Year round grazing on pasture presents some interesting situations for us grass farmers.  In this past post from July 2015 we demonstrated the results of planned animal impact on a wetland site heavily used through the non-growing season.  Below we show what we had to deal with this past spring when Mother Nature gave us a wet spell.  Here we show the results we see in our pasture now.

Background information for sites shown below:

  1. We know April – early May can be wet, we planned to be here!
  2. This site had about a year of rest since the last graze.
  3. This site needed some animal impact!

The red arrows identify the same objects in the photos from different dates.

Animal impact following spring rain event 2016.

  • After moving them into this patch we obviously had a significant rain event.
  • Before moving into the next patch, we achieved significant animal impact.
  • Cattle are happily grazing on fresh/clean pasture.

What this site looks like now.  You can barely see the nearest rock!

Follow up site visit for animal impact 2016 fall.

  • Our future plan for this site is to avoid the next wet season.
  • Will graze this fall or winter and feed some hay on the site most likely.
  • We will utilize the cattle to lay the large grass stems on the ground.

Below are two more photos of a site nearby.  More severe impact as a result of the prolonged wet period we experienced this spring.

Animal impact following spring rain event 2016.

  • Almost looks like a tilled field!
    • “Cow Tilled”
    • Site absorbed a significant amount of kinetic energy.
      • Hooves and Raindrop energy impact.
  • Remember, this site had heavy sod from brome and native grasses.

Energy into the site released a significant amount of energy through grass growth over the past four and a half months!

Follow up site visit for animal impact 2016 fall.

  • The reason for the selfie?
    • I am six feet tall, some big bluestem seed heads are over my head!
  • This tall rank (lignified) grass will not make good cow food.
    • We will use cows to pick out what they want and;
    • Stomp the grass stems to the ground
      • This is how we add CARBON to the soil.
      • Grass stems stomped on the soil feeds our soil livestock (microbes).
      • We should grow even more grass here next year.

What a wonderful cycle.  Are you worried about too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?  This is how we use cattle to cycle carbon from the atmosphere into grass.  Some carbon is quickly returned to the air, but a significant amount of carbon is transferred into the soil.  Once in the soil we have a great chance of getting the carbon into a stable form (humus).  The more carbon we can extract from the air and put into our soil the more grass we can grow to extract even more carbon!

The best part about this cycle is that cows produce calves while they are doing this work.  Every once and awhile we take a grown calf (steer or heifer) to the butcher.  This gives you the opportunity to participate in the healing of our environment.  Just eat some grassfed beef and support our work and other grass farmers like us.

Monitoring of our grazing animals and the impacts on the grasslands we manage is something we do daily.  What does the pasture look like ahead of our herd?  What does the pasture look like where we just moved from?  How do the cattle look (body condition) compared to a week ago?  Based on these observations we can make decisions during the current season and anticipate decisions for the upcoming grazing season.

What about the long-term monitoring?  We started some basic monitoring activities prior to the cattle arriving in 2011.  This includes soil, water and forage sampling.  In 2009 we established a photo monitoring site along with collecting detailed forage data at the site.  We return to this site each year near the same date and collect photos and forage data.  Please share any thoughts you may have after reviewing the photos through the years below.

2014 monitor update, looking back through 2009:

 

Photo Point Monitor 2014

August 4, 2014. The site was grazed twice since the previous photo; mid-November 2013 and early July 2014. The brown forage is mature yellow sweet clover.

July 2013.  The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arived in July 2011.  Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

July 2013. The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arrived in July 2011. Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

Where is 2012?  Not sure what happened in 2012.  A major drought developed after mid-June that year.  I probably decided it was to much of a downer to take photos.  Of course now I wish we had a photo.

Photo Point Monitor 2011

August 8, 2011. Cattle arrived on farm July 2011, but this site has not been grazed yet. It has been 30+ years since cattle have grazed this site.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2010

2010 – July 23. This site previously had thorny locust tree invasion. From 2000-2009 trees were removed with hand cutting, spot spraying, multiple burns and some bulldozer work.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2009

2009 July 30. Camera is pointed toward house on far hill in background. House serves as a permanent feature for future photos.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here.  This was following a spring burn.  The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here. This was following a spring burn. The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

This past week we hit a dip in our efforts to produce grass-fed beef.  We have experienced dips during the past two years but this one was a little more significant.  In a matter of a few days we had an outbreak of pinkeye among the cows.  As soon as we recognized the problem we acted quickly to manage the situation and it seems we have things turned around.

What caused the problem?  A number of factors most likely, but in the end it was a lack of management on our part.

1)      Non aggressive fly suppression

2)      Slower cattle moves

3)      Cattle grazing low vigor forages due to recent weather conditions and past land history

We could have managed each one of these factors differently and the results may have been the same.  Based on this experience, we will be more careful to avoid all three factors coming together at the same time in the future.   When it comes to disease, prevention is always cheaper (and less stressful) than treatment.