Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
Dec 22, 2012
Planning Pastures for 2013
Many of us make resolutions or use a calendar for planning the coming year when January rolls around, have you started yet?
A planning calendar is especially useful with a grazing system as needs and opportunities change month by month. Even though green pastures filled with grazing bovines are months away, it isn’t too early to plan ahead.
January - February: This is a good time to study new developments in forage varieties by checking in with your seed salesman. If animals are being wintered on pasture, land fertilizer can be provided by moving feeding sites to encourage uniform distribution of manure. It’s not too late to review the current condition of your pastures following the grazing season of 2012. Much of our state (PA), suffered from a second year of drought leaving bare patches and weed proliferation that needs to be brought under control as soon as possible.
March: If seed isn’t ordered for frost seeding, planned renovation or new pasture development, it should be done before supplies are depleted. Frost seeding needs to be completed before the pastures are muddy to achieve best soil seed contact. March is also a good time to check fences and water lines for damage and begin repairs.
April: Some grazing is usually possible by late-April in the Southern most parts of PA, but your grazing plan should provide for very rapid moves (MOB Grazing), which means moving your cattle sometimes as often as every day. If your pastures have plentiful amounts of legumes, be sure to limit the amount of "fresh" legume intake to avoid bloat. If your pastures lack legumes, a spring application of nitrogen may be needed to jump start the grasses. Replace broken/loose fence posts that may have frost heaved.
May: Decisions made in May determine the sequencing of grazing moves to have a continuous supply of high quality forage through the entire grazing season. During May the rotation cycle may be up to 12 days, depending on your stocking rates. Most renovation seeding will be done in early May. Key points in pasture development include choice of adapted varieties and species that will save you money by persisting for several years, adding legumes to provide nitrogen, and considering both quality, yield potential & durability. IF your adding Alfalfa to your pasture stands I recommend a "sunken crown" variety. Once established, the stands will last two to three times longer than your standard alfalfa varieties due to hoof traffic.
June: Continue to schedule a weekly walk over all the pastures as you consider your next pasture/paddock to be grazed. If growth becomes uneven or plants develop seed heads, clipping or following the cows closely with heifers will help keep the appropriate pasture rotation sequence.
July: By mid-summer, given "appropriate" moisture and sun, the length of a rotation should have stabilized to about 7-9 days. Plan for changes in soil moisture, rate of re-growth, animal needs and weed pressure. If you want to extend the grazing season into winter after growth has stopped, a stockpiled pasture(s) should be started before the end of July.
August: If pasture growth is declining, the length of the grazing cycle will need to be decreased to 3-5 days with supplemental free-choice dry hay in order to avoid overgrazing and loss of pasture productivity for the following season. This may be a time to utilize annuals to fill the gap in pasture growth. If you want a spring calving herd, now’s the time to expose your heifers & cows to your bull(s).
September: Monitor weeds, especially Canadian thistles & multi-floral rose, to determine a course of action. If you’ve managed rotations and have been blessed with adequate moisture, the grass should be thick with few invasive weeds.
October - November: Prepare for winter and spring by maintaining fences, lanes and drain above ground watering lines/systems. Inventory quality and quantity of stored dry hay. You may be fortunate enough to have a surplus of hay to sell. Or you may need to purchase forages due to shortages. If feeding on pasture, make a plan that includes feeding areas that are moved where fertility of manure is best utilized, and knee deep mud isn’t accumulated due to high traffic area’s prior to the ground freezing.
December: Finally, you’ve got a month to relax. If you haven’t spent Dec. relaxing, than the prior outline should help you for next December!