Questions on planning a pasture

Paris, TN(Zone 6b)

I hope my questions aren't terribly stupid, but I *am* new to all of this; I figured the collective knowledge in this forum would provide good answers for me :) If you think it should go in the Poultry and Livestock forum, just let me know.

Our future plan is to buy a cow/calf pair for milk and slaughter (the calf). Since I'd like to do it primarily grass-fed, and I've been reading about Polyface Farms pasturing processes (rotating pasture, building the grasses, etc.), I'm thinking that I should start planning and planting the pasture this year in preparation for Spring 2010 introduction of animals.
Is this incorrect? When you plant for pasture, do you also till the ground like you do for a garden, or do you just toss the seed out there in broadcast manner?

For a cow calf pair on a two-week rotation, will five acres be enough pasture to lease? How much pasture should I allow them access to (how to divide up the pasture for rotational grazing) during each two week period?

What recommendations would you offer in regards to seeding the pasture - what varieties would you plant? Currently I think it is all blue fescue pasture- I would like to add some clovers and other varieties of grasses, but I'm not sure what would be the wisest choices. I also want to try to grow some mangels and some sorghum for them. We would only keep the calf until late fall, then slaughter and only support the mom for milk over the winter. If I understand correctly, I could breed her again when the current calf is about three months old, and that I should let her dry up about 2-3 months before she is due to calve again to give her body a rest.

I'd prefer a heritage breed, because I don't need the kind of milk production that a Holstein or Jersey gives - and I intend to let the calf stay on the mother until weaned rather than taking it off and bottle or bucket feeding.

And if you see any errors, feel free to point them out (gently...please...LOL!)


Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Sunny, i've printed this off and I'll have Stan read it and comment - he's the grazier extraordinaire in this operation. I'll be back!

Paris, TN(Zone 6b)

Thanks Kathleen - we're off to the flea markets this morning. Not that I need any fleas but...:D

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

I'm not from you area, so I don't have a clue what works out there.

Don't overlook whatever info your local county extension agent may be able to provide. If you've got a good one, they can tell you what varieties of clovers, grass, etc do well in you specific soil. They can also provide you with guidance on improving your pasture, and how many acres is needed per cow/calf unit in your area. Soil testing is also available through them.

Also, check into SARE... Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program with the USDA. They are generating some very good info...

Out here, if the pasture is OK, we generally don't till it down, just drill seed right into it. Plowing can create more problems than it solves. This year is a good year to start improving... that way plants can get established before livestock is on it.

Have you heard of Anne and Eric Nordell? They do Bio-extensive market gardening (that's the $5 word for horse farming) and pasturage is part of their rotation plan, along with ground that is in more permanent pasture. The Spring 2008 issue of Small Farmer's Journal has their column concerning intergrating animals into a market garden set-up... many good observations about pasturage, even if you don't market garden. Also, you might find useful info in their booklet "Weed the Soil, Not the Crop" about improving soil fertility and structure.

Good luck, keep us posted...

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Jay beat me to the best answer - call your Cooperative Extension agent. Talk to the farmers in your area that graze. I can tell you that 5 acres is more than enough for two animals. If you lived closer, I'd lend you Stan's copy ofThe Jersey, Alderney and Guernsey Cow How To Choose Manage and Breed To The Most Profit It was published in 1872 and still has a lot of good information for family cow owners. The author is Willis P. Hazard and it is illustrated!

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

I just found this - the full text online - not illustrated, unfortunately.

Paris, TN(Zone 6b)

Thanks Jay and Kathleen - all good sources of information, I appreciate it. I especially adore online books from an earlier agricultural age! I would have loved to have seen the illustrations, but, hey, I can read :D
I'll have to see also if I can get some back issues of Small Farmer's Journal somewhere, I'm pretty sure my landlords get that journal. But I'd like to have my own copies.

Jay, excuse my ignorance, but what do you do the seed drilling with? A tractor attachment, or what?

I'm wondering if I'll even need to lease that much land since I'm only planning on two cows. Hmmm, maybe a sheep or two to keep them company. I think the biggest expense (next to the animals themselves), will be the portable electric fencing needed to section off the grazing areas every two weeks. I could probably let my cows go in with the Angus, but since they do grain finishing and gluten supplementing and I don't want to do that, seems best if I just lease a little bit of land near the barn and do my own thing. I really like the Dexters and the Danish Belted breeds - they look good for dual purpose. But maybe I'll find an older cow already bred that is used to hand milking, since I'll be a total noob at that aspect. I'm going to try to mimic Polyface Farm practices, albeit on a dramatically smaller scale.

Thanks for your continued encouragement and the good resources!


Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

You ought to be able to get that issue of SFJ from them, if your landlord doesn't have it. If you call them, they can probably also suggest some other issues with relevant articles.

Well, I use the phone to get my seed drilled... lol. It's a tractor attachment called--as far as I know--a seed drill. It makes a groove, drops the seed in, and covers it. That way you've got better soil to seed contact, and the birds don't get as much.

Wow, I couldn't even get started with only 5 acres out here. Now even on my friends irrigated pasture. Ah, the joys of elsewhere! =o)

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Jay, you hit the crux of the matter when it comes to pasturing - out there, it's how many acres per cow, where we live, it's how many cows per acre. I imagine Sunny comes in somewhere in between. It's all about how much rain you get - most grasses need a good deal of it.

Sunny, Polyface farm has some good practices, but with only a single cow and calf, you will find that the fencing expenses outweigh the benefits of rotation. You would probably be better off to just put the cow out and not worry about fence moving. And that's coming from someone who does INTENSIVE rotational grazing. We move fence everyday for the cows. The heifers move from large paddock to large paddock on a weekly basis and the dry cows are in an open pasture.

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Sunny, Sorry for butting in here, but it does follow your thread. If we have a pasture already growing fescue hay, how many acres would we need for each cow/calf pair? What else would you suggest we thow out there to grow?

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

This you need to talk to neighbors and the Coop Ext. about. Like I said, different numbers for different areas. My daughter lives in SW KY, and they have a LOT less grass in summer than we do up here. Your best information comes from people in your area.

Waddy, KY

Robin, when I was in forages at UK they used to say 2.5 acres per cow/calf per year. I think that meant also that you'd manage the acreage so that you'd be cutting hay for winter feed.

I'd suggest for here in KY to interseed with Dutch clover. That gives extra protein to the cow/calf plus the legume adds some nitrogen to the soil that helps feed the fescue. Also a good intermix of clover in the fescue helps decrease some of the detrimental effects of the endophyte fescue too. If you're totally redoing a pasture, plowing, etc., I'd suggest endophyte free fescue instead of good ole KY 31.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Cows per acre?! That's outrageous... a fantasy, a dream... OMG, I have to sit down and put my head between my knees...

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Now, Jay, be nice! There are some of us that don't have a clue and have to learn by asking sturpid questions! ;-)

Kathleen and Ky, thanks, that's very helpful!

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Wow, I think you took that wrong.

I'm purely, truly amazed it's cows per acre. It really does make my head spin... where I'm at, I heard it's something like 50 acres per cow/calf unit.

I've always just assumed that it was always acres per cow, no matter how good the grass. I'm just all drop-jawed and goggle-eyed...

=0) Jay

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Okay...gotcha! We were in NM for a few months last fall, so I understand now that I remember how barran it was.

Where we are at in Kentucky, we get really heavy fog most nights, so even with lack of rain, our pasture area fares pretty well.

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Here you go, Jay. These are springing heifers in October. Way tooo many acres for the 4 of them.

Thumbnail by Kathleen
Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

OK, Kathleen, now you've got the local bovine in a swoon... LOL
I finally tracked it down, called around, and found out that around here we figure 25-30 acres per cow/calf unit. I think it's going to be about double that this year... we've had little moisture this winter. =o(

Down in the southern part of the state I think heard it was something like 160 acres per cow/calf.

And absolutely everyone was blown away by the idea that there's places in the world where it's #'s of cow/calf per acre.

Robin, it's not barren here... it's just eternally hopeful. LOL

Waddy, KY

Kathleen, are those the ladies that never stay home? :-))

Jay, I sure would hate to start talking about 2-4 tons of forage per acre on plain fescue and higher tonages on alfalfa, clover etc....

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

lol, the mostly white one had a wandering streak for a while after we brought her home.

Jay, Stan says to tell you it's all about lake effect (like the 15 or so inches of snow we had yesterday).

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

You have lakes... {{{sigh}}}
So if you didn't have lakes, you'd look like NM?
I don't theeeenk so.

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

We have Lake Erie, snow machine capitol of the world! When it cranks up, we can get more than an inch an hour. So far, we're moving in the 12 to 13 feet range of total snow fall this year. There's also Chautauqua Lake, Findley Lake, Bear Lake, NY, Bear Lake PA, Cassadaga Lake, and some pretty big ponds within a 30 mile radius. Then there are the creeks and swamps, wetlands, and a couple of pastures that you can get a wet foot in most of the summer, to say nothing of my back yard. We are filthy rich in water to the point that some years getting dry hay is almost impossible. Had to put that last in - didn't want you to be feeling too sorry for yourself. There are two places in the US that get less sun than we do and they are both in the Northwest. The moss grows on the north, east, west and south sides of the trees here.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Moss? What's that? LOL

Oddly enough, we have a hard time getting dry hay here, too. There's nothing like cutting a hayfield to provoke the weather gods. The one good rain of the summer always seems to come the day before the day you took off to bale the hay...

Paris, TN(Zone 6b)

Kathleen, thanks - I was beginning to wonder if it might not just be overdoing it a bit to manage 2 animals THAT intensively. Thank you for reassuring my gut idea; it seemed a bit much for such a tiny operation :) I do want to set aside some of the pasture though, to grow mangels and sourghum, although I supposed I could put those in my garden area...hmmm.

We have decent precipitation averages here, over 50" a year, and 210 frost free days a year, so the grass should grow well enough. Some of it is actually still green here, which amazed me for January.

And, I'll have to try to figure out whether it's better to grow hay, or buy it later on, since I have no way of baling it, or...cutting it!

We had lay-offs today at my company, about 10% of the employees. Thankfully, I was not one of them. But I feel for those that were let go, and I'm rather sad tonight.

Off to take out my angst on sourdough bread...

~Sunny (more like partly cloudy)

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Oh, so sad about the layoffs... the newpaper here is going to 3 days from 5 and no more home delivery, which means one of our friends is out of a job. Not much of a job, but it helped with the family expenses. This whole debacle is just breaking my heart.

Glad you kept your job, but I can sympathize. =0(

Sunny, if you can get ahold of a copy of "The Fat of the Land", it's an English back-to-the-lander's experience with learning what works... and he planted a lot of mangels. =o) I don't know if it'll have any useful info for you, but it's a great read and overall I learned one or two things... and was vastly entertained. =o)

I also noticed a carrot that's used for feed... gets huge when left in the ground. It's called Flakkee 2/Autumn King and "sections of crops in Europe are held back this way for supplemental food for horses, pigs, and cattle'. Gourmet Seed is the catalogue that I have it in. Got me to thinking...


Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Jay, that thing about haying is just the law of averages played out on the grand scale, or God laughing at our tiny bouts of forethought.

Sunny, sad to hear about the lay-offs. We are in a secure position, although there will be a lot of farms that don't make it over the next year. the milk price is tanking and feed is still a bit high, although down from last fall. Tough times ahead for everyone I'm afraid.

someone around here was growing sugar beets for cattle feed. I'll have to ask Stan if he remembers anything about it.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

It ain't the law of averages if it happens every dang time... LOL
God must me just bustin' a gut over this one (no offense intended, just laughter)

I'm good here too, but I am trying to figure out how to tactfully help others out... another friend of mine had to move together with extended family...4 households coming together... there's liable to be murder over there before this is over. We 'hire' her to watch the place while we think of a reason to go away overnight so she doesn't go postal... a mother with alzheimers and a sister who's just straight whacked. She nearly wept with gratitude for the quiet here at Xmas dinner.

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