Like many I pay a lot of attention to the changing seasons and enjoy the cooler days and evenings that Autumn brings to us here on Long Island. Our pastures are primarily filled with cool season perennial grasses and clovers, and this means that once September and October roll through our pastures are booming with growth again. It’s a very special time of year, and if you’ve ever thought about visiting our ranch now is a great time to ring us and schedule a tour (631-731-2520). We welcome our customers and community to see and learn of the work we do.
But the cold will be here very soon and our workplans are geared to getting ready for the winter. I thought it would be interesting to provide some perspective on the projects we are most focused on here at the farm during the cooler seasons.
We produce beef year-round. However, our management intensive grazing practices largely follow the growing season of our grasses, and from November to March there is not much grass growing. In these growth-free months we choose to focus on a few key areas: prepping our pastures for the next growing season, giving our team some much needed relaxation, making sure our equipment is ready to go come Spring, and infrastructure upgrades that will allow us to work more efficiently and keep the farm growing.
This Fall we are seeding our pastures with cool season grasses that need to be refreshed. This year we will be refreshing our perennial ryegrass. We apply ryegrass using our no-till drill so as not to disturb the soil. Our no-till drill allows us to promote soil health by avoiding the need to plough. We’ve not ploughed our pastures for the last six years and it’s made a big difference to our regenerative efforts. Up until last year when we purchased our own no-till drill we had been using a drill owned by the Suffolk County Water Authority (“SCWA”). I mention this because not a lot of our customers know that the SCWA has been a great resource to our ranch. The SCWA team is comprised of experts in soil health practices, and they have been consulting us since we started our ranch years ago. They also lend equipment to farmers and ranchers that promote soil health practices. We are grateful for their support. And we are grateful for your Suffolk County tax dollars that fund their efforts.
In late Winter, we will broadcast white and red clover in the pasture. We take advantage of the tiny cracks in the soil’s surface that are caused by natural freezing and thawing activity, allowing the small clover seeds to drop into the soil cracks. This also allows us to keep the soil undisturbed. Clover is not only a great source of nutrition for our cattle come Spring, but it also naturally improves the nitrogen content of our soil, allowing our grass to grow healthier and stronger – eliminating the need to apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to our pastures.
We also use the Fall and Winter months to evaluate individual sections of our pastures. If we find an area that’s underperforming, we distribute compost from our on-farm composting operation or mark it as a feed area for the winter. Our cattle eat bales of grass hay during the winter. When we bale feed on the pasture, we are depositing nutrients from outside our farm (i.e., the purchased hay) directly onto our pasture. The uneaten hay, cattle manure and urine are a great source of fertilizer for these depleted areas. Taking a targeted approach like this has yielded tremendous results that are immediately obvious come Spring with large patches of lush green grass denoting where we strategically placed our bales of hay.
We like to say that Fall and Winter are time for us to fix “all things metal” on the farm. This can be fences, corrals, tractors, trucks etc. Essentially any piece of equipment either mobile or stationary that will be of use during the grass growing season. Once the pasture greens-up it’s all hands-on deck and we don’t have time for things like broken tractors or leaky trucks. Rather, we spend our time on the pasture managing our herd and need our equipment to be ready and waiting for us to do the work.
Winter planning and infrastructure improvements are a moving target for us. These change year to year and sometimes we don’t even know what they will be before Winter when we give ourselves the opportunity to daydream a bit. As of now, we’re looking into ways to irrigate our pastures, so we’re protected from future droughts. As the effects of climate change continue to make themselves evident, we believe this will be an important update to our infrastructure and the long-term sustainability of our farm. Beyond this, we can’t say! New beef products, website upgrades, improvements to our subscription service… The sky is the limit, and we can’t wait to show off what we dream up!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Winter is a time for us to rest ourselves. Yes, there is still work to be done, and yes there are still cattle to care for; but the grass fueled machine runs slower. Winter gives us a reprieve from the breakneck pace of Summer, allowing us to rest up, spend time with loved ones and return in full fighting form come Spring.