Transition Thursday ~ Improved Management

Top 30 Oct. 29
Exactly one years difference between these two photos, taken October 29th in 2013 and 2014

Better management practices and additional rotations have great improved this pasture area. I arrowed the same tree referenced in both photos as a landmark.

2013~ This field had been planted the year prior and only had one cutting of hay removed. As our cattle numbers rose, we decided to put the cows into this pasture later in the year. The older growth and light colored grasses are from the previous years grasses and ones that had already died off due to colder temperatures. Most of those standing stalks were still left in the spring of 2014.

2014~This entire field was broken up into 10 rotational paddocks. Due to improper grazing methods the year prior, we saw additional weed growth and still some residual standing dead grasses remaining for 2012/2013. We decided that after the first rotation of grazing, the paddocks would be clipped. The clipping added organic matter for moisture retention and soil cover. When the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses measured approximately 11″ tall and fairly uniform (other than where heavy manure patties were located and the grasses were about 2-3″ higher).

Synopsis of tests and trials:

In 2014, we did some additional management testing. As each of the paddocks were clipped, we either left the animals in the same paddock for 24 hours or pulled them out prior to clipping. We had the same amount of rainfall for the first 21 days on two adjoining small paddocks, NONE. One we left the cows in and the other we pulled them out.  Which of these paddocks do you think grew back better? Do you think there were any uniformity difference?

Now that we are grazing these two paddocks again after the same amount of growing days, we are surprised by the results.

Paddock 4: The day the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses were approximately 11″ (or knee high on my legs) for second grazing. There were large patches of dark green grasses (from manure and slightly better nutrients).

Belly deep grasses of paddock #4

This is the paddock that was clipped and the cattle left in for around another 24 hours. There are one or two weeds that did pop up, but nothing like the previous year.

Paddock 5: I turned the cattle back into this paddock for regrazing just this week. The grasses were remarkably shorter with more defined patches of thick dark green grasses. The grass was averaged about 9″ tall.

Take note of the patches of darker grasses.

This paddock was clipped after the cattle had been located into the next paddock.

Rainfall rates after the 21 days could have made an impact because the paddocks had  7 days different growth. Or could the differences be from the actual animal impact? We really aren’t sure but think the animals were a major contributing factor.

Why would that impact be so important? Any farmer that has cut hay can explain that once grasses are clipped or mowed, they dry fairly quick. Grasses will lose a lot of moisture in that first 24 hours. What happens to grasses when they start to dry? The become brittle! As the animals walk, stand, and trample the dried grasses, it shatters or breaks it apart into smaller pieces. This could be the crucial difference. Not only do smaller particles breakdown to return nutrients to the soil faster but think about how sawdust can cover a floor faster than a tree. The particles are more evenly dispersed over the soil. I’m sure there are other benefits, like how any moisture is retained, too.

All of this has been a “work in progress” and “testing”. I’ve recently heard lots of complaints about how Holistic Management doesn’t give a “one size fits all” prescription. FOLKS, IT CAN’T AND IT NEVER WILL!

Why not? Holistic Management is about working with wholes. Not holes but WHOLES. I can’t identically replicate what I’m seeing as results on any other farm. Why? Every farm, even adjoining ones, will have different soil type, different nutrients, and even possibly different plants. What works here for me might not work exactly the same on a farm 50 miles away that has a slightly different climate. Holistic Management is about working with your whole environment. It covers everything within your own whole and you would be surprised how much variation there really is.

I think that’s the problem with the mindset with most people in agriculture today. It’s all about a “prescription”. If a farmer plants corn, there are specific nutrients (nitrogen is a big one) that are needed in the soils. Since corn is planted as a monoculture, it’s easy to get a soil sample and apply whatever amount is needed to amend the soils. It doesn’t work that way with more complex situations. For example, our three main paddocks have a total of 5-7 different soil types and a range of nutrient variations. We have planted more than 15 different plant species into our paddocks and not one field is the same. You can’t do a “one size fits all prescription” in that scenario.

Just like you don’t wear the same type of clothing in the summer as you do in winter months on the East Coast. The same methodology is used for management. Field A (spring) requires different management than Field B (winter) and even different yet than Field C (summer drought). Hopefully, you are starting to see and understand how Holistic Management is an ever evolving thing, on the same farm and difference from year to year.

If anyone has any questions, concerns or would like to chat about what we do, please don’t hesitate to comment below. That’s why we share what we are doing (try to anyway). It’s been hard for us to adapt and learn, I encourage others to learn from our mistakes and trials.

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4 thoughts on “Transition Thursday ~ Improved Management”

  1. Thanks for this post. We bought our 1st Dexter milk cow earlier this year and have a small hobby farm in Upstate NY. Our hope is to utilize what little acreage we have to its fullest potential, so I truly appreciate reading about other people’s trials, errors, and successes, in hopes of adapting their knowledge and experiences to our situation.

  2. We have 2 cows and a calf due the end of the month. All Dexters. This was our first summer with them and we are still trying to figure out the best grazing situation. My plan was rotational as you have described, our problem is getting water to them. Just a guess our total pasture is 3-4 acres. I have yet to figure out how to divide it so they always have access to the corral where the stock tank is. That will be something for us to plan this winter.
    I appreciate the insight you have shared about your trials.

    1. We move our tanks so its centrally located and then use garden hoses and a float. Works great. I think for us to pipe it to that location was three hoses. Contracter hose, 100′ long, was about $50 per section. Saves lots of labor and time.
      In our farthest paddocks we have a tank we fill at the barn and then drive it there (due to change next spring).

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