Two years ago I couldn’t imagine saying the kinds of things that I say all the time now. Things like “The forage was trampled SOO well today.”, “Honey you should see the way the clover is coming back”, “I think (so and so) is in heat”, “(So and so) is bagging up”, and “Moving the cows is the best!”. All of these are statements that I now say very often.
I’m moving the cows every day between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. We’ve got 6 Dexter cows, 6 Dexter calves of all ages, 1 Dexter Bull, and 5 Belted Galloway yearlings. All of these bovines are grazing paddocks each day that are right at 0.14 acres. That’s just over 1/8 of an acre. At this time, May 30th, each paddock is starting at knee high and over, of alfalfa, clover (ladino and red), orchard grass, and a little Max Q fescue. There is a small amount of weeds and I’m starting to see crabgrass and some other grasses that I haven’t identified yet. We are now on our second rotation since…. I believe March 27th of this year. This is the date that we let the cows off of their winter paddock by the barn and stopped feeding hay. We did supplement with just a little hay to help them keep from bloating though. When we first started rotating the cows were grazing most of the forage off, after a couple of weeks we were able to get the right paddock size that caused the cows to trample any forage that they didn’t eat. This has been spectacular for the regrowth!
Now, in the second rotation the grass is tall and the cows are continuing to do lots of trampling, now as much as 40 or 50%. If we were grazing existing pasture I might feel bad about all that trampling but we have to keep reminding ourselves that 13 months ago this “pasture” was all dirt! Being crow crop land for 30 years or more, the organic matter was very low and this trampled forage is helping to build soil and create the excellent soil fertility that we desire. It’s amazing to see how long moisture is held in the areas with tall forage and or trampled forage. It’s also great for us to see how soil life is thriving. We see many insects in the fields, worms in the ground, and dung beetles working hard to bury the manure! This is actually really important because the manure (fertilizer) is being moved closer to the plant’s roots, flies aren’t able to reproduce in the cow pies, and holes are left in the ground that help to absorb and store water when it rains.
On to some pictures of this years forage.
First is a picture of the grasses just starting to grow. We have really bad rows showing because of using a seed drill last year and it was worrisome to me in the beginning that we may have not left enough grass standing last year.
Next is a picture from just a little later. This is when we were allowing the herd to graze just a little each day, in preparation for the start of full grazing on the spring lush.
These pictures are probably 2 weeks into grazing. Each day the forage residue is a little different but this is a pretty good look at a typical move. The cows are eating tall (first rotation still) spring growth and leaving shorter, damaged forage behind with a high amount of manure deposited.
This is probably 2 weeks of rest.
The rest period on the first rotation was around 50 days but here is a picture at about 25 days rest. There is really no comparison to how it looks now.
This is my little girl sitting right in the middle of the salad bar at about it’s maximum height. I feel that allowing the forage to get tall and mature helps them to develop the root system that will benefit us in the future. Not to mention that our cows are our only tool to manage the farm at this point and they can only eat so fast!
Getting back to the thought that I had when starting this post, Moving the cows IS the best. I have such a great time moving the “mini mob” onto new forage each day, taking note of how the last paddock looks, now the new paddock looks, providing water and minerals to the animals, and walking backwards through the field to see how it’s all recovering and what is working the best. We do have an area that was trampled really badly when it got too muddy and it’s really interesting to see how it’s recovering over time too. If in the future we can get away from feeding hay at all, and just rotate cows onto clean salad bars each day, now that would be the ultimate job for me!
Do any of you have the same feelings about moving cows, have experience doing Management-Intensive Grazing or mob grazing, or have a similarly gratifying “chore” on the farm? I love comments!