Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Stay Off the Grass!

Here we are on May 14th, 2013 and, as you can see from the picture above, the only animals on my farm enjoying the bounty of the pasture are the chickens and the rabbits. In fact it is all that I can do to stop myself from turning the cows and sheep out on the pasture ... especially since I'm purchasing small square bales of hay about every 10 or 12 days! But, I know that it is for the best because my pastures are just not to the point they need to be for them to be grazed.

I believe there are a combination of factors that have my pastures lagging behind a little bit this spring. First of all it has been a cool spring (we had 9 inches of snow on May 4th). That has kept everybody's pastures growing slowly, but especially mine that still have a large amount of warm season grasses as the main forage (even after 4 years of intensive rotational grazing). On top of the cool spring combined with the warm season grasses there is the whole issue of the drought of 2012. I ran my pastures pretty hard last year, and if I am going to be truthful with myself I used them up a little more than I should have. So, even though as you can see from the picture below that we are statistically out of the drought I'm still paying the price.

All of this has led to me having to make the painfully tough choice of keeping my cattle and sheep off the pastures and up at the house still eating hay. Each day as I drive to town for work I see what seems like every other farmers cattle out grazing while mine are still eating expensive (still have drought prices here) hay. And, each time I see those cows grazing I try to tell myself that I could put them out on the pasture and just give them bigger paddocks while feeding a little hay still. In my "want to get grazing" mind that seems like the perfect solution, but in my "need to do what is best for the longevity of the pastures" mind I know that I need to just hold off and let them heal as we keep getting some decent moisture this spring.

How are your pastures? Has the cool spring kept them from taking off? Did you do a better job managing them last summer than I did (most likely you did)? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.


Tara said...

We're having the opposite problem. One day I was holding off and the next day, boom! The grass is so far ahead of our small heard of 11 that we can't keep on top of it.

We're building our herd, and obviously not fast enough. We still have low lying areas that are too wet that we have to avoid, but the grass is growing too quickly there as well.

I feel for your predicament. We were down to our last round bale when the grass yelled, "come and get me!". Just by the skin of our teeth..

Ethan Book said...

One day I hope to have the "problem" of too much grass ;) Actually that has been my plan all along, that as the pastures and soils are rebuilt to the point that they are strong enough I would make hay on a portion of the pastures during the spring flush when the grass is growing quickly.

Just not there yet ...

Anonymous said...

Wish I was closer to you (I'm East. PA) and I am ...a beginning farmer with a ton of pasture with no livestock yet! With the warm weather last few weeks...the place has gone CRAZY! Thanks for a great podcast and I love the "Hard Lessons" Shawn

Rich said...

It takes time after a drought for your pastures to recover (if that's even the right way to describe it).

Here in OK, in 2011 we had a drought with almost no rain all summer and extreme heat. It rained enough that fall and the next spring that everybody was saying the drought was over. But by May 2012 it stopped raining and it got hot (over 100 degrees in May).

I had a feeling the drought wasn't over, and I baled a lot of wheat straw as insurance in case I didn't have enough hay.

It got hot and stopped raining in late spring, so the grass didn't really grow that much over the summer except for a whole lot of winter annuals (mainly cheat and a little ryegrass) and weeds in early spring. It was so hot and dry last summer that most of the blackberries I've been fighting for years to get rid of actually died from the drought conditions.

We had a mild winter, got enough rain to fill up the ponds, and now are only in a moderate drought condition (instead of extreme and exceptional), but it sure seems an awful lot like last year.

I ran out of hay and straw about a month ago and have been grazing since then. The grass is short and doesn't seem to be growing very fast, but the cattle seem to be gaining condition (green grass helps a lot). I'd like to have had the grass growing a little bit more before I start grazing it, but right now I don't have much choice.

After wheat harvest, I plan on grazing the stubble and the volunteer crabgrass to let my pastures rest. I'm also going to plant some sorghum-sudangrass for hay and possibly grazing depending on how much rain we get this summer.

After these two years of drought, I've beginning to see the wisdom of managing every year like a drought is going to come each summer. I'm also going to try to build up a hay reserve to make it easier to survive through the dry years.

Andrew said...

Here in SE Minnesota we're suffering from the same late spring you're having. We'll get cows out on grass this weekend, but the holdup is due to lack of fence, not trying to stay off the grass.

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