Is year round grazing possible? I believe it is, as there are a number of farmer's out there making it happen, even as far north as Canada!
Grazing the cattle and sheep year round on fresh, green forages is my goal. No hay supplementation! This is a big goal, and most of the locals think I’m a bit nuts for it…
I’m also trying to accomplish this without chemical fertilizers! (I think I've earned an extra star in the nuts column for this one).
Instead of chemical fertilizer, we are experimenting with spreading wood ash from one of the local power plants on the fields. The wood ash will change the soil pH to make it more friendly for desired forages, less friendly for some invasive plants, and it will add such nutrients as potash and potassium.
I'm also exploring options such as "fertilizing" with live microbes. The microbes will feed and support life in the soil with the result that nutrients are made more available to the plants. I need to purchase a sprayer to do this though. There's always something I need!
This will be the ultimate grass-fed and grass-finished beef and lamb, and soon, goat!
Several big steps were taken here on the farm in order to accomplish this goal:
First, we mulched about 10 acres of the clearcut to establish new pasture. These areas were seeded with annual forage rye, radish, and five types of clover.
The rye sprouts and grows quickly, preventing erosion and providing winter forage for the animals.
Radish is obviously a root crop and believe it or not, the livestock will pull them up to eat them after they eat the greens.
Any radish roots that do not get eaten will rot in place adding valuable organic matter to the soil and helping to loosen any compacted soil areas.
In the spring we will get some perennial warm season forages growing, after the cattle have grazed all of the rye!
Second, we rented a no-till drill (this is used to plant seed without disturbing the soil through tilling) from the county extension office. We used the drill to re-seed the front 25 acres of pasture that existed when we purchased the farm.
We seeded the same mix here with the exception that we added fescue which is a cool season perennial grass. The addition of fescue will enable us to graze longer in the fall, and eventually, as it becomes more established, it should enable us to graze year round. You may not know this, but fescue stockpiles very well.
By stockpile, I mean that if I allow it to grow and then don't graze it in the summer, I've saved what we refer to as a stockpile - this can be grazed all winter long.
This is definitely a long term plan! If it ever rains, and all that seed starts growing, we should be able to graze some of it in January.
The photo below is of the mulched area where the seed has come up beautifully! It just needs some rain now...