What Your Livestock Think About Your Pasture

Editors Note:  This is the second in a series by Darrell exploring what's going in your pasture from your animal's point of view. Here's the link to Part 1. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant where all of the menu items have been dumped in a big pile on the floor? Your favorite food is in that pile some place. Using only your eyes to locate the food and your lips to separate the spinach from the spaghetti, go ahead and enjoy. And by the way, don’t forget to put gas in the car, pick up the dry cleaning, take your kids to hockey practice, and be home in less than an hour to watch on television your favorite fishing show “Salmon Showdown.” I am thinking I would remember where that restaurant is located and not make the mistake of going back. As it turns out, while the tasks are different, your livestock have a lot more to do than just walk around eating too. They have to ensure they do not become something else’s food, they socialize, reproduce, tend to their young, groom, thermo-regulate, seek out water and drink it, as well as locate their own preferred foods, ruminate or digest the foods eaten, defecate, urinate, and rest. With all of these activities competing for attention, it is obvious that grazing animals do not have a lot of time to spend on simply grazing, and thus when they do, it is to their advantage to be able to maximize their intake

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3 thoughts on “What Your Livestock Think About Your Pasture

  1. The idea of maximum foraging time and efficiency for livestock tends to match my experience this winter. While windrow grazing under a center pivot, cattle were allowed new forage around 4 pm each day. No back fence allowed them to move freely back into the area under the pivot and corner fields previously grazed.

    Around 3:30 pm, the cattle moved from various locations and lined up along the pivot (a hot wire along the pivot protected stockpiled windrows). When the pivot was moved forward for 6 minutes, the cattle foraged on the new feed till dark, and again early the next morning. They then moved to areas where forage quality was much less, and loafed or grazed a little picking up forage or turnips they had missed earlier.

  2. How does this relate to using stockpiled standing forage for winter grazing as we have been told that standing winter forage
    is usually of higher quality than most hay– or is it another reason for keeping the stems and seed heads grazed off prior to winter?

    1. The “Law of Least Effort” never goes away and it always extracts a price either in reduced animal performance or in the cost of providing supplemental food.

      In the case of winter grazing stockpiled forages, I think we need to keep in mind the primary reason for grazing in the first place is that there is no way in which to harvest a ton of forage cheaper than by letting the critter harvest it for itself. Thus the longer one can have animals harvesting their own food the lower the cost of production. Grazing stockpiled forages simply extends the concept.

      The questions are, are your animals harvesting food and maintaining body condition or are they just eating stuff and losing condition?

      Keep in mind, the quality of the stockpiled forage depends on the kind of plants you are stockpiling, how long it has been stockpiled before you turn your animals in, and the weather. Thus stockpiled forages may be higher in quality, lower in quality, or similar in quality to hay.

      Thus, to keep the “Law of Least Effort” from eating away your profits, I recommend that you monitor your animal’s body condition and respond as appropriate.

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