Why can’t you leave cows on pasture year-round?

June 14, 2018

Answer: Our cows are on pasture from late spring to early fall when the weather is good. We rotate cows between pastures to graze on forages. In the winter, our cows are housed in barns for shelter and comfort.

On our dairy farm we provide our cows with pastures. Some dairy farms have climate-controlled buildings so the cows remain comfortable inside year-round. Our dairy farm does not have that type of facility but instead we have buildings and pastures for animals to be indoors and outdoors.

We have five pastures we call paddocks. We rotate our cows between the paddocks to allow for regrowth of grasses between grazings. We typically start cows on pasture when the grass is between 6 to 12 inches tall and the ground is dry. This may vary from the beginning of May to the beginning of June.

We take the cows off of pasture in the fall when it’s too dry for regrowth of grasses or it gets cold and muddy which doesn’t allow the pastures to be maintained properly or have good regrowth going into the winter.

The cows typically spend one week on a specific paddock before we move them to the next. In the case of rain, we don’t let the cattle out on pasture to prevent the grass from being torn up by the cows’ hooves. In addition to pasture feed, the cows also have access to a total mixed feed ration (corn silage, dry hay, wet alfalfa bailage hay, wet corn gluten, protein mix: soybean meal, cotton seed minerals).

We also have water hydrants located in pastures for the cattle to access drinking water. To alleviate cattle congregating in one spot around the water, we mount waterers on pallets and move them around in the pasture. This prevents the pasture being torn up where the cattle waterers are located.

The reason we don’t have cattle out on the pasture year round is because our climate changes with seasons. The winter season is not conducive for cattle to be on pasture in northern Illinois. The grass goes into dormancy in the winter plus the pasture doesn’t provide any shelter for animals when it’s bitterly cold.

Why is June Dairy Month?

The reason June is Dairy Month is because in the past most dairy farms would turn cows out on pasture in June, shortly after many cows would have their calves. It would be the biggest month of milk production.

Since milk is a perishable product and having an abundant supply, June Dairy Month was established to encourage consumers to drink more milk.

Today cows have calves year-round and there is an even supply of milk throughout the year.

Yet, the June Dairy Month tradition continues. It’s an opportune time to recognize that dairy is a great source of proteins and nine essential nutrients.

The dairy industry also celebrates World Milk Day on June 1st and their latest slogan: “Undeniably Dairy” to promote the nutritional goodness of dairy products which come from dairy cows.

Bill Deutsch – Fifth generation dairy and grain farmer, Sycamore