Most dairy cows in the US never experience the thrill of “Turn-out” day. In the old Vermont vocabulary, it is the day that the cattle are ‘turned out’ of the barn and onto the pasture for the grazing season. For months now, I have been looking at the dwindling stack of hay in the barn, taking inventory, dividing it by how many bales the cows eat each day, calculating how many days of feed are left, and then with some concern, counting the number of days to May 10th. That is the approximate day that Cynthia and I usually judge the pasture to be ready.

Some grazing farmers will turn out earlier, but I think it is like shooting one’s self in the foot. Those first few blades of grass or clover use the starches stored in the roots to get started. If the blade is nipped too early, the little plant won’t have root reserves, and lacks leaf surface to photosynthesize. By waiting a week or so longer, the plant gets off to a good start, and will reward us and the cows with more yield for the entire season.

We don’t leave them out for long on the first day, though. The rumen bacteria need to change their metabolism, and that takes about 3 days. Two hours on day one, four hours on day two, between milkings on day three, and then the cow’s biosystem is ready to go. With planning and observation, we will rotate the cows over the entire farm. They will harvest their own forage until barn time in November, and as they graze, they leave moist ‘thank-you’ donations for the soil microbiology. Just don’t step in one.

Best, for the Larson Farm Crew,