Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘winter feeding’

Early March feeding hay still

Now that I don’t work at a “real” job and don’t have to show up to work at a prescribed time, these pesky seasonal time changes are not as much bother as they used to be.  The livestock wake up when the sky lightens and settle down for the night when dusk falls, no matter what time my wristwatch says it is.  Same goes for their eating habits, they are accustomed to a regular schedule and there’s no reason to shift it an hour one way or another just because the clocks changed.

But the clocks have changed.  Which throws me off a little in my daily routine.  Instead of heading up the hill at 6:30 am this morning, for example, we went up at 7:30, according to the clocks.  Mid-day rounds usually happen at 1 pm, that’ll be 2 pm now.  Until I get used to the new time, I have to do a little clock math throughout the day just to keep on schedule.  So I leave my wristwatch on what I call “Cow Time” or, more accurately, Eastern Standard Cow Time, which gives me that nice solid reference for when the important stuff, like tossing hay to cows and horses, needs to happen around here.

In a week or so my brain will have adjusted, this little trick just gets me through until it does.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

Turbo in trees on road

I’m not sure where January went, but it went quick.  Now we’re halfway through February and it’s going a little slower, but it’s been snowy and cold and a lot of work.  I think my muse got buried beneath the 16″ of snow that fell during the first storm and decided to stay in hiding until the ground reappeared for longer than a week.  Which means she’s still missing, but dagnabit I wanted to post regular so let’s get an update out here and get back to the storyline, shall we?

Like I mentioned, we’ve had quite a bit of snow here, which is not normal.  The old-timers say this is how winters were when they were growing up, back in the day.  Still, they’re surprised to see it come around again and shake their heads, cluck their tongues and confess to being thankful for being old and not having to be out in it.

I am no stranger to outdoor work in every season, I have all the clothes and boots and gloves and hats I need to stay warm and dry, and I enjoy being with my animals and being out in the woods and pastures, this is the life I had imagined.  I’m in good strength and health and have established routines that work well, don’t wear me out, get the necessary caretaking done in a timely fashion and keep me safe.   It’s a little lonely without another person to interact with but the dogs and horses are great companions, I am not alone by any means, I talk a mile a minute to all of them, they know the sound of my voice very well.

So we’re hunkered down for what may become the normal winter storm season, and I see comments online about starting seeds and getting ready for Spring, and the truth is that’s all just around the corner, I really need to stay forward-looking and not get too comfortable in my hunkered position.  Hunkering is good for a time but it can turn into torpor all too easily.  I don’t want to get run over by the freight train of activity that’ll commence in a few short weeks – it’ll probably run over me anyway but I’d like to at least see it coming and get a running start before I have to jump out of the way and let it barrel past.

A post about hay is in the works, don’t let me forget.  Might be more than one, it’s an important subject around here.  My four big Suffolk work horses eat a bale a day – each –  and the herd of Devon cattle go through 3 – 4 large rolls a week.  Hay is front and center on the menu half the year for the cows and the horses eat it year-round.  Why and what and how and is it any good and can you afford that are all great questions, I don’t have all the answers, at this point I’m just seeing what works and what doesn’t, there’s plenty of time to change course as we go.  But for now I’m hooked on it and don’t feel bad because it’s adding fertility and tilth to the pastures, which need it.

Lots more posts in that subject, let me tell you.

Speaking of hay, it’s time to go serve some more, get ’em all munching and crunching.  I’ll try to get back on a regular weekly schedule here, the pace is picking up fast and I’d like the blog to keep up.

Later, friends.

 

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Standing water on hilltop pasture

Standing water on hilltop pasture, 30 December 2012

This started out as two posts:  Outwintering, and Slow-draining Soils.  There is much to say about both.  But because these two subjects are, right now, my greatest challenge, and so interconnected and related, I could not separate them.  So let me begin.

Until such time as I am able to achieve the ultimate in managed grazing, which is to have stockpiled forage to rotationally graze as much as possible throughout the calendar year, I will have to feed hay during some or all of the winter months.  This grazing year was a complete anomaly, starting late with a hungry, starving herd of animals on summer stockpiled pastures and doing my best to make the forage last as long as I could, without compromising either herd health or pasture condition.

I was able to utilize every acre of stockpiled growth, and move the cow herd back through about 15 acres of regrown pasture before the growing season ended, grasses went dormant and I deemed it time to stop grazing around the end of October and leave what cover remained to protect the soil until Spring.  Without a loafing shed or permanent feeding area set up yet, and limited areas suitable in terms of slope, wind protection and vehicle access to outwinter the herd, I picked several spots to set up as “sacrifice” paddocks this winter.  They’ll get way more than their share of manure and hoof impact and will need some serious renovation come spring, but I believe it is better to do that to a relatively small area than visit serious damage far and wide.

I knew from my limited periods of observation during short working visits to the Farm in previous winters that there were areas in the central part of the pasture that held standing water after a rain event, and drained slowly over a period of several days.  I also knew from having performed soil quality tests, that my pastures are a clayey loam, with not a lot of organic matter, and the root profile of the sod does not penetrate very deeply.  Knowing that the pastures were reclaimed from invading forest by bulldozer some 25 years ago and had been seeded and maintained as tractor-mown meadows without animal impact since then, I also accepted the fact that the topsoil was probably thin, mixed with subsoil, and compacted.

So, when I went to set up my winter paddocks I skirted what I had identified as the low, wet area between the two ponds, and fenced the highest summit-like areas, maximizing proximity and orientation to forest edges for shelter from the west/northwest winds.

Feeding cows round bales of hay in ring feeders set in open fields is standard outwintering practice in these parts.  Most feeding areas I’ve seen on neighboring farms are not even on high ground.  I thought my carefully-chosen locations would work very well.  And they did, for a few weeks, until the December rains came and saturated even the highest spots.  Dormant grasses don’t move water.  Two inches of rain in two weeks is not absorbed or utilized the same way in December as two inches of rain in, say, September, even on the best soils.  And my clay soils hug water like they never want to let it go.

The cows and a small area of soil around the failed feeding areas suffered for a week or so until I came to my senses and realized the pugging damage and ankle-deep manure/mud was not worth the convenience of having them self-feed out of a ring feeder.

I won’t post a picture of the destructive impact caused by eight full-grown cows around a ring feeder on wet, slow-draining soil.  Trust me, it’s ugly.  It made me sick to my stomach to see, and I wracked my brain trying to figure out first how to prevent it, then second, how to mitigate the muck once they had stomped through the sod and worked the area into 8″ of sloppy mud.  Finally, the light bulb came on, and I realized what a losing proposition those ring feeders are on unfrozen ground in this climate.  At least, for a farmer like me.  I know what happens to soil structure when it is churned into mud, and it’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish on these pastures.

And the cows aren’t the only problem – driving the tractor in to fork another bale in makes mud ruts in a hurry, too.  I was trying to limit the tractor moves to below-freezing mornings when the ground was stiff and frozen, but the timing didn’t always work out.

So, I am hand feeding now, forking the hay off the rolls, which are set on end in a staging area, into the dump bed of my little 4×6 Gator and delivering it, gently, to the paddocks.  And it is better, much better.  I can move the piles around which distributes not only the hoof impact, but the leftover hay that becomes trampled-in carbon to feed the soil.  With the Gator I can haul and dump huge piles of hay in just a few minutes, and fork out the excess manure pats to stockpile in next year’s garden area.  It is more hand work.  It takes more time.  But the ladies are eating better, I’m able to keep a closer eye on their condition with the twice-daily interaction, and best of all, the pasture area they are feeding on now looks excellent.  The sod is somewhat trampled, but not broken.

Hand fed cow

Next year I hope to graze a little longer into the winter, but I’ll still need a winter hay feeding strategy.  I think for the long-term an idea like this permanent central feeding station that would integrate with pasture rotations would be ideal.  It’s a matter of finding the right location, as it is quite permanent; but it could also be roofed and serve as shade and a rainwater collection point.  Not something that can be thrown together at the last minute but certainly worth planning for.

Meanwhile, the cows have learned the new feeding routine and don’t seem to miss the mud.  And I sleep better at night.

Read Full Post »