What's a sacrifice area you may ask? When I first heard this term I pictured an area where cult members found the fattened black calf and sacrificed it to their god. Don't worry, there is no actual animal sacrifice going on.
Building a Winter Lot
While reading the Beef Cattle: Keeping a Small-Scale Herd for Pleasure and Profit (Hobby Farm) my husband, David and I came across the term "sacrifice area". This is an area where cattle winter. We live in Wisconsin where the grass stops growing in about December. We do not get consistent snowfall to help protect the ground from the hooves, and after being in this lot all winter, grass just will not grow. This is a sacrifice, since it is ground that is not necessary.
We decided to put our sacrifice area behind the barn. It is well protected from the winter winds, it doesn't have as much snow, and the barn blocks the loud mooing during the day. They will also be close enough to project against predators.
Designing Your Sacrifice Area
There are a few things to keep in mind when designing how you want your sacrifice area to look. One is where the water runs. Try to locate the area on the high ground so if you do have a wet winter, the water run off keeps the ground from becoming overly muddy. Two, keep in mind where the manure will go. The ground will most likely be frozen solid which means manure will not seep into the ground. If it stays too long the cattle will walk on it and you'll have a bigger mess on your hands. So try to locate your sacrifice area near the manure pile so in the middle of winter you aren't trying to wheelbarrow it out.
The fencing should be the most secure in this area. In our other pastures we are putting solid wood pieces every four t-posts. In the sacrifice area it will be every other. Your cattle will be spending a lot of time in one spot - don't let the fence be flimsy or you will be those people with cattle on the road.
Why Cows Shouldn't Be on Pasture in Winter
In the Winter, the weather is very inconsistent - some days it's rainy, some days it frozen solid. Livestock on a wet pasture will kill the grass, compact the soil, and potentially create mud (especially if near the water source). Constant grazing tramples and weakens the grass. Cows on that pasture will compact these saturated soils because of their size and their weight. Weeds are then more likely to crop up due to the decline in grass health. If you believe in rotational grazing, by the time the cattle are off that pasture, there will be no pasture left. This will then require you to buy grass feed and replant the pasture. Now there will be a lack of nutrients and rich soil.
Having a winter lot may seem like a lot of work to set up but it will be worth it when you aren't going outside all the way to the end of the pasture to feed your cattle. Obviously this is only for the smaller farm. If you have over 100 head of cattle, putting them on a smaller lot might not be manageable - just think of picking up that much manure!
We are headed to start putting up our sacrifice area's fencing. Good luck for all of you doing the same! And don't forget... Manure Happens.
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