Dear Real Food enthusiast,
Good day! I hope you are enjoying a pleasant fall. After I get home from flying and seeing the land from up high, I enjoy getting to work on the land and seeing cows enjoying their lives basking outdoors and munching away doing what cows do best. With ample moisture giving way to lush, green pasture fields, there is a semblance of Ireland around here. The cows are content, doing well, and looking great too!
Though fall is a splendid time of year on the Pasture’s Delights farm for both man and beast, it is also one of the most “tricky” times of the year for managing cows on grass. Fall time is fraught with multiple challenges when it comes to ensuring a no-grain, 100% grass-fed milk cow has all her nutritional needs met.
The #1 challenge of grass-based dairying (or beef finishing), is ENERGY. Our cows don’t get energy from grain, which dairy farmers typically depend on as their main source of concentrated energy. Reference how grain can be used to produce bio-fuels (ethanol, soy-diesel) as a source of energy for cars. Cows, some weighing as much as small cars, also need energy to move their big bodies and work hard producing milk. If we don’t give them grain for energy, then they do have to get energy by other means somehow.
First, let’s refresh our memories on where plant energy is found: Starches are found in “grassy” seeds (wheat, corn, oats), sugar is found in plants and fruits, and fats are found in both seeds and plants. Starches, like those from corn (corn starch) or wheat grain, are used to make bread and pasta (all those carbohydrates!). The sugar cane plant is used to make your standard white table sugar and also molasses. Fats (fatty oils) are found in your oil seeds: sunflower seeds, flax, soybeans, high oil corn, and peanuts—as well a small amount of fat that can be found in plant tissue other than the seed as well.
At Pasture’s Delights we do not like to feed starches (grains) because it can compromise milk safety with E Coli 0157:H7 resistance, and interferes with synthesis of the cancer prevention fatty acid known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). There are other reasons we do not feed grain to cows, but I’ll save that for another day. Today, our focus is on how we can ensure a cow has enough energy on grass-based diet in the fall.
Eliminating grains leaves us with (plant) sugar being the primary source of energy for our cows. As a grass-farmer, my primary goal is to get the sugar in the plants as high as possible in the plants to increase the sugar available to the cows for energy purposes. Incidentally, by the same token, increasing the sugar and increasing plant health is one and the same as plant sugar content is indicative of plant health. Insects will be less likely to attack a healthy plant because insects do not have a pancreas and cannot digest the sap of a plant that is relatively high in sugar.
As a side note, Monsanto and the chemical companies DO know about soil health affecting plant health, as this is first-hand information from a credible source from within the ag-chemical industry. Could selling products (i.e. herbicides) that sicken the soil biome where growing plants are, thereby, not afforded the best chance to be healthy, and then turning around and selling an expensive technological cure for the insect problems be a way to make more money? Just asking…
I don’t know about you, but I’m no spring chicken anymore! As we age and get older our energy levels tend to decrease. A typical person’s “heavy lifting” years is in their 20s and 30s when they have the energy and strength to accomplish more. The same kind of goes for a pasture plant. 60% of a typical year’s growth for a plant occurs in just two months, May and June. Sunlight (energy) is one critical aspect of a plant having more energy (to grow) during this time: there are simply more daylight hours for the plant to capture the sun’s energy for the photosynthesis process. Moisture is also necessary for production and typically plentiful at this time. Last but not least, adequate soil mineral bio-availability is critical. It is in the spring when the soil is teaming with the highest amount of bacteria activity. Bacteria break down organic matter, free up nutrients such as nitrogen, and also team up with phosphorus to make it available to the plants.
Having the right mix of sunlight, moisture, and bio-available minerals is necessary for a plant to make sugars.
Both as a grazing consideration, and especially for harvesting excess pasture for baled hay, we desire to cut our fields in the middle of the afternoon at the apex of when plants are manufacturing their sugars, so that it can be stored for winter time feed.
In the fall we have several factors working against us.
- Day length: less hours of day length simply means less sugar (energy) production.
- Bio-available soil nutrition: Butter from grass-fed cows in the springtime is known to be chocked full of nutrition, due to the plants having more nutrients themselves which is an extension of the mineral / nutrition availability in the soil. The polar opposite is plant nutrition during the fall, which is far less than what it is during the spring.
- To exacerbate the situation, once the temperatures start cooling it signals the plants to make long term preparations as they begin moving energy and nutrition to their roots, further reducing energy and nutrition available to grazing livestock.
- Another nuance with grazing or haying is we actually do want the plants to store nutrition to ensure plant vitality the following spring, so we do not want to hay or graze too much before the plants go into winter dormancy when the “killing” frost happens.
Here is what we do to help ensure the cows are getting the energy they need:
We feed molasses. One pound of molasses plant sugar can substitute for three pounds of corn.
We supplement at the bunk with a variety of baled forages that has more energy than the fall pastures.
We include Apple Cider Vinegar (source of acetic acid, and goodies) into the water. This helps with the creation of Volatile Fatty Acids from plant material, a crucial source of energy for making milk and butterfat.
These are just some of the nuances of grass-based raw milk dairying in the fall. As you are preparing for your harvest celebrations this autumn, think of the plants and animals—for their nourishment is your nourishment. Until next time, on behalf of the entire Pasture’s Delights team, I wish you lots of wellness and happiness!
Farmer Mark Grieshop