Pasture Party

Herbivores get happy when they find grass plants to eat, so do I. My
happiness is probably not as deep nor as gustatory as my cattle,
although we both feel relief. I am relieved that I no longer have to
feed hay and the cattle are glad they no longer have to eat it. It is
the season to pasture cattle and that means it’s party time.

Most pasture is still brown however we will break on through to the
“other
side,” where the pasture is always greener. I don’t mind some old
forage as it balances out the new grass. It provides some fiber to
dilute all protein in the new grass and keeps cattle stomachs
healthy. I can pretty much guess what state the grass is in by the
consistency of the cow patty. I want something about the consistency
of pumpkin pie (sorry if you’re reading this with breakfast.)

I have grazed the cattle for the last several years on a rotational
basis. What this means is the cattle eat small pieces of pasture for
a few days then are moved on to the next section. This way, they eat
the best of the vegetation and keep the pasture in a growing or
immature state. I plan to move the cattle more often this year as
that should give them more carbohydrates which will help the heavier
cattle finish more quickly. It seems the cattle eat a higher
concentration of protein the further
down the plant they eat. Younger cattle probably benefit
more from higher protein as opposed to more energy; however I believe
cattle typically find the food they need so everyone should find
something of benefit to eat.

I plan to use something called a “brix refractometer” this year. I’ve
seen these used by beekeepers to check sugar content. Sugar is the
energy that helps cattle finish well so the refractometer should help
me find the best pasture for my cattle. It’s not like I plan to pass
over some pasture because of my readings however I can discover which
grass or legume varieties get me the energy I desire. I can also find
out what time of day the plants have collected enough sunshine based
on sugar content to provide my best weight gains.

Finally, I think I have finally achieved my best management practice
in grazing cattle; I am not making any hay this year. Each time I cut
hay, I remove nitrogen and nutrients from the soil which
means I have to add fertilizer the following year. When the cattle
harvest that forage themselves they will return almost all of it to
the soil in manure. The act of cutting hay also removes the canopy of
grass and legumes which keep the soil cool-a perfect environment for
earthworms. The worms do the work of converting leftover grass and
cattle scat back into soil, they also keep the soil aerated and able
to hold more rain.

Soon I will invite several of my favorite bovine buddies to join me
in a salad bar made of alfalfa, orchard grass, clover, rye grass all
surrounded by a garnish of electric fence. It may just appear to
others as cattle doing what cattle are good at, however for me it is
a pasture party.

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