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Winter Check-up Time for Your Cows and Grass

By   /  February 23, 2015  /  2 Comments

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Check it out! While part of the country is covered in snow, just as much of the country is open.

Check it out! While part of the country is covered in snow, just as much of the country is open.

Editors Note: In some parts of the U.S. snow totals are well above normal and graziers are feeding their stock. Meanwhile, other parts of the country are having an open winter, and grass is still growing and cows are still grazing. So here’s an update from Jim for that part of the country. And even if you’re feeding your stock, there are some good pointers for body score condition, and where your cows and heifers ought to be as they enter calving and breeding season.

Cobb Creek Farm is located near Hillsboro, Texas

Cobb Creek Farm is located near Hillsboro, Texas

Here we are, about halfway through Winter, so it is a good time to assess both livestock and forage conditions. Hopefully you have been monitoring both on an ongoing basis, but we might want to take a closer look as we start looking forward to Spring. My expectation would be the cows are still grazing stockpiled pasture with some protein supplementation and growing stock are utilizing winter annual pastures by this time.

 If you have fall-calving cows with calves at side right now, how is their body condition holding up? Ideally, we would like to see those cows still carrying a BCS of 5, but if they have slipped down into the mid-to-high 4 range it’s no big deal since the cows should all be bred and Spring is in sight. If you wean calves to spring pasture, the cows will have more than enough time to get in shape ahead of the fall calving season.

With cows due to calve in the Spring on new grass, those cows should also still be at least BCS 5. If they are already slipping down into the high 4 range, you might want to change your grazing strategy by not asking the cows to graze quite as deep into the stockpiled warm-season grasses. Allowing a little more selective grazing opportunity could bump the protein and energy intake enough to stabilize their condition and maybe add a little more just as they start calving. You might find you need to up the supplement level as well.

IMG_0357-300x288With cows calving on Spring grass, the main thing that will determine how quickly they come back into estrous and breed is having them in a gaining state from calving to breeding. Whereas the recommendation use to be to make sure cows did not drop below BCS 5 at calving, we now know from several research programs around the country that a cow rising from a BCS of 4 at calving and reaching at least BCS 5 at breeding time has as good a probability of breeding on time as the cow that was held at BCS 5 throughout the calving period.  Where we get in trouble is when a cow continues to lose body condition after calving and doesn’t get turned around until the start of breeding season. (Need some help with Body Condition Scoring? We added an article this week to get you going!)

Now would be a good time to take another inventory of the stockpiled pastures you still have available for grazing and evaluate the growth and stand condition on any winter-annual pastures you may have seeded. Stockpiled warm-season grasses do continue to lose some of their nutritive value as Winter progresses. Taking some forage grab-samples from your pastures at this point might be a good idea so you can reevaluate your supplementation strategy.

Are your winter annuals at a point where they can be grazed yet? If you think it is too early, check the number of leaves on about ten individual tillers. If there are three fully developed leaves, it is safe to begin grazing as long as you move the stock on to a new paddock or strip every day or two. If you go on annual pasture at the 3-leaf stage and just park them there for a week or two or three, you will reduce the yield potential of that pasture. The ideal grazing stage to start at for most winter annual grasses is about 4 to 4 ½ -leaf stage. Waiting too long to begin grazing on annual pastures is just as detrimental to overall animal output from pasture as getting out too soon. It’s time to get out and check those pastures!

Jim will be teaching speaking at the Arkansas Grazing Lands Coalition Conference on March 11, 2016. For more info, please click HERE.

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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

2 Comments

  1. Logan says:

    Is there a lab that you would suggest for forage analysis?

    • Jim Gerrish says:

      Logan, I don’t have any particular lab to recommend. Whatever commercial or state lab that does feed or forage analysis in your area should be fine.

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