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Grass Geek

April 18, 2010

OK, it’s no big secret that I severely dislike mud. I’ve complained about it enough on this site to make that pretty clear, with posts like this one: There Is No Joy In Mudville. But this last rain was about as perfect as it gets. Here in northwest Lincoln County, there wasn’t a rumble of thunder or a bolt of lightning, just a steady, light rain for about 56 hours. No runoff, just a wonderful soaking. The forecast for this week is highs in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s and 60s–perfect weather for growing cool-season grasses, clovers, and vetch.

If you ask the average farmer in Oklahoma what they do, they are likely to reply something along the lines of “I’m a wheat farmer,” or “I’m a cattle rancher.” And since we are currently only running sheep (we’re phasing out the dairy goats), if you ask me, I probably would reply “I’m a sheep farmer.” However, the reality is that we are grass farmers. Our job is to raise a wonderful smorgasboard of grasses and forbs to feed the sheep. We do that by practicing MIG–managed intensive grazing. Here’s an example:

On the left, an area grazed for 36 hours. On the right, pasture that hasn't been grazed yet this spring. (And no comments about the crooked fence)

 What do we accomplish by doing this? A few things, actually. We’ve really seen the amount of organic matter dramatically increase in the soil in the three years since we began managed grazing on this farm. We’ve seen the weed load reduced. The first summer we grazed, the giant ragweed was over 6 feet high! (good thing the sheep like to eat ragweed) We’ve seen the total pasture yield increase in terms of pounds of lamb raised/acre. And we’ve seen an increase in the native clover, yellow hop. See the progression below.

When the grass is allowed to grow ungrazed, it starts to shade out the clover and slow its growth.

 

Once the ewes have grazed off the overgrowth, the clover is exposed to more sunlight and is better able to compete with the grass regrowth.

Yeah, I know I really geek out about this stuff. I run into tree branches sometimes because I walk through the pasture with my head down, studying what’s growing. I watch what the sheep eat and what they don’t eat, and I try to notice how their habits change within a day and over a longer period of time. After all, what good does it do to grow things they don’t like to eat? I belong to multiple listserves that discuss grazing dairy animals, raising ruminants on pasture, raising poultry on pasture, and raising pigs on pasture. I subscribe to periodicals like the Stockman Grassfarmer, and I read everything I can find about pasture management online. OK, OK, I admit it: my name is Nanc, and I’m a grass geek. Isn’t that confession the first step to recovery?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 7:25 pm

    Nanc, it’s funny that all creatures walk the fence line, like the worn path in your photo, as if even sheep, goats, and pigs think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I guess it’s not just a human thang!

    • April 25, 2010 7:26 am

      You know, Stephen, I hadn’t noticed that until your comment. I think with the sheep, they graze and graze and then encounter the fence–and then they graze *as close* as they can get to the elecric shock 🙂 You know sheep–they love to live on the edge 😉

  2. June 5, 2010 8:20 pm

    Not the only geek, by far! No need to recover, keep the geekiness coming, wear your grass-love with pride!

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