Five years of growing grass

One of the things you can’t help but do as you walk around the farm is wonder how things have been changing. We’ve had five years of running cows here and that should be long enough to see a few things develop. Well this year the obvious one has been the amount of winter grass we have.

cows jan

Cows enjoying our lovely January weather.

We make hay each year for use mostly in winter but also in summer when the grass has stopped growing. Now for the last couple of summers we’ve not fed hay, but that could be weather related or just that I’m getting better at managing the grasses we have. But winter is where the improvement seems to have happened.

The herd has also been increasing in size over the years, so something is going right. A couple of years ago we might have had forty-five animals over winter whereas now we’re running with sixty and looking to increase it over the next couple of years.

With this herd size increase you’d think our hay need would have shot up but the opposite is happening. Each year we’re feeding a little less hay and starting the hay feeding a few days later in the season. In any year you can explain things by looking at the weather or thinking you’re getting better at managing the use of pasture but over five years you have to think that the soils and grasses are getting better.

Which brings me to this year. We haven’t yet fed hay. It is already over a month later than the previous hay time (January 30 vs December 24). Again I can point to the weather – we had four good rains over the summer months (20-25mm each) and our winter is not that cold, but overall the year was very dry. At this point I can’t escape the conclusion that the grasses are producing more feed throughout the year.

image

This isn’t a big surprise. It is supposed to work like this: Invest in soil organic matter, create an environment where the soil life can make minerals more available and store more water, grow better grasses, raise better beef. The surprise was that after four years of slow changes this year had a big kick up in productivity. I think the changes should be ongoing. From what I can tell it is a thickening of the pasture – an increase in the number of plants per square foot – which is what we’ve been after for years. So I’m feeling pretty happy right now and looking forward to seeing how spring will go.

These photos were taken in the Detroit Yards paddock, so named because it was way unproductive five years ago and was something of a renewal project. It has probably seen the biggest turnaround over the five years.

12 responses to “Five years of growing grass

  1. hi brent…good job..i knew you were on the right track when i visited you a few years ago so i’m glad you are seeing the proof of our convictions..i do hope to get down there again one of these days

  2. I second the previous commenters, and from your photos I can see drastic improvement. I especially love when you see new plants, ones you didn’t even plant. It’s amazing.

  3. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years already! Congrats! Grass farming is pretty amazing stuff.

    A little envious of your location tho… 🙂

  4. Fantastic, Brent! It’s good to see the fruit of your labors paying off. What do the neighbors say? Because I know they thought you were crazy at first. Now I guess they can tell you weren’t!

  5. Melissa, yeah it is odd to write about the grass in late January. The mild winter helps a lot. You’re welcome any time, there’s plenty of space to stay if you wish.

  6. Curious, it has been an interesting season. Part of me is annoyed it took four and a half years to get this change but hey, that’s just how it goes. When you read Greg Judy (which I like to) and then think you’ll get drastic changes in a hurry but when the needle starts to move it is fun. I’ll be buying a few heifers to increase the herd this year.

  7. Nita, yes, seven years in France and five years with cows on the farm. My eldest is 13 so that’s most of her life in France already.

  8. Susan Lea, the neighbors thought I had hit maximum stocking at about forty five so they comment on how large the herd is getting. I had French TV want to do an interview but I turned them down. Maybe in five more years.

  9. Hi Brent. I’m a true believer in what you’re doing and love seeing the changes in the farm and the herd when I (occasionally) visit. And of course the beef speaks for itself – I’ve got a big pot of bolognese sauce bubbling away at this very moment – of course the key ingredient is Grasspunk mince!

    Perhaps you will be able to sell (part of) your hay harvest soon?…. an extra return for well managed pastures.

    Keep up the good work and maybe I’ll come out in early Spring to pick up my next box of mince.

  10. Hey Hugh. If I have excess hay I won’t sell it, I’ll just keep it another year and make less hay this time round. Hay has a lot of good minerals in it and sending it off the farm isn’t all that cost effective. It feels good in the short term to get cash but in the long run the pastures go down again.

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