The money lays in the forage. The way you graze and manage your pasture towards the end of the growing season will have a huge effect on them. I remember Joel Salatin telling me that their pastures start growing 2-4 weeks before the neighbor’s fields turn green in the spring. Wow. Imagine grazing for 2 months longer in the fall and almost 1 month earlier in the spring. This means at least two things:
1. Your cattle will grow better since it is eating fresh forage for a bigger portion of the year. No matter how good your winter feed is, it won’t be able to compete with forage, even when the forage is stock piled during the dormant season.
2. You will not have to feed/make as much hay.
Both of those aspects mean more $$$ for you.
Let me give you what I consider the three most important principals for winterizing my pastures properly:
1. Daily moves I hope you move your herbivores daily. Whether you have sheep or cattle, whether you have 5 head or 500 head, daily moves are a must. Let me quickly share why.
When grass initially starts growing in the spring or after a grazing, the initial supply of nutrients is taken out of a supply in its root system. This supply needs to be replenished later on. First when the plant has grown in size and gained strength will this replenishment take place. When a plant is grazed it goes into a self-protective shock for approximately 3 days to wait until the animal (the grazer) has moved on before it restarts its growing process. This way the plant will not be overgrazed. Overgrazing happens when a plant tries to restart the growing process and uses the supply from its root system while an animal continually will graze off the plant’s leaves, never giving it the chance to gain new strength. The plant will continually get weakened. Typically a plant will get into the stage where it is able to put strength back into the roots when it has developed 4 or more leaves. Before then, a plant should not be grazed or only be grazed very lightly. Light grazing or heavy grazing describes something else. A light grazing would be when you manage your pasture and livestock in a way that only the tips of the plants will be grazed off. A hard grazing would pretty much be allowing the plant to be eaten down to the ground.
Daily moves of your herd is the only way that the forage on your pastures will have the chance to regrow to the stage where the plants can put new strength into their roots after a grazing. A light grazing will speed up that process of recovery, since the plant doesn’t have to start at zero again. The last thing you want is a weak pasture— not at anytime, but especially not before winter. Nature manages this with a balanced eco system of herbivores and predators. We are able to mimic this with electric fencing and daily moves.
2. Light grazing the last 4-6 weeks of the growing season When a plant gets grazed, it wants to start growing again and will attempt to do so if there is enough heat and light. One of the worst things a farmer can do is to do a hard grazing a couple of weeks before vegetation stops growing. I often see farmers harvesting silage the last weeks of September which is right about that critical time where we live. The forage will go into shock for three days and then use the roots’ supply to try to regrow. However, due to colder weather and shorter days, the plant will never reach a level where it can put that strength back into the roots. As a result, the field will be significantly weakened right before the winter, which will then result in a very slow start in the spring. The same is true for your pastures. Since your herds will not pause their grazing around that time you will have to manage your land differently. We try to do light grazings the last 4 weeks of the growing season. That way we will never weaken the plants too much and the plant doesn’t have to regrow from the beginning. The forage that we leave behind when moving the herd to the next spot will be saved as stockpiled forage for the daily moves after vegetation has stopped growing. It won’t go to waste.
3. Feeding the pasture at the right time A third thing that I find very important is to realize that nature has certain times when it fertilizes itself. In our area we typically receive life-giving rains during the spring, around midsummer and in the fall. This is when nature needs it the most. I find it smart and effective to feed and fertilize my land around those times. Nature never fertilizes in the winter. Instead it covers itself with old forage or leaves in the fall. Those break down over the winter and feed the soil in the spring. I like to cover my pastures with compost at a time, where the land can still metabolize the extra fertilizer and ideally put it in its roots for a head start in the spring.
May you boost your production and heal your land with this knowledge!