Cattle Grazing 101
Raising cattle is certainly not a new idea for mankind, but the way that we do it has changed. There are many different ways to raise cattle, but this article will focus on a pasture-based, rotationally grazed system. Below are a few tips and tricks on housing and nutrition to keep your herd happy and healthy throughout the season!
Cattle are herbivores that thrive on pasture. They do exceptionally well when raised in a rotationally grazed system (regular and frequent movement onto fresh pasture). A model in this manner mimics their natural habits of herd migration. Frequent rotation of paddocks aids in the prevention of parasites, the promotion of overall animal health and the production of high quality forage.
Stocking densities (how many animals in a given area) will vary based on your location. For average stocking densities in your area we recommend consulting with your local extension agent. As you gain practice with rotational grazing, and learn about your animals and pasture you can adjust your stocking density. Over time this system will promote healthier forage and higher yields by evenly distributing nutrients and increasing organic matter, as well as reducing stress on plants in the pasture, which will increase the number of animals that your land can sustain.
Your setup can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Most farmers practicing a rotational grazing system prefer to have a sturdy perimeter fence with easy to move cross fencing, such as electric polywire. This provides a simple way to move your cattle, as well as adjust the size of your paddocks to suit current conditions and the needs of your animals.
Many believe that with the onset of winter the grazing season is over, and that you must feed your cattle hay. While this is often true, rotational grazing can be accomplished in the winter with careful planning and specific land management. Stockpiling of cool season forages (allowing pastures to remain ungrazed after summer) helps many graziers feed their cattle well into the winter, and some are even able to get through the entire winter without feeding a single bale of hay. On the other hand some farmers and ranchers do choose to winter their cattle in barns. If choosing this method we recommend that the facility be partially open and well ventilated. Regular barn cleanouts or practicing the deep litter method (layering a carbon source with the manure) are essential for animal health when overwintering inside.
If you are raising dairy cattle you will need to take into consideration your milking routine. Where will you be milking? If you are you a smaller homestead you may consider a portable stanchion that moves with your cows through the pasture. If you a dairy selling milk you will probably want to milk inside. In this case you will want to arrange lanes for your cows to walk to the parlor.
Whether you are raising strictly grass-fed beef or augmenting with grain, cattle can benefit from a rotational grazing system on a nutritional level. Proper nutrition is something that, given enough space, can be achieved fairly easily during the warmer months. There are many native warm season, perennial grasses likely to be found in your pastures. Some producers will choose to plant additional stands of warm season annuals for added nutrition. Some great options for planting include Cowpeas, 4010 Field Peas, Pearl Millet, and Sorghum Sudangrass. (Caution should be used when grazing Millet and Sorghum Sudangrass to avoid prussic acid and/or nitrate/nitrite toxicity.)
Rotational grazing is still possible during winter months, but does require some planning. Stockpiling forage during late summer and early fall can provide forage well into winter, if not the entire winter. It is important that you stockpile hardy, cool season grasses like fescue, because the nutritional quality of these grasses holds up better in winter conditions. If you are looking to improve your cool season perennial pasture you may consider Dutch White Clover or Medium Red Clover. Clovers are also great nitrogen fixing plants that will increase the quality and production of your pasture. If a winter stockpile is not available or feasible, supplemental hay should be provided. For those interested in supplementing or finishing their beef with grain we highly recommend the organic feed options from New Country Organics.
Just like beef cattle, dairy cows do very well in a rotationally grazed system. For high-producing animals, pasture alone may not provide enough nutrition. If you need to provide your animals with supplemental nutrition we offer a couple of good options. For farmers following a strict, grass-fed regimen we recommend our organic Alfalfa Pellets. For farmers feeding a grain ration, we recommend one of the excellent options from New Country Organics.
Just like people and other animals, cattle require vitamins and minerals. For the best health and performance results we always recommend providing mineral supplements free choice. We offer high-quality mineral supplements from Redmond, Thorvin and Sea 90.
Grazing cattle shouldn’t be a daunting task. The beauty of a mobile, rotational system like the one outlined above is that it is forgiving, and you can easily modify it to match your skill level and the needs of your farm. As always if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to one of our advisers!