My brain on pasture


Spring makes some think of gardens or open-toed sandals however my
spring thoughts follow a path much less traveled; I think about
cattle on pasture. I think
about other things too, however they are even less interesting than
cattle eating grass (imagine that.) Here is what I am thinking about
this spring. This is my brain on pasture.

I have no-tilled corn and soybeans into standing pasture as a way to
rotate my cattle paddocks. The only reason I rotate my paddocks is
that the alfalfa typically dies off by year six or seven. I plant the
corn and beans, kill off the grass then rotate back to pasture the
year following corn. I graze the corn in tiny strips then put
everything back into pasture the following year. I have begun to
question this practice as it seems a shame to kill off all that nice
grass. I want my pasture to be a mixture of grass and legumes and
when the legume (alfalfa) dies off then I need to take some sort of
action. The problem is, the paddock is perfect except for the lack of
alfalfa. It seems like cutting down an oak tree just because it isn’t
a fruit tree.

I have considered no-till planting alfalfa into standing grass but
the results of this are not that great. Clover is a legume and does
better in a no-till situation but you have to suppress the grass in
order for the legume to get a toe-hold and grow. Suppression means I
allow the cattle to eat the grass down to the ground. I don’t want to
do this because tall grass suppresses weeds and when the grass is
gone then weeds can gain the advantage. In my opinion, clover is
the red-headed step-child to alfalfa’s more stellar performance, both
in fixing nitrogen and producing heavier cattle. Anyway, it is an
issue I have decided to explore more deeply this spring.

Here’s the second issue in my consideration, will my hydroponic fodder
project make as great an impact as I hope? I plan to raise barley
hydroponically and use it to augment pasture during times when the
pasture needs a little help, such as the summer slump or in winter
when the pasture I let grow and stockpile has frozen. I want to use
the hydroponic fodder to raise the cattle more quickly yet still
enjoy the benefits of grass-finished cattle. The way I finish cattle
on grass currently means I need to keep them through the winter which
is something I no longer wish to do. I know some people may question
trying something new when what I’m doing works but I wish to do the
very best with every gift I have been given. I am willing to “try and
fail” in pursuit of long-term and sustainable success.

I know the snow is twenty inches deep now but spring invites my
thoughts to melt through the snow and dig into the dirt and roots
that make up the pasture on our little farm. I guess when it comes to
spring I have a dirty mind. This is my brain on pasture.

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