If you're interested in owning a few cows, there are some important things to know that will help keep your pastures and cattle as healthy as possible.
First, be sure to start small, especially if you have a small piece of property. Overstocking cattle is bound to lead to a long list of issues that you'll find yourself dealing with later on.
Don't allow yourself to think that cows are low maintenance. You might picture them wandering independently across an open range, but that practice is not consistent with raising healthy and productive cattle.
Rotate the pastures
Instead, the establishment of a good rotational pasture system should be step one. This on-and-off grazing arrangement will give your pastures much-needed recovery time, and will increase animal production per acre by 25% to 30%.
Jim Russell, professor of animal science at Iowa State University, says a good rotational system will also improve the efficiency of your cattle's forage utilization. "Every day they are out there grazing, the amount and quality of forage decreases. If one wants to go for increasing animal production for a grass-based dairy or beef situation, I would think somewhere in the ballpark of moving them daily or even twice a day using 24 or more paddocks," Russell advises.
Having two dozen paddocks is not always feasible, particularly if you don't have a large amount of property. But Russell says even six to eight paddocks work well for a beef cow herd. Even a little bit of rotation will help keep your pastures and your cattle in comparatively good health.
Be prepared to alter your rotation schedule when the seasons begin to change. The growth rates of your pastures will adjust with the weather, meaning cows should be moved more often in the spring when grass is growing rapidly. In late spring and throughout the summer as forage growth decreases, they should be moved when about half of the forage in a pasture is gone.
When establishing your first paddocks, don't be too hasty in setting up something permanent.
"There's a good chance you'll want to change the system after the first time," says Russell. "Use fiberglass posts and electric cable. After several years, using permanent fences works quite nicely."
It may also be worth your time to find an aerial photo of your property and sit down with it to plot out your pastures. This should help you gain a better view of your land as a whole and will help you take into consideration land features you may have overlooked on the ground.
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