As summer dawns, rivers of cattle flow into seas of grass.
We are having trouble keeping up with all the grass. It is growing at maximum rate, and we either slow down to graze it all in one location, leaving other pastures untended, or we speed up to impact them all somewhat. The benefit with slowing down is trampling of weeds. The benefit of speeding up is livestock are on a constant plane of high nutrition and the whole farm is impacted. Many graziers slow down and manage the excess by making hay. We don't have the equipment to do that, so we are speeding up, leaving grass behind and mowing what is left to control weeds.
We'd rather not be mowing at all, but in our particular ecological setting, we would quickly become overrun with weeds and saplings, that want to return to forest, if we did not. The weeds we face are Ironweed, Cocklebur, Sour Dock, Mare's Tale, Ragweed, and Poison Hemlock. Some grow 8 - 10 feet tall. Poison Hemlock has a thick stem which falls over on hot-wires, shorting them out. Part of our mowing ritual is to do so beneath hot-wires, keeping electric current flowing at full force. This means pulling out the 3/4 inch fiber glass posts, mowing beneath the wire, and reinstalling the posts. It takes about 4 hours to do this over 30 acres. Fulling mowing 30 acres requires another 4 hours. Add in fuel, and it costs about $5/acre to mow fields. So far, we haven't been able to escape this cost. We mow after livestock graze, and at least once a year, if not twice.
There is a glimmer of possibility that we may be able to reduce or even eliminate this cost in our sheep pastures. Clark has been concentrating the stock and slowing down their movement in order to address parasite issues, providing a long rest period for paddocks that outlasts the life-cycle of parasites. This is working and weeds are indeed being impacted. In the picture below, Ironweed has been grazed clean, which will eventually kill it. Note the clumps of grass centered around thick stems of weeds, that have been stripped bare.
Another possibility to managing the great surge of grass, that comes at the dawn of summer, is to buy "stocker" calves in the spring to graze excess and sell them in the fall, when grass deficit begins to arise. The challenge with this scenario is the stocker calves come from the stock yards and are half wild and half sick. It takes a lot of medication and management to bring them into service. We are not experienced with nor interested in medicating livestock, but this is a scenario we may begin considering. We would not sell these animals for our meat, but only back into the conventional food system. For the future, which is always knocking at the door.
Here is Princess Abie, quickly taking to the shade. Note the difference between grass ahead and that left behind in the previous picture.
A great virtue of this moment in the year is the wildflowers that punctuate the countryside. Two favorites are Tiger Lilies and Elderberry Bushes.
I have been meaning to bring you up to date on our coppicing project of this winter. These willow trees, which were probably 50 feet tall and dropping branches everywhere, were cut back or coppiced. The tops were turned into wood chips and bottom branches were left in a pile. This spring the trunks have re-sprouted and look as healthy as a tree-bush could. Some believe that coppicing is unnatural, which it is, but it is an ancient and effective way to manage trees in certain situations.
We so appreciate support of customers over recent months and weeks. Most of our work on this land is directed toward you, toward raising meats which will nourish you and your children in the spirit and vein of Nature. One of the welcome challenges of this time of year is keeping a supply of steaks in balance with your demand. This week we are out of Ribeyes and Tenderloins, but do have Strips and Sirloins on hand. We also have a few Sirloin Kabobs, which are great for grilling and stir-fry.We also refer you to our growing supply of lamb chops, both Loin and Racks, which are a delicate and outstanding grassfed meat.In addition, our Shortrib Burgers may be as good as any steak. Every time we sample them, we are impressed. They have such flavor, because they are ground from the fatty short rib, and they are topped with a light chipotle pepper spice, which makes for great eating. You won't be disappointed, if you have not tried them.
As this beautiful summer dawns, may your grass be trampled and trees coppiced to full expectations.