Editors Note: It takes a brave person to share his successes, challenges and stresses online with all of us. That’s what Troy has been doing this fall and winter as he writes about custom grazing dairy heifers on his stockpiled pastures. We’re grateful for Troy sharing his progress with all of us so that when we want to try this, we can stand on his shoulders and get a boost to success. If you haven’t seen the whole series, here it is.

This update chronicles December 22nd to December 28.  Let’s start with the chart and a few pictures so you can see what’s happening on the ground.

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Here’s the current grazing chart. Click to see it full size.

Here's what I've grazed so far. Click to zoom in.

Here’s what I’ve grazed so far. Click to zoom in.

Here's paddock 14 on the ground and it's history in 2014.  See the kind of forage I grew and what it looks like being grazed as stockpile. And click to zoom in for a better view.

Here’s paddock 14 on the ground and it’s history in 2014. See the kind of forage I grew and what it looks like being grazed as stockpile. And click to zoom in for a better view.

Staging Hay Bales

The staging of the big bales while it was frozen was a great strategy cause it got rainy and warm last week and would have been a muddy nightmare trying to get around.

You might be asking, why feed hay when you can see the stockpile again?  Well, here are some reasons:  The 140 day old, cool season, sward smashed by wet snow is like me being at the salad bar with a bunch of wilted lettuce and leftover, stale toppings —It’s just not that tasty and appealing.  This offering limits dairy heifer performance so I want them to have a back-up dry matter source so they can just pick the best stuff.  It also helps because the weather sucks and they need extra groceries and a place to lay down.

SnowedonandFrozenForageOther reasons are spreading their fertility in a more controlled area, makes the stockpile last longer since it’s melted into the soil, grazing efficiency and trying to find balance with environmental concerns and animal performance.

If we had not received the wet snow followed by frozen crusty conditions, I would be confident in not feeding hay. So the weather is something that trumps planning that we have to be ready for (hay feeding).

Let’s say we didn’t get this snow event 2 weeks ago.  We would have saved 20 big bales @ $50/bale or 1000 dollars. If we didn’t have stockpiled feed, the thousand dollars worth of opportunity would have been lost.  In another context, if we didn’t feed the hay we would not have added any extra nutrients to the land which is especially important on our organic farm. I’m struggling a bit to answer how I would have gotten through the snow event better and not fed the hay.

Here you can see the cows at work in all different weather. See how the weather and grazing affects the ground too by clicking to zoom in.

Here you can see the cows at work in all different weather. See how the weather and grazing affects the ground too by clicking to zoom in.

First thing in my head was a late season swathing of the stockpile.  Second was planting a variety of cover crop species including sorghum back in August and third was changing over to an increased fescue grass base to maintain upright forage.  There is constant compromise when I look at our goals in dealing with this issue of extending the season using what you have instead of bringing in the metal and the latest new plant species.  Am I missing other facets and considerations?

Here's some of what is happening out there right now. Click to zoom in.

Here’s some of what is happening out there right now. Click to zoom in.

Folks at our pasture walk talked about leaving decent residuals. With the recent weather, the animals won’t go too far down because the sward is flattened and rotting so this should help come spring.  I have also been taking a hard look at the soil life harvest now that the snow has melted.  I’m intrigued by how much the earthworms have eaten in a short time and also how the mice have chewed up around the Orchardgrass clumps.  It begs the question whether I should graze it at all given how much is removed even after the cows go by.  Maybe the better approach or (in conjunction with summer fallowing a field) would be to winter fallow a field to feed all the under-ground livestock.  Jeez this stuff is starting to hurt my head on what to do!

InspireWithImperfectionsYou can see I continue to learn everyday and question what I see against all the goals of the farm and life.  Trying to find the right balance is challenging. If you have some thoughts to help with this, or on how this series is affecting your ideas on stockpiling for the future, do let me know. More heads are better than one!

Thanks – GW

You can read more at my website, or click on over here to read the whole series so far.