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Cows on spring pasture

Posted by: Trevor

June 11, 2012

One of the most pleasant things about raising cattle is to watch them as they are turned out onto new spring pasture. Thick and lush, bursting with new life, sweet and glorious. Spring pastures are a slice of heaven if you're a beef cow.

Because we're a grass-only beef farm, we take particular care to rotate the cattle throughout the pastures, giving each paddock a rest while the animals move onto the next one. This is the best way to manage pasture-lands, and to optimize herd health. Rotational grazing is great for the cattle, the grass, and the soil.


Cows on new spring pasture

One of our favorite moments is "gate opening time" when the cows are rotated to the next paddock. There's something special about watching the animals as they slowly figure out we've just opened the gate and they are free to move into the next paddock. Being herd animals, they hesitate to run through the open gate until one of them musters the courage to tentatively move forward. Then a second one follows. Then a third. And then total chaos, as the herd realizes what's going on and they all simultaneously go for it. They thunderously rush onto the fresh pasture, tearing off grass tops as they hurry forward, anxious to cherry-pick the tastiest plants before their brothers and sisters and cousins can beat them to it.

In the process they trample down the tall grass, preferring the shorter plants which are more tender and sweet. It seems wasteful, but it's good. The trampled material causes micro-climates to develop, and plant life to flourish. Together with the action of the cows' hooves and their manure, a vast community of soil microbes bursts into action, transforming waste organic material into new life.

It's a particular joy to watch the young calves as they join their moms in the excitement. The calves, not being old enough to forage much yet, prefer to prance and kick as they roar around the pasture. When they're tired, mom hides them in the tall grass somewhere, where they can rest until their next feeding. Each mother knows the peculiar voice of her calf, and comes running the moment she hears her baby call. They retain a bond, even when the calf is fully grown.

Momma hides her calf. They'll retain a bond, for life

In the evening, just as it turns dusk, the animals find a spot in the pasture and settle down for the night. Sometimes I'll walk through the herd in the night when it's dark. They know I'm there but they remain still. They sleep under the open sky, as the frogs and owls and creatures of the night treat them to a bit of a symphony. The damp soil and grasses release their luxuriant scents. The fields throb with life.

If I were a cow, this is where I'd want to be.


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