I can’t believe it is October already! This summer has flown by so fast. But the days are getting shorter and shorter. The nights are getting colder, too. The leaves are changing and the grass has all but stopped growing, meaning our pastures are preparing for their long winter’s nap.
We depend so much on our pastures through spring, summer, and fall. We rotationally graze our sheep and goats on pasture. We raise meat chickens on pasture. We take cuttings of hay from some of our pastures. We do our best to not overgraze. We spread compost to amend the soil; clip ungrazed weeds before they go to seed; and we have drain tile to keep problem areas from getting too soggy. We take care of our pastures because they take care of us.
But the shorter days and cooler nights mean we must expect less from our pastures. While the weather is still pleasant, the goats and sheep may need more time out on pasture and supervised time in the apple orchard to get enough to eat. The ladies are all bred and expected to have their babies shortly after Thanksgiving, so a nutritious and varied diet is vital. On rainy, dreary days, they’ll need a nice round bale or two from storage, tucked in the barn where they’ll munch away, happy and dry.
Some farmers will “stockpile” grasses in their pastures, ensuring their animals will be able to graze well into the winter months. Animals will paw at the eventual snow cover until they reach the grass, and then graze to their hearts’ content. This works well for particular breeds of cattle and sheep, especially those bred to thrive on grass in our winter climate. We do not stockpile for our goats and sheep, however, opting to house them in the barn over the winter. We bring the feed to them: hay and haylage that we made over the summer. I don’t know about other people’s goats, but ours do NOT like snow!
The colder fall nights make it slightly more challenging to grow plump chickens outdoors, too. For the coldest nights, we will push their shelters close together and sometimes close off the ends with tarps so that their body heat is preserved as much as possible. The cooler weather doesn’t bother them, per se, but rather more of their feed intake goes toward generating body heat instead of growing. (Farmer pro tip: We make money when the chickens grow!) We will be done with pastured chicken about the time the first snowflakes fly, and will resume in the spring.
As is always the case this time of year, my husband and I both fret about whether we have enough hay in the haymow and enough chicken in the freezer to get us through the winter. Have we done enough this summer to get us through the coldest months of the year? Is there time for one more cutting of hay?
The worry always reminds me of one of my girls’ favorite books when they were very little: “Frederick” by Leo Lionni. It’s an adorable little book about a family of mice that works hard all summer long, squirreling away every seed and nut they can for the long winter ahead. The exception is little Frederick, who doesn’t appear to work at all. When the family scolds him for not working, he tells them he is gathering the sun’s rays “for the cold dark winter days”; the colors of nature “for winter is gray”; and words “for winter days are long and many.”
Winter comes and the family of mice eventually eats all of its food stores, until nothing is left but crumbs. It is then that they ask Frederick about the supplies he gathered. They close their eyes as he describes the sun’s warm rays, the vibrant colors of the red poppy, the blue periwinkle, and the yellow wheat, and recites a poem about the seasons. His words bring them great joy and make the long winter days seem that much shorter.
As we inch toward the long winter season and allowing our pastures to rest, I have to remember to gather the sun’s rays and soak in the glorious colors of fall, for winter days are long and many!