The cows have spent the last two weeks in Colorado, a big paddock next to the house. It is called Colorado because it is the highest point on the farm, with the ridge that runs from our farmhouse west across to the next farmhouse (as yet unoccupied). We’re using American names for our paddocks. We haven’t decided on all of the names yet, but we do have a Nebraska (former cornfield), a California (it’s the big vineyard), a Sleepy Hollow (it has a sunken abandoned road on it) and a Detroit.
A decade or so ago most of Colorado was a vineyard. The sellers left a couple of big old aerial photos of the farm on the wall and these show the vines. Then for the last 8-10 years it has been a hayfield. The lucerne (alfalfa) is very old now and is maybe about 30% of the dry matter in the field, less in some patches. So we decided to put the cows on it and see how they like it.
[The Salers in the background is Twistie, and she’s very wide.]
At the start of the season there was a lot of bare soil and very little leaf litter in there. All the lucerne had been taken away in hay bales for the last decade. As spring came on we saw a lot of volunteer grasses, first some meadow grass and then later brome. Now the brome is tall with seed heads out but not fully mature.
We want to see how Colorado responds to animal usage. The soil hasn’t had cows on it in decades. How much leaf litter can we accumulate in a cycle? How does this improve the soil fertility for later in the year and for 2012? What plants regrow best after one grazing? My bet is that by June the alfalfa in Colorado will look a whole lot better than the grasses.
With so much long grass we’re getting a fair bit of trampling of material into the soil. The neighbors think we’re nuts for not harvesting it all for hay, but I keep reminding them that we have a small herd for the farm and have more need to build up soil fertility for the future than we do for feed now. The extra material on the ground will also keep the water in and the temperature down in summer, helping the soil life to survive a little better.
One of the good things about having the herd in Colorado is that the cows are by the house. It is good to look out the mess window and see the herd munching away.