Just get Started
Here in Central PA we can really grow grass! For six weeks you can find grass to graze without much effort. If you want that grass to last more than six weeks it is going to take a little planning. It can be done, but you have to take control. If you are hoping to get a little more out of it than exercise here are the rules:
If this is your first year- ignore pasture as a feed
There is a limit on how much grass you can stuff down a cow’s throat. If you chop it, you did all the work so she can eat more. If you want her to graze it herself she better not have to search hard to find a mouthful of feed. Your plant density has a long way to go in the beginning. It’s a fact that a cow will get tired of eating before she gets full. In your first year don’t worry if they eat it, and don’t worry if they don’t. Just get them outside, run the stink off of them.
Ignore anyone that sells feed for a living-
They just don’t have a clue on how to incorporate grass into your ration. I don’t care if you only feed round bales or if you run everything through a tmr, there will be no need to change what you are doing until you get to 10 lbs of dry matter consumed per cow. You will most likely never approach 10 lbs a cow for even a week a year if you are using one set stocked field.
Add one paddock
I don’t care what your system looks like now. If you have one 20 acre lot make it two 10 acre lots. If you are a “diligent mover” of giving the cows new grass everyday make it new grass twice a day. If you are already moving the fence 6 times a day -I don’t think you are crazy- but I know that there are days it only gets moved 4 times and you somehow justified it to yourself even though you really just fell asleep in your Keystone Ice.
If you are playing with fence-
Spring gates sound nice but in reality they suck. Use bungy gates instead or polywire in spots where you are unsure of how to proceed. You can also check out the 20 biggest mistakes in the history of hot fence.
There is more to gain in increased cow comfort than there is to gain in feed savings.
Ever heard of a pasture mat? We have spent years trying to mimic the comforts of a grassy knoll on a overcast breezy late spring day. Feeding some grass is great but the cow comfort benefits will outweigh the slight drop in feed costs. Cows will do whatever routine you choose. Day and night turnout in the spring. Only nights in the summer. Day turnout in the fall. All graziers start here, don’t reinvent the wheel.
Blanket worming is ridiculous
Every vet in the world will insist you worm your cows. You can. I don’t. But you can. I don’t really care, but I am not going to tell you that you have too.
Fertilizer is silly.
You can and probably should apply fertilizer of some sort if you are just starting with a new field (compost, manure, liquid, dry, chicken litter, lime-it’s all in play here) . Only on one condition though- you rotate the cows. It makes no sense to apply fertilizer to 20 acres 3 times a year and then just turn out 60 cows to run all willy-nilly on it. You will never be able to harvest the dry matter from the growth that the fertilizer provided and you will not get any controlled trampling either. Practice some kind of rotation if you want to see an advantage from fertilizer.
The cheapest way to increase fertility is by feeding hay wherever you want grass to grow in the future. Never feed hay in the same spot- keep moving. Bale grazing is my favorite way to do this.
Ear tags make good field markers.
If you are going to rotate-
Record where you are and when you are there. I don’t care if you only have 2, 10 acre lots. The first one is called number 1 and the second one is called number 2 and you write it on the calendar the day you turned the cows into number one and then the day you turned the cows into number 2. In early spring give each side one week. In summer give each side 2 weeks. By fall invest $100 in a reel and polywire to turn your 2 pastures into 4.
In my system I just add five days at each rotation.
I started on 4/15 for 15 days
- 5/1 20 days
- 5/21 25 days
- 6/16 30 days
- 7/17 35 days
- 8/22 40 days
- 10/1 45 days
- 11/16 50 days
- Sometime in December close the gates for the year
It sounds simple but that method has put me really close to the grass growth curve and lets me build some stockpile by already having a 40- 50 day rest for my grass into the fall months. I am typically closing the gate on my pastures in December, grazing grasses that have been growing since October. The “slow down” approach produces a lot of forage to eat- full mouthfuls.
If you want to graze cattle your first tool should be some type of grazing chart. At the very least track the number of days between grazings. The robust looking fella in the picture above uses a chart that just shades in a cell where the cows were that day . Across the top would be the date and on the left would be the paddock number. In this system there are not numbers out in the pastures but there is a map of all paddocks with the field labels and paddock acreage size on them.
This is one of my grazing charts. I fill in the number of cows that were in the pasture instead of shading in the cells. I used the blank space to track pen counts and milk per cow for the group.