The Long Acre
The grass verge, our side of Mt Michael Valley Road, is of a generous width, even for a rural New Zealand road. On it, and running parallel for most of the length of our roadside boundary fence, is a three strand temporary electric fence that creates a “whew, that takes a while to walk” stretched body of pasture pinched in at its width to an anorexic three metres.
A typical start to spring here, except warmer, and soggier under foot and hoof than most. Following a tradition going back hundreds of years to the original ‘common fields’, we call the paddock ‘The Long Acre’. In it, what’s left of winter’s ‘standing hay’, combined with new blades of grass pushing through hand-length high, provide several days feed for two small Dexters and one modestly larger cow.
Spring pasture barely off the starting block round here, it’s a particularly useful addition to the paddock rotation. It means I can hold-off putting the cows back in areas grazed and hoof-bruised late winter that now need time-out to recover and start to grow some grass worthy of the name ‘spring growth’.
They’ll have had six days grazing The Long Acre by the time I publish this post. Time to move them into Owl Gully. Below Owl Gully, as you may recall if you read my piece on renaming the paddocks (https://grahamrcooper.com/2020/09/14/4313/ ), is Lake Wobegon. That bottom end of our gully still has a thick layer of pillow-soft silt over it that washed down (when the heavens opened), from the water catchment above: our neighbours’ involuntary donation of soil from a paddock of recently germinated wheat seedlings.
I’ll hold-off putting the cows in Lake Wobegon and the tiny Ford paddock below it until the silt that’s in both of them has settled, firmed, and turned green with lush grass, water all gone from their shallow pools and channels. It’s good to have The Long Acre paddock in reserve when typical pasture rotation options are on-hold.
Early spring growth is starting to produce a sward of bright green grass in the Soggy Hollow and Soggy Bottom paddocks, but true to form they’re soggy as. Put the cows in now and they’ll churn up and compact the soil – ‘pugging it up’. Pugging that will damage the soil structure and stop oxygen from circulating through it. Packed tight soil, and soggy to soggier! As if drainage on our semi-permeable clay pans isn’t slow enough anyways. Pasture takes a long time to recover from pugging.
All my firm paddocks that drain quite well have recently been grazed, and as is usual this early in spring, regrowth is slow. I mentioned that I was going to move them to Owl Gully next. Now I’m delaying that move, recent heavy rain water-logging top of the gully areas susceptible to it.
The Poplars has some good grass growth, but it’s out of the paddock rotation while I fell some of the trees for firewood. At least The Long Acre’s mostly firm under hoof, but it does have a boggy stretch below The Poplars.
I decide to maintain a ‘holding pattern’: Long Acre for longer, and feed out hay as a supplement when getting a good feed out there gets challenging.
But I’m always a little apprehensive about grazing the roadside verge. The temporary electric fencing has sturdy steel ‘tread-in’ poles, and the three strands of wire are one, sometimes two more than you usually see out on a long acre. I do a visual check of the lines and poles, and if necessary, wind the reels a few notches to keep the wires well-tensioned. Then I’ll touch them with a blade of grass to reassure myself that there’s an electric pulse.
I leave the gate into The Bolthole paddock open so that they can bolt into it if something spooks them. And it makes it easy to both use a little commonsense and comply with Council regulations, when I move them off the roadside and shunt them into The Bolthole and close the gate overnight
The fence looks so flimsy – that’s all that’s stopping them from going walkabout along the public road. But it works!
I can understand why. Almighty belts from my own fences have trained me to reflexively shy away from them, even when I know they’re not on. I’m okay once that fleeting initial reaction has passed, overriding it by telling myself that the line is off.
Another cause for anxiety is when a large herd of steers is being moved along the road by cattle dogs and a farmer on a farm quad bike. Not so much these days, as my three cows have never looked like they’d be tempted. And they’ll bolt into the paddock if they get at all alarmed.
I’d just moved them out there this last time and had got back to the house when a big herd idled by. Sufficiently anxious, I went back down to make sure I still had three small black cows out there. Yep, still there, and still there today as I write. Well, I’m 99.9% sure of that! And they’ll be there for a few more days yet, another 10mm of rain last night adding to the squelches.
Think I’ll stop right there and retreat behind my usual “accepting things as they are rather than how I’d like them to be philosophy of life”, or in my by now familiar shorthand: “It’s not ideal”.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.