Here are the cows in April a couple years ago, gleaning some new green growth in an large paddock that had winter stack manure applied.
Spring at last
We’ve been thankful for signs of spring at last, but it sure comes in fits and starts this year,
doesn’t it? As I write this, we have a fresh blanket of bright snow on the ground and it seems odd to hear
meadowlarks out in the field at the same time. We know some of you have been hit with much more
severe weather than we have, so we are thinking of all of you and hoping you’re making it through OK.
Deciding when to turn the cows out to pasture
When we walked the pastures late last week, we decided the canary grass in the slough is ready to
graze since the water went down and the soil was firmed up, so we made plans to turn the cows out first
chance we got—now we’ve backslid into winter, and there’s thunderstorms in the forecast, so it will be a
while before it dries out. Such is life on the farm, as we roll with the punches and adapt to what each day
brings. The moisture is a good thing, too. Thankfully we got our oats and seeding in last week so now it
can get started growing. The melting snow will keep the little legume seeds moist longer so they can
We keep the cows full of hay for the first week or so after turn-out, though they usually don’t eat
much of it once they get full of that fresh grass. They will be lying out there in the sun ruminating, bellies
full and belching, soaking up the warm air in deep contentment. Their sleek summer coats begin to
emerge as the winter’s shaggy coats shed off.
Looking ahead to the growing season
We, too, finally can relax in the rewards of the growing season, when even the air is welcoming,
full of life. All winter we try to be brave and satisfied day by day, not just looking forward to spring, but
deep down we know if spring wasn’t coming, we couldn’t make it through! Free from the winter chores
of feeding and bedding, now we will gladly turn to walking fences and monitoring forage growth.
The first paddock we graze
For first turning the cows out from their winter bedding pack, we graze them in a large area close
to home where they don’t have to turn corners since they need retraining to the lanes. The new calves
especially, even though they’re used to the electric wire, aren’t sure what to expect and may run through a
lane wire at first. It’s always an exhilarating but tense time when the cows first go bounding out to grass.
They are so excited that they buck and run and cavort—then they usually come stampeding back into the
familiar lot as if they’re frightened of all that freedom. After a few circuits in and out they settle down to
enjoy the new grass. We don’t leave them in this first area long, just enough to nibble everywhere which
stimulates growth and tillering. If we’ve hauled manure there during the winter, the hoof traffic helps
break up the clumps left by the spreader.
Moving into the grazing rotation
We start rotating through the strongest seedings first that had the longest rest in the fall. We will
feed more hay rather than overgraze any stressed stands.
Some of our seedings took a hit with this crazy winter of temperatures up and down, snow cover
off and on, especially those we grazed late, even though we gave them long rest periods before the last
grazing. So those will take longer to get started this spring.
Preparing for “spring blow-up”
Every year, “spring blow-up” happens even if we don’t expect it, when suddenly everything starts getting bigger than ideal to graze because it grows faster than the cows can eat it. By mid-May we watch for a
dry spell to cut and bale any paddocks that are getting tall and headed out. We will make baleage if we
don’t get the weather for dry hay, just to get it off and re-growing.
Some years we’ve had to bale off a second cutting that was grazed early if grass growth keeps getting ahead of the cows. They just don’t utilize tall, headed-out pasture as well as the younger, more vegetative growth, though of course there is a
balance. We find that headed-out grass early in the season is not as bad as during the summer. We like to
have the paddocks in a range of stages of growth, so there will be something at the right stage for grazing
all the time.
So for now, we wait and plan. Happy grazing to you all!