Grass-fed LaborJune, 2020
By Carole Soule
Those of you who have a lawn know about the demands of mowing. A healthy acre of lawn calls for weekly effort or expense. For people, it’s a chore. For cattle, it’s a labor of love.
Spring is here, and it’s time to get those cows and steers back to doing what they do best: harvesting grass. Think of them as “lawn moo-ers.” During the summer, cattle grow fat on grass that is abundant and prolific.
What makes a cow a better at mowing than a lawnmower? Cattle can harvest grass on hillsides that would tip over a mechanical mower and around rocks that would reduce the biggest mower to a shaky pile of scrap. Weed whackers might do the job, but unlike cows, they need a human partner. Even better, cows pause in their mowing to dispense a natural fertilizer – manure. Among philanthropists and volunteers, it’s known as “giving something back.”
At Miles Smith Farm, we have about 50 head of cattle, and while we have lots of grass on our 36 acres, that’s not enough for all of our animals. So, we lease fields from landowners in our area. For example, rather than mowing an abandoned apple orchard in Barnstead, the owners let us pasture our cattle there. Not only do the cows mow the lush grass, they also pick up windfall apples. Others have “backyard” fields they don’t want to pay a human to mow with a tractor.
Starting in mid-May, we load our cattle in the “Cattle Taxi” (a trailer we pull with a big pickup truck) and drive them to remote pastures. The older cows know what’s up and jump into the trailer. The younger animals soon learn the trailer is their ride to where the grass is greener.
After two or three weeks on one pasture, they practically hail the Cattle Taxi to be transported to another one. Moving them around gives the pastures time to replenish for several more visits later in the season. Using this method, the cattle can enjoy fresh food until their drinking water supplies freeze up in December.
When driving on superhighways, I tend to look at the grass on the medians and think, “pasture.” Last time I was in Missouri, human crews were making hay in the middle of the interstates. We could leave out the middle people here in New Hampshire by arranging a water supply and fencing off a section at a time to keep the bovines out of the fast lanes. My animals could munch their way north or west from Concord and arrive in Vermont as fat as hogs.
But the dream falls apart when I consider my four-legged escape artists and the mayhem they would cause along the way.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com), where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs, and grass-fed beef. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.