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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Dairy > Grazing systems > Knee deep in grass: A survey of twenty-nine grazing operations in Minnesota > Herd management

Herd management

Brian Loeffler, Helene Murray, Dennis G. Johnson, Earl I. Fuller
Reviewed 2008

Several graziers said that they were beginning to change from pure Holsteins to crossbreeds and mixed breeds. Many claimed that colored breeds are better suited for grazing. Colored breeds were reportedly favored because they are:

Graziers were asked to describe pasture supplementation and parasite prevention and control practices, as well as current and planned calving intervals.

Herd composition

The 29 graziers reported milking a total of 1,673 cows at survey time. Approximately 90.2% (1,509) were Holsteins. Jersey and Ayrshire breeds each represented roughly 3.5% (59) of the total. Brown Swiss were 1% (17) of the total. Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and mixed breeds were each about 0.5%. The percentage of calves on milk, dry cows, steers and bred heifers was similar in all farms surveyed. However, there were slight differences in the make-up of heifer calves. The differences include Holsteins decreasing by about 3.2% (from 90.2% to 87%) and an increase in mixed breeds by 8.3% (from 0.6% to 8.9%). There appeared to be a trend away from Holsteins toward crosses and mixed breeds, although Holsteins are still the dominant breed.

Despite a shift from pure Holsteins, they remained a part of almost all crosses and mixed breeds. These included:

Pasture supplementation

Twenty-seven farmers reported providing concentrate-type supplements for their milking group while on pasture. Two graziers indicated they provided mineral supplementation only.

The supplementation levels and feedstuffs used varied among the farms. All 27 graziers who provided supplemental feed intentionally supplemented to increase energy levels in the diet. Most indicated that they provided supplemental energy to increase milk production levels. A few graziers also believed that increased energy levels improved reproduction. One grazier said, "Cattle will settle better if they are fed some extra energy." Corn was the most common source of energy provided, but other sources included oats, barley and liquid fat. Approximately one-half (14) of the graziers fed hay, haylage or corn silage to increase dry matter intake and maintain rumen function.

Most graziers believed that protein levels in pasture forages or supplemented forages were adequate to meet protein requirements. However, six graziers indicated that they provide bypass protein supplements to their milking herd. Bypass protein sources fed include roasted soybeans, soybean meal, distillers grains, wheat middlings and sunflower seeds.

All 29 farmers said they provided mineral and salt supplementation. Most graziers said they force fed at least a portion of the mineral and salt supplement with the concentrate; the balance was fed free choice. There were several graziers who supplied all minerals and salt free choice. Six graziers indicated they fed anti-bloat products. Four graziers reported feeding their entire supplementation as a total mixed ration (TMR). The following is a grouping of common feedstuffs and levels used:

Number Feedstuffs and levels fed
6 10-20 lb. corn
3 11-20 lb. corn, 2-4 lb. oats, barley or soy hulls
4 12-20 lb. corn, 5-7 lb. hay, 0.5-3 lb. protein
2 18-24 lb. high moisture corn, 5-15 lb. haylage, 3 lb. hay

Other rations reportedly fed during the grazing season include:

A direct correlation between supplementation levels and milk production levels did not appear. Stocking rates with supplementation and milk production levels were also examined but, again, no reportable conclusions could be drawn.

Herd health

Reported use of parasite prevention and control practices by graziers
Deworm annually Deworm 2X/year Deworm 3X/year Pour on Delice Fly spray Ear tags Larvicide
6 7 2 4 2 8 2 1
"Since I began grazing my cows, I've forgotten the name of my veterinarian."

Other controls used include diatomaceous earth for deworming and using chickens to control flies. Six farms reportedly had no parasite prevention or control program in use. Several farmers were not using conventional parasite control programs and some didn't use any in order to sell milk labeled as organic.

Several graziers said that herd health has improved significantly since adopting MIG. One respondent said, "Since I began grazing my cows, I've forgotten the name of my veterinarian." Benefits noted include reduced incidence of diseases such as mastitis and improved feet, resulting in less hoof trimming.

Current and planned calving interval

Graziers with seasonally freshened herds and those in transition to seasonally freshened herds, reported their planned calving interval was 12 months. Most other graziers indicated the same. Seven farmers said they currently had a 12-month calving interval. A current calving interval of 12 1/2 - 13 months was the current calving interval reported by most of the remaining graziers.

Manure management

As mentioned earlier, most graziers consider the decreased amount of manure handling to be a significant benefit of MIG. The manure that did need to be removed from barns or lots was reportedly spread on cropland (19), pastures (13) and hayland (8). The manure was hauled in the fall (22), winter (9), spring (8) and summer (4). Few graziers reported applying manure on pastures during the grazing season; those that did reported pasture rejection lengths which ranged from 0 to 2 months. Most agreed that typical rejection lengths ranged between 2-4 weeks. Graziers noted rejection periods are affected by weather and form of manure application (solid, semi-solid, liquid or composted).

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