February 14, 2014 2:15 pm

    great post and it is so lovely that you are taking care of your pastures by deep bedding the cows in the shed at this point of the season. All that fertility collected in on place, warm and beginning to compost, AWESOME! I believe I read Salatin call this a Carbonaceous Diaper or something similar. How do you guys use your composted poop and straw?

    • February 14, 2014 2:19 pm

      It goes back on the pasture…and a scant bit goes to the garden. Never enough though to go around 😦

  5. February 14, 2014 3:23 pm

    I hear you on the ‘never enough to go around’ compost – People are always asking me if they can come over and get a truckload of manure, or can I bring them a pail of chicken poop from the barn. When I say no – I don’t have enough to give away they look at me like I’m daft. Really – we don’t have enough.

    • February 14, 2014 3:54 pm

      I know we get the same here, the question and then the quizzical look…I had one gal ask for some of our finished compost (the two year old black gold stuff) for her big hoophouse. Apparently boarding 4 horses in addition to your two isn’t enough to fertilize your garden and hoophouse? Not my problem.

  6. Lynda permalink
    February 14, 2014 6:25 pm

    Thank you, that was very interesting. Goodness, id love a trailer load of that compost when its done, somehow i dont think it would get past Aussie quanrantine.

  7. Barb in CA permalink
    February 14, 2014 7:31 pm

    I truly want to understand the fine points of composting better. I know you put the deep bedding back onto the pastures with the manure spreader, but I also know you have big mounds of manure composting somewhere. So how long between removing the deep bedding is it before that year’s “batch” will hit the fields? Once again, thank you for answering my mundane questions.

    • February 14, 2014 11:31 pm

      Barb, we wait a year, so once you wait that first time like a paycheck then you’re on a regular schedule. You could speed it up by turning it by machine or hog (like the Nordells and Salatin)and apply it the first season. Just depends on how big of hurry you’re in. So cleaning and spreading are usually considered one job here, the chicken deep bedding is usually applied with no waiting since the chickens are turning it and breaking it down continually.

      • Åsa permalink
        February 18, 2014 3:56 am

        Do you scatter the manure on top of the grass, without plowing it afterwards? If so, when do you do this in correlation to grazing/hay making? I would like to try spreading on top only but I actually think it is against the law here (I live in Sweden). If you have the time I would like to know also what you mean by “stockpile” – I would think that it means saved for later use but since it seems to be something still in the field I can only think it means brown grass and to me that is dead grass and not something anyone can feed on, so it must be something else. Great blog, by the way, I read it almost every day although my land is covered in snow until end of April and probably is more like Valbjerke’s (whose blog I also like and read continuosly).

        • February 18, 2014 6:36 am

          Asa, no plowing here…we spread the compost on the hay fields after the hay is harvested since those fields didn’t have the animals on them. The growing season is when to spread manure, not in the winter when the soil is dormant. Laws vary from location to location.

          Stockpile means to let the grass grow fully and “graze” laer. In a diverse pasture you’ll have warm season and cool season grasses, some are brown and some are still green and growing because the tall brown protects them. The cows eat the green with a bit of brown but trample most of the brown, which is your soil food.

  8. Kristin permalink
    February 15, 2014 7:13 am

    Do you think it is even possible to graze stockpile all the way through in areas with similar climates? I was grazing into early January but then we got unusually cold (zero degree) weather and the stock pile turned brown. No snow cover so it wasn’t preserved.

    And I observed grass growth after the stockpile was grazed. Do you think it is a “avoid grazing late winter” thing? Or do we do damage grazing stockpile even in December/January if temps are warm enough for growth?

    • February 16, 2014 11:27 am

      Kristin, that’s a tough one, we get too much fall rain to make it through. The nutritional value is just about gone by December. If I had enough stockpile to do it, I would feed out instead putting the cows in. It’s hard to get stockpile when you already have cows. Much easier to add more land and then work up the cow numbers. I’m locked in with what I have. I can think of two places nearby that would really benefit from our cows, but the folks that own them both believe in the “rest” theory of rejuvenating the land, or in a total hypocritical way they just sell the hay off. If I could slip them Savory’s TED talk I would, but it’s not my problem if they are depleting their land, and I don’t want my cows off farm either where there are no fences etc. So in my situation it is a long drawn out work in progress.

      I have given up trying to make it perfect each year, the milk cow is continuously grazing one field for my convenience, and I can see the results in the milk bucket each day. The beef cows are easily managed off the pasture, so you win some and you lose some.

  9. Carrie permalink
    February 16, 2014 5:05 am

    A question – linked but maybe not obviously so: as what do you assess your brittleness scale? I’m curious because I’m just working through the holistic management (HMI) handbook with a view to using the concepts in (for want of a better descriptor) the management my kitchen gardens. I guess that our patterns of ‘maritime’ climate are similar overall, so I’m curious as to where on the scale you rate the farm.

    • February 16, 2014 11:19 am

      Carrie, we’re probably 1 – 2 but it can vary so much here, I’m on the western flanks of the Cascades where the rain really dumps, you only have to go about even 15 miles from here to find it’s much drier due to the rain shadow effect. I expect my neighbor who continuously grazes also has more evaporation too despite the rain, since the ground cover is negligent. So it’s tough to pinpoint exactly just going by a maritime gauge.

      • Carrie permalink
        February 16, 2014 12:19 pm

        On a first reading of the brittleness scale I guessed here (East Midlands, UK) to be 3-4. Rainfall is in the region of 700-900mm (28-36″) per year – I would say towards the drier end of that scale where I am. (It doesn’t feel like it just now though!) Is you annual rainfall significantly more?

        • February 16, 2014 12:29 pm

          Carrie, yes, we range from 90 – 110″ per year, Portland Oregon to the 20 some miles west of me is about the 36″ per year more like your spot.

  10. February 16, 2014 5:55 am

    Things to consider as my tenant asks for an extra 30 days to get his cows off of my pastures. I may just have to go fence the best ground out.

    • February 16, 2014 11:13 am

      HFS, 30 days in March or April isn’t the same as 30 days in June 😦

      Would it be possible to lock up those cows to feed them and gather some bedding for compost? He supplies the feed and you take the manure…

  11. February 16, 2014 10:10 am

    Oh yeah, have you tried using hogs to turn that cow shed compost?

  12. Barbara permalink
    February 26, 2014 7:27 am

    I’m a lurker who thoroughly enjoys your blog. I’m particularly interested in your cattle methods. I ran across this article and apropos of nothing in particular, I thought you might find Dr. Karen Becker’s interview with a holistic large animal vet interesting. Hope you don’t mind my making the suggestion. I’m also a big fan of Dr. Becker for small animal health info – very sensible. Have a great day!


  1. Spring Grazing…Ugh. | Chism Heritage Farm

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