The shift from hard soil and brown thatch to that hopeful verdant glimmer happened fast. First it was the perennials, of course. The ones we’d grazed in late July, cleared of thatch from the moment the rain and temperatures both dropped, shot up to three inches without my noticing.
The annuals have followed suit, though having to establish their own roots they are only a couple of inches tall. They mostly seem to germinate at the same time, though there is a lag amongst those seeds that were buried under the handful of acres on a lofted ridge where the herd took a couple of weeks to adjust to eating brown forage in early June. They trampled most of it down—too much, and ate too little—before their guts, tongues, and attitudes adjusted. These little adjustment periods are just another reason to have a degree of deliberate randomness in one's grazing plan, so that the same acreage isn't treated the same way each year.
This will be an interesting place to observe. Will the perennials have a significant leg-up on the delayed annuals? Will this last the season? How long until the annuals vault up and through their uneaten litter, now serving as a mulch of sorts?
I feel the time getting away from me. For so long I have had these flickering questions in mind, but with the vegetation in near-stasis I couldn’t find out much. Now, it’s game on! Watching grass grow: I am winning at this game.
In other news, it’s bay nut season. With a fruiting pattern illegible enough to make James C. Scott proud, Umbelullaria Californica is one of the most resilient native species and according to Pepperwood Preserve’s initial analysis as part of their TBC3 collaborative, it won’t blink an eye at any of the climate projections—neither a hot, dry nor cool, wet future will send the species beyond its current range.
I’ve not roasted them yet, but have been noting fruitful trees and slowly building my cache a pocketful at a time, mostly for my more creative culinary friends.
Today I noticed a couple of interesting things by a favorite tree. First, it appears that something is eating the green flesh off of the nuts. Some of the nuts are totally stripped of flesh; others just have bites.
Are they eating the flesh or are they just eating enough to discern whether the nuts are ripe? Why would they be doing that when there are so many hundreds of “perfect” ripe nuts on the ground (dried and glossy)? I’m guessing it’s some rodent that enjoys the fatty avocado-like flesh, if only in small quantities.
Second, there was a little hut of sorts at the base of a bay—a perfect arrangement of branches with cozy flat spot beneath for some midsize mammal to rest its bones. Perhaps it’s the elegant work of a scrappy wild sow. Either way, it’s only fear of fleas that kept me from resting there myself.
Back to grass. In the shift from Spring to Summer the cows forwent ingesting the brown ligneous thatch for about a week until they relented and their rumens adjusted. (This area is the aforementioned acreage with matted down but undigested litter that will be interesting to observe). For many subsequent months they were happily chowing down on dense brown material, charging into new pastures with almost as much fervor as when the grass on the other side of the fence is green, not brown.
Now, with perennials growing and annuals germinating, I am seeing them once again ignore the dry grass favor of anything green. The trouble here is not just a lack efficient utilization of forage (ie, less bang for the buck) but also that they are forgoing removing or effectively trampling the thatch in favor of more carefully snipping out the tender bits beneath.
Like many things, this can probably be addressed with higher density. Simply holding them longer is not a viable option when annuals are trying to germinate and grazed perennials are trying to grow without being grazed again.
At present we are focusing our efforts on grazing a contiguous piece of property that is aptly and intimidatingly dubbed the Bald Hills. Successfully moving water through a canyon and back up again to water the herd is the task of water wizard Aaron Lucich; I am learning what I can through osmosis for now but look forward to the debrief once the pieces are in order. It's in part challenges like this that have dissuaded ranchers from grazing land in accordance with its needs, and much of our work involves un-doing years of poor grazing compounded with over rest.
We're herding the animals over on Monday with some helpful confederates and then begins my real work of intelligently and effectively grazing exceptionally steep grassland. I'm spooked by the endeavor, but then I see this rainbow stretched over that land and decide to trust that effort and intention are, sometimes, enough.