rotational grazing

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Both the ducks and cows here are rotated through pastures (and the pigs too, but they are not my project.) It’s very satisfying to watch animals on grass, as good and natural a life as they should have.The ducks, when they come out of the barn in the morning race out in a line, waddling faster than you’d think possible. Some of them coast over the others, they can’t fly upwards really, as they are domesticated, but they can leap and coast slightly. Since they are egg layers, their body weight is too heavy to really go any distance. The joy in the ducks’ morning emergence is something nearly tangible, it makes me smile every single day! Last year I finally devised the perfect rotational setup for pastures with the ducks using a “chute” with “gates coming off of it- it is really nice to just use it now, instead of struggling every morning to rustle something together. Fence wrestling in the morning is my most least favorite activity ever.

A whole bunch of the ducks are moulting right now, which is odd as it hasn’t been very hot yet, but I suspect that it may have been the day Mel and Yola put down bedding for me. Ducks do not like strangers amongst them who do not know their quirky little duck ways! The ducks who are moulting have worn these feathers all last summer, fall and winter, so it’s about that time regardless. When they moult, they stop laying eggs for about a month, as all their body’s energy goes into the new feather growth. My egg count per day has gone down considerably. The nice thing is there are so many age groups that some of them are almost always laying. This is the time of year that sales slow down too, so having fewer eggs come right now is actually a blessing.

Even conceptually rotating my two rather wild highland steers into electric fence paddocks was a bit worrisome at first. But they picked it up easily with Lola as their guide to all things new, and are now in their 3rd paddock, single strand if you can believe it. I keep their original paddock open for them to come and go as they please. Sort of like a comforting blankie, but now they are more than content down in the brush stand, hanging out in the shade during the day, chewing their cud, and then wandering around grazing at dusk and dawn. The life of a cow is collecting food, and then digesting it. It is quite a beautiful thing to look out and see them there, filling their rumens in the dewey morning, such wooly behemoths!

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A few days ago the cows went into a new pasture, and they let me know they were done with the last one by getting out of the fence in the original paddock instead of leaping the electric fence. Lola located a weak spot where two ends of fence rolls met, admittedly it was not secured very well. Anyways, no biggie, they were between the old barbwire fence by the road and their paddock’s fence. Angelica had told me Lola was a bit of an escape artist, although I believe she told me she was more of the fence jumper type of adventurer and thankfully Lola’s done none of that. Anyways, Lola came to me but didn’t want to walk over the downed fence. Ochre was with her. I am still being very cautious around the boys, they are huge and could easily gorge me. There’s been zero aggression from them so far, but that doesn’t mean I can lose my guard. In fact I believe it is just when you aren’t being as careful anymore would be when you’d be most likely to get hurt. Ochre leapt the fence (back into their paddock) to get away from me, but I didn’t have Lola’s halter so I kind of pushed her from her shoulder, and then her bum. She was just like what? What are you trying to do? Then she got it when I used my foot to hold down the fence, but as I did this, Ochre came back over close to watch. It could have been protective, it could have been the start of aggression, I’m not sure. Lola rejoined him and Nillo, and all was fine. But it was my first taste of how important it is to be very VERY careful.

The other morning I was getting ready to leave on deliveries and I thought, you know, better just check on the cows and make sure they are still in there. Not like I could have, or wanted to have to, deal with that situation right before leaving! But down the path I went, ducking under the electric fence and going to down their spot They were not there. It is very brushy in this spot, so I peered around and they were not there. Oh boy. I looked to the hill leading up to the hayfield. Where were they? Where had they gone? I went back up the path to start from the top of the paddock and work by way down through the brush, totally freaking out, and then right there, I saw a big fuzzy face watching me like a creeper between the prickly ash branches. They were there the whole time, I’d walked right by them!

I check on them frequently, it’s kind of weird to have animals who other than water and fresh paddocks, don’t really need anything from me. Lola was lying down in the sun like a beautiful fat ruby pony, and May her goat buddy was resting next to her. Gorgeous. The boys were standing under a buckthorn tree (which I will cut down after I rotate them out of this paddock.) I sat down in the grass next to Lola and gave her scratches and then May had the most hilarious little crazy spazz dance. She is really quite a spunky goat for being 7 years old, kind of leaping at the ground, rubbing her body along the coarse grass, nearly rolling completely over in her haste. She was rubbing her face and horns into the grass in ecstasy. She did this over and over again, it was just so funny! Also I should note, May totally just stays with the cows. She will go back to the goat shed occasionally, but she stays in the electric fence area, as if she couldn’t get under it! Anyways, as I laughed at May, Ochre came over to me and Lola, and I stood up slowly and reached out my hand, and he sniffed it! I reached out to stroke his face, and he allowed it, although he had a start when he realized what I’d done, and he backed away. I think he couldn’t see me very well because his bangs cover his eyes. When Ochre backed up, may ran over to him and head butt him square in the face! She is such a sass! He then backed further away from the scene.

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5 thoughts on “rotational grazing

  1. Loving the stories of the cattle, and how you’re all getting to terms with each other. Friends of ours had highlands when I was a kid, and they were just as wild as you describe, and we were for obvious reasons forbidden to go near them. They are beautiful, for sure. Sounds to me like Ochre is going to accept you in spite of himself!

    1. oh boy, that sounds not too fun. Are they predators for the adult birds? Or go after the eggs? Are there any animals you can raise with the ducks who kill snakes?

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