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How to stockpile pasture

Grazing in the snowYesterday, I wrote about the benefits of stockpiling winter forage.  But how do you manage pastures so that you'll have extra grass to tide your animals over through the winter?

Greg Judy tries to stockpile his whole farm every year.  By extending his recovery period and always grazing paddocks in the same order, pastures last grazed in July are ready to be eaten in fall and early winter, while the areas grazed in October and November will have grown back enough to be grazed again in January.

Greg makes two passes over each stockpiled paddock over the course of the winter.  First, he rotates the animals through quickly, ensuring that they only eat the upper third of each plant.  These growing tips are the part of the plant highest in sugars, which means Greg's cows are getting lots of energy right when they need it --- during the coldest part of the winter. 

Starting in February, he rotates the cows through the same paddocks again, this time letting them eat half of what remains.  This second helping of stockpiled grass isn't as high quality as the grass tips, but the cows don't need as much energy since winter is beginning to mellow into spring.

Stockpiled grassCome April, the pastures should have fully recovered, with new grass stalks once again reaching the boot stage.  However, Greg aims to still have a bit of stockpiled, brown grass left in each field even as the new grass is growing up.  (He notes that if your cows have eaten up every last bit and you don't have stockpile left in April, you've got too many animals on the farm.)  The combination of lush spring growth and leftover winter growth keep the cows from coming down with bloat since they tend to consume both types of plant matter at once.

The final factor Greg Judy mentions about winter grazing is soil management.  Many farmers don't allow their animals on pasture at all during the winter because of the tendency of their hooves to churn the ground up into mud ("pugging").  Greg is able to keep his animals on pasture since he's bred for a lighter cow (more on this later) and since he moves his cattle twice a day during wet periods in the winter.  Make sure you pay attention to the soil as well as the grass!

99 cent pasture ebookThis post is part of our Mob Grazing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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