Improve your pasture for happier cows

Sunnybow Farm has been in my family for the past 50 years. There have always been cattle grazing these pastures whether dairy or beef.

Three years ago my husband, Zac and I took over the family farm. Ownership wasn’t the only change that was going to take place on this 65-acre farm. We had, and still have, big plans to make improvements and changes on this farm.

Time for change

This first major change to take place was the grazing program. I’ll admit it, our pastures were well over grazed and lacked nutritional values for many years. The pastures were just not managed very well — there was not a grazing plan being used. Sure, we brush hogged the pastures in the late summer and kept the cows in the barn throughout the winter months, but that was about it.

By no means were our cows ever hungry, trust me; they’ve always been well taken care of, just not the pastures. We didn’t prevent the cows from eating all of the good stuff down to the dirt. When that happens it sure doesn’t come back very well. You need to give your fields a rest throughout the grazing season.

A makeover for Sunnybow Farm began three years ago with a lot of personal research and homework, and helpful advice and guidance from SWCD and NRCS.

First steps

To begin the improvements we started out testing nutritional values in the soil, and adding nutrients where needed. Permanent fencing was put up around the pastures and hayfields to aid in the rotational grazing program that was put together.

Last year we developed a spring tank water system to aid in drying up the hayfield, which helped significantly. Water hydrants were added throughout the pastures and hayfields with two pressurized water lines.

Adding these features allowed us to create more paddocks further away from the original water sources. Doing so has also relieved the stresses of walkways to the water. Rotational grazing has another perk that benefits the pastures — more even distribution of manure throughout the fields. Before the cows would all would congregate in the same areas, now they are forced to cover all areas of the fields. This allows cheap fertilization in the pastures and hayfields.

In just one year we noticed quite a difference, but in three years, wow! Just applying proper management practices to our grazing program and adding some bonus features has resulted in major improvements on the farm.

We have made things easier — or I should say more efficient — with added waterlines and permanent fencing. The difference in pasture productivity and health is amazing. Thanks to adding the hayfields to the grazing program, we are grazing well into late November and December.

Grazing experts

The cows have also become rotational grazing experts. They know when it’s time to move and sometimes let us know with a look. The cows are very attentive to us and wait patiently for their signal — “Come on girls” — to move to the green grass that’s higher on the other side.

Looking back now I often wonder why we haven’t made these changes before. Just seeing the dramatic results on our farm over the past couple of years makes me wonder why more farmers aren’t looking into improving their pastures. It drives me crazy now when I drive down the road and see so many overgrazed pastures.

Resources

The results are out there. Just look around, do some research or come into your local SWCD office for advice.

Another helpful source that you might look into is the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council. They have given Zac and me some helpful ideas through informational sessions and pasture walks. Pasture walks are held the fourth Thursday of every month.

Zac and I have seen very positive results at our farm. Shoot for higher quality pastures and longer grazing seasons; your cows will be much happier. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but its well worth the results.

(Johnna Campbell is employed with the Carroll SWCD and works closely with the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council.)

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