It's been a wet spring so far in Western Washington, and our land has really taken a beating, especially the sacrifice areas - the main paddock where Bridgit, Sheila and Annabel have been living, and the north pasture where T-Bone, Lana and Natalie stay. Those bovine feet can really do some damage when the ground is soft; pugging, or the piercing of moist ground by the feet of heavy four-legged critters, is one of the big reasons we're supposed to keep the cattle off pasture during the winter months.
I've been upset by all our mud for a couple of months now, but Paul has chided me, saying "We don't have real farm mud. Just a little mud." Tonight, though, as he contemplated taking the wheelbarrow through the mud bath that is our paddock in order to get some hay for T-Bone and his ladies, all he could say was, "Wow. What a mess. What are we going to do about this?" Yes, exactly...great question. We don't know the answer - yet. We'll ask around at our annual NWHCA Spring Meeting in May and see what works (or doesn't) for our fellow breeders.
Our more pressing concern has been the fact that Sheila and Bridgit are due to calve, and slippery, bacteria-laden mud can be very dangerous for fuzzy, wet, newborn Highland calves. Not knowing what else to do, we opened the gates and let them out to the pasture, figuring it's better to risk stunting the grass than risk the live of a newborn calf. We bought 40 fiberglass step-in posts to use for our management intensive grazing (MIG) experiment once grazing season is open, and in the meantime we plan to use some of them to temporarily fence off a back strip of pasture, adjacent to the paddock gate, so at least the mamas can have access to dry ground and the opportunity to calve there.
The basic rule of thumb, we were told, is that we can graze our cattle from April 15 to October 15, with a break in July and August, based on how the grass grows. We know after two years of watching that this window has to be very, very flexible. There's no way our grass will be ready by April 15, but that's ok. We have extra hay in the barn and hope that with careful management, we can let the cattle graze at the right time - to keep the grass from going to seed but without letting the cows eat it down below 4 inches in height - and feed them hay the rest of the time. Between that and our resolve to spread chicken manure on the pastures this fall come Hell or high water (even if I have to pull the spreader behind my Subaru...Paul said my transmission won't be able to cope!), we're hopeful next year our grass will start looking like it did our first late spring/early summer two years ago...lush, green, thick, and long-bladed!
And to think I complained that summer about the grass being up to my armpits and difficult to walk through.
Those were the days!