Ah, Summer, the time of year when in the midwest the grass grows really fast and is full of nutrients. While our growing season is pretty short, the land provides lush growth when the pasture is well managed.
If we had open grazed this land, there’s little chance it could produce as much forage as it does. Further, what we do in the other 3 seasons all reflects on the land’s ability to produce the nutrient dense crop.
There’s farms that own or lease a lot of iron to do the same things we do here with very minimal iron. Keeping inputs low is one way to achieve profitability in an ever more challenging world.
With the good times we often call summer, there’s 3 other seasons that both challenge the land, and animals to meet their needs as they work together to cycle the nutrients available.
The calves stand in some warm season grass that they have been grazing with their mothers. The lush fast growing season is past now, and cooler temperatures have replaced the hot days, and plants are starting to build their reserves in their roots for winter.
Microbes utilize the organic matter the dung beetles and other fauna have left for them at the soil level and below. Without these special creatures the grasses couldn’t do what they do.
We try to cycle the areas we last graze so some pastures have pretty good cover on them before fall. These pastures will have a lot of root reserves and will also feed our animals after the pasture is completely dormant. They also will be the fastest to regenerate in spring. We can often begin grazing before green up in spring on stockpiled pasture. Grass can grow faster than a small group can graze the dead forage and new shoots. It may be a little lower in nutrition at first, but heifers, bulls, and steers do pretty well on it.
Winter in Minnesota is typically snow covered with up to about 50 inches of snow accumulating over between late November and mid March. We get the majority of our snow in later February and March. Some years we have an “open winter”. This may be comparable to Iowa, or even as far south as Kansas. Snows are not quite as much, and melt between. Resulting in winters where we can graze dormant grass while it lasts.
It still gets cold here for up to a few weeks at a time, but it doesn’t typically get warm enough for any sort of growth to occur.
Bales have been unrolled on slopes to build nutrients. Cows tend to loiter where they have been fed. Helping us to choose where they hang out, and where nutrients are deposited. This practice is known as bale grazing. It is done in a couple ways, either placing bales in a checkerboard pattern then using portable fence to allow access to bales a few at a time, or in our case, feeding and unrolling daily.
This practice eliminated the need to haul manure from a feedlot, letting cows do the work. There is little waste, as you can see. This doesn’t work if you try to feed a few head a large bale that they cannot consume in a few hours. There is other methods to make this practice work in small herds.
We used to use bale feeders for many years, but the cows always were dirty, and wet. They didn’t get enough exercise, and became stiff sometimes from inactivity. This can cause calving problems too. Inactive cows can deposit excess fat instead of staying in working condition.
When our spring arrives the cows seem to smell the grass coming out of the ground. They become restless, and seem to wander every morning looking for new shoots. We may temporarily confine them to a smaller pasture during this transition time, as their wandering can lead to high traffic areas that get badly damaged as the frost comes out, and can make accessing the herd difficult. Once gateways are torn up it can take 2 years for the damage to heal properly.
On the cow’s side of the season, they need to get out and stretch their legs more and more. Heifers and other young stock really enjoy those first days back in the pasture once the ground firms back up.
As the grass really begins to take off, our cows begin to calve. You can see the last of the dried cow patties disappearing in the grass. Soon the grass will be taller than the nestled newborns, and a sharp eye will be needed to spot them.
The 4 seasons are all full of hustle and bustle. The animals doing their part to cycle the nutrients. The land cycling the nutrients left by the cows. There’s so much to appreciate about producing British White cattle on grass.