The USDA states that roughly 80% of livestock pastures suffer from poor, uneven fertility. Couple that with serious weed and erosion issues, and the result is low quality pasture yields since the forage (ie: grass) is not able to grow back between grazing. Yikes.
At Hart Dairy, we know that in order to produce the best feed from our pastures, we must manage those pastures in a more sustainable way.
According to the USDA:
"Under rotational grazing, only one portion of pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture "rests." To accomplish this, pastures are subdivided into smaller areas (referred to as paddocks) and live-stock are moved from one paddock to another. Resting grazed paddocks allows forage plants to renew energy reserves, rebuild vigor, deepen their root system, and give long-term maximum production."
In a nutshell, our cows graze a portion of the grass that has reached proper growth. Once they're done grazing that area, they're moved to the next area with fresh, knee-deep grass.
Not only is it a healthy way to feed animals, it is also environmentally friendly and allows for production of an amazingly healthy product!
We rotate cows every 12 - 24 hours. This depends on forage type, the amount of forage in the field and the residuals left behind. If cows don't graze the grass evenly or down to the proper residual (height of grass after it's been grazed) ,it creates lower quality forage growing back or it can ruin the plant altogether.
This applies to both:
• Too little residual left =over grazing; OR
• Too much residual left = under grazing
We move the milking herd after milkings, typically. They all exit the field, go to the milking parlor, get milked, and then we open the gate to a new field and they just walk to it.
Most of them know they're getting new grass after milking so sometimes they run to it! We have a series of walkways for the cows, and we use gates to the fields in order to get them to go to the proper field. All gates will be closed except for the field we want them to go to where the gate will be open. We block off the walkway right after the new field gate, so they cannot go past the field ... they simply turn off the walkway and enter the new grass.
Sometimes, we just have temporary fences set up in the fields, which we open and allow the cows to rush to the new grass and then we close it behind them so they cannot go back to the grass that has already been grazed.
When cows are moved to a new break or new paddock the previous area grazed is closed off to them. This ensures it gets proper rest time and the regrowth process starts as soon as possible.
We have several water troughs throughout the farm and paddocks, so that portions of the fields can be fenced off and all animals still have adequate access to water. It's important to note that, our animals are never fenced off from water ... ever!
Each forage type has a different growth period and requirement for grazing. Some need to be grazed hard, with little left in the paddocks, while others require higher residuals.
Fun fact: the lower portion of the grass contains loads of nutrients and fiber so it is beneficial to get the animals to eat the lower portion (to the proper residual) and helps for proper regrowth of the forage.
Most of our summer grasses are perennial and grow back every year, while our winter rye and oats have to be planted every year. We stage planting of these varieties so we will have plenty of grass throughout the late fall, winter and spring.
We also time them so the grasses aren't all ready to eat at the same time. This would cause waste as the cows cannot graze every paddock at once, nor do we want them too.
Depending on the weather, we set a round. This includes several different paddocks and where the cows are going daily.
Usually every 10-15 days, cows go back to a field. For example, if they graze fields 1-14, starting with 1, and graze one field a day, they don't go back to field 1 until day 15. This equals a 15-day round. That grass has had 15 days to rest and regrow. Think about how fast your lawn regrows! We mow ours at least once a week.
The cows are rotated around this round as the grass comes back. Occasionally some fields get skipped if the regrowth didn't happen as quickly as another. This could be due to:
2) Different variety of forage
3) Soil differences
4) Growing back too quickly (in which case they get skipped and are often made into a grass silage, or hay)
We use hay to add fiber to the cows' diets. Fiber and gut fill is important to ruminants.
The rotation of the cows allows for manure to be spread fairly equally back onto the fields so organic matter is naturally added back onto all paddocks as the cows live their best lives.
Also, the paddocks allow areas for wildlife to live and hide from predators. We have so many birds, deer, skunks, squirrels, voles, and more! Rotational grazing creates a more natural environment for all animals — and we love it too!