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Overgrown pasture

 
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Location: Western Maryland
kids trees homestead
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Hello all --

We are very new to homesteading, and moved into this 12-acre place in Western Maryland last fall.  We are getting a fence put in around two 4-acre pastures and would like to put a dairy cow out there when we do.  My husband has gone out with a scythe and mowed less than half an acre of one of the pastures, just as kind of an experiment -- we made a bit of hay with that.

We are planning to do intensive rotational grazing.  But all the unmowed grass is so tall (thigh-high), having not been cut since last fall.  And now that it's early June, I imagine the quality is going down.  Could a cow do all right on the unmowed places, or should we get the neighbor in to mow / bush hog it all?  

Any advice would be appreciated.

--Barbara
 
pollinator
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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I'd probably let the cows do the work and buy in some good quality alfalfa hay as a supplement.  I'd let them start the day on the overgrown stuff to fill them up a bit, then let them access the alfalfa.  This will prevent bloat, use your existing grass, give the cows some high quality hay to balance out the nutrition, and it should cost you less than getting it mowed.

You mention getting a single dairy cow.  They need at least one companion, so I'd suggest a weaned calf or steer at the very least.  You'll almost certainly need more than a couple of cows to keep up with 8 acres of pasture.
 
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B. Hicks wrote:Hello all --

We are very new to homesteading, and moved into this 12-acre place in Western Maryland last fall.  We are getting a fence put in around two 4-acre pastures and would like to put a dairy cow out there when we do.  My husband has gone out with a scythe and mowed less than half an acre of one of the pastures, just as kind of an experiment -- we made a bit of hay with that.

--Barbara



I hope all goes well with your new lifestyle, Barbara!  I for one would love to hear how this project goes. Do post some before and after pics as you go. Mandy.
 
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Hi B. Hicks,

If the grass is past boot, or the forage is in the reproductive stage: the protien content and digestible fiber has dropped drastically in most forages. Dairy cows typically need quality forage, so depending on the variety of grasses, plus how much precipitation you will continue to get this time of year, could also determine if your grass will even regrow once mowed.

These are things worth looking into, the types of forage growing in your pasture. As a good mix of warm and cool season growing grasses, with a good mix of annual and perennial legumes, that will also grow in the warm and cool seasons: will help keep your pastures providing quality forage, almost year round depending on seasonal conditions.

With 8 acers to graze, you will definitely need more then 2 cows, to help keep your pastures from over growing. Don't get me wrong, it's good to let a pasture rest and drop lots of seed every few years, also providing a good mulch layer. This can help prevent some quality forages from being grazed out of your pastures. But with that much land, it would probably be beneficial to use a mobile electric netting, doing smaller paddocks of daily mob grazing. Running laying hens 4 days behind your dairy cows, will help spread the manure piles, and eat the fly larvea before they hatch. This keeps the flies down drastically. Then if you were willing to get a good variety of paricite resistant Hair Sheep, like St. Crox, you could use them as a dead end paracite trap, by grazing them 3 to 4 weeks behind your dairy cows in mob rotation. This will help reduce feild maintenence by evenly grazing, give better pasture utilization, help keep your grass in its nutritional prime, and with the two unrelated ruminoids acting as dead end paricite traps for each other, it will reduce paricite problems.

A good permaculture breed of dairy cow, that are a heritage breed, do well on all grass forage, and are just generally tough, is the Devon breed of dairy cow. They are a horned varietie, if thats a concern, but they are very docile for cows.

Hope that helps!
 
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I had commercial beef, dairy and horses in the PNW. A single beef cow can live on a half acre of good pasture. A horse needs at least 3. And they need to rotate or most of it gets trampled. I used strip grazing. After about 3 days the cows were moved and the old section mowed, manure spread, and rested for about a month. A dairy cow needs to calf once a year to stay in milk. It also needs a dry period of 60 days before calving to rebuild it's body for the coming lactation and to grow the calf. As others said, it needs companionship. Cows are a herd animal. There's a lot to know about having a dairy animal. During the dry period, the cow needs to be on a low calcium diet. This forces the cow to make calcium. Otherwise, when the cow calves, the sudden blood loss of calcium when she makes her first milk can cause milk fever. The cow seemly passes out and can't get up or stand until IV'ed with a calcium supplement. That means a vet bill. They also need some supplements, usually in a proper grain ration. When milked, all the milk needs to come out. They're not a refrigerator. Leaving milk in the udder can cause infections that can kill the cow. It may be difficult to properly hand milk completely for someone new. A one cow milking machine would be advised. There are probably people that will artificially breed your cow or others that rent bulls.
The best way to manage your pasture is mow when the animals can't utilize all the feed. Mowing cuts the seed heads off weeds before they develop and reseed. I would use a temporary hot wire fence to break your pastures into 1/2 acre sections of one 4 acre pasture and rotate. Use the other 4 acre for hay. Hay needs to be below 22% moisture. There should be custom bailers in your area. Most dry grass hay too dry and loose most of the nutrients.
In my dairy, an average cow got 50+ pounds of grain, 50+ pounds of premium alfalfa, and all the good pasture she could eat. But that would produce way more milk than you could use. On grass, a good dairy cow could still probably produce 30 pounds of milk a day. It that's too much, maybe a half dairy or a beef cow would be better. Any cow can provide milk.
 
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