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 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.
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.