Aric McBay Author, farmer, organizer.

8May/14Off

Column: Fresh grass has an amazing effect on livestock morale

Aric McBay - Out Standing in Our Field

Years ago I worked on a relative's sheep farm, down the road from us on Howe Island, to help with spring lambing.

One of the ewes had a rough delivery and was in a lot of pain afterward. She lacked all motivation and would simply lay on the floor of her stall. She refused to eat or drink. Her eyes looked glassy. She was bleeding a bit. The prognosis was not good.

Mary, the sheep farmer, decided to try putting the sick ewe out on pasture to see if she would eat there. It was still early in the spring so the sheep were mostly eating their winter hay while the first flush of new grass came in.

When we tried to herd the sick ewe out of the barn, she wouldn't move. She wouldn't even stand. So we drove the loader tractor up to the barn and literally rolled the sheep, gently, into the tractor bucket.

We drove across the barnyard to the edge of the pasture and opened the gate. As soon as the ewe saw the fresh grass she stood up, leapt from the bucket of the moving tractor, ran over to the pasture and began gorging herself on fresh grass. A few days later, she had completely recovered.

Imagine eating dry food through the darkest and coldest months of the year. After that, a succulent field of grass and clover and alfalfa is a banquet.

I live on a dairy farm, and every spring the calves born over the winter get to eat fresh grass for the first time in their lives. Sometimes I see them go out into the sunlit field and dip their heads to eat from the pasture. Oh, they must realize in pleasant surprise, so this is what it is to be a cow. And then they run around the field, jumping and bucking.

Our chickens, like chickens in general, disdain the feeling of snow on their feet. They will do anything they can to avoid stepping in snow and prefer to stay inside their spacious chicken house much of the winter. The return of grass is a welcome relief. I'm watching them right now as their flock systematically surveys the grass around their coop in search of particularly tasty sprouts or earthworms.

Everyone on the farm benefits from spring. Even the bumblebees seem ecstatic, floating from blossom to blossom on hawthorns in the hedgerow while most trees still have bare branches.

Spring on the farm provides treats to the senses that are often difficult to describe in words. The colour of the first flush of grass in the pasture impossibly green. It is greener than green. It's a luminous shade I've never seen reproduced in a photograph or a painting. It glows, seething with life.

It's a colour you can't match with a paint swatch; you'd best find a poet instead.

Or you could watch a sick sheep leap from a moving tractor to run to a new pasture, and imagine what she sees.

Aric McBay is a farmer and author. He lives and works at a mixed family farm with a dairy herd and a vegetable operation. For more about the vegetable CSA, visit rootradicalrows.com.

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