As most readers probably know by now, we rotationally graze our cattle and goats. That means we move our animals every day to a new area in the paddock using the electric fencing. Around here, intensive rotational grazing is a new idea. Most of the other livestock producers here, if they rotate their animals at all, will rotate them between 2-3 pastures every few weeks or months. So seeing me moving cattle and goats every day has attracted a little bit of a following.
Some of the neighbors have taken to parking their trucks across the highway from our field and watching what I’m doing each afternoon while I’m moving the animals. Sometimes there’s nobody there but other times there are as many as three pickups parked across the road. Just watching. If I was an attractive young lady I might find it creepy.
After the cattle and goats have left a paddock, I’ll run over it with the mower or weed whacker to knock down any of the plants that were too mature or otherwise unpalatable for the animals to eat. Yesterday, as I was mowing the previous paddock down, one of the pickup-parking pentagenarians pulled off the road on our side of the highway, flagged me down, and we had the following conversation. This is as close to verbatim as I can get.
Pentagenarian: “What in the world are ya doin’ mowin’ yore pasture in December? That grass ain’t gonna grow no more.”
Me: “Yes sir, I know that. I’m knocking down the grass the cattle didn’t eat so that it won’t go to seed and so that the cuttings add organic matter to the soil.”
Pentagenarian: “Organic? Are you one of them organic farmers?”
Me: “No, we’re not certified organic. I’m just talking about putting stuff down on the soil to decompose and help add fertilizer and nutrients to the soil.”
Pentagenarian: “That’s what they make fertilizer for, son.”
Me: “That’s one way to do it. I like using the grass cuttings and the manure because it’s natural and I don’t have to buy it, store it, or spread it. This way lets me buy left stuff.”
Pentagenarian: “Well, I don’t know ’bout that. You bought that there electric wire and rigged it up inside yore reg’lar fence.”
Me: “That’s to move the cattle with. Keeps ’em in one place in the field.”
Pentagenarian: “It’s a lot less work if you just turn the cattle loose in there and let ’em graze. I see you haulin’ that fence around ev’ry day, pushin’ their shelter around ev’ry day, haulin’ ’em water ev’ry day. You should just put in a water line to a tank and put a feeder next to it and let them eat that. Lots less work.”
Me: “I know, but this way is better for the pasture as a whole. If I left them to roam the whole field, then they’d eat their favorite plants every time they regrew a little bit, and sooner or later all that would be left in the field is the plants they don’t like. This way the cattle are forced to eat or trample almost everything and then the plants have time to regrow before the cattle come back to that spot.”
Me: “This way really thickens up the grass and soil.”
Pentagenarian: “What’s soil got to do with raisin’ cattle? I still think you should let ’em out of that little fence and give ’em a grain feeder. Save you a lot of work.”
Me: “That would save a lot of work, but we don’t feed grain at all so that’s not an option for us.”
Long, uncomfortable pause.
Pentagenarian: “Son, yore a little different aren’t ya?”
Me: “I guess so.”
Pentagenarian: “I’d say so. Well, I’d better get back to work. Oh hey – why is yore mower so quiet?”
Me: “It’s electric.”
Pentagenarian: “Sigh. You take care now.”
Now, for those of you reading this blog from a city, I may need to explain country vernacular to you. The word “different,” for instance. Out here, “different” is country polite for “crazy,” “touched,” “backward,” and “strange.” It’s not good to be considered different. For instance, all of our neighbors refer to the former owners of our property as “different.” He was an arms dealer and sold semi-automatic weaponry from the property. I’ve found RPG tails in the woods and he had a Gatlin gun mounted in the window of his shop when we toured the property. That is different. I move cows every day. That is different, too. I’m still working out whether or not there are varying degrees of differentness. I hope so.
I knew we were going to farm differently. I knew people would think we were strange for the way we were doing things.
I did not expect to have an audience while moving cattle 100 feet.
Eventually, I hope that some of these guys will notice the positive impact on our land and our animals that the rotational grazing is having.
In the meantime, anybody wanna sell tickets?