Monday, November 19, 2012

Cold Weather Grazing

The other morning I was out moving the cows to a fresh break of grass and marveled at their ability and willingness to eat huge quantities of frozen grass.  The morning temperatures here at Cairncrest have been in the upper teens and low twenties, which is chilly enough to freeze the surface of the soil and heavily frost our pastures.  Cattle must have massive bloodflow to their mouths to keep them warm and mobile while munching down pound after pound of ice.  Our cows need just under 30 pounds of dry matter per day in order to fill their rumens and stay happy.  Standing pasture has much more water in it than dry hay does, so when grazing they actually consume more than 30 pounds of forage per day, which is a lot of cold, cold stuff to chew through.

The end of our third year of grazing approaches, the exact date will probably be determined by the weather, i.e. too much snow will fall for the cows to dig through for a fresh bite.  It is possible we'll run out of grass before the snows get too deep as our pasture's fertility is far from optimized and the volume of grass available to our herd diminishes by the day.  Our goal is to make it to the New Year on stockpiled pasture, thereby avoiding many days of (expensive) hay feeding.  Last year we grazed until just after Thanksgiving, but this year our management was tighter and the weather has been cooperative, so things look good for meeting our goal.

Here is a photo of where the cattle were a few days ago.  Note the line in the grass where the cows were fenced and the spot where they have yet to hit.  We're currently moving the herd away from this line, but we'll be back to harvest all that good grass in a week to ten days.  Well, actually the cows will get to do all the work of harvesting... This area was last grazed back in late July/early August.  The regrowth is pretty good because we have outwintered the animals here and all the imported hay has done wonders for the quality of the pasture.  Unfortunately this is only one small section of a much larger pasture, and most of our land in this paddock is not so lusty.

And here is a picture of the herd.  You can see the portable electric fences we use to set-up new paddocks every day or two.  Also worth noting are the water tanks.  We have to remember to drain the hoses every time we fill them this time of year or else we run into issues the next time we go out.  Frozen hoses are a royal pain.

Once it gets even colder we will set the water tank in a "permanent" spot for the winter and leave it running continually, with a drain to siphon the excess off to the little creek at the bottom edge of the paddock.  The agtitated water can then stay open for the cows even when the temperature drops way below freezing for days or weeks on end.

And here is a picture of my favorite cow in our herd, Sable.  She's docile, maintains her condition well, and raises a big calf every year.  I love cows.