Grass Fed Science
Sound farming practices that can produce healthy, productive stock hold nature as the standard. By implementing systems that mimic a natural state or origin, we can optimize all aspects of the farm including the soil, forage, animals, insects, water, sun, buildings, people, and even equipment.
All of the practices here at Dharma Lea center around our grass and other forages. We are working to constantly improve a cycle that feeds the soil that feeds the grasses that feed the livestock that feed us that care for the soil and livestock, etc.
This system may be divided into three main areas: Stock, Pasture Management Tequniques, and Soil.
Calves must be raised properly in order to become strong, long-lived, productive cattle. From Developing a Profitable Dairy Herd by Merton Moore and E. M. Gildow, DVM (subtitled “The story of how the experts at Carnation Milk Farms built a record-breaking herd of champion cows and bulls…baring secrets that any dairy herdsman can share for the price of this book”): “In either the native or domestic state, calves are best started on mineral-rich milk from mineral-rich grasses. Nature intended that the frame and body structure be developed first on mother’s milk and grasses, then on grass alone…With all their richness in energy-building properties, grains are low in minerals so necessary to build a complete bone structure…Good roughage fills the requirements for development of the calf bone structure more fully than grains, provides the bulk necessary to the functioning of the ruminant’s stomach, and more wholly fits the natural changes in the reshaping of the stomach of the calf.”
This care must continue throughout the life of the cow, and research and experience has demonstrated that a 100% forage diet is optimal for cattle.
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Pasture Management Techniques:
Grazing comes in many forms. The outcome and value of grazing depends on the method.
Grazing for production with our lactating dairy herd and our finishing beef animals entails careful management of the forage intake of the cattle. Cattle are placed into paddocks at forage heights of four to eight inches to be grazed down to two to four inches. Rest periods vary slightly, ranging generally from ten to fourteen days. Refusal areas are clipped as needed and the paddock are generally managed to provide optimal feed quality and quantity for the cattle.
We also graze for pasture renovation. We graze our gestating dairy, beef group, our heifers and dry cows a bit differently at times when we have the need to improve the productive ability of a pasture. Her again there are different methods as well. Pastures that are in need of organic matter, soil microbes, and plant diversity benefit from being more uniformly and completely grazed. When we have the benefit of a high stocking rate (lots of cows), we can put many animals in a small paddock so that they will eat all of the vegetation, including the less palatable plants. In larger areas, with fewer cows, we can leave the group in one place for a longer time and achieve a similar result. The latter choice, however, is slightly less desirable in that it offers a greater chance of overgrazing of the more palatable plant species.
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Healthy, well-mineralized, well-balanced soils are necessary for high feed-quality forages. Soil and forage tests are very helpful in navigating the way to achieving well-balanced soils. There are many techniques for evaluating soil health, and we use as many as we can, including observation of existing native species of plants.
One of the most effective methods of improving soil health is grazing. The saliva, urine and manure deposited by the cows, along with the shallow incorporation of plant material with their hoof action are extremely beneficial to pastures.
A good place to start in evaluating your pasture and soil health is available calcium and percent organic matter. These are crucial elements and can be achieved with some grazing, manure spreading, lime spreading, and a few other low-cost methods.
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