Let the Grass Grow
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Coming from a commercial cow/calf background, I was taught to put as many animals as I could on as much of the land as possible. If they started looking thin, put out hay. In the winter and during calving, put out cubes. This meant putting out hay and cubes for the animals about every 2-3 days. And one day I thought:
There has to be a better way!
So I started doing research and attending classes. I completed Holistic Management International's Farmer Rancher Course and Texas A&M Agrilife Extension's Beef Cattle Short Course. Dr. Cleere taught us that "If you're feeding your cows (hay, supplements, etc.) You are working for HER. If she is getting her nutrition from grazing, SHE is working for YOU."
Such a simple concept I thought, but one that can be difficult to implement for a variety of reasons, but in my opinion, it is at least in part due to us ranchers really liking to feed cows! No we don't like paying the cost of diesel, or hay, or feed but most of us really love driving the tractor, calling the cows, seeing the cows come running to us in gleeful anticipation of a treat, complaining with our rancher buddies about the prices of grain and hay, and so on. What would we do with ourselves if all we had to do was check water and open and close a gate to the next pasture per our rotational grazing plan?
A friend came to us in 2019 with an amazing opportunity to lease her ranch. 258 grazable acres of lush rolling pastures. When we visited the place it had 70+ cow/calf pairs and several bulls. That's 1 cow/calf pair (AU) to every 3 acres. IF the place was completely covered in bermuda grass and the pastures were managed for weeds and fertility, 1 AU per 3 to 6 acres is possible in our area. However, with a mix of native and non-native grasses, no weed management, no soil fertility management, and no rotational grazing, all of the pastures looked lizard licked! If a green piece of grass popped up anywhere, it was going to be mowed down immediately. At one time, over 100 head of momma cows had been run on the same place.
It was a gamble, but we looked out at the place and thought "What if we rest it this year?" We were in a drought anyway and pretty well the only things growing were the rag weed and goat weed. Multiple times folks asked if I wanted them to mow to get rid of the weeds for us, which granted would have looked better, but would have left the soil bare. Bare soil is subject to erosion and further damage from being superheated by the sun. So we let it rest with a very, very low stocking rate (only 6 AU) and implemented a rotational grazing plan. Thanks to a USDA EQIP cost-share program and our wonderful land owners, we have been able to put in over 1000 feet of water line to get water to all the pastures and winter cover cropped 46 acres.
I am pleased to report that our pastures have transformed from lizard licked this time last year, to belly deep cool season grasses and legumes. We are adding more cattle to utilize the stockpiled forages and I can't wait to see how our warm season grasses perform this summer with benefits of having the soil covered and the added organic matter.
More isn't always better. Sometimes we have to chose to do less and wait to see what we should do next.
There are folks to help. So many free, easily accessible resources exist to help you make the best decision for your operation.
Enjoy the ride. While I'm a tinkerer and struggle to stay still most times, God continues to remind me to be still, enjoy this time & place without worrying about "next steps", and to be grateful for all that He has placed in our lives whether or not it looks exactly like I think it should.
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