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A Lesson Learned... Again

Posted 3/29/2012 9:28am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

March 29, 2012

There is only one other year in my foggy memory that I recall turning the animals out on pasture this early.  It was that same year that we celebrated St. Patrick's Day at my in-laws eating my mother-in-law's wonderful dandelion salad with hot bacon dressing.  It is one of my favorite meals of springtime and the memory of it makes me aware how much I measure the passage of time by both what I am eating and what we are doing with our farm animals. All but the pigs and Bob are back on pasture and I've got a bowl full of dandelion waiting to be cleaned and bacon thawing in the fridge. Spring is here and the pace of life has quickened.

Our goal in early spring, when the grass is growing quickly, is to move the animals daily and get around all of our paddocks twice in the first 30 days. Setting up fence and moving animals takes about an hour or two for one person each day.  If time allows, we work ahead so that on a busy day all we have to do is open a "gate" and move them into the next paddock.  When the growing season slows down, we make the paddocks bigger and move them less often, then in the fall flush, we'll try to move them quickly again.  Just to be clear; we fail at this frequently.  Not that we leave them without pasture, they always have grass.  What we fail at is keeping up with the pace of growth.  Inevidably the grass gets ahead of us and our paddocks will have both long, stemmy grass that has gone to seed (the seedheads, by the way, are usually what the cows and sheep go for first on those older plants --it is the only "grain" they get and they do like it) and fresh, young growth underneath. If time allows, we might clip the pastures using the horses and and mower, but often we just allow the young and old grass to grow together. It seems that some of those seeds work their way through the animals or directly onto the soil, helping to make a better stand of grass, legumes, and broadleaf "weeds" the following year.  Clipping is most important if we have a lot of bull thistle or burdock coming into the pasture.  But... like I said, time to manage all these variables is our particular struggle. From talking to other farmers and non-farmers alike, it seems we are far from alone in needing more time to do what we feel needs to be done.

Last week I expanded the sheep paddock in a rush and as I was stepping in the last of the electronet posts I realized my fence was going to be about three feet short.  I considered walking to barn for another length of fence, but I was in a hurry and since there was some high tensil fence behind the electronet, I opted to skip it rationalizing that the sheep and their lambs would not find the small gap or be deterred by shocking high tensil fence.  I should have recognized that needing to rationalize my choice was a red flag right away, but alas, I rushed off to Village Acres to prepare for an event at the FoodShed.  When I arrived home late in the afternoon, the sheep were spread out with the cows in the paddock adjoining them.  It could have been worse; they were not on the road. With the help of Roy, Mac, and Pip we got them separted and back in their appropriate paddocks. Lesson relearned: Sheep are far smarter than they look and will go to the greatest effort to reveal your weakness and stupidity.