I haven’t written about farming for quite some time, at least my kind of farming so that is this week’s topic. I am a grass farmer.
I think most people who raise cattle are considered cattle farmers. I think that cattle can pretty much farm themselves as long as I create an environment in which they can work. Sturdy fence, subdivided pastures, fresh water and something good to eat are a decent field upon which to play. My primary job is to manage our grass paddocks in such a way that the cattle are always eating fresh, growing, highly-nutritious forage.
Spring is difficult because the cattle have been on hay all winter and both they and I want them on pasture. Eating early spring grass is like enrolling a highly-intelligent ten year-old in high school; both may be qualified both neither have the needed maturity. I do have a paddock along the river that includes grass that has acclimated itself over decades of time. This paddock seems to be able to withstand any amount of abuse and so I will use it for early spring pasture at times. Developing good pasture takes time and money so I try to treat my other paddocks to consistent periods of rest so that they are always in a growing stage.
Grass-fed cattle eat corn; sounds like a contradiction-doesn’t it? Corn is a type of grass but we graze the whole plant instead of just the shelled corn. I let the cattle graze corn while I rest all of my other perennial grass paddocks prior to a killing frost each fall. The perennials plants are now sending nutrients to the roots to become strong and ready for the change in seasons. After a killing frost, the plants will be dead and ready to be grazed without damage to the roots. I am grazing the corn right now and the best metaphor for the practice is that it’s similar to feeding ice cream, only you have to eat some of the box with the ice cream. The cattle eat the leaves and immature cobs (ice cream) like crazy but they must also then clean-up some portion of stalks (ice cream box) to get fiber. I also give a little hay in order to balance the blast of carbohydrates they receive from the corn with some decent alfalfa protein. I have also planted soybeans with the corn in the past to accomplish the same goal.
I like grazing the corn because I see the cattle each day. The paddock is about five acres but the cattle only get a small portion each time. I walk into the corn about 50 feet and trample a path across the paddock then run fence wire from side to side in the area of the path. If I just let the cattle run loose they would eat all of the ice cream leave me the box. This way I can control the process and make the most of the paddock. Grazing the corn occurs at a good time of the year as it provide lots of carbohydrates at the very end of my finishing process. It ensures a nice cut of beef and is one plant in a diverse diet that contributes to great taste.
I really like my cattle and providing a decent way for them to live. I like feeding them a little ice cream (and the box) as a treat at the end of their time. Considering most of them are heading for the plate, it’s seems like the least I can do.