June is upon us and thanks to lots of rain and snow, grass is exploding out of the ground. This abundance means it's time for the “Cow Taxi” to deliver our fifty or so head of cattle to remote pastures leased from local landowners.
When asked how many acres it takes to feed a cow my answer is always, “It depends.” It depends on rain, on the density of the grass, on management practices. For instance, am I practicing “Rotational Grazing” or “Continuous Stocking?” Rotational Grazing mimics feeding patterns of native critters such as the buffalo. Remember in the song “Home on The Range” the line “Where the Buffalo Roam”? By roaming, buffalo created rich, lush pastures. Buffalo would strip a landscape of vegetation, fertilizing as they moved through an area. Then they would move on, giving plenty of time for grass to re-grow until they returned to graze weeks or months later.
“Continuous Stocking” means leaving livestock on a pasture for months or maybe all summer. Livestock continuously nibble the new grass never giving it time to reach 8 or 10 inches - the perfect height for grazing. This method doesn't allow roots to grow; what you see above ground is reflected in the root system. If grass is 1 inch tall, then the roots are only 1 inch which means that in a drought the grass is going to wither. If grass is 10 inches tall, the roots are 10 inches deep - giving access to moisture even without rain.
When the grass pops out of the ground in May and June, it's a rush to move fifty of my seventy-five head of cattle to greener pastures. Miles Smith Farm has only thirty-five acres of fields, where I keep about twenty-five head during the summer. To graze the others, we lease nearby pastures. Right now most of our cattle are happily munching grass on fields in Barnstead, Canterbury, Boscawen, Gilmanton, and Cole Garden Center. As the livestock eat through the early Spring grass, we'll “taxi” them to other leased fields, giving the eaten fields time to recover. With enough rain, we can return them to these first pastures after the grass has recovered.
After a few years of grazing, the quality of our leased pastures has improved. It's easy to see the difference between fields that have been mechanically mowed and those that are harvested by cattle. The grass is sumptuous, weed-less, and brush-free where cows have been pastured. The mechanically mowed fields are weedy and lean.
Cattle and grass were made for each other, no doubt about it and as the cow taxi shuttles animals around you can be sure that we are treating our cows to the best grass possible while improving the soil. Other local farmers may not have a “Cow Taxi” but many practice rotational graing, so if you want to make a difference, skip buying meat from “away.” Seek out a local farmer, buy a quarter or half a cow to put in your freezer and you will be doing your part to help the local economy and keep the grass growing as the “Buffalo Roam.”