That Was Then, This is Now

Beefs and Beliefs

Are you trying to make your pastures support as many animals as they did for your dad?

Published on: June 9, 2011

For some time now I’ve harped that cows are too big and many pastures are overstocked and stocking rate is actually declining and the deficit has not been adjusted but just made up for with hay and cheap feedstuffs.

This week Bruce Anderson, forage specialist with the University of Nebraska, put out some really useful information along these lines in his weekly forage newsletter.

Rather than just summarize it I’ll give it to you straight from him:

“Almost weekly I hear statements like ‘Dad used to graze 100 cows on this pasture all season and now I run out after four months with only 90 cows. What’s wrong with my pasture?’

“Often there is nothing seriously wrong with the pasture, although pasture productivity might be increased by using improved grazing techniques, fertilizer, and weed control. More often the main problem actually is the cows, or more precisely, how we count the cows.

“Fifty years ago, most cows were straight English breeds, often easy-keeping Herefords that seldom weighed more than a thousand pounds. Folks calved in April and May, so they started on pasture with about a 100-pound calf.

“Now it’s not unusual to have 1,400-pound cows or even larger with February calves weighing 300 pounds when they start grazing. That’s a big change – 1,100 pounds per pair versus 1,700 pounds per pair.

“Cattle tend to eat ten to fifteen pounds of green grass for every hundred pounds of body weight. So some of today’s cow-calf pairs eat almost 50% more when they start grazing than pairs ate in dad’s time.

“So instead of worrying about stocking rate, maybe you need to consider stocking weight as your pasture guide. Then when you add better grazing management, fertilizer, and weed control your pastures will do even better than they did for your ancestors.”