Are they eating snow?
This fall, we had several hundred school kids come to the farm through the Loving Spoonful's GROW project. One of the most common questions they asked us was "What do you do with the cows in the winter??" Great question!
To begin with, the cattle work their way through what we have left of fresh grass. Grass production in the pastures really slows down in late fall, so we usually won't get enough growth to be able to get back to the paddocks that we grazed in mid-Septmeber to regraze them. This year, we have enough grass to get us almost to December before we have to start feeding hay. As you might have guessed from the picture above, some November weather can be an interesting grazing challenge, but cattle are very resilent creatures. They thicken their coats through the fall and early winter to prep for the colder months, and they don't mind pushing a little snow out of the way to get at the beautiful green forage below. The process of feeding cattle on pasture outside of the growing season is called stockpile grazing. The more forage we can stockpile in the pastures, the more we can avoid feeding stored hay. Avoiding feeding hay is the main way we can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels on the farm in the current era of the climate crisis.
Once we have run out of pastures to graze, we have an open-air barn for the cattle to rest in, get water and stay sheltered from extreme weather. Once the ground is frozen, we can start feeding the cattle bales of stored hay on the pastures without worrying about damaging the soil surface. This practice, called bale grazing, leaves lots of good fertilizer, in the form of manure and leftover hay, exactly where we will need it next year, on the pastures!
We can do this until the grass starts growing again in April and May, and off we go with our regular rotations!