For whatever reason (way beyond my understanding) their consumption of mineral has doubled or tripled in just the past couple weeks. I have kelp; organic salt; and a High Magnesium Mineral Mix available free choice in a portable mineral feeder that is low to the ground and that I can move around easily by hand so it doesn’t inspire a mud pit (the way the water tanks do).
Seems like whenever I am back there doing chores another half dozen geese or so are flying by low overhead, honking and flapping their way back north. The deer (and we have many in our woods, perhaps thirty total in two main groups) seemed truly desperate for something to eat towards the end of the prolonged snow cover we were having last month. Now they are still restless and flighty, but they seem a bit calmer. I think they are starting to find just enough graze—the timid first growth of plants. They, like our horse, can nibble down closer to the ground than the cattle can.
I am smelling skunks; I have spotted my first couple possums when doing chores after dark and walking back up to the house with a flash light; there are raccoon prints everywhere, as well as some attacks on the household garbage cans; red winged blackbirds are everywhere; the buzzards are back and roosting in their favorite trees again.
It is spring for sure even though the trees are still bare and we are having some freezing rain on the coldest nights. With ten days of hay left it is high time for my big gut check—committing to an initial plan for how I will rotate the cattle on the pasture. I have that plan in hand, both for how to move the cattle about and how many additional “stockers” to purchase soon (in late April or May). I notice it is quite a departure from the plan I put down on paper some three months ago. I think this new plan is a better one—more realistic. Anyway it is the one I am setting out with. I know it needs to be flexible, and that all sorts of variables, weather to name just one, could make me slow down or speed up the pace I intend to set. Observation and improvisation has to be a big part of any grazing management. But you do have to set out with a plan. Here is mine for this year.
We have nine paddocks, each about five acres. Our aim is to make these nine paddocks support the cattle entirely for 300 days. April 1st through January 1st (nine months) plus stockpile enough to support the cattle again through the month of March 2011. This would mean feeding hay during January and February. NOTE: In the diagram below paddock 1 is the sacrifice area. It will be ungrazed, and will serve as a reservethroughout the season. Numbers 2, 7, ansd 12 together equal about 5 acres, constituting (mathematically) a ninth paddock comparable to the other eight shown.
We buy calves at 6 months of age (about 500 pounds). We raise them till they are about 30 months old (1100 pounds). Any of you who have grained cattle know how much slower this grass feeding approach is (a full extra year per animal at least!).
We are perpetually buying new calves to replace those taken to slaughter, restocking to a total of 35 head whenever we are down to only 28. On average, we have about 32 head grazing throughout the year. Their average size remains constant, always the same steady mix of younger and older calves.
Animal Days Needed
32 animals grazing for 300 days means 9600 Animal Days will need to be provided by the pasture.
[32 animals] x [300 Calendar Days] = 9600 Animal Days.
Each of the nine paddocks needs to provide its share of Animal Days.
[9600 Animal Days] / [9 Paddocks] = 1065 Animal Days/Paddock
For the sake of planning, I convert this into the number of Calendar Days needed per paddock:
[1065 Calendar Days/Paddock] / [32 Animals] = 33 Calendar Days/Paddock
This tells me that I need to get 33 days of grazing from each paddock (on average—they are not all equally productive, and they will be grazed at various times of the season, under varying conditions).
Part One: April thru June
During the flush of spring, with massive growth rates, as well as the likelihood of lots of rainy days and soggy ground, I want to move the animals through a rotation of all the paddocks very quickly. The axiom I keep reminding myself of is: the faster the grass is growing, the faster you move the cattle; the slower the grass is growing, the slower you move the cattle.
I intend to section each paddock into four pieces, each one serving for a full day’s graze.
[4 Calendar Days/Paddock] x [9 Paddocks] = 36 Calendar Days
This will get me to May 6th, still way before the flush of spring growth has slowed down.
A second round will follow, not quite so fast as the first one:
[6 Calendar Days/Paddock] x [9 Paddocks] = 54 Calendar Days
This makes a total of 90 days—through the end of June. There is another full month of potential (though somewhat slower) growth ahead before the stagnant times in August and early September. And I think I will be in fine condition to start in on round three with the first paddock thus grazed. It would have been grazed May 7th through May 12th, and will have been sitting idle for 58 days by the time it serves as the first paddock grazed in round three. The last of the nine paddocks grazed in Round Two (June 25th through June 30th) won’t be grazed again until lat November. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
Part Two: July through November
Hopefully the first two faster-paced rotations of the pasture during the flush of spring have only served to keep the forage fresh and full enough by the end of June (but trimmed nicely and not going to seed), that now I can really mob the cattle up tight and get a long intensive grazing rotation accomplished.
This time I intend to have the cattle on each paddock for 16 days. That’s pretty intense grazing—about 32 animals on approximately 0.3 acres. Visualizing this as a success, I see the initial forage downright lush and bushy and thick to start with and eaten clear down to the dirt by the end of the day. This is the mob grazing style. Destroy everything and move on for a very long time. The first paddock, which would be grazed July 1st through July 16th, would then rest for 128 days, being visited by the cattle next on November 24th.
[16 Calendar Days/Paddock] x [9 Paddocks] = 144 Calendar Days
The toughest will be paddocks grazed through the most discouragingly hot and dry and stagnant times of August or early September. There might be plenty of forage on the pasture then, but it might not be highly palatable. It is possible I will need to feed the occasional bale of hay here and there to keep the cattle from rushing forward ahead of schedule. For this round, intended as it is to provide me another partial round before New Years (relying on fall growth, which is reliable but not abundant), as well as some stockpiling for the month of March, it is going to be important to stay on schedule as much as possible.
Part Three: December
Not all of the paddocks will be recovered enough after the third (mob intensive) round of grazing to serve again this season. My plan asks that the first four paddocks grazed—all of them finished with and resting no later than the last day of August—be able to support 9 days graze by the end of December.
[9 Calendar Days/Paddock] x [4 Paddocks] = 36 Calendar Days
This manages to get the cattle fed through the very end of December.
Part Four: March Stockpile
This part of the plan is the shakiest, as it is something I have not done yet on any large scale. It is important, because, at fifty dollars per day, this one month would represent an additional $1500 of hay purchases if stockpiling does not get the job done. Already, haying through January and February plus some additional bales for insurance, I will have a hay bill of about $4000. Another $1500 of hay spending I need like a hole in the head.
But, it seems a bit of a stretch to say that the two paddocks grazed during September, and having what growth is possible while they rest through October and November (there will be some growth as well during any warm-up in December or January, whenever), should each provide 15 days graze.
They will need to, because surely the remaining paddocks (the three grazed in October and into November) will not have re-growth substantial enough to feed the cattle. They may well be the first paddocks to feed in April, when the initial growth spurt is just underway. But to feed as March stockpile, there needs to have been some considerable rest and regrowth that occurred in the fall.
Oh well. It is an experiment, and one well worth trying. I will likely buy the additional hay this year, just in case I need all of it. What I don’t feed can hold over and be part of next winter’s supply. If this is like most things on the farm, I will get some of what I hope for but not everything. Maybe I will get twenty days of graze rather than thirty…we’ll see.
Round one: 4 days/paddock 36 days
Round two: 6 days/paddock 54 days
Round three: 16 days/paddock 144 days
Round four 4 paddocks @ 9 days each 36 days
Round five: 2 paddocks @ 15 days each 30 days
Total 300 days