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Archive for November, 2013

Last rotation West Pasture 5 Nov

A very short three weeks ago my little herd of Devon cattle was grazing the last of the sweet fall regrowth in the West Pasture, heading down range toward the Lower Pasture where the winter feeding rotation has now begun.

Once I make some culling decisions and reduce my cow numbers, the late summer regrowth should last longer into November.  Ideally, we’ll end up with just enough cows, heifers and growing steers to graze on reserve growth and improve the pastures well into the winter months, feeding hay at the end of the dormant season and long enough into spring to let the new growth get a good start.  For now, I’m just observing, and learning, and contemplating what changes can and should be made, while I keep everyone fed.

Last year’s winter feeding strategy was a 1.5 acre sacrifice paddock on as high a ground as I could find, where I fed them hay, managed the manure load by carting away excess to start the garden, and hated the mud when it rained.  That area was heavily fertilized, received a well-distributed layer of carbon as the hay was fed out (there is always some left uneaten), and was also, unfortunately, beaten to a pulp by animal impact.  That’s why it was called a sacrifice paddock.  Left alone, in the spring the damaged turf grew mostly weeds, the weakened grasses overtaken by opportunistic, stronger annual plants.  That paddock is now renovated, sown to a high-sugar grass mix, and will be my finishing paddock for fattening the grass-fed beeves just before slaughter.  Another post, I promise, on how that was done and how it is doing.  So far, it looks very promising, heading into winter with a good first growth which the deer are enjoying immensely.

This year I’m trying something different.  Without a permanent winter feeding station, where I might feed round bales of hay on concrete surrounded by well-drained gravel access paths for the cows, and not wanting to confine them to another sacrifice area, I’m going to rotate them around the entire pasture complex, in large paddocks – several acres each – to spread them out and lessen the destructive impact of their hoof action, and feed, as before, to evenly distribute the carbon and manure and traffic.  This year I have a hay wagon that will hold enough to feed the entire herd in two feedings per day, one in the morning and the second in early afternoon.

Hay wagon

I am still hand-forking hay from round bales set on end, which is not as laborious as it might sound, especially since I started placing the bales on pallets to keep the bottom edge free as the roll unwinds.  Believe it or not, I find forking loose hay from a round bale into a wagon, then forking it out in piles for the cows, easier than lifting and toting and tossing square bales.  It takes longer, but I’ve learned to use very good pilates-inspired body mechanics so it does not strain my back, wrists, elbows or shoulders.  I call it Farmer Tai chi.  My cows call it pizza delivery.

They are eating well so far, going through three rolls in a week, on average, with very little waste.  And I am happy with the improvements in my setup and delivery system, which should make the winter feeding much less of a chore, and easier on the pastures.

Cold November morning feeding hay 2

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November visitors

Tinka, Skeet and Linda

The little farmhouse has been abuzz with visiting friends and family this month.

Bear made his annual escape from San Diego to relax a bit and catch up on equipment projects; my barn-building sister drove out from Colorado with her husband and their dog Tinka to help kick-start the hay shelter construction, and our good friend Liz and her new hubby, both now retired from the Navy and setting up their homestead in Illinois, stopped by on their way to a family Thanksgiving gathering further east.

Skeet the Collie, elder of the Bear and Thistle dog pack, was glad to have another girl dog to share pee duty with, and despite a minor mealtime scuffle (orchestrated unwittingly by the two dog mums who put their food bowls down too close together) she enjoyed cousin Tinka’s visit enormously and welcomes her back any time.  Aunt Linda is one hell of a ball and stick thrower, so it goes without saying (just look at that picture above) that Skeet was a happy girl.

Bandit nearly wriggled out of his dog skin when his favorite guy Bear walked in the back door.  I wish I’d have captured that greeting on video, it was amazing.  Tears me up just thinking about it: imagine the happiness of a dog seeing their favorite someone after a year apart – and of course the dog doesn’t realize his person is coming back – so he was absolutely thunderstruck and obviously very happy.  A wonderful thing to witness.

Bear and Bandit

As for me, I am delighted to have such excellent company after so many months alone; especially glad for the company of these close friends, and my husband, who is my closest friend.

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