By Sarah Lyons Chase of Chaseholm Farm
This is a big one. This is my first season ever and also my first season managing a rotationally grazed dairy herd. I think I have a lot to learn about how to maximize productivity of both grass and cow and it is fun to feel like I have also come a long way.
I learned about grazing management first from Alan Savory and then from Jim Gerrish and more intimately with local farmers and their animals as well as supplemental insight from Graze magazine (a worthwhile investment). My basic grazing plan is that my herd (33 cows- 10@1000lbs and 20@1400-1600lbs) move to a fresh 6/10 acre paddock every 12 hrs. This is the very formulaic version of what I do every day but I am not so rigid in reality and when the grass looks good they may get that 6/10ths but when I am wishing that it were taller or more dense or the weather is wet they will get a bigger slice.
I have many pasture spaces and each of them has a permanent perimeter (in some cases that is a polyrope perimeter, others my father’s old barbed wire, and in one case, a five strand high tensile that a previous leasee of the farm must have spent big money on) the interior of each pasture is divided up into sections with single strand polyrope and pigtail posts. I love pigtail posts. Pigtails and fiberglass posts have given me a lot of flexibility that everyone who is experimenting and learning will find valuable.
This fall I will be applying for an EQIP grant—I had put in an application last year but in hindsight I feel really lucky to have not been selected because I probably would have made mistakes and they would have been a lot more permanent in oak posts and high tensile than in polyrope on a fiberglass post. I feel like after experiencing successes and failures of my current pasture layout I will be much more prepared to put a plan together for how I would like it to be.
I dream of a new mower so that I can more efficiently mow pastures down when the cows are leaving. I had a pretty ugly infestation of Canada thistle this year and in some places my fathers giant bush hog just doesn’t fit or it can’t make the slope. I have been reading a lot about mowers that can be towed by ATV’s and have their own motors attached so that I can reach steep pastures and fit through my smaller lanes and gates without taking down fencing or waiting to do a larger piece of grass.
My biggest failure has been my watering system. I have a 500 gallon tank that I fill every 12 hours and drive out to the paddock. This sucks. It takes up a ton of my time, if its wet and I have to go to a paddock that is on a hill…..I get stuck. We have had a wet summer and I can’t tell you how many times I have cursed this system. I dream that EQIP will help me install underground pipe and frost free spigots to each paddock.
Dream big. Certainly some new system will need to be implemented next season.
Another bit of information is that this year I have been using two solar chargers, the PRS100 from Premier fencing. Cows are easy to keep in and for the most part I have kept mine in, except for Apple and Sue but they are determined! Usually when there is a problem it is my mistake and not the charger. They are a more affordable option and I have had good success. I do hope for a barn charger someday but I feel okay putting that investment lower on my priority list.
Pastures are one of the most exciting parts. I suggest to all aspiring graziers that you read Newman Turner, he is my newest favorite and he is getting me really excited about the potential for grazing systems that are low cost, restorative to cows, land and diversity. Check him out!
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.