by Troy Bishopp
Joe Namath said, “First I prepare. Then I have Faith.” I’ve got my own context: “Without goals, passion and the faith to succeed, you will fail.” When it comes to grazing animals into the winter season it pays to develop patience and a sense of humor as you battle Mother Nature’s wrath.
Like a sickness, I’ve been on a quest to achieve year round grazing in the Northeast because someone said it couldn’t be done. It’s a challenge I’ll admit, but it has many beneficial layers to plants, animals, soil and people.
In August I put a grazing plan together that matched potential forage growth with animal needs and went about resting our 100 acre pasture system. This leap of faith and decision-making would allow the diverse plants to grow to their maximum height and density before frost in October. I could only hope that the 60 to 90 day growing season would be ideal for growing grass thus making the plan to graze till January with no hay feeding a reality.
As luck would have it, it rained about 14 inches in that time period and we didn’t get a killing frost till Halloween. The pastures produced about 134 tons of standing feed and would have to be rationed out 1 ton per day (or about 1 acre/day) to 60 head of dairy heifers with portable electric fence to facilitate maximum grazing efficiency. Moving a fence once a day is really child’s play with the added bonus of making around $72/hr. through contract grazing the animals.
All is well in theory until we have the freak thunderstorm, torrential downpour and of course, snow. Nothing the Bison or now cattle, haven’t seen before. It does take a toll on the human mind that this grazing through the elements won’t work or there may be a failure to meet the expectation. About the time you lose a bit of confidence the sun comes out or the ground freezes, dissipating the mud and the cows keep on grazing that old freeze-dried grass.
The epiphany of stockpile grazing came to me in a lake effect snow burst. When I arrived at the paddock, the cows were nestled in the leaves against the wood’s boundary seemingly chuckling at this snow covered farmer taking down the fence for a fresh bite of popsicle grass. They ran around like children playing on a snow day off contented with full bellies and winter coats. They buried their faces in the snow-covered clumps of orchardgrass like their wild ungulate brethren have done for centuries. It was a scene right out of Yellowstone in upstate New York.
The grazing plan is wrong however. I actually gained a week more grazing from conservative planning, decent weather and may be a bit of luck perhaps. The good news not only means more dollars saved, but the plants are fully rested going into 2015 with a robust microbe population. It also means these healthy dairy replacements will provide our region with organic milk made with grass and sunshine. I’ll drink to that!
To see the stockpiling story updated weekly visit www.thegrasswhisperer.com