Home Grazing Gear Up For Grazing Contents Help Cows Adjust To Pasture

Sustainable Farming Connection
Where farmers find and share information.

Help Cows Adjust To Pasture
As with barn feeding, ease them in to new rations gradually.

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:

Start 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.")

Go 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.

Adjust 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.

Don't 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 adds.

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.

Whether green 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.

Don't 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."

If 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.

Top of Page

Home Grazing Gear Up For Grazing Contents Help Cows Adjust To Pasture

©1997 Committee for Sustainable Farm Publishing

Please read about our usage permission policy and disclaimer.

Send comments, suggestions and questions to the site author:
Craig Cramer cdcramer@clarityconnect.com

Coded using HoTMetaL Pro 3.0. Best viewed in Netscape 3.0 or later.
Please see our credits page for more information.