Look at Your Cows to Figure Out If They Need New/Bigger Paddock

Do you know if your cattle are getting enough forage? Are your paddocks big enough or is it time to move your herd to their next pasture? These tips from Jay and Krista Reiser will help you answer these questions and more.

In addition to improving the soil and forage health, Jay and Krista were also providing forage for cattle and deciding how much pasture to give them on a daily basis is no easy thing and requires a trained eye. Jay said their best indicator of how well they were doing was often the animals themselves. If they were content and not bellering, they had enough feed. They checked manure for indications that the cattle were getting a good balance of protein and energy and added a straw bale occasionally when runny manure showed too much protein in the diet. Dry/brown grass in pasture could also serve the same purpose.

Because sugars are higher in grasses after a morning of photosynthesis, the Reisers tended to move cattle in the afternoons, but as the summer heated up, this didn’t work as well. Instead of heading into the next paddocks when the batt latch gates opened at 2:00 and 4:00 p.m., the cattle sometimes headed to water at noon and stayed there until it got cooler before heading to the next pasture. Jay and Krista adjusted by moving cattle in the morning and then in the evening, working with the times the animals would naturally graze.

Gut fill was also an important indicator of whether or not animals were getting enough to eat. The picture below shows where you’d look to check gut fill. This cow has poor gut fill because the picture was taken the day the cows had been worked and had spent 8 hours in a corral before being turned back out to pasture.

Gut fill 1

Here’s a picture of what Jay wanted his cattle to look. This cow’s rumen full.

Full Rumen

He describes this picture as indicating that it’s time to move the cattle to a new paddock.


We hope this helps you as you’re working on paddock design and sizing. If you’ve got other tips and hints, share them with your On Pasture Community in the comments below!

This article is part of a series we published in 2015 – 2016 about their answers to the question: Is it possible to adapt mob grazing to work on large scales and native rangelands like their 2700 acre ranch in North Dakota? Enjoy!

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

The 7th National Grazing Lands Conference is coming up in December and it’s one of On Pasture’s favorites. One of the things that makes it so great is that folks just like you are the speakers, sharing their great experiences. Learn more about how to be a speaker here. And learn more about the event here.


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