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The Why's and How's of
By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind.
manage a seasonal herd on pasture?
For starters, here are seven
- Single milking-herd management. I like seasonal dairying because
it allows the management of even a large herd as one group. The grain needs of
all cows are similar, and so one grain mix can be fed to all cows. Handling the
herd as one group reduces management time and eliminates the need to have a
separate dry herd. There are only three groups of livestock on the farm: the
milk cows, the bred heifers and the baby calves.
- Sync nutritional needs and pasture growth. With a
spring-freshening seasonal herd, the cows all reach their peak forage needs when
the grass is at its most rapid growth stage.
- Easy feeding in winter. Less feed is needed in winter because a dry
cow does not eat as much as a milking cow. The quality can be lower because the
dry cow needs maintenance-quality feed, where a milking cow needs much higher
quality if she is to produce large amounts of milk. We have found that good
manure distribution can be attained winter-feeding under
a breakwire, and little or no fertilizer is needed on these paddocks the
- Minimal housing requirements. In Indiana our normal snow cover is
about 8 inches and temperatures seldom fall below -10 F. So cows can be fed in
the paddocks all winter with no concern about frozen teats or udders. Housing
is only needed on extremely windy days. So most of the cows' manure is left in
the paddocks, reducing the amount of time spent hauling.
- Downtime for repairs. Milking facilities are vacant for at least
six weeks during winter, allowing downtime for major maintenance and repair
- Concentrated calving. Calves are all born during a concentrated
calving window. This allows raising calves in large groups. There is less
competition because the calves are similar in size. All vaccinations and other
concerns can be handled by the veterinarian at one time, reducing trip charges.
Calf-raising facilities are vacant for at least eight months allowing for good
sanitation and virtually no disease carryover.
- Easy heat detection. All cows are in the same stage of estrus.
Cows interact and show standing heats better when they are all open and cycling
at the same time. There are fewer total hours needed for heat detection, with
detection only needed for a three-month period. There is less time spent
checking barns for calving cows, with no barn checks ten months of the year.
had a year-round freshening herd and made the transition to seasonal management
over a three-year period. We began by delaying breeding by up to 60 days with
cows that were normally fresh in late summer and fall. We also began breeding
early-summer calvers about 30 days earlier.
After three seasons, we
had 90 percent of our cows calving in spring. We then began selling cows as
springers or late-lactation milkers to other dairymen. We had enough heifers to
replace those cows we sold. We now make no exceptions for cows that don't breed
back in our six-week window. You must be willing to cull any cow that doesn't
conceive on time.
We only kept heifer calves born in our six-week
freshening window. I believe we could continue to improve fertility if we would
only keep heifers from the first three weeks of freshening.
Some of the
keys to get cows to conceive on time include learning to be more intense about
heat detection and selecting sires that have higher conception rates. Most
breed associations and stud services say that fertility is not a highly
heritable trait. I disagree with that statement. I believe that the reason
that it has not shown to be more highly heritable is because it has never been
the first criteria of selection. For that reason the percentages come out
In 1996, we bred all cows to New Zealand sires. New Zealand has had
seasonal, pasture-based management for many years, and for that reason they have
culled cows that don't fit their tight breeding window. Therefore, it stands to
reason that the cows they keep would be those with higher levels of fertility.
For that reason we are willing to gamble that their sires also carry that trait.
We also hope to reduce the size of our animals, feeling that a smaller animal
eats less to maintain body condition, thus allowing for more feed to go into
We also believe that it is important to keep stress levels low when
handling the animals at breeding time. For that reason, we move the animals
daily through the breeding pens for 30 days prior to the start of breeding.
Then when we breed they are not stressed when we catch them.
the many rewards from our seasonal system have been.
I hope that you experience the same
benefits when you make the switch to seasonal, pasture-based dairying.
- Optimum use of pasture.
- Much lower grain costs.
- Less equipment needed.
- More profit per cow because of lower input costs.
- Less operator stress in the winter months.
- More family time year-round.
- Fewer calving problems because the cows get more exercise in the winter,
walking to the paddocks for feed.
©1997 Committee for
Sustainable Farm Publishing
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