Happy Cows Hail a Taxi to Greener Pastures
Story and photo By Carole Soule
Fiddlehead Contributing Writer
Munching on grass is what cows do. Now that spring is finally here, the green stuff is abundant. Husband Bruce and I are just as thrilled by springtime as our 50 head of grass-fed beef cattle.
As much as I eagerly shed my winter coat and woolen hat, vegetation is also eager to take advantage of the warm weather. In the right conditions, grass will grow as much as six inches a week. That makes 12 inches in two weeks and 18 inches in three weeks.
This seems grand, doesn’t it? Lots of grass for cattle to graze on all summer, right? Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
Cattle can be picky eaters, and, understandably, they prefer the delicious, juicy, tender young greens. As grass grows, the stems get tough, and when it’s 16-inches tall, seeds appear.
Unless they’re starving, cattle will turn up their noses up at tough grass. After it’s gone to seed, forget about it.
When grass is young and tasty, the most tender bites are at the top of the stalk. Cattle will wrap their long, raspy tongues around the top six inches of a grass bundle and tear off a delicious bite.
They will repeat this until they are full, then they’ll inadvertently destroy their next meal – lying down and squashing perfectly good grass or wandering around the field, trampling it. This is the unlovely behavior of cattle.
But farmers have a solution: rotational grazing. Rather than let cows lay waste to an entire field of grass, they are sequestered in a smaller section. The size of the section depends on the number of cattle in the herd and the lushness of the vegetation.
Once the group is done eating a section, the farmer opens a gate to let them into another section. This way cattle have constant access to delicious, tender greens that make them fat and happy. And that makes me happy.
My cattle will watch for me, and when they see me arrive at the pasture, they’ll run to the gate. They know the routine, and they eagerly anticipate access to fresh greens.
Of course, rotational grazing takes management. Our herd quickly eats through the grass on our home farm, so then we move them to remote leased pastures – each unique. One is a former apple orchard, another was a hay field and another just a meadow that the landowner got tired of mowing.
Leasing remote pastures makes sense, but transportation isn’t easy. Farmer Roy Merrill of Loudon remembers when his grandfather used to walk with the cows on public roads to get them from one field to another.
In her book, “The Road Through Sandwich Notch,” Elizabeth Yates details how sheep and cows were herded their way between summer grazing inland and winter pastures on the New Hampshire seacoast. Cattle drives aren’t just the stuff of Western lore.
But times have changed, and most of our remote pastures are at least 20 miles away – quite a walk. So, we rely on our “cow taxi” to move cattle. It’s a 16-foot stock trailer that can hold six or seven adults or a dozen or so calves.
When the pickup drives up pulling the trailer, the cattle know it’s their ride to greener pastures. Many happily clamber into the trailer without much prompting. Others need a bit of motivation.
To encourage the reluctant, we set up portable stock panels, creating a small paddock attached to the trailer. Riding the ATV (four-wheeler), Bruce herds the reluctant ones into the corral, leaving them no option but to climb into the waiting trailer.
So, if you see our cow taxi driving by, please wave. And if it’s filled with cattle, know they are headed to greener pastures, most of them as happy as a millennial in an Uber heading toward a mocha latte.
Carole Soule and her husband, Bruce Dawson, co-own Miles Smith Farm in Loudon. She can be reached at email@example.com.