Early spring pasture
Graham R. Cooper
I watched a cow curl its long, sandpaper-grip tongue around the length of the tender, sappy blades; grasped sideways and tugged upward, the clump broke off a few centimetres above the growing crown. The grass so spring growth soft the lower jaw incisors seemingly used more to clamp than to bite against the upper’s hard pad.
Mid-September and the cow pats all of a sudden changed: no longer served up as damp, fibrous-brown pancakes, often stacked, but as moist depths of green with the consistency of porridge. A sure sign that the dormant, standing hay pastures of our winter have given way and tipped the scales in favour of juicy spring growth.
It’s an hour after sun up and I’m walking the land. The ground-clinging mist that had hung over our Mt Michael valley and up the sides of the mountain, had evaporated in the heat of the sun. But looking south towards the Fairlie township, it held on in a broad grey swathe along the river bed of the Opihi.
There’s a heavy dew on the grass blades but my leather work boots are barely moist to the laces as I walk through cow paddocks grazed within the last couple of months. I come back through four of June’s goat paddocks. Taking off my boots and socks at the back door, the cold and wet from my trouser legs goes halfway up my calf. I’d glanced over some fences as I walked and, apart from the recently browsed, all her goat areas were pretty much covered in leg dampening early spring growth.
Of course, the grass is always greener – and longer! – on the other side of the fence. I’m seldom allowed to graze my cows over there!
The cause of my envy has much to do with the eating habits of goats. We think of sheep grazing a paddock till it looks like mowed lawn, but goats won’t do that. They’ll browse the long grasses and the many other plants in a pasture but will put themselves on a starvation diet rather than, like sheep, chewing down the grasses. Not the recipe you want for goats that thrive.
June’s goats thrive on the long pasture she provides for them year round. The rotation gives each paddock twelve weeks to recover from goat browse.
A couple of posts ago, I explained why I renamed my twenty-two cow paddocks. June, on the other hand, is content to keep her goat paddocks free of fancy names. There are eight this side of a shelterbelt and they all channel into a goat house with attached hay and milking shed. The six goat paddocks on the other side also have their own housing and milking area.
Her goats get a daily ration of hay, oats, barley and bran, as well as poplar and willow twigs, and ad lib provision of salt and seaweed licks. Also, June weighs out sulphur, copper sulphate and a proprietary mineral mix and adds these to oats and barley soaked in water. Add rotational grazing to all that and you have goats in tip-top condition. They never need drenching to get rid of a health destroying build-up of intestinal parasites.
Her goat husbandry regime is now well established, and, these days, I’m seldom called upon to put my cows in a goat paddock “to tidy it up”, and to reduce the pasture’s population of parasitic worm larvae. Hatched in the soil, they crawl up the grass blades to maximize their chances of being eaten by a host. Cows and goats don’t host the same parasites, so cows are often used to ‘vacuum up’ ones that would be harmful to sheep and goats.
Goat paddock coveting aside, I console myself by getting excited about cow paddocks: a proliferation of thriving clover patches, or the germination of self-seeded grasses. Over the entirety of ‘The Soggy Hollow’, left fallow for a year, then grazed and trampled down by the cows, the seeded grasses have exuberantly thrust through the thick blanket of dead organic matter. And there are 30 centimetre or so high patches of grass – ideal for cows -in a couple of the cow paddocks that haven’t been grazed for three months.
There’s warmth and moisture in the soils, and good pasture cover after a mild winter. The seasonal promise tantalizes.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully for this week. Gretchen, a young goat doe, should have had her first kid or kids well before next Monday’s blog post. I’ll let you know how it all went.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.