Allowing dairy cows to graze forages versus harvesting and storing them can be a very economical means of providing some or all of a dairy cows’ forage needs. For a grazing herd, the amount of grazed forage consumed can vary greatly depending on herd size, pasture acreage, growing conditions and/or the time of year.
Grazing forages for the milking dairy herd is nothing new. It has been practiced for years, but what has changed over time are some of the forage management practices.
Outlined are some of the key components in managing a grazing system for the milking dairy herd:
1. Manage the forage rotation to allow the forage plants time to rest and regrow.
2. Graze young lush plants in their vegetative state.
3. Dairy cows graze about eight hours daily, with the heaviest grazing periods in the early morning and later in the evening.
4. Like any feeding system, maintaining dry matter intake in dairy cows is critical.
5. Forage programs should be designed such that dairy cows have quality forage to graze at all times.
6. Do not forget to provide plenty of cool, clean water in every grazing area.
7. During the daylight hours, provide plenty of shade or allow the dairy cows to return to the barn.
8. Pasture plants contain protein that is highly degradable in the rumen and these plants are low in sugars and starch.
Bottom-line: Pasture can be an excellent and profitable feed for dairy cows if managed correctly and supplemented properly.