This is our last post on the NRCS program for our second field, the field by the ponds. This field is located in a little corner formed between the lower pond, the trees between Old Stage Road/our driveway, and the pasture in front of my house.
With the weather this year, grass has simply not been a problem. Lots of rain, relatively cool days (for NC) and not that much pressure from our finishing herd means that we have more than enough grass. In fact we’ve been grazing more than one day on a paddock just to get enough of the grass eaten.
Here you can see the grass, full and tall. It runs about 14″ tall and we have 100% ground coverage. This has been about as good as it gets for a grazing season.
Post grazing, after several days of grazing, there is still a lot of grass left. But more importantly there is a lot of grass that has been trampled and left in contact with the ground. This is topsoil we’ll be building the rest of the season.
Even after several days, the grass is still 6-8″ tall and we still have 100% ground coverage. This field can recover almost instantly and begin growing new grass for the next rotation, which will likely include the brood herd as they come home from summer grazing.
This year marks the last year of our NRCS grazing monitoring program. This has been an excellent program where all we needed to do was to take before and after pictures of our grazing in strategic locations at least once per year. We then documented the grass growth and then consumption. When all the work is done properly, we get a check at the end of the year. Easy peasy.
So for the pasture closest to the golf course, here is the last grazing update.
Normally by this time of year we are dealing with hot and dry weather. And we do have hot, but we had some timely wet weather just before this week. The grass was vibrant and lush. The cool season grasses have just about gone dormant and the thick, warm season grasses are enjoying the combination of unlimited sun and some water when it is needed. The grass is anywhere from 10″ to 15″ tall and very thick.
We are only grazing about 14 cows on rotation right now. The rest are at our other farm. This particular paddock, due to leaving a gap for the pigs to be fed in the paddock system, was to be grazed two days.
Johnson grass is popping up across the pasture as well. You can see some in the right of the picture (the patch of taller than normal grass). It never seems to be in the same place, but the cows absolutely love it and eat it immediately to the ground. Johnson grass is the bane of many row crop farmers but I love that it grows in our pastures, because our cows love it.
The grass is definitely showing signs of having been grazing, but it is still 5-6″ tall and very thick. This is perfect for regrowth and for building topsoil. Also much of the brown stems from the cool season grass that has gone dormant is now broken off and therefore pressed down to the ground. Grass litter in contact with the ground is what makes topsoil. So we’ve fed our cows, and fed our soil, all at the same time.
After this picture, we pulled up this grazing stake getting a steel pole out of the middle of the pasture and marking the end of our NRCS program for this pasture. This allows us to mow easier, and it also allows us to get ready for our next usage of the pasture next year.
Our back pasture has not been grazed since the inception of our NRCS grazing monitoring program. While leaving it fallow has indeed helped the pasture, it was the victim of an issue with the drainage of one of our ponds for the past couple of years. The best part of the grazing pasture has stayed very wet because all the water from the pond ends up flowing into the pasture. Since we have to drive through that area, it ends up getting rutted which certainly doesn’t help the grass. Since there are no before and after shots of grazing, I have not included a picture of the grazing marker for this post.
Although we have fixed the drainage problem as of this fall, I doubt we will graze the back pasture in 2018 meaning that this pasture has stayed out of rotation for the duration of the NRCS program.
This is our second grazing update of the year. This is rotation #2 around the farm. Grazing update number 1 covered our area near the golf course while this update will cover the area close to Old Stage Road, behind the lower pond.
Water has been plentiful this year and grass has been growing readily. It’s in the 10-15″ range with 100% ground cover. Regrowth from the first grazing has been quick and the cows have more grass than they can consume in one grazing allowing us a lot of flexibility. The brood herd is at our leased farm so again this year we are intensively grazing only our finish cows. (Update from the future. We had to pull our brood cows back to the main farm twice this year because there wasn’t enough grass at our leased farm. That pasture needs some work.)
We have a lot of trample in this field. There is a lot of residual material left, all of which will either convert into thatch of be part of the regrowth. This field was mowed after the cows moved off of it, as we normally do for all of our fields.
On April 21st we grazed the first grazing stake paddock of the season. This is the one by the golf course. The cows were in their winter sacrificial paddock until April 16th as we let the grass get established from winter dormancy. We had an unusually dry and pleasant spring so although the grass has certainly greened up, it wasn’t really jumping in height due to the lack of water.
The grass is just coming up and showing signs of life. It hasn’t had a chance to thicken, or to start covering areas that were cleared during the winter or late fall. Basically the seed heads are tall, but the grass itself is still rather short.
One really great thing to see this spring was that the thatch from last years grazing is still somewhat present. In previous years, the thatch layer decomposed into nothing by spring. Thatch is what makes topsoil so the soil was able to use more than we could provide. This past winter, there was enough thatch to cover the ground, be food for all the little critters, and still have some left over.
The grass itself was only about 6-8″ tall whereas the seed heads were the normal 15-18″ tall. We had about 85% ground coverage and the beginnings of solid coverage for this season.
We are flash grazing the cattle across the pastures for this first grazing. They are getting triple sized paddocks each day allowing them to only browse and not really graze the grass back. By the time we finish the first rotation, the grass should be well into growing and we’ll shorten up our paddock sizes so that they graze more heavily and more importantly, they trample grass into contact with the ground building more thatch.
Here you can see the bare areas still recovering into grass. The grass was about 50% eaten leaving plenty to continue to grow. We mowed the pastures post grazing to bring all the missed grass down into contact with the ground and prompt the next round of growing.
We rarely graze the back pasture. It doesn’t fit our rotation easily. The stand is pretty bad overall. And the pasture is prone to flooding, both from the lake and from overflow of the pond located uphill.
Instead we mow the pasture once or twice a year and that has to be the equivalent of grazing. For 2016, we again did not graze the pasture.
For 2016-2017 we are trying out not mowing a part of the pasture so that we can compare mowed to unmowed and see which area fares better.
Our back pasture, located at the bottom of our property, isn’t something we graze very often. Maybe once per year, on the off year we do graze it. For 2016 it was not grazed at all.
The back pasture is prone to flooding. It also has a poor stand of grass. It would benefit from more grazing than it gets, and I think it would improve the stand, but because of the location on the farm we simply don’t graze it very often. What we do instead is mow it once or twice a year and that has to do.
Here you can see the grazing stake as well as the mowed areas behind the area with the stake. We left the area with the stake unmowed as an experiment for 2016-2017 to see if it does better or worse.
The pasture nearest the golf course continues to be the best field on the farm. This is despite the traffic generated by feeding the pigs.
Driving the tractor over there every day has severely compacted the path we use. Combined with the area the cows lounge in that is now devoid of grass and we have our work cut out for us along that narrow strip. The rest of the pasture looks awesome though. Topsoil continues to build and is now reaching about 2.5 – 3″ of rich topsoil.
Pre-grazing grass. About 14″ tall.This picture is well into October and the grass has begun to go dormant but there is still lots of grass available.
Because this was the last grazing, we grazed this area more than normal.
The area where we drive the tractor has begun getting treated with large amounts of wood chips. I’ve given up on recovering the grass that we had. Instead I’m focusing on absorbing the water that is being trapped and adding organic matter to break down and help with the compaction. We also added a new trailer to our plan which allows us to only make one trip vs. 4-5 each day. This really cuts down on the traffic.
When it’s time to recover this area, it will be very rich with broken down chips, heavy with topsoil, and prime for turning back into grass. We also expect dirt to come from a jobsite in Garner, 26,000 yards of it. We’ll use it to shape our swales and get the water to go where we want it. We’ll also raise the areas where we drive so they no longer hold water.
This is a picture of one of our ponds. The past few years, I’d noticed that a green algae had started growing on it. This started after we’d fenced out the cows, a requirement of Wake County Soil and Water. I figured something green growing was progress, so whatever. Plus after at least 80 years of cows dipping in the pond daily for a bath, the pond was due to cycle through a few versions of itself before it settled down.
This year, the green algae was back in force and again, I didn’t pay it that much mind. But then this summer, I noticed the algae had developed some depth, or better said, some height. While on a tour I took a closer look at it and was shocked to see that grass had taken root and was growing on the algae, floating on the pond. Now I’m all in favor of growing grass, and Lord knows it was a great year for grass, but floating grass?! I’ve never heard of grass growing on water.
The grass has spent the last 60 days merrily floating about, drifting from one end of the pond to the other, riding its algae life raft. It hasn’t gotten very tall but it has certainly stayed green and vibrant.
I guess I need to start looking for some Jesus cows so they can graze it.
The first of August we moved our finish herd into the paddock near the pond and near the road where we keep our NRCS grazing stick.
The paddock had received plenty of rain and was doing well with the summer heat. We’ve had very few truly hot days this summer and plenty of rain and all the pastures show it. This paddock had been accidentally grazed about a month prior so this was actually a regrowth. The grass was about 8-10″ tall as it’s base layer, with the shoots running up to 14-16 inches.
We pulled the cows off after a couple of days. We were combining herds (the new red angus cows arrived) and we needed the cows behind solid fencing while we got everyone used to hot wires and each other.
After grazing, there was a lot of trampled grass and plenty of material to build thatch and soil.
Leaving the cows on the paddock longer didn’t seem to have any negatives but we are sticking with our daily moves as our overall plan. However when the need arises, I don’t think I’ll be as quick to move them as I would have been.