Grazing Hay Fields with Cattle

July 11, 2016




I’ve always made dry hay for my cattle and swine for winter feed.  I make big, round bales when it seems the weather will cooperate.  In this part of the country though, when it’s “hay-makin’ weather,” as the old-timers would say, it’s past the best quality point of the hay.

Based on the maturity of the grass, late May to early June would be the best time to make hay.  But we seem to get rains every few days until late June or July when the hay would be way over mature.  One solution many farmers in this area use is to make haylage or balage, the former is silage made from hay, and the latter is hay baled wet and wrapped in plastic.  I’ve never wanted to deal with all the plastic and also prefer to not transport and move and feed all that extra water.  But, I’ve struggled in the past, getting hay rained on, making hay that is too wet and having it ruined, making hay when it’s too mature, etc.

Last year I made a lot of hay that was too mature.  My cattle are used to eating very high quality forage in the grazing months and they don’t want to eat this hay very well.  You can see on the right of the photo below all the hay I have left over which I will largely use for hog and cattle bedding in the winter months.

Not wanting to repeat this mistake, I started brainstorming solutions.  One possible solution that Joel Salatin uses is to graze his hay fields until he’s ready to make hay, thereby keeping the quality high.  Since all my fields have a good perimeter fence, and it would just take some electric fencing to subdivide the fields so I could rotationally graze, I thought this would be a good idea to try.






My cattle were tired of eating hay and they were eating the permanent pasture and woods down to nothing, so I decided to turn them into the first hay field April 14th.  It seemed too early and I feared I would damage the forages in the field.  But one strategy I planned to use was to only leave them on the forage for a week or less.  Keeping animals on a forage for a week or less should prevent overgrazing.

Overgrazing occurs when a plant’s regrowth is bitten off, because a plant is the weakest when it has used its root reserves.  A plant is using its root reserves to regrow when there is no green or very little showing, because when it can, a plant will use photosynthesis to meet its energy requirements to grow.

Well the experiment worked very well as far as the cattle were concerned.  They had plenty to eat.  And the forage wasn’t damaged at all as far as I could tell.  But it regrew so well, and the grass is so intent to go to seed, that it was tall and mature by the time I came back with the cattle to graze a second time on June 7th.  It had been rested since April 21st, so that is nearly a 7 week rest.

Maybe too long, as the top and bottom photo show the cattle back in that hay field.  In the bottom photo you can see the neighbor’s alfalfa field in the background which he harvested for haylage twice as I grazed twice.  The calf in the bottom photo is a fall calf which probably weighs around 500 lbs to give you a reference.  The heifer in the foreground of the top photo is 20 months old weighing over 1000 lbs.

The good news is even though you can see all that tall orchard grass headed out and mature, the grass and alfalfa and clover down lower was mostly new regrowth and higher quality which the cattle enjoyed grazing.  The other concern for me would be potential eye problems with the cattle reaching through that tall grass to graze.  But there have been no problems.

The second and third photos in this post show another hay field from the same vantage point.  The second photo is May 16th with the cattle grazing.  The third photo is after I cut the field for hay on June 27th.  It was rested from May 20th to June 27th, a little over five week rest.

Even though there was quite a bit of tall orchard grass which is what makes the hay look so light in color, there was fresher regrowth down low.  I baled it up and have fed one bale to the cattle.  They are munching on it, so I’m thinking I may have made better quality hay than last year, even though I made it later by the calendar.

One benefit is it was very easy to make dry hay as the weather and ground had dried out quite a bit compared to a month earlier.  I plan to give it another five week rest and then take a second cutting which should be very high quality.


Annual Pollinator Mix Conclusion, Summer Farrowing

October 18, 2015


In conclusion, the Annual Pollinator Mix from Lacrosse Seeds made fine pig pasture, but the flowers were not that impressive and I didn’t see an abundance of insects.  To be fair, it was competing with my wife’s flowers and the Native Pollinator Garden I planted last year, plus acres of clover, alfalfa, and the occasional weed.

My summer farrowing group didn’t do very well.  Some of the litters of piglets had diarrhea and quite a few died, leaving an average of just over five piglets per litter weaned.

Either I am a lucky person, or I choose to frame it that way, but weaning less per litter won’t hurt much economically because I had kept more gilts to farrow than I usually needed.  The gilts were AI sired and I just couldn’t bring myself to sell them for meat.  As the boars bred them I kept asking myself what I was going to do with all the extra piglets.  I try not to raise extra hogs for the commodity market, preferring all my pork is sold direct.  So the extra death loss is keeping my numbers down, but farrowing more gilts will give me enough hogs to satisfy my direct market.



Annual Pollinator Mix, 8 Week Update, Spring Farrowing

June 12, 2015



“Sleep, creep, and leap,” is a common saying about growing things, and it really seems to be true.  The annual pollinator/ oat mix is leaping now, 8 weeks after planting.  I’ve started grazing it with the feeder cattle and the sows with spring litters.  All are loving it, but the cattle really seem to be blooming on this mixture.  The sows are eating so much their manure could pass for cow pies.

I’m not really sure which components are contributing the most to the mixture, but I’m assuming the oats, which is probably near its nutritional peak, and the rape, which there seems to be a lot of and is reputed to be high in protein.  The sunflower is not being eaten by either species and as of 9 weeks has started to outgrow everything else.  The oats are starting to head out.  The Buckwheat is the only plant that is flowering at 9 weeks.

Below is a photo of a sow farrowing in one of the “hillbilly” farrowing caves I made using old round bales of hay and some used tin for a roof.  They really like farrowing in these spots, but it doesn’t offer enough protection from the elements.  I had to move a two-day-old litter into one of the farrowing huts I’ve written of previously as they were getting wet from rain.  Remarkably I’ve farrowed 13 sows in the spring group and the last time I counted they had an average of 10 pigs per litter.  I’m amazed at how well they are doing.  It seems they continue to improve with each succeeding generation farrowed on pasture.


Annual Pollinator Mix, 4 Week Update

May 16, 2015



It’s doing well.  Click on the picture for a larger image.  Most of what you see is the oat cover crop, but I’m happy to see many of the different flowering forbs up and growing as well.

In the background you can see the cattle.  I turned them into the first of many hay fields to graze.  They are loving the tall orchard grass and alfalfa, as they had been grazing their permanent pasture for a month.

Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015



I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.

Sweet Corn Summary and Links

August 27, 2014



My go-to meal for the last three weeks.  The sweet corn was raised without herbicides or pesticides.  It’s a wonderful experience when a successful experiment results in such good eats.

I planted a rye cover crop last fall, rotovated twice in the spring, rotary hoed twice after planting, and cultivated twice, keeping the corn ahead of the weeds long enough to produce a good ear of corn, even though the weeds are thriving now.

The last time I tried to raise sweet corn without herbicides was a disaster, with the weeds getting ahead of the corn, resulting in production losses.  That time I only chisel plowed, disced, and cultivated once.

My plan for next year is to use the same protocol as this year, except possibly not using the rye cover crop.  That may prove to be a mistake as the rye has alleopathic properties.

I wonder if I should be looking at weeds differently.  Instead of a problem to overcome, maybe I should consider them as a volunteer crop.  Instead of weeding, maybe I should be harvesting.

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a businessperson who has taken her interest in wild edibles to a new level.  She partners with restaurants to put wild edibles on the menu.  Her website is  Meadows and More.  Discovering the way Ms. Wong approaches wild edibles is invigorating my thinking about weeds.

Finally, while I’ve spent the summer thinking about sweet corn, I wonder how much corn I’m getting from other sources.  “Children of the Corn” is an interesting infograph if you’ve ever wondered about the corn industry.

The one problem I have with the infograph is when they talk about water usage.  Sure, corn uses water, but it gets cycled back into the atmosphere.  It’s not like it’s being used up, never to be seen again.

Comment if you have any thoughts about these topics.

Sweet Corn Planting Mistake

July 28, 2014



I made a rookie-type mistake planting my sweet corn.  After planting my Dad’s field corn, I changed the population from 30,000 plants per acre down to 20,000 plants per acre, and I cleaned out each of the four seed hoppers in my John Deere 7200 planter.

I’ve owned this corn planter for over five years, and I’ve cleaned out the hoppers the same way every time, (dumping them upside down several times), but this time one of the hoppers had quite a bit of corn stuck down inside where I couldn’t see it.  Furthermore, when I started planting, that row was plugged and corn was not coming out.  Luckily, the monitor tells me when a row isn’t planting, so I wouldn’t have planted the whole field with a missing row.

I unplugged the row and finished planting the whole field, stopping once to add another variety of sweet corn.  I planted two varieties this year, both supersweet, but with different maturities.  I noticed there was more corn in the second hopper, but figured that must have been because it didn’t plant that one time across the field.

Fast-forward to a couple of months later.  I noticed that the rows of corn were developing differently, but figured that must have been the difference in variety.  Then we had a summer storm with strong winds.  Most of the corn was bent over from the strong wind, but some of the rows were not affected.  I still figured it was due to varietel difference.

Finally, when the corn started tasseling, with the taller rows not tasseling, a light bulb went on and I realized what had happened.  The tall rows were my Dad’s field corn.  The next thought I had was, “Oh no, my sweet corn is ruined.”  You see, supersweet corn needs to be isolated from other types of corn or the sugar in it turns to starch and it tastes terrible.  This happened once with our sweet corn when I was a kid, and it was inedible.

But then I realized that the sweet corn was tasseling, but the field corn was not.  So if the sweet corn could pollinate before the sweet corn tasseled, I would be fine.  I could have detasseled all the field corn to be safe, but you know me, my curiosity comes before my success.  So now we wait and see.

Next year I know exactly what I will do differently.  I’m going to upend each hopper, removing all the visible corn.  Then I will put the planter in the ground somewhere out of the way, and plant any remaining seeds until the monitor tells me each row is empty.

On a side note, you can see the pumpkin and squash is growing gangbusters.  In the foreground you can see a new purchase I made: Racoon Net from Premier fence.  The three-strand electric fence I always made in the past helped, but didn’t completely keep the raccoons out of the sweet corn.  I’m hoping this netting works better, and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it does.