Mob Grazing Cows in Iowa’s Epic 2011 Heat Wave

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I’m sure those south of us will laugh at my title. That would include those folks in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and every state to the south east. That said, it was a very hot, humid and surprisingly dry summer in Iowa. It sure didn’t start out that way, with torrential rains in June, making grazing without destroying the pasture very difficult. The grass was very washy, without a lot of dry matter. However, once July hit it seemed like the faucet was turned off. In order to manage the herd and the grass, I resorted to a couple of techniques, and I have to say that these were helpful in helping me get through the year.

1. Slow down the moves.

2. Gave more access to the woods.

3. Watch closely for any drop in animal performance.

4. Fed a little bit of hay.

The owner obviously wants his animals to return to him in good condition. I obviously do not want to destroy my pasture. Having said that, its critical for the health of the entire system to give the grass a chance to recover. Regrazing grass that has not fully recovered results in eventual death of the grass and a more weedy pasture. By giving access to the woods the cows were able to graze leaves off of forbs, brush and low lying branches.

Bear in mind that slowing down the moves resulted in severe grazing for certain areas that were less productive (the grass wasn’t as prolific), but overall I was able to keep pretty condition on the cows while allowing for 70-80  days rest in July through the end of September. In Iowa that’s a pretty good stretch for that time of year, and now my grass looks in great shape. One thing to remember though – as moves are slowed or area grazed is reduced the stocking rate has increased. An increase in stocking rate has an effect on the pasture in terms of recovery if the plants have been grazed severely. Stocking rate is the amount of animals on a given amount of pasture for a given amount of time. One thing to bear in mind is that I’m custom-grazing 2 year-old dairy replacement heifers, who go back to the owner in late October. I don’t know if I would manage the same way if I had cows year-round.

Bottom line – the year worked out but it was not like last year. In fact, I’ve not had a similar year yet, which tells me that understanding grazing principles are key, as well as having a plan but being able to replan immediately.

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