Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rotational grazing milk cows: my method

If you observe how a cow eats, it makes sense to rotationally graze them. Ideally, you would give them a new paddock every day with just enough to graze on for that day. They will make the most use of the forage, eating it down more evenly. You can then control their impact on the pasture by not letting them on any area for more than one day every few weeks.

With my milk cows, the ideal is harder to replicate than it would be for a beef herd, because I milk them twice a day. It’s not easy to set up a milking station in a temporary paddock twice a day, at least not for me. I also don’t have water readily available in the pasture where I wish the cows to graze.

Last year, I moved the cows to different paddocks in which they stayed for a few days at a time. This happened in a somewhat disorganized fashion because I didn’t have their movements planned efficiently. I also provided them with access to the barn near which I kept their water trough. I would have to herd them to the barn at milking time every day. Sometimes this involved a walk of considerable distance because their pasture was a long ways from the barn.milking shed and pen

This year I fixed up a small roofed structure I built a couple of summers ago. I intended to make it a milking shed near the pasture I wanted to graze the cows. So, finally, this spring I made it a functional milking shed. It has a small pen to hold the cows during milking time and a stanchion to use while milking. It works quite well for me.

After reading about some others’ experiences and methods for rotationally grazing their cattle, all of them beef cattle, I have developed my own method/routine. It involves corridors for grazing that are the length of the pasture and 45 feet wide. These corridors are fenced with a single strand of electrified high tensile fencing. I subdivide the corridor into paddocks for the cows. Ideally, they would only have access to the new paddock each day, but that would necessitate moving their water every day. So, I creep them down the corridor, giving them a new section in the morning and another new section in the evening after milking time. It takes a week to ten days to creep them the length of one corridor.water for the cows

I keep the cows water near the milking shed. I haul water in a 325 gallon tote which I fill by siphoning water out of our pond and then move on a trailer. This isn’t a perfect situation since they do spend a fair bit of time near the water trough which concentrates their manure in that area. However, it does simplify things for me.

Here are a few photos illustrating my method:

This is the pasture in which I graze the cows. It’s about five acres in size (my guess).

Here are three corridors that have already been grazed. The cows finished on the greenest two and a half weeks ago. They were then on the section visible on the right. On Monday I moved them off of the corridor in the center of the photo. I will bush hog it tomorrow.
  grazed corridors 
This is the last line of high tensile fence I put up. I’ve been adding fence to make corridors as needed. I dig fence post holes at either end and insert cedar posts into them. I’ve found that making the holes about the size of the post, tapering the end of the post, and then pushing it in with the loader on the tractor makes for a tight post that can handle the tension of the fence wire.
 high tensile line
I use poly wire for creeping the cows down the corridor. I have used solid metal electric fence wire, but it’s more of a pain than the flexible poly wire. I tie it to the high tensile wire with a piece of poly baling twine.
 spool of poly wire tied to high tensile wire
The spools I use are ones that came with regular electric fence wire. I had three empty spools, so I use them. I put it on a fence post held near the end with an insulator. This allows me to roll it up and move it easily. With the 45 foot wide corridor, I have a fence post with insulator at either end and one in the middle. I have three poly wires up at one time so that when the cows are in a new section, there are two more ready to go. When I take one down, I move it 8 paces ahead of the last one (8 paces has been the right amount for the cows so far).

spool on fence post
I put the fence post at the end in place so that I can hook the poly wire to it. I formed a hook with electric fence wire to hook onto the insulator. With this method, I can set up the temporary wires while the charger is still on – it’s only electrified when the spool end is wrapped around the high tensile wire.
 wire hook
Since there is no electrical power at my milking shed or near the pasture, I use a solar fence charger. I’ve been very happy with it.

solar fence charger
After I finish milking in the morning and evening, I fill the cows’ water trough and then move the temporary fence line to open a new section. The cows quickly caught on to the routine and are ready to get to the new grass as soon as its available.

happy cows grazing 
I will be adding more high tensile wire to define more corridors in the coming weeks. There will be 5 to 8 weeks between grazing time in the same corridor. The corridors are also wide enough that I can make hay in ones that the cows will not be able to get to.

So far, this system has been working well. It’s easy to move the cows to new grass, keep them where I want them to be, and to get them to the milking shed. They’re usually waiting for me at milking time. I don’t let them into the milking shed pen except at milking time.



hey good idea on the water supply , I farmed in NZ this way it works well. good work hope it all goes well for you.


Thanks for this. I've been trying to figure out how to rotational graze my 6 ewes, 10 lambs and a milk cow. My pasture is about 165 feet wide and 800 feet deep. I had been slicing it up into strips that were 165 by 50 feet, but I now am thinking about cutting those little temporary paddocks down further with another 50 foot length of polywire. I appreciate your post. Thanks again.

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