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early/late season grazing Colorado

 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Hi Chris,
Just listened to your podcast with Jack Spirko, thanks for doing that, lots of great info. James Ranch down in Durango was my first and foremost introduction to good cattle management, so brought a smile to my face to think about their operation. I now run a micro cow dairy in Paonia, Bella Farm. We feed nothing but pasture during our milking season, April-November, which makes for some tremendous quality milk. I manage about 7 acres of fertile, irrigated, clover-based, species diverse pasture. I also have about 2 acres of diverse silvopasture comprised of scrub oak, skunkbrush, and roses. I feed alfalfa hay mid-December to early March, about 90 days.

My annual cycle looks something like this- By early March I put the herd back out to pasture and stop all hay, it is just dry stubs from the previous year, some shrubbery in the creek, and little green tips of new growth. This seems adequate based on animal health and condition. Calving commences in April, as our spring flush of grass begins. I feel good about our rotational mob grazing through the milking season, focusing on longer rotations to support red clover based pastures. As we get deep into fall, frosts stop the regrowth of the clover, and we are left with just grass by late October. The cows' milk production really drops at this point without the clover, so we tend to dry up the cows in November as their yield isnt enough to justify the labor of milking. I then keep the now dry cows on pasture and silvopasture until there is nothing left to eat, which tends to coincide with significant snows in December. The cycle begins again.

Here are my questions-
How do I further shorten my hay feeding from the 90 days I am currently dependent on?
Would it be more probable to try and graze later into winter, or to start earlier in the spring?
Any other suggestions based on your extensive experience in this climate and environment?

Thanks! and feel free to stop by the farm if you are ever out in Paonia and want to see some happy dairy cows.
 
Chris Stelzer
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Adam Klaus wrote:Hi Chris,
Just listened to your podcast with Jack Spirko, thanks for doing that, lots of great info. James Ranch down in Durango was my first and foremost introduction to good cattle management, so brought a smile to my face to think about their operation. I now run a micro cow dairy in Paonia, Bella Farm. We feed nothing but pasture during our milking season, April-November, which makes for some tremendous quality milk. I manage about 7 acres of fertile, irrigated, clover-based, species diverse pasture. I also have about 2 acres of diverse silvopasture comprised of scrub oak, skunkbrush, and roses. I feed alfalfa hay mid-December to early March, about 90 days.

My annual cycle looks something like this- By early March I put the herd back out to pasture and stop all hay, it is just dry stubs from the previous year, some shrubbery in the creek, and little green tips of new growth. This seems adequate based on animal health and condition. Calving commences in April, as our spring flush of grass begins. I feel good about our rotational mob grazing through the milking season, focusing on longer rotations to support red clover based pastures. As we get deep into fall, frosts stop the regrowth of the clover, and we are left with just grass by late October. The cows' milk production really drops at this point without the clover, so we tend to dry up the cows in November as their yield isnt enough to justify the labor of milking. I then keep the now dry cows on pasture and silvopasture until there is nothing left to eat, which tends to coincide with significant snows in December. The cycle begins again.

Here are my questions-
How do I further shorten my hay feeding from the 90 days I am currently dependent on?
Would it be more probable to try and graze later into winter, or to start earlier in the spring?
Any other suggestions based on your extensive experience in this climate and environment?

Thanks! and feel free to stop by the farm if you are ever out in Paonia and want to see some happy dairy cows.


Adam,

Thanks for the questions. It already sounds like you are doing an absolutely fantastic job with you management, congratulations! Seriously, I was impressed when I read your description. So, to lengthen your grazing season you can keep managing the way you are doing by keeping the soil covered with litter year round. Additionally, have your tried setting aside a small piece of land that you don't graze? Try stockpiling a small section of land and then allowing your livestock to graze this (previously unglazed) area during the winter or early spring. If this ends up work for you, change the location of this stockpiled area every year. Part of your silvopasture sounds like a great place to start stockpiling. You could even graze an area of your irrigated ground for most of the growing season, and then stockpile a small area of that for late fall/early spring feed. Are you feeding hay on your irrigated ground or silvopasture? If not, this is a great way to build organic matter but just feeding the hay directly on the ground during the winter, if you can logistically of course.

So, my recommendation to you is to experiment with stockpiling forage, increase organic matter in the soil and keep up with your excellent management. As time progresses you will be able to lengthen your grazing season. I hope that helps, I already feel like you are doing a lot correctly, good job!
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Posts: 1519
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Hey Adam,

You are my "neighbor"! I am half way between Grand Junction and Fruita. I'd love to see your place sometime, maybe get some ideas from what you are doing. If you are interested in seeing my place, I never get tired of show and tell of my works in progress, just give a shout!

On the topic of stockpiling, and going hay free, there is a great program about stockpiling presented by Burleigh County Soil Conservation District (www.bcscd.com). I've tried to find the link, and had no luck. I wrote to them and maybe will hear back by the middle of the week, at which time I will post the link here. But it is exactly what Chris says, along about August, keep your grazers off an area, and don't let them graze it until you would begin your hay season.

Chris, can you help me understand what you mean by keeping the soil covered with "litter" year round? Are you just saying leave some vegetation/cover, don't rake, scrape, burn, till? I've just this season embarked on grazing, have planted some warm season grasses, brought water to some new areas of my 2 and a half acres, and acquired some goats to chomp and grind up and redeposit ...... (that's the trail behind a grazing goat).

I don't have enough eaters to keep up with all that grows, but next season, I am going to try to come closer to balancing eaters with what grows. At this point I am trying to learn all I can. Seems like you might be able to teach me plenty!

Thanks

Thekla
 
Chris Stelzer
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Hey Adam,

You are my "neighbor"! I am half way between Grand Junction and Fruita. I'd love to see your place sometime, maybe get some ideas from what you are doing. If you are interested in seeing my place, I never get tired of show and tell of my works in progress, just give a shout!

On the topic of stockpiling, and going hay free, there is a great program about stockpiling presented by Burleigh County Soil Conservation District (www.bcscd.com). I've tried to find the link, and had no luck. I wrote to them and maybe will hear back by the middle of the week, at which time I will post the link here. But it is exactly what Chris says, along about August, keep your grazers off an area, and don't let them graze it until you would begin your hay season.

Chris, can you help me understand what you mean by keeping the soil covered with "litter" year round? Are you just saying leave some vegetation/cover, don't rake, scrape, burn, till? I've just this season embarked on grazing, have planted some warm season grasses, brought water to some new areas of my 2 and a half acres, and acquired some goats to chomp and grind up and redeposit ...... (that's the trail behind a grazing goat).

I don't have enough eaters to keep up with all that grows, but next season, I am going to try to come closer to balancing eaters with what grows. At this point I am trying to learn all I can. Seems like you might be able to teach me plenty!

Thanks

Thekla


Thekla,

Yes, leaving the soil covered means leaving it covered with vegetation either living or dead. Think of it similar to mulching, but not quite as deep. In my book "The Grazing Book" I tell people to have a little cover between 1-3 inches, as a littler cover of 6+ inches is more like mulch than litter. So, no tilling, burning or anything like that, just leave it alone and cover the soil, it's really that simple (not easy in many cases). Sounds like your looking for more info, a good place to start is my free mob grazing ebook, which you can get from my site.

I hope that was helpful

Chris
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Posts: 1519
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Yes, Chris, it was helpful. Thank you-- Thekla
 
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