Try Stocking Weight, Not Rate

Cows and calves both heavier today.

Published on: Jul 23, 2009
Are you trying to make your pastures support as many animals as they did for your dad or even grandad?

Almost weekly, Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska forage specialist, hears 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 wrong with the pasture, Anderson says, although pasture productivity might increase by using improved grazing techniques, fertilizer, and weed control. "Most often the main problem actually is the cows, or more precisely, how we count the cows," he adds.

One hundred years ago, most cows were straight English breeds, often easy-keeping Herefords that seldom weighted over 1,000 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 and March calves weighing 300 pounds when they start grazing.

"That's a big change, going from a 1,000-pound cow with a 100-pound calf to a 1,400-pound cow with a 300-pound calf. Eleven hundred pounds per pair vs. 1,700 pounds per pair," Anderson says.

Cattle tend to eat 10 to 15 pounds of green grass for every 100 pounds of body weight. So today's cow-calf pairs eat almost 50% more when they start grazing than pairs ate years ago.

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