In traditional farming, there comes a time of year in the early spring when one must lock their animals away in a paddock. This happens when the grass begins to green-up, and the purpose in doing this is to let the pasture get a good start before beginning the season's rotation of the grazers. The paddock they are kept in for this period, usually lasting a month and a half or two, is called a "sacrifice area," as it is sorely used by the animals and nothing much remains but dirt. But it is worth this sacrifice for what it does for the rest of your farm. The period the animals are kept off the fields is traditionally called, "The Hungry Gap," for the animals are hungry for grass during this gap in their freedom, and like their wild counterparts, in their lowest condition of the year. In addition, the horses have already been working the ground, and the mares may have been carrying babies to near-full term. Gwyneth worked right up to the day before giving birth this time around. This is something working horses have long been doing, and it is actually good for producing uncomplicated births to work the mothers close to the day of arrival.
This year, the hungry gap ended for us on May 21st. (A couple of days before this was when Gwyneth gave birth. Our first baby Clydesdale of the season, a lovely young filly.) The animals, some thin and even a bit bony from a too-long, if fairly flaccid winter, were eager as always to get out on the grass.
Every day or at most two, our herd is moved from one small pasture to the next, given only enough area to graze off completely in that brief period. The patch is not then grazed again until the grass has come back fully. This is called "Mob Grazing," and is the most efficient way to maximize the health of your pasture and the volume of grass, especially when it is a mixed herd doing the grazing, as different grazers eat the grass in a different fashion. Horses crop it down close and prefer shorter grass, for instance, while yaks and cows use their big tongue to encircle a swath of the tall stuff and pull it into their mouth.
Our first paddock, the one we traditionally break the gap with, is a mixed aspen-balsam-spruce savannah, a small patch of considerably less than an acre. The animals love it in there, it is cool and lush, and they sure are a pleasure to behold in this setting. Soon their condition will be noticeably improved, and in no time they will be back in prime shape.
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