Sunday, May 13, 2012

Working Hard

These warm and dry days find me working my tail off.  Why, you ask?  The grass is growing, the sheep and cattle are out on pasture - what is there to do, other than watch them eat.  That's a good question.  You see, we use intensive pasture rotation to take maximum advantage of our growing season as well as to reduce the parasite load of our animals.  We have almost 35 acres of pasture, which is a lot of grass.  If we just turned the animals out and let them eat, they would be like kids in a candy shop - eating the things they like best and turning their noses up at the slightly less palatable forage.  And they would keep after the grasses that tasted best, over grazing it and damaging it, to the point that it would have trouble regrowing.  In the meantime, the other grasses that had been initially spurned would grow tall (and tough), eventually going to seed and going dormant.  What was less palatable in May is untouchable in July - not a good way to manage a pasture!

A logical question is why not plant only grasses that they love to eat?  Different varieties of grass grow best under varying conditions.  Orchard grass - very yummy - grows early but peters out by the time we get to the hot weather of July and August.  Fescue - not so yummy - is a later season plant, coming on as the orchard grass slows down.  So the fields are planted in a variety of grasses that take advantage of the weather conditions from April through August.

At this time of year, I am busy creating paddocks or "cells" - temporary subdivisions of the pasture using polytwine that can be electrified together with posts that one pushes into the ground.  Our perimeter fence has a hot wire that runs along the top of it, so I can link the polytwine to the top wire and create a reasonably effective barrier between the paddocks.  Here is the view from my tractor as I mow a strip for the temporary fencing.  The grass has to be mowed so it doesn't short out the electrified twine.

Then I set up the post and polytwine, subdividing the big pasture into smaller units (one of which gets hayed.)  This photo shows the mowed strips as well as the newly installed fencing:

The work itself isn't back breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes time and requires a great deal of walking.  Good news because it keeps this middle aged farmer reasonably fit!  The weather has been unusually warm and dry for this time of year, so my neighbor came over and cut hay, which we hope to get baled and into the barn by the end of this week.  We trade cattle grazing and haying services, a good deal for both of us.  These are the rows of grass that has been cut and conditioned, which means it has been rolled flat as it was cut, making it easier and faster to dry.

Tomorrow, I wean the older lambs the vast majority) with the help of Jessica Epley Henning.  It's fun to really get your hands on the lambs at this point because some are really taking off, while others just poke along - the wheat is separating from the proverbial chaffe.  However this evening, all is quiet out in the pasture as the mamas are still with their offspring.  Tomorrow is guaranteed to be much noisier!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Grass is Growing!

After a slow start to Spring, we are finally reaping the rewards of all that rain - plenty of grass!  My younger daughter, Maya, and I went out into the pastures the other day to work on our portable fencing and this is what we saw:

The application of lime last winter has had a dramatic effect on the health of the sward.  Maya even found a 4 leafed clover - who couldn't use a little luck, now and then?

The lambs are growing rapidly.  Some are going on 5 months old and will soon weigh over 100 lbs.  Next week we'll be weaning - that means a lot of complaining from the flock, but it helps the moms recover and get a little peace and quiet (don't we all know that feeling!)  At this point, the older lambs are so large that when they dive under their mother to nurse, they can actually lift her back end off of the ground.  I'll be taking some of my top natural colored animals to the sheep and wool show in Estes Park, CO in early June - my first sheep related road trip that involves multiple days of travel.  Here is the flock waiting to come in for the night: