On Tuesday, October 27, Briony had her second calf, a bull.
Meeting curious new friends
Standing within ten minutes of birth!
One day old and ready for the World
Two days old and he knows to lie down while Mom eats, as she’ll be at it for a while.
We have a rented pasture about ten miles from the farm where we are grazing our youngstock (heifers and steers) this year. We do not rotate their paddocks very frequently because of difficult terrain and the distance from the farm.
Ayla and Guzelkiz
We are happy that they still have grass here to graze in late October.
We are also very thankful to the landowner Ortrude for offering us this pasture in exchange for cheese!
I am pretty much always assessing our pastures as I walk through or drive by them. I just wanted to share some of the things that popped out to me as I was setting up the cows’ new paddock this morning.
For background, prior to 2012 when we moved here, this was a crop field, most likely in a corn-soybean rotation. In 2011 it grew corn for the last time. In the spring of 2012 it was seeded to alfalfa by our neighbors who were subleasing it from is. It was hayed 3-4 times a year through 2017. It got two applications of fertilizer during that time.
In the spring of 2018, we took an early first cutting of hay, then tilled in the alfalfa (and some grasses by that point), and seeded sorghum-sudangrass. Some of that was hayed, but mostly it was grazed. The plan was to drill oats the following spring, with an underseeding of pasture grasses and legumes. However, that spring was so wet that we couldn’t get into the field until June, so we no-tilled in sudangrass. After the second grazing of the sudangrass in August, we no-till drilled an alfalfa-grass mix. It got a slow start due to moist conditions all fall and competition from the sudangrass.
In the spring of 2020, things finally dried out and the seeding started to grow, but then we ended up with drought conditions from July to present day, so it never really had ideal growing conditions. The good thing about drought is that the plants that do grow develop very strong and deep root systems.
Here you can see one of the better areas, with my boot for scale. It’s a nice mix of grass and alfalfa, though I would prefer the alfalfa to be thicker. Sward height and density are not great, but this is the third grazing of the year, and it is October 21. Growth has mostly stopped at this point. But the cows will find plenty of quality stuff to graze here! I will just have to give them a bigger area so they have enough.
This is an area where I spread out hay for the cows on the last grazing (August 29, 53 days ago). The small amount left behind has mostly broken down already and added “fertilizer” to this area, along with the fertility left by the cows’ urine and dung.
This photo shows a trail the cows made on the first grazing this year. It was the one significant rain we got in June, so the soil was very soft. Several calves had just been weaned, and their mommas were pacing the fence line all night.
Here is a closeup of the worn out cattle trail. Broadleaf “weeds” have germinated, to fill the void and cover the soil. I prefer weeds to nothing. They will start the process of healing the soil, making it healthy enough for grasses to spread into this area next year.
This is a cow pie from earlier this year that has not broken down yet. This tells me several things: 1) The soil life is not yet as active as it should be. 2) The cows perhaps had too much indigestible fiber and/or not enough protein in their diet when this dung was dropped, which makes the manure thicker in consistency, and with larger particle size that breaks down more slowly. 3) The dry weather could also have slowed down decomposition. 4) There probably are not any, or at least not many, dung beetles here.
The underside of the cow pie, showing mostly undigested hay particles.
The soil under the cow pie. There is some sort of beetle. Sprouts of plants trying to grow. And soil with decent-looking crumb structure. The bugs and microbes have been at work here in this moist, high-carbon environment. This is good for the soil in the long run!
This photo gives us lots of information.
The first thing I notice is lots of grass and not many legumes.
Next, I see a broadleaf “weed”, which I put in quotes just because weeds are relative, and depend on your perspective. Not sure on it’s ID, but it’s some type of aster. It is more beneficial to the pasture than it is a problem. It is growing here because there are openings in the pasture stand, and possibly some surface compaction from the cows’ hooves “pugging” the soil surface when the soil was damp the last several years. It is an annual, so can fill that gap more quickly than a perennial plant. It is helping break up the compaction and bring up nutrients from the subsoil.
Third, behind the weed I see a dark green, thick patch of grass where a cow peed. Cow urine is very high in nitrogen, so this shows that the other areas may be lacking in nitrogen for optimal grass growth. Optimal soil nitrogen allows not just for better-yielding pastures, but also for better quality, higher protein pastures. Here at Lost Lake Farm we do not use artificial fertilizers, so we can bring in nitrogen by spreading manure or compost, feeding hay on the pasture, or by seeding more legumes into the stand. Legumes, such as alfalfa and clover, have symbiotic bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen. We also offer the cows salt, kelp, and minerals, which brings to our farm needed micronutrients.
Fourth, I see tree leaves, an excellent source of carbon.
This shows a spot where the tractor driver missed a spot
when drilling in the seed mix. Annual foxtail grass filled this gap during the summer, which the cows love to graze when in its vegetative state (not gone to seed). It will be interesting to see what happens here next year. I might try to frost seed some red clover here in late winter.
The front part of this pasture has the opposite problem of the back part: excess fertility. Note the grasses are lush and dark green, and the dead stems left from lambs quarters and giant ragweed, both annual plants that thrive in fertile soil. This is because we fed hay in this area two winters in a row. Previously, this slope had very poor fertility because most of the topsoil had eroded downhill.
However, this area has a lot of bare spots, either from compaction caused by too much hoof traffic when the soil was muddy, or in some cases too much hay left behind that has taken a while to break down. Dandelions are filling some of these bare spots, but I expect the grass to fill in eventually. The cows love to eat dandelions!
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Feel free to comment with questions, observations, or corrections.
This is our son with Ingrid eight years ago! Ingrid was one of our first cows and is currently retired at Ranae's parents' farm.
We're starting to go through all our photos from the year to put together our calendar for 2021! This is a great shot, but won't make it into the calendar because people tend to think Gunhild's udder looks so uncomfortable. Gunhild is our oldest cow and the ligaments supporting her sizable udder have stretched over the years. We tried putting a cow bra on her this year (yes, they make those), but Gunhild let us know she would rather go without one. Seems it bothers the humans more than it bothers her.
Gunhild, our oldest cow
Ariana, Inga, and Anya doing what cows do best: eating.
I told Orsola to smile, and this is what she did.
Inga is a serious cow...
...or is she?
We let our cows raise their own heifer calves. We believe this makes healthy calves that are well-suited to a forage-only system. They grow up in the social dynamic of the herd, with other calves and a community of cows. They learn how to graze. They grow a bond with their mothers that lasts a lifetime.
In this system we have virtually zero calf health issues.
When they are six months old, it is time for them to transition off of nursing and drinking milk. We have tried several different ways to wean calves, but what works best for us, and seems to be the least stressful for the cows and calves, is to put a “weaner” in their nose (pictured above on Nadra) for several days before they are removed from the cow herd. The weaner allows them to graze, eat hay, and drink, but prevents them from being able to nurse.
We have tried leaving them with the cows for a longer period, so they don’t have to leave their mommas, but after a few days they figure out how to nurse with the weaners on.
They still get upset when separated, but less so than straight from nursing to being separated. The cows also seem to transition a little faster. It also helps if their new location is out of earshot, so they aren’t calling back and forth to each other.
Nadra (above) and Gamila (below) are the first two calves to get weaned this fall.
While we keep a natural rind on most of our cheeses, we've been playing around with waxing the outside of our Cheddars to keep moisture in and keep them from cracking while they age. You might also see a bit of dill in this one.