Yes, it matters. Your livestock depend on you to keep them safe, healthy, and well-fed. If you don’t manage your grass and hay properly, then they will not live at optimal health. One of our goals is to avoid the use of medications on our livestock. Just like for our human lives, preventive measures work best. Your pasture fields matter.
Once grass begins to appear in the fields, it is easy to think that we can stop feeding hay. This time of year, the calves begin to be born, and our cows need more nutrition, not less. Here in WV, keep feeding hay as you did all winter until mid-April, at least. During calving season, we always liked to keep our herd in a relatively small field to keep track of our ladies. They like to wander off to a private place to give birth, and it could take us awhile to find them and take care of them properly. So, we kept them in a smaller field near the barn & house so we could keep a close eye on all of them. This is one more reason it is necessary to feed hay, so that they could all get good nutrition to keep the mamas healthy. Keep the ladies well fed and the babies will do better, too.
In mid-April, the cattle are turned out into one of two fields. These two fields have a good water source. You know that you need three things for the health of your herd … plenty of grass, plenty of water, and salt blocks or high-mag blocks. They always need to be able to access these three things. This is the key to proper herd health. There are other things, of course, but without these three, other interventions become necessary or the herd suffers. When the herd suffers, so should your heart and so will your profit margin.
Feeding hay until the grass is well established, and still giving them access to the grass in the field where they are, enables the cattle to get used to green grass gradually, reducing the incidence of grass tetany. When it is so easy to avoid, why not use this procedure?
So, now you might ask why we don’t just turn out early? If you let your cattle out in the pasture when the grass is new, there is a strong possibility they will eat the grass down too low and it won’t recover. They will struggle to get enough grass all summer long. We are looking for abundance of grass and super good healthy cattle, remember? Keep them in the lot until the grass grows well. Get through the spring thunderstorms first.
In the fall, after the final cutting of hay, it is fine to turn your cattle in to let them pasture in the hayfields, but they are still going to need full access to plenty of water. Water is a big factor in Pasture Rotation, or Grazing Management. No matter into how many plots the pasture is divided, free access to water is necessary for your livestock. Strong fences are also an important factor, but I won’t be talking about them in this article.
One thing I will add, though. Before you turn your livestock out into their pastures, you need to walk your entire fence line. Repair and rebuild where necessary. Drag all fallen trees to the lot to cut them up for firewood. If your woodshed is full before Spring Gobbler Season, you can enjoy the hunt! It is good to be prepared early. It gives your firewood time to season and it isn’t a task that nags at you all summer. What’s not to love about another reason to be in the woods in the spring?