Posts Tagged ‘spring pastures’

suddenly green

Well that was fast.

Plenty of rain and several weeks of May-like temps have turned the switch on early, it seems.  We’re told to expect some cold nights and snow flurries before March is behind us but there’s really no stopping what’s going on out there in the woods and fields, ponds and streams, soil and sky.  It’s all awake now.

This verdant green pasture isn’t ready to graze, it’s mostly just a carpet of inch-high new clover leaves, but it sure looks yummy.  The promise of delicious meals to come, and sooner than last year, they were covered with snow at this time a year ago.  We normally don’t start rotating the cowherd through the pattern until late April; it’ll probably happen a couple of weeks earlier than that this time around.

Once again the sap run blew right past me, if it happened at all.  Buds on the maple trees mean sugaring season is over; oh well there’s always next year.  And the next.  It’s scramble time now, to stay ahead of the bunch grasses in the garden rows that didn’t get seeded to cover crops, get the mowers and trimmers ready for action, finish setting up paddocks for horse grazing, and on and on.

Ready, set, go!


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Dragging West Pasture

I had hoped to be posting regularly by now but that habit is taking a little longer to reestablish, no surprise here.  I won’t give up though.  The truth is I’ve not yet built it into my routine; many things, much less enjoyable tasks, get done every week simply because I place them on the map of what I will do and remove any roadblocks to doing them.  And so it must be, will be, with blogging.

We are moving very quickly into Spring this year.  Seems like just last week I was bringing in firewood and starting to think about cutting more, now the stove stands cold in the sunny front room, although it may need to heat the house once or twice more before it’s all said and done.   There are cool mornings still expected.  But the daily dance with firewood is pretty much over for the season, and that’s a good thing.

Up on the hill, the pastures not used for winter feeding are greening, not really growing yet but the carpet of first clover leaves and grass tips starting to produce chlorophyll again make it look positively yummy.  It’ll be awhile before grazing season is officially open, at least on this farm – I let everything get pretty tall before starting the rotation, so the grazers tired of eating hay don’t get ahead of the growth curve.  So the cowherd is still in winter feeding mode, on small sections of pasture eating hay, moving toward the corral so the 2015 calves can be sorted out for their trailer ride to the vet, leaving a nice blanket of trampled hay and manure in their wake.

Just the other morning I accidentally ran over the chain harrow with the gator, which reminded me to hitch it up and drag the West Pasture before the rains hit.  The herd spent most of the winter on those three acres, moving slowly from back to front, adding tons of carbon and nutrients; dragging spreads all that out a little more evenly, fills in hoof prints a little and lifts any large chunks that would smother growth below.  The picture above shows the job about half done.  It’s a beautiful thing to see all the good stuff laid on top, ready to be eaten by the little creatures and incorporated into the soil, boosting vigor and growth of the sward all summer long.

It’s going to be a busy Spring, I have a lot planned this year and the snowstorms set me back a bit on some stuff.  The garden, for instance, still sits just like it did after I dug the sweet potatoes, last crop harvested – tomato stakes still up, nothing pulled out and burned, a mess.  Haven’t started seedlings yet either, which I hope to remedy this weekend.  Last year my veggie starts were early, this year they will be late.  Oh well.

It’s also time to plant a little orchard.  Bare-root trees arrive in April.

And bees, I’m starting a beehive this Spring.  Bees arrive in May.

Then there are the big red horses to train.  With any luck I’ll have one or more of them hooked to some kind of training sled this summer, perhaps a stick of firewood this Fall.  That project goes slowly but steadily, we make progress every day on manners and communication and connection, this is the year to build on that and get them thinking and acting more like workhorses.  No rush to pull anything heavy but lots of opportunity to build skills for both horse and human.

So here we go.  Winter is behind us, the farm is waking up, it’s a beautiful place to live and the work is hard but fun.  I will figure out how to wedge the storytelling into the story doing somehow, it is important and not as difficult as all that.  Just need to work it in like I do everything else.


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moving through Lower Pasture, May

This is the happy circumstance I have spent years dreaming of, researching and planning for.  After a decade of preparation, including a great deal of reading and studying, many workshops and seminars, and six years of farm ownership before retirement allowed me to move here, I finally have a small herd of beef cows to rotationally graze and improve the pastures.

It sounds so easy when you read about it and imagine how it will work.  What can be easier than cows eating grass, after all?  But not all grass grows the same; some pasture is quite lush while in other areas the stand is thin, weather factors a lot in how well a grazed area regrows, and moving the grazing herd around a farm in sync with the forage growth cycles can be quite tricky.  So, it is anything but easy.

I suppose this is some of what the “intensive” part of Management-intensive Grazing, or MiG, refers to.  I’m not talking about intense physical effort, although it takes a fair amount of walking to string electric fence every day or every couple of days, and my neighboring cattle farmers would no sooner hike around their fields with an armful of fiberglass posts and reels of electric wire, than fly to the moon.   No, the muscles most used, I’ve found, are between my ears – and as a novice to both the art of grazing and bovine husbandry, I am learning to use them and stretch them beyond what I’d ever imagined.

This is the first year I will have seen these pastures grow from dormancy, and the first full year they will be repeatedly grazed by animals instead of mown.  Last August the herd arrived to the dense stockpiled stand that had grown unmown since spring, and worked their way through it in about 6 weeks before returning to regraze their first paddock assignments.  That was an abnormal grazing situation and there were more animals then, too.  This year I’ll be learning as I go, with some basic grazing concepts to guide me, and the realization that it will take years to achieve what the books and experts make sound so simple.

I have enough animals to concentrate their efforts and achieve the benefits of what’s known as high-density mob grazing, where the herd, constrained to a fairly small grazing area, consume a portion, trample a portion, and leave a portion of the forage standing.  Currently I’m building paddocks sized to last them a couple of days, moving them before they crop the undergrowth right down to the ground.  They aren’t crowded, but they aren’t free to roam and cherry-pick throughout an entire pasture.  Since the cows are highly competitive grazers, this method gets them to eat more of what they would rather leave – grass stems and seedheads, for instance.  They don’t eat everything and they only get it down to 3-4″ before I roll them into a fresh patch.

Concentrating their grazing also concentrates their manure and urine deposits.  This is absolutely critical to the task of pasture improvement.  All my neighbors let their cow herds roam on acres and acres, and they never see much of any benefit from the cows’ fertilization.  It’s just too spread out.  Without a pack of predators to keep their herd formed up in a group and moving together, the animals disperse and nibble here and there, moving quickly through the pasture and depositing most of their manure under the trees where they rest and ruminate in the shade.

This is what the paddock looks like by the time I move them forward.   That’s fescue seeding on the other side of the line, and you can see they’ve cropped most of that down where they’ve grazed.

Lower pasture, just-grazed paddock

Leaving a residual of several inches and a fair amount standing, cleaning up all the weeds and forbs and native clovers, as well as other plants I have yet to identify.  Plenty of plant matter trampled into the soil as well.

Lower pasture, residual

Here is where I take a different approach from many graziers.  For many reasons, but mostly to help manage what is already a burgeoning fly population, I drag their manure either the day I move them or the day after.  I don’t have Joel Salatin’s egg-mobile chickens following my herd to disperse the cow patties and eat the fly larvae, at least not yet (and won’t for some time).  We had significant pink eye infections last fall with outbreaks throughout the very mild winter, and face flies wintered over in great numbers.  Face flies are manure-breeders; their larvae hatch in three days, so if I can disrupt that breeding cycle it will help, I hope, keep their population in check, and lower the risk of another cycle of eye infections.  Doctoring an entire herd of 1,000 lb beasts of prey with a flight zone of 15 – 20 feet at best, is not fun, for either the animals, or the farmer doing the doctoring.

I know all about the drawbacks of spreading cow crap, believe me.  Cows avoid patches of grass near manure pats for good reason, and most of the experts say dragging their pies out just makes more grass unpalatable to them next time they graze an area.  I’m not so sure it’s as bad as all that, and I’m willing to make that mistake if in turn I’m able to beat the flies down to a low roar by reducing their breeding resource.  Chickens would do a better job I’m sure, but I’ve called a moratorium on gaining new livestock until after I get the horses here and settled.

And that’s another blog post.  Heading up the hill now to continue work on the new horse barn.

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Alene sends pictures almost every other week – her photos are not what mine would be, but I’m so fortunate to have her there to be my eyes, I won’t apologize for poor resolution or lack of composition; these pictures are precious to me, my only glimpse of all that I love and long for from half a world away.

The dogwoods have started  flowering now and soon will be a riot of white against the pale new green leaves of the overstory trees behind them.  One day not too far from now, I’ll be there to see their transformation for myself; until then, these ordinary photos keep my heart and mind tuned to a certain hilltop farm in south-central Kentucky, where the sun rises on bright spring-green pastures and sets on hardwood forests tinged with spring white.



 It has been a wet Spring thus far, with more than 4″ of rainfall by mid-April; 15″ or so for the year to date.  The forest will be exploding soon with life and the pastures are already at grazing stage, 8 – 10″ of tender, succulent young grass and clover.  Too bad I do not have any hungry sheep or cows to begin rotating through them yet…  It would be a good time for lambing, calving and foaling, with lots to eat and rains bringing more growth every day.

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How I wish I were back at the Farm right now.  Just look at the grass starting to green up, the trees yet to push leaves, still waiting for the days to lengthen enough to be safe from sudden frost.  Someday soon, I’ll live each day of each season there, noting the subtle changes in every living thing as the planet hurtles back around its yearly orbit, tilting the Northern hemisphere once again toward the burning star that makes all this wonderful stuff happen.

I have 30 days left over here in this East African desert; 44 days to being boots on ground right there (points to photo), in the middle of that very pasture, surrounded by the green grass and budding trees that wait patiently for me.  Oh, my farm is my lover, my waiting woman, beckoning me home with graceful arms and bountiful curves, life springing from her soils and grasses and forests and creeks.  How I yearn for her presence, her sounds, her smells, her touch.

This trip I will rescue the corral from certain death by weathering.  It was assembled perhaps 8 years ago, used only once, and put up too close to the Big Pond.  The panels are rusting and in dire need of a new coat of paint; I’ll attend to that then tear the whole thing down and stack ’em in the trees under a tarp, until I’m ready to set it back up again in a better location.  We’ll be there 10 days, so I’ll have time to sand and paint 20 8-foot steel panels.  I hope.

We’ll see if I can get Derril to take some pictures this time, to help illustrate the project story.  Bobby and Alene are thinking of taking a trip to see their kids while we’re there, since our stay is so long; it will be nice to have the Farm to ourselves for a change, and be able to power through the work without keeping a meal schedule or just being dang rude for not coming down off the hill until dark.  I’m bad about that.

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