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Early July Grazing

July 8, 2014

Now that the beef is harvested, it’s time to relax a little and get the cows back into following the rotation.  I had to leave this field to rotate the herd near the corral for loading ease earlier in late June, and the first part of July, now it’s time to finish this field up.  It looks kind of like an art project, a big pink square of blooming dog hair, or creeping bent grass surrounded by a sea of green.  Common grass names are funny and usually colloquial in nature.  Dog hair, red-top or bent grass, it’s all the same thing here, a tough pasture grass that I rarely see in lower elevations.  The scent is heavenly, between the clovers and dog hair, the pasture smells good enough to eat, or at least put in a bouquet.

Foggy morning chores

Foggy morning chores

 

building pasture one hoof at a time

landscaping with cows

Now I can concentrate on landscaping instead of just feeding.  This paddock looks the way I want to see it, trampled forage and ample cow manure.  The recipe is one part tall grass, several parts cattle, just add water, salt, kelp and electric fence, bake for twenty-four hours, and you’ve got potential for improving your pasture.  Varying the stocking rate to match the grass growth takes some forethought and is hard to do with cow/calf pairs.  Here in the Pacific Northwest we are heading into a dry two or three months.  My grass is growing much slower now.

Matching stock numbers to the grass is a juggling act.  If I graze too short, the soil is bare during the hot dry part of our summer, that’s hard on the perennial pasture plants.  The quickest way to more grass and more diversity in the pasture plant makeup is the trampling effect of the cow herd.  Leaving plant material behind in damaged form changes the pasture for the better.  Or at least moves succession ahead a bit to a different guild of pasture plants.  What I do in one day with these cows will have lasting effects in the years to come.  It could be good, or it could be bad, either way the land remembers.  Remember that with your pastures.

Pasture closeup

Pasture closeup

The good thing about cows?  They are masters at converting plant material into meat and milk and leaving the ground in better shape than they found it.  I’m just here to act as the cow and grass steward, making sure the cows get feed and water, and the plants get mowed, fertilized and rested.

Fence posts first

Fence posts first

Wire next

Wire next

 

Wet plants, wet pants :(  Rubber boots not optional

Wet plants, wet pants 😦 Rubber boots not optional

 

Foggy Mountain Girls

Foggy Mountain Girls

I like to keep the wire high enough for the calves to creep feed ahead in pristine grass, these little girls have that one figured already.  Before I can get to the gate to let the cows in (taking photos takes some time) the calves have shinnied under the fence to the new paddock.

100_8235

Another day under our belt.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2014 5:31 pm

    Lovely looking cows too.. c

  2. Chris permalink
    July 8, 2014 9:11 pm

    Harvested? Do you mean they were sent off to market?

  3. quilterj3 permalink
    July 9, 2014 2:01 am

    I enjoy your pictures even of pastures! My son is rotating his beef cows here in the northeast as well with a different set of native grasses. The misty close ups are neat.

  4. July 9, 2014 5:17 am

    Thank you for posts such as this. Simple and straight forward and beautiful, it tells me more about rotation than any tome.

  5. Sarah permalink
    July 9, 2014 8:02 am

    Lurker here…I’m having trouble determining how much pasture to set out each day. How much pasture do you give your cows?

    • July 9, 2014 10:18 am

      I’m sure Matron will answer with more detail but in short, you need to balance gut fill (see link) with trampling (see link). Both are links to the ghost of Matron past explaining it well but she may very well choose different words when she responds later.

      You will quickly learn to see what your cows eat, how much is there, how much they need and how to use them to feed the soil. It is something you just do…every day. If you mess up today do better tomorrow. You’ll get it.

  6. Elizabeth permalink
    July 9, 2014 10:36 am

    This is our first year of feeding calves on our own pasture and I’ve figured that we are going to have more grass than calves this year (a problem that well be “fixed” next year) so my question is when do you pull cows off the fields in fall/ winter? I’m sure we will have long pastures that we’re not even touched this summer before we start having freezing temps at night (September around here). Can I graze the calves on over-mature grass that has been subject to swinging temps of fall and still gain weight? Or do I need to feed them hay as well? (I’ve already talked with the butcher and he is open to slaughtering the calves whenever I want so we are not limited by him.)

    • July 9, 2014 4:23 pm

      Elizabeth, that’s a good problem to have 🙂 Your grass may do better than ours in the fall, we get rain but not much frost and it pretty much takes all the nutrition off. The taller grass does protect the lower green though, so you can leave them out and see how they do. They’ll tell you if their hungry 🙂 Play it by ear on the hay you may need it or maybe not.

  7. July 9, 2014 12:21 pm

    Nita, do/did you ever use chicken tractors to raise your meat poultry? We’re working on getting into raising meat birds (turkeys and broilers) for ourselves and a few friends and want to do movable tractors for at minimum the turkeys. You’re the only blogger I know of that does/did meat birds. If you want to private message me about it my email is paintsmh@gmail.com

  8. Chris permalink
    July 9, 2014 3:47 pm

    Do you have a method to load them out calmly or is that impossible? They seemed to be the most contented cows I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine they would want to go anywhere willingly! 🙂

    • July 9, 2014 4:18 pm

      Chris, we call them into the corral, sort them, and they walk through a narrow chute to the trailer and step in. We move them each day, and rotate through the corral any time we are near it, so it’s not a scary place, it’s just a place to walk through.

  9. July 9, 2014 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the information about pasture, but you’ve piqued my interest about who stays and who goes to market. Do you have a regular crew of breeders you leave behind every year, or do you rotate so that you don’t have really old cattle? I imagine you’ve taken last years calves to market, but how do you determine who stays behind?

    • July 9, 2014 7:47 pm

      Chris, I keep cows, and sell the two+ year olds (male or female) for meat (direct market), I retain heifers that I think will be good cows…which sometimes I am wrong, and sometimes sell some yearling steers to private parties if I don’t want to go the second winter with a certain number of cows. Mostly depends on pasture, hay stored etc.

  10. Chris permalink
    July 9, 2014 7:11 pm

    Ahh, I knew you would do it right! 🙂

  11. A.A. permalink
    July 10, 2014 2:44 am

    So true about grass remembering. This year I’ve figured out which pastures/paddocks I’ve hit too hard in the past years. The lushest few parts for sure especially the first season in ’11. Though they were lush in the previous conventional hay farming system, it didn’t mean they would not have to go through the same transition back into carbon cycling, soil life and appropriate species that everywhere else did. Only that I didn’t emphasize rest and maximizing trampling enough as I should have, because they “grew so well.”

    This year around, those parts are starting to catch up again. It would’ve been better and more appropriate had I envisioned them as catching up from the start, like I did some other areas. Two pastures that I have grazed more appropriately, half a hectare each, grew one about boot to knee tall at full maturity last year and the other somewhat taller. They are reaching chest height now. Though it’s only the sparse, tall timothy that’s as high as that, the rest being anywhere from waist to thigh to knee in the very weakest spots, what I’ve seen previous is that a more even, lush, dense and somewhat lower stand at about waist high should grow next year, less white clover underneath and more tall red clover in the sward, as long as I let this crop grow mature and trample enough down, as I (or rather the team mates) will. This means only one grazing in season for these two now. As the fertility builds up to where it is on the better pastures, they will gladly reach two mature grazings in or outside season, or a grazing and a haying I would think, and they will most likely make for the next springs rotation start with what stockpile they grow in September after the August grazing.

  12. July 10, 2014 10:58 am

    So you usually butcher your beef calves in their second spring? How do you market your beef? Word of mouth, website, other ways? I’m just curious.

    Emily from TX

  13. July 10, 2014 9:39 pm

    I recently purchased some property (last week) and just found out a significant portion of one of the pastures has creeper buttercup through out.

    Do you have any suggestions on how you deal with this weed? I won’t have animals on the property until the beginning of 2015, but the property does currently have some cows from someone that is renting part of it.

    • July 11, 2014 4:49 am

      AM, buttercup is usually a sign of poorly drained, low calcium, low humus soil. Anything you can do to improve all those things will help. Congrats on your new property.

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