Our cows are grazers; well, as much as any animal can be in Vermont at 2,000′. In other words, we do the best we can to have our animals on pasture as much as possible.
We are constantly working towards a system of more efficient intensive rotational grazing. Dad’s been doing it for a number of years, but since transitioning to organic and attending workshops, we’ve been able to really tighten up our practices and utilize the pasture that we have more efficiently.
In the ’60s my grandfather started to notice that the cows would eat better if during the middle of the day the fence was moved. He would trek out and move by hand the wooden fence posts and steel wire that made up the fences at that point. Talk about a labor of love! (Still, here in the hills it is far easier to move a fence than try and put a plow in the ground. The rocks here grow and multiple; I swear. It’s tricky enough to maintain the machinery we use to harvest grass, let alone what those repairs would look like trying to plow up the ground and plant anything else.)
Thankfully, with the help of EQIP funding, we’ve been able to significantly update our fencing methodologies and they no longer include wooden fence posts and steel wire, save for the permanent perimeter fences around the dry cow and heifer pastures. In total we have 184 acres that we pasture. About 90 acres of that are permanent pasture and the rest comes from acreage we cut for hay and then pasture subsequently. Crazily to some, we do commute the cows up to a mile to reach pasture, but they seem to love it. The first day down the road they barrel down kicking up their heels as though they’d never been in a field before.
In the past 5 years we’ve cleared about 15 new acres to improve the heifer pastures (and add a bit of extra income from logging) and increase the milking cows’ night pasture. All of which is done in close consultation with our forest management plan so as to ensure we’re creating new habitat wisely. EQIP funding was there to assist with both the purchasing of new fencing material and to help with our water lines, tubs, and two springs. One of the springs uses a solar pump which is able to successfully gravity feed a significant amount of acreage; all of the pastures surrounding the barns.
We also have been able to put in a number of cattle lanes which improves the cows’ journey to pasture keeping them out the mud and helping to maintain the integrity of the pasture. Intensive rotational grazing is a fascinating practice. I feel as though we have a good handle on it and our cows certainly seem happy, but I love that any time we go to a pasture walk or talk to a different farmer, there always seems to be some idea we could implement to continuously improve the quality of pasture for our animals.
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.