Welcome to reality grazing for the week of November 16th to the 23rd. Our prayers go out to the farmers around the Great Lakes who battled feet of lake effect snow while we enjoyed much calmer weather with the exception of the cold. If you’re following the grazing chart we moved off the hill and set up fences down around our woods in paddocks 7 and 8. We got a heavy 40 degree rain early in the week followed by 3” of snow and cold temps and 4” of snow on Thursday and Friday.
Call it good planning or luck, having the heifers close to the woods worked out like a charm in keeping the wind off them. What makes this grazing difficult is having the grass pounded by rain during the day and frozen at night. The clumps of orchardgrass fair ok but all the understory of clovers, forbs and bluegrass seem to melt into the soil and is hard for the cattle to vacuum up. Because of this I have to give them more forage and also because they eat more when the mercury heads downward. This weather pattern caused me to lose 2 days off my rotation. You’ve got to monitor this and adjust otherwise the animals won’t get enough groceries to remain healthy. I’ve also found that bulking them up before a storm on all the grass they can eat gives them energy to fight the cold and wind much better.
I’ve grazed lots of herds of beef cattle who have a nice fat layer to draw from as the weather closes in. Dairy heifers are (usually) not in this condition and require more feed because they just don’t carry the back-fat unless they have some mixed genetics. I have to feed the herd based on the Jerseys in the herd and watch the rumen fill to make sure they have enough. As Darrell Emmick said, there is an art in finding the balance.
Every day I check the water tub to make sure the gravity water keeps running through the 1 inch black plastic from the in-stream dam and over-flowing the tub. Someone said flowing water will never freeze. Well that may be true, but on Friday when the temps dropped to 10 my little dam and the leaves in it crusted over and froze the entire line and tub, rendering it useless. So without blinking an eye, I went to plan B (which you better have plus plan C, D, E, F and G). I opened a small section of paddock 15 where the creek goes through so they could get water. I’m not a huge fan of dairy heifers just eating snow for water because I’ve seen too much stress on them. I struggled with the decision a bit because us farmers are getting slammed for having animals in the stream. Christ, I’m employed to protect the water and here I am watering animals in it. Heathen!
In my defense, I only gave them a sliver of the field that has been resting for 135 days so I feel I did my best with the resources I have. In 2015 I’ll attempt to redesign the dam and install a bigger pipe so I won’t need Plan B.
The woods perimeter provided some nice leaf bedding. Trouble is the fields need the manure not where they camp. I took forage samples at the peak of frostiness in Paddock 8 and 6 which have been resting for 137 days and 100 days respectively. I only took the top 6 inches instead of all the extra brown stuff to mimic what the animals are eating that first 4 hours of grazing. My gut was substantiated by the test and the manure quality, that indeed this forage was good shit. Take a look at the tests. You could milk cows on this feed, which has been my point all along. You’d have to manage them to only utilize the top 8 inches but there is opportunity. And this is “Grandpa’s grass” not some recent planted variety.
Being a curious cuss, I did a 50 dollar test to view animal behavior for your benefit. With the quality forage in the field, I wanted to see how hard they would hit a bale of 1st cut baleage. I’m convinced they remembered the sound of the tractor and equated it to the gravy train. They came rushing at me from their paddock break to partake in an old familiar tradition. I do all the work and they do practically nothing. Upon dropping the bale into the feeder there was a huge skirmish to taste but after the euphoria wore off they just followed me around like I had other treats. After a while almost all of them went back to eating grass so I thought maybe they didn’t want any welfare.
When I showed up the next morning my experiment was confirmed. They ate all the balage and grazed like crap plus made mud around the feeder. Given the choice over easy vittles versus work, most will choose easy calories, including me. No more gravy train, heifers, its back to work!
At this writing we had almost 70 degrees yesterday which allows for mud and animal impact. I would much rather have 20 degrees and frozen ground as not to damage the soil surface. This will most likely cause me to give them bigger paddocks to combat the pugging which as you know already will mess up my grazing plan. Maybe I should have planned them to be in a hardened barnyard to mitigate this situation. Organic folks frown on this practice but it is a consideration since it impacts next year’s plants.
Going forward, I’ve got to figure out the pasture walk logistics and where I want the cows to be when the guests arrive. We’ve got 30 folks signed up so far with more registering daily. I would be awesome to have 3 inches of snow, sunshine and 30 degrees for the 6th. I’ll keep my fingers crossed but you know Mother Nature bats last. Hope all of you have a Happy Thanksgiving and appreciate all your family time together. See ya next week. Thanks. GW