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Help Cows Adjust To Pasture
As with barn feeding, ease them in to new rations
When it's time for the cows to hit the pasture, it's a good idea to ease
them into it. "It's a lot like changing from one silo to another when
you're feeding in the barn," says Karen Hoffman, Cornell Cooperative
Extension dairy nutritionist and Graze-NY technical specialist. "If you
make a sudden switch, milk production will usually drop until the cows get used
to the new feed. But if you make the shift gradually you can minimize that dip."
Hoffman offers these tips to help your cows make a smooth
transition from barn-feeding to foraging on pasture:
early. The first grazing should begin when the forage is about 3 inches
tall. This will help you get staggered regrowth for subsequent grazings. (See
"When To Start Grazing Cool-Season Forages.")
slow. Limit cows to just 2 to 3 hours of grazing per day. Then gradually
increase their grazing period. This will give the populations of microbes in
the rumen a chance to shift to the ones best suited to digest fresh pasture
forage. Pasture intake should increase over the first week or so as you extend
their time on pasture and forage availability increases.
rations. Cut back on the forage you feed in the barn by about 10 pounds per
cow per day. Or if you feed a TMR, each day mix up a 5- to 10-percent smaller
batch for your herd, gradually cutting back until you reach the amount that you
intend to feed through the grazing season. "It's especially important for
cows that haven't had to forage much for their own feed to hit the pasture with
a little bit of an appetite," says Hoffman.
give in. When production falls off some and the cows new to grazing just
lay around chewing their cud or bellow to come back to the barn to be fed, the
worst thing you can do is bring them back and feed them more. "That just
teaches them that they can expect to get their fill in the barn and they'll
never learn how to graze," says Hoffman. Most all of them grazed as
heifers. Barn-feeding just suppresses their natural instincts temporarily, she
On the other hand, don't leave experienced cows on pasture
too long at first or they'll eat more than you want them to and refuse their
barn-fed ration. "You have to limit their grazing time to help them make a
gradual transition," suggests Hoffman.
grazers or experienced foragers, production should bounce back quickly once the
cows have gotten acclimated to pasture. Because the quality of the pasture
almost always exceeds the quality of barn-fed forages, production on pasture
usually peaks higher than it was in the barn.
worry. Manure will become looser because of the higher moisture and protein
levels in the pasture forage. But it's nothing to worry about. Displaced
abomasums aren't normally a problem either, like they are sometimes when feeding
wet haylage. "The grass plants are long and form a nice mat in the rumen,"
observes Hoffman. "The only time I've seen a displaced abomasum on pasture
was a case where they were supplementing too much grain."
pastures are more than 50 percent clover, alfalfa or other legume, feed dry hay
and wait until the dew dries before grazing, and consult your veterinarian about
other bloat preventive measures.
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