While there is an abundance of stockpiled forage, this standing forage in February is not good quality. For dry pregnant cows, it’s fine – but not for nursing pregnant cows which have suffered condition loss despite having high protein tubs on free choice offer throughout the winter since protein levels are too low in the available non growing forage for that class of cattle. There is a way to have better quality stockpile even well into winter.
Going forward into this year of 2023, the plan is to graze one time through the forages in the spring when the plants have reached sufficient growth levels to not cause diarrhea in the cows. This will be when the lower leaves are slightly yellowed, plant height maybe 6-9 inches tall, though that will vary in plant species. This will allow the plants to start their final growth to maturity a little bit later in the year so they will not reach maturity until the very end of the growing season rather than late summer, resulting in more green (protein) in the plants thereby providing better nutrition for cows during the winter non growing season.
The challenge is to find that sweet spot so that the grasses can be non selectively (total grazing) grazed through yet not overgrazed (regrazed before forages are recovered) by set stocking (not moving or bothering) the calving cows (mine begin May 1). Managing cool season and warm season grasses requires observation.
To compound my problem of allowing the young and old nursing cows to lose weight was to push them too hard in grazing dry forages which had no nutritive value. Though it will benefit land next year, the practice caused the cows to lose far too much condition. The decision i made to give the cows some relief and start their return to good condition before May 1 calving was to wean their calves by February 12.
Not to be forgotten is the importance of selecting genetically adaptive cattle. To increase the number of mouths on my farm, i purchased 40 Angus 3-year-old pairs which originated from Montana and South Dakota – clearly not our high humidity, deep cold, toxic endophyte fescue environment with managed grazing. They have had a tough time getting used to life in north Missouri and a few have fallen out. There are also several first calf heifers and ancient cows which have struggled in maintaining body condition.
Not having enough stock last spring is a large part of why my pastures were not grazed properly and resulted in the poor stockpile. However, Jim Gerrish reminds us too stock for winter grazing. This may mean removing enough animals to graze without hay through the winter. Real Wealth ranching protocols is different than more well-known grazing schemes in that one will know earlier in the year whether or not there is enough forage available.