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Good Grass

Garth Brown |

Growing grass is easy in New York's humid summers. All I have to do is step back and watch. Growing grass that maintains the best possible feed quality throughout the entire grazing season is much, much harder. In our climate grasses grow like mad in the spring, put out seed heads in the summer, and then go into a sort of stasis until fall. If they're never cut, whether by grazing or mowing, they'll hang out in a gnarly knot of lignified fiber from early summer until the following year. All that old fiber is difficult to digest, even for a cow with a stomach that's designed to handle serious volumes of roughage. During each step of the above progression the feed value and palatability of the forage declines. Turn a cow into a lush sward in early June and she'll stand there and mow her head from side to side sucking in the greens. Faced with the same field in August she'll spend hours walking back and forth over the whole thing hunting and pecking for the best bites.

The way to get an August pasture to more closely resemble June's conditions is to rotate the cattle across the whole farm several times over the course of the year. The grazers will eat down and trample the grass and the regrowth will be palatable and digestible for a window of time when (hopefully) the ruminants come back around to that paddock. At least that's the idea. Putting it perfectly into practice is both a joy and a tribulation I face constantly. Usually I fail to get the herd back to the field in a timely fashion and it's a little past its prime. But here's a happy video from yesterday where I succeeded. We've been on a good stretch and hitting things just right for about a month now. In the video you can see I managed to line up for really good pasture. This is nice forage at near optimal maturity for feed value - rich in red clover, orchard grass, timothy, and white clover - with enough volume to it to fill bellies. Note how the grazers are mostly standing in place, munching away. Those are happy cows (and sheep). I particularly like how clearly the audio picked up the sound of munching. It is surprisingly loud to stand amongst them as they chow down.


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