Farmhand's Journal : Fields of green
"It's like watching grass grow," we say about something that couldn't be more boring. But on the farm, grass growing is an exciting spectacle, and farmers notice minute differences in their pastures from one day to the next. They check on their grass the same way they check on their animals or tomato plants.
It is amazing how fast the fields go from a sad, brown, barren, wintry wasteland to a sea of green lush clovers and growing blades of thick grass. It seemed like we went from feeding our cows 15 bales a day to feeding them two in a week just by moving them to a new field. But it is not just the arrival of spring that turns death into life. Most farmers put a lot of thought and energy into properly managing their pastures and properly grazing their animals.
Cows, sheep, and goats all fall into the category "ruminants." A few of us have probably heard this word before, but maybe we didn't quite understand it. A ruminant is simply a mammal whose stomach is actually divided into four parts: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum.
Each part has a different role in digesting food for the animal. Ruminants have the ability to survive completely on forage, a task we humans certainly cannot do. Cows and sheep in particular thrive on a natural pasture setting and because of this we raise our animals completely on grass. We spend long hours in the summer cutting, raking, baling, and stacking hay to feed the animals through the winter. This means the animals get to eat the same grass in the winter that they graze on in the spring, summer, and fall, albeit in a drier form.
However, grass-based farming is certainly time-consuming. I started off the week by moving the cows to their fourth pasture so far this year. It is still early in the grass-growing season so we move the animals through quickly to avoid stunting the future growth of the grass.
Moving cows to a new field normally goes like this: The cows stare at me as I walk over. They know just as well as I do that the grass in their current field just isn't cutting it anymore. They bellow and moo loudly as I set up the new fence and make sure that it is electrified. At that point my work is pretty much done. All I have to do is open the fence and say "Hey cows! Come on girls!" and all at once a herd of 800- to 1,000-pound bovines dances across the field with a series of synchronized skips and trots and finally rushes gratefully through the open gate.
Sometimes it's not always this easy. One particular day I watched from the other side of the pasture as two other farm workers attempted to move the cows to a new pasture. When they opened up the fence and called, the herd turned their heads and regarded me across the field with their wet onyx eyes. The workers pleaded and cajoled without success. The cows were not going into their fresh pasture. Then I walked over to the gate and called them through, and one by one they paraded through the opening. Luckily, when I am not around they seem to move to a new field just fine.
The gardeners at the farm seem to be dealing quite a bit with grass as well this time of year. Unfortunately for them, grass is a nuisance. To a gardener grass means nothing but frustration and hard work. Springtime means getting beds ready by removing anything that has popped up since the last harvest in the fall. It is important to start seeds or seedlings in a freshly groomed bed because grass and other plants create competition for the plants we want to grow for food. Many hours are spent in the garden digging out pesky grass while at the same time at the same farm we are moving the chickens around the pastures in order to fertilize the fields and make the grass grow faster and better. One man's trash really is another man's treasure, if you can think of that in terms of grass.
So we are all watching grass grow; farmers, gardeners, mowers are all doing our part, fertilizing, grazing, mowing, and watering. For the gardeners, this is time for spring cleaning, grass-style, while for livestock farmers it's more like Christmas time with fields full of thin, tiny green presents.