What a welcomed sight we experienced this past Friday. It was finally time to get one group of our cows back on to stockpiled fescue. This 40 acres will provide them with the forage they need to get them through until grass starts to green at the end of this month. Stockpiled fescue is a term we use to describe a forage (in this case, fescue), that we have planned to graze during the winter months. After the first hard frost, it becomes very nutritious, more nutritious than any hay (cut & dried grass) that we could feed. The downside is that it is very toxic in the summer as it contains an endophyte fungus. It can cause a cow to abort a calf, raise her body temperature and in general throw off her endocrine system.
The beauty of planned grazing is that we know this and can plan for it. We plan to not graze these fields during the heat of the summer when the endophyte is active and, instead, we allow these fields to rest and grow from August through December. At that time, we begin our normal strategy of strip grazing one acre per day throughout the majority of the winter. We do still feed hay as we don't quite have enough fescue to graze throughout the entire winter. In total, we stockpiled about 100 acres this winter at this farm.
Hay feeding isn't my favorite activity. I realize it's a necessity, but the whole process becomes tiresome after doing it for a month. I feel so disconnected when we're feeding hay because the whole routine is mechanized and based off of nutrient removal. Cutting hay from fields removes all nutrients from the pasture and leaves nothing to replenish the fields without the addition of purchased amendments. One reason out of many why we have stopped making hay all-together. We purchase any hay that we need to feed, supporting those in the County that love to make it and have the right machinery to do so. Making great hay is an art, just as much as successful grazing, so we leave it to those who do it best. My morning routine becomes so ordinary when we're feeding hay. Get in the truck, start the truck, drive to the hay, back up to the hay bale, pick up a hay bale, back up further, pick up second hay bale, drive to the cows, open the gate, drive through the gate, shut the gate, lower first hay bale, remove net wrapping, lower hay bale, drive and unroll, repeat for second bale, drive back to hay for two more bales, and repeat (sorry for the run on sentence). Nowhere in there am I walking the fields, connecting with the Earth or feeling close to the cows. I'm in a metal box on rubber tires, radio on, longing for Spring.
Yesterday, moving the cows across the farm, down the driveway, across the river, and into their fresh field nearly brought me to tears it was so beautiful. I could feel that they knew where they were going. The sun was just setting over the mountains, the cows jumped gleefully for their new forage, they began to harvest their own feed again, and all was right in our World. I was walking the pasture again, looking the cows in their eyes, and realizing yet again why I do this. I love to make these animals happy. I get so much joy and happiness in seeing every single animal thrive in our system. The transition from hay to grass is incredibly heartwarming and a sign that greener days are ahead. Hang in there everyone, Spring is almost here.
With Gratitude, Mike