Now that we made it through March mud month and into April, green grass is coming on. We all get anxious to turn the livestock out on the new spring grass. Ideally you should have some winter stockpiled grass left that you have not grazed yet.
I remember Bud Williams mentioning at one of his Stockmanship schools that a grazier should have at least 1 blade of grass left in the spring that was not grazed off. What Bud was saying in his own way was that it doesn’t hurt to always have some grass available. You should never run out of grass, period. Bud went on to say that some people hate their grass so much that they burn it off in the spring. that is in the boot stage, where do we go from here? We have adopted the concept of take one bite of grass from the plant and leave. When we hit the spring flush time period, our grasses explode to maturity quite quickly. We increase our paddock size and go to multiple moves per day. This allows us to skim all our paddocks by taking one bite from the plant and leaving.
We manage the use of our winter stockpile so that we have enough forage to make it to boot stage on our new spring grass. What is boot stage? This is when your spring grass is just pushing a seed head up the sheaf of the plant, a swollen area that is very visible. Once the plant reaches boot stage, the animal’s performance skyrockets. This is like jet fuel to a cow. The cattle put on weight very quickly, winter hair coat is shed off, life is good.
We do not get every plant in the paddock grazed with one bite, but close to 80% of them. By grazing just the plant tips and moving the mob, the livestock get the very best portion of the plant. With leaving 2/3rds of the plant intact when we leave, we get maximum recovery because we left most of the solar collector intact. As the mob is moved forward across our farms, we are monitoring the re-growth on the very first paddock that we grazed in the boot stage that spring.
Our cows will aggressively go after new spring grass, but with each mouth full of new grass they are getting a little bit of the old fall grown stockpiled grass. This is our goal every year to be able to graze new and old grass with every bite taken together in early spring.
Our cows’ manure pats are perfect in the spring, no more runny stools on our cattle. Some folks put out dry hay to encourage the cows to balance their daily diet of spring grass. It can be tough to get cows to eat enough dry hay when they have nothing but green grass looking at them. Our cows have no choice because the old and the new grass are homogenously mixed together in the pasture sward with every bite they take. Much cheaper than putting out hay, plus very effective results.
Once the grasses get more mature the problem with runny stools goes away. I’ve seen water dripping off of cow’s tails from very runny manure back in the old days. The cows actually lost weight in the early spring, almost acted like they were starving to death trying to eat as much new green grass as possible. You sure don’t want your cows losing weight in the spring right before they are expected to calve. That is a wreck waiting to happen.
Also there was always a risk with grass tetany or some people call it grass staggers, very deadly. Grass tetany is more likely to occur when cattle are turned out on immature spring grass with low levels of magnesium. We never have lost an animal to grass tetany with the mixed grazing of old and new spring grass removed from the pasture sward with each bite.
By July the growing conditions for our cool season grasses have slowed down. A bit drier conditions are expected as normal by then. When we bring the mob around to this un-grazed portion of our farm, to say it looks pretty wooly would be an understatement. Everything that was green in the spring is now completely seeded out and much of it has turned brown. However our warm season grasses are starting to appear along with new re-growth followed by Korean lespedeza which is a true warm season legume.
Normally in June-July we can expect to have several cases of pinkeye pop up in the herd. We had two cases of pinkeye the whole summer out of 379 animals. I have found that pinkeye can make you humble. We are waiting till this summer to see if we can reproduce last year’s results. Maybe it was a fluke.
We hope you can benefit from our grazing example!
We need your help to meet the $15,000 annual match for our Conservation Innovation Grant. The grant keeps On Pasture going for the next 3 years, but only if we can meet the cash match. If we meet our goal this Spring, we won’t ask again in the fall. (And it’s our fourth birthday, so when you give we’ll send you a party favor as a thank you!)