Spring Pasture Walk

Spring Pasture Walk

Spring Pasture Walk

Come along on a virtual walk through our pastures to learn more about how we welcome the spring season here at Wolfe’s Neck Center!

By Ben Jensen, Herdsman & Livestock Manager

It’s almost time to turn the cows out for grazing! It’s been a long, wet winter but our cows have weathered the season very well. They can smell the green grass growing every day and are looking forward to the day we open that gate and let them off the cow yard and onto green spring pasture!

Winter on a coastal farm

Some dairy farms “outwinter” their milk cows in an outdoor yard that is typically bedded up with straw or mulch hay or simply feed outdoors on sacrifice areas all winter, which turn into lush, green swaths of grass in the spring because of the concentrated nutrients.  These are good options for some farms, but not at Wolfe’s Neck.  Our entire farm is classified as “farmed wetland” and it is 10-12” to water on virtually every meadow and field.  If we fed outdoors all winter, we wouldn’t have a lush, green pasture come spring, but instead a horrible mudhole and all sorts of problems. That is why we put our cows up on the bedded pack barn and concrete yard for the winter.  We scrape off the yard into our manure pit twice a day and then spread that wonderful compost all summer and fall.

Signs to start spring grazing 

We are waiting for our cool season grasses to get 6-10” tall and for the pastures to be dry enough that the cows do not “pug up” (punch holes) in the ground with their hooves. Because of the way we manage our pastures, there is a mat of organic matter that keeps the cows from directly impacting bare soil, which means we can often turn our cows out well before we can start making hay on our hayfields.  Our spring rest period is 14-16 days, meaning we can quickly move around just a few of our paddocks, trying to keep ahead of the blaze of growth in the grass when it becomes mature and sets seed.

Haying season begins

Once things dry out enough to get equipment on the pastures, we clip behind the cows with a field mower to keep the grass vegetative, palatable, digestible, and high in sugar. We cut hay off more distant paddocks, so by the time the cows get around to grazing them, they’ll be grazing that same lush regrowth, not headed-out mature, stemmy grass, which is not very digestible and cannot support much milk production.

Giving time for regrowth

As the season progresses, we add paddocks to the grazing area, meaning our rest periods become longer and longer as the grass needs more time to recover between grazing events.  At our new dairy facility, we have direct access to another 30 acres, meaning we have about 63 acres of grazing for our 45-50 milk cows, giving us plenty of grass for the whole season!

I’ll dive deeper into how we manage the grazing and the cows and how this system ties into carbon-sequestering, regenerative practices during an Earth Day pasture walk on Saturday, April 20 at 1pm.  I hope to see you there!

-Ben

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