At Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard, we are firm believers in utilizing managed intensive grazing because it provides an avenue for farm environmental and economic sustainability. We use high stock density, short duration grazing to manage forage production efficiency. Animal nutrient demand through the grazing season is balanced with forage supply and available forage is allocated based on animal requirements.
Though the utilization of managed intensive grazing, the pastures stay in their most efficient and palatable state. The forages are left with enough residual growth and allowed adequate time for re-growth to prevent overgrazing. The nutrients are naturally recycled by using manure from the cows as a fertilizer. Manure is spread more uniformly across the pasture with daily moving of the cows.
Our main pasture is fifty acres that has been split into 32 paddocks between one and three acres in size. The larger paddocks are then split again so that each one is about one acre is size. Each paddock is intended to be grazed for one day by fifty cows, then the cows are moved to the next one, so each paddock gets a thirty day rest. In 2016, we added a new field behind the main cow pasture with eight acres of alfalfa and eight acres of tall fescue, again split into one acre sections.
Leading to and from our dairy, we have two lanes that allow the cows to come in from the north fields, be milked, and then go to the south fields. This is called "A-B" grazing. We have setup so that in the morning the cows go from the north to the south and then in the afternoon, they move from the south fields to the north. The lanes also reduce the amount of runoff as the lanes are built up of two layers of gravel so there isn't any dirt runoff.
what do cows eat?
The fields contain mostly orchardgrass and red clover, along with a small amount of other grasses and some weeds. The orchardgrass/clover mix produces lots of feed in the spring and fall, though not much in the middle of the summer and none in the winter. The fields behind the main cow pasture are planted with alfalfa tall fescue. By adding these fields into the rotation in mid-summer and late fall/winter, we expect to be able to have the cows graze another two months of the year. Keeping fields for later is called "stockpiling". Tall fescue is the best grass to stockpile as it loses the least amount of nutrition compared to other grasses and legumes.
In winter, we feed round bales of grass hay, alfalfa, and alfalfa haylage (round bales that are baled wet and covered with plastic so the hay ferments, which keeps its protein levels). Our cows eat around three bales a day, which is why we are trying to extend the grazing season through stockpiling. We are able to make about half the hay the cows eat on the winter on our farm and have to buy in the rest.
Cows drink about 50 gallons of water each day! We installed irrigation down each lane so that the cows will have water in every paddock. Most of the fields use portable water troughs that can be easily moved and are connected via a hose with a valve to ensure that there is always clean water available. We also installed two permanent frost-free water troughs that will be used in the winter. These have big blue balls covering the openings so the cows have learned to push the balls out of the way to get to the water. The balls help keep the water in the troughs from freezing. Under each trough is a five foot deep circular hole that brings up warmer air to help warm the water.