Greener Pastures: Maintaining Pasture & Cow/Calf Health

Ashley Warren, Ruminant Nutrition Specialist


I, like many of you, am cautiously celebrating the end of winter. I am excited for baby calves running laps in the pasture and the green grass starting to emerge. As pleasant as these early spring days are, we’re already thinking ahead to summer to ensure that our cows have enough pasture to stretch into fall.

The importance of a cow’s nutritional status through rebreeding and pregnancy cannot be overstated. With a growing calf in utero and the little one already at her side also depending on her, good cow nutrition is of the utmost importance. Stockpiling grasses is the preferred choice, but we do need to be mindful of what the cows’ needs are during these times in addition to the heat stress that can be caused by the summer months. Avoiding the summer pasture slump is something that requires planning and consideration as warmer months approach.

Forages below 7% protein, which is typical for late summer grass stands, will leave cows short of the nutrition they require to maintain themselves in addition to their little dependents. If pastures are not adequately managed, protein deficiency may become a herd health challenge. Protein deficiency symptoms include reduced intake and forage digestibility, reduced growth rate (of both fetus and calf), loss of weight, inadequate intake of other nutrients, delayed estrus, irregular estrus, poor conception rate, and reduced milk production.

Evaluating grass stands and rotating pastures when possible are standard best practices that we at Two Rivers are happy to help you with. Not only are we looking at the number of grasses and forages in pastures but also at the types of grasses and forages. Think of it like a pie: the more pieces, the happier the consumer—the cow! Different grasses and cover crops strengthen forage availability, quality, and soil health. We also recommend soil sampling; this is a highly underrated tool in pasture settings. Growers are great at soil sampling row crop ground to ensure it has all the nutrients needed to get optimal production out of every acre. Let’s not forget to do the same for our pastures! Healthy pastures can be a great tool for keeping up with the needs of every cow during one of the most stressful times of the year.

A beef cow in lactation consumes approximately three to four percent of her body weight daily in forages. For example, a 1,300 lb. mature cow consumes about 45 lbs. of forage per day. We suggest grazing until the forage reaches three to four inches, then it’s time for a pasture rotation in order to maintain the integrity of your grass stand and allow it to rebound. Grazing your forage too low can cause more harm than good. Compare it to mowing the lawn: when we cut the grass too short in the yard, then direct sunlight and extreme heat hits, what happens? We have a brown lawn that never quite looks right. This is exactly what we do not want in the pasture.

Taking the time to evaluate our pastures helps us make informed decisions on how to protect our investment (e.g.: cows carrying calves and grass stands). Let’s work together to develop the plan that best suits your needs for supplementation in order to ensure our cows’ reproductive health and that pastures produce to their potential.

To learn more about how Two Rivers Cooperative can help you evaluate your pastures, contact me at [email protected] or call me at 641-204-2526.


Greener Pastures: Maintaining Pasture & Cow/Calf Health