You do not have to move cows every day to build soil health. You don’t always have to stretch polywire to implement rotational grazing. Sometimes you will have to feed hay, and this can be as constructive as it is destructive.
There is a growing trend that I am seeing in “regenerative” agriculture to push the extremes of what you can do with agricultural land management. Personally, I’m excited by the possibilities that are being unlocked using these techniques and by following what these managers are doing, but at the same time I see a more realistic side of it for the average farmer as well (like me).
If you are working a 12-hour shift off the farm, trying to stretch polywire every day may not be feasible. When the wife and baby both get sick at the same time, the cows may get forgotten for a couple weeks. When you misjudge how long that stockpile is going to last, and have to start feeding hay, it is not the end of the world. When you head out on a family vacation for a week, it is ok to feed hay to get your animals through, or to give them a big pasture to graze for the duration.
The key to improvement on a farm is consistent follow through. You have to spend time planning and develop a system that is sustainable for you. Setbacks will happen, but planning ahead can negate the effects of them. Life gets in the way, but you can work around it. You can use permanent fencing to establish a 3-5 day rotation fairly easily. This will allow you to see some pretty good improvements across the board in soil health and cattle management. You can feed hay in the fall which gives less mess and allows you to stockpile fescue for the winter. You can constructively feed hay to spread manure and then reseed a pasture. Maybe a good starting point is to buy hay instead of cutting your own. The management options are endless. You just have to find what system meets your holistic goals, then follow through with it.
As an example of what can happen, here is a before and after picture of a hay-feeding site.
I would rather see someone consistently move cows once a week over the course of five years than to burn out after year two by trying to move polywire every day, and rent the farm out to croppers. I would rather see someone feed hay in a “sacrifice” lot over trying to “utilize” all the grass on their farm through the winter and get left with nothing to start with in the spring. What may seem like a mediocre management system to one farmer might be far more advanced than another.
It may take you 5 years to achieve what some people are getting in two, but you have to remember that you are playing the long game here. The decisions we are making today will have the greatest impact not on us, but on the next generation. Once you embrace this mindset, it opens up a different view of management options.
There is a quote I read the other day that reads along the lines of “Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” This is of utmost truth to the field of agriculture. It can be frustrating at how slow things happen, but then you look back over the last five, or ten, or twenty years of management and suddenly you are light years ahead of where you started.
This week’s Classic by NatGLC by John Marble has some more information for you as you figure out how often you should move your herd.