Written by Aubrie Maze of Bramble Tail Homestead, one of three farming operations at Green Valley Farm + Mill.
Our herd continues to ebb and flow with the changing seasons and we’re excited to share that Chai just had her calf! This little heifer was the last to be born this year, and is doing great out in the fields with her mama. She can barely be seen from the road as the grass is still so tall.
Speaking of pasture, this year has been a bumper crop of grass - something that means a lot to us graziers. The more the grasses grow, the less supplemental hay we need to buy and the more closed loop we can be. This year, it seemed, we could literally sit and watch the grass grow.
Lower food costs for us also means ecosystem rich services for the land provided by the pasture. Despite local flooding, our grasses and covered soils ensured that the water hitting the landscape was able to sink, slow and spread in time to replenish Green Valley’s intact aquifer before it headed downstream to the ocean via the Russian River.
But one of the downsides of all that wet was that saturated pasture meant that the cows had to be vigilantly moved and monitored. At a time they were normally in the fields, they were in the barn to reduce impact on the land.
Heading into spring, we moved the cows daily to best manage their effect on the land - wet soils turn to mud with too much hoof impact, and tender young grass shoots can only handle a quick mow before being allowed to grow again. So, one quick pass across the landscape, moving them with electric fencing in small paddocks each day, took us through the season at a more frequent pace than we were used to.
And now here we are with summer in full swing. We’re halfway through a second pass across the grasslands, moving them every three days to match the slowing growth of the grasses. The cows are feeling the heat too - lazing about in the shade of the willow; swatting flies with their exacting tails; chewing their cud extra slowly. We’re excitedly seeing an increased diversity of grass and forb species, including the return of more native perennials - an aspiration coming true. Pouring back through photographs over the past ten years, we can’t help but feel proud that these grasslands have never looked better or more diverse.
As summer’s heat continues and the blackberries ripen, there is still ample graze in the pastures this year which is a blessing. It feels so good to grow healthy cows on healthy pasture with few inputs, have their body condition stay plump, and have their milk output continue to be abundant. However, we know that this won’t last. After the grasses give signal their last hurrah succumbing to the heat, we’ll start supplementing the cows feed starting in late summer and early fall. (The milk cows still get a couple pounds of organic soy-free grain mix at milking time as a treat, and to ensure they are getting sufficient fat, calcium, and protein in their diets.) The magic that allows cows to turn grass into milk never dulls in significance or ceases to amaze us! As graziers, our perennial dreams continue to grow roots over the years, a regenerative practice that only long-term tenancy can realize. (More on that in future posts!)