Winter Grazing Small Farm Problem

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KevinN

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Hi Folks, Kevin from New Jersey, long time lurker and for that I thank you for your insights.

I have a small farm 15 ac, and I have about 15 hair sheep and 3 cows. I have them in a sacrifice area during the winter where I bale feed in a cheap ring which I move to deposit the organics. Different worst area each winter.

So they're off the 10 ac of pasture from Nov to late April. I try not to let them eat the pasture too low because I understand that the root system suffers and your pasture is not as healthy in the Spring.

I'm wondering if it's possible to let the herd graze the pasture down, after it goes dormant, without damaging the root systems?

With a small farm, I never seem to have as much forage as I need. If my idea is sound, it would get me good winter grazing.
Any opinions?

Thanks, Kevin
 

Rydero

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My understanding is that many grass species store nutrients above the ground so grazing it to the dirt - dormant or not isn't the best. If you had a lot of.pastures it might be worth it to torture a couple but it doesn't sound like that's the case.
 

4vcattle

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You will just be stealing from next spring.
Think of blades of grass as small solar panels, if the have know way of capturing sun / regrowth from the roots takes twice the energy to make grass.
More to it than that, but it’s a basic.
 

RDFF

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I'd say it probably depends on what species you're looking at. Some plant species have to start all over with all new growth in spring anyway, and whatever is left after the hard freezes is just "residue" at that point, so grazing it off will probably not do much harm. Exception here might be alfalfa with a crown above the ground... could kill that if you take that crown. And then there are some, mostly in the grasses, that can just go "dormant", and then they will restart when it thaws and just continue to grow from what's already out there as young, vegetative top growth. Winter rye is a good example of that... if you've got intact above ground growth in the fall and into winter, anytime you get some above freezing sunny weather with the leaf blades exposed, you'll swear that it greened up again. I had that here in Minnesota just this past week... rye was about 3" tall when it froze hard... but we got a bit of "freezing rain" weather with not much snow cover, and sure enough, that rye where exposed to sunlight "greened up" overnight... capturing carbon/photosynthesizing! Ground was still generally "frozen"... and it still is actively functioning. That clipper turned into a 4" snow, and the temps went back down into the single digits, so back into dormancy it went again. That absolutely proves the benefit of having a "live root" in the ground though through the winter... even though you think it's not doing anything, I'm convinced that even when it's cold... really cold, that plant is still alive and functioning.

In general though, I agree with Stocker Steve's comment above, and that's definitely the more appropriate plan forward. If you had alot of stockpiled forage out there though, you could probably take "some" of it and still be OK. Take half, leave half... pretty much all the time. You won't be hammering the root system when you graze so much when you graze it now when it's dormant, but you will be taking away photosynthesizing "power", and if you take too much of that, it'll have to slough off root reserves in spring to restart. Leave enough to let it have plenty of solar panels to get going, and you'll be OK. The more you take now though, ESPECIALLY if you take it down more than half of what's out there, the less yield you'll get on the first spring growth... so "take half, leave half" is good advice.
 
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Nesikep

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All the grasses I have start from scratch every year.. if you don't want to damage them, you're probably best off to graze when it's frozen. Cows will do damage because of their weight if the ground is soft, but sheep can graze much closer which can damage the crowns of the grasses,
 

ClinchValley86

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If it gets grazed into the ground, I would give it 4 to 6 weeks growth before I turned back into it. Otherwise you'll have just weeds by summer.
 

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