Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grazing Dairy Cows in Tall Grass

As many readers know we have a small herd of Jersey milk cows here at the ranch.  Because they have been such a small part of what else we do, they do not get the best of the available forage on the ranch.  The dairy is primarily my wife's project with about 10 head total.  She practices once per day milking and lets them raise their calf at side until about 10 months old.  The better cows will produce about 2 to 3 gallons of raw milk per day in addition to what the calf gets.  Our fencing on the ranch was originally designed for the large beef herd so the dairy cattle so far have to make do.  We keep the Jerseys in about 30 acres close to the house, with irregular poly wire movements for controlled grazing.  The big beef herd comes through about every 3 or 4 months and takes the excess growth in this 30 acres back down.  One of the errors we have made in the passed is allowing the beef herd take this growth down to much and we run short on quality forage for the Jerseys.  We have plans for installing more permanent paddocks just for the Jerseys.

Even though we have not done a good job of grazing the Jersey paddocks, some of these cows have done really well.  The success has been much higher with the home raised cows compared to the ones we bought off other dairies.  We have found the commodity dairy cow has been raised and bred to perform on high concentrates with lots of grain and does not adapt well to grazing.  Particularly Tall  Grass grazing.  But the cows and heifers we raised here show great promise.  The big noticeable difference in our system compared to more traditional dairying is better animal health with lower or no health costs, lower milk production per cow, much lower labor, less fluctuating milk production during hot summer weather, no manure in or around the barn to speak of(most milkings come and go with not a single manure dropping in the barn), a milk high in butter fat and a taste that is what I call milk shake quality.  We can't brag about having cows that give 20,000lbs of milk at the coffee shop.  But then I'm not sure that was ever such a good idea under any system.  At only a fraction of that milk production our milk cows are highly more profitable than our best beef cow.  Only time will tell but I expect to see many of these jerseys milk for ten years or more compared to 1 to 3 years for traditional dairy cows, which makes a huge difference on the bottom line

We are increasing our herd size very slowly with primarily from heifers within our own herd.  Our grazing program is improving with more fence for the dairy cows and we will stay with Tall Grass Grazing with long rest periods of 90 days or more.  With only a few years of this system behind us I'm not sure what the future holds or even if the system could work on a much larger herd size.  I do believe this system shows much improvement over any traditional system I've seen and the product for the concerned consumer is of the highest quality.  What started out as a single family milk cow for our own use is now serving quite a few customer families and it looks like we are still growing.  The biggest caveat I have for the dairymen who may want to try this system is beware.  The cows you currently own will probably not work.  Just like our modern beef cows, the modern dairy cow has forgotten how to graze economically.


  1. Hi Cody,

    thanks for the overview and especially for the activism and example of action and success! We are beginning a tall grass system on our 120 acre, New Zealand farmlet while grazing 25 Jersey cows and calves and about 50 Angus, mostly LowLines. We have winter drainage and compaction issues which are requiring us to crop with barley and then regrass 30 acres that was in a mix of Italian Ryegrass, red and white clover, plantain and chicory. What I'm puzzling over now is species selection for regrassing to optimize the quality and durability of the pasture sward. We've put in a much more diverse herb ley on the other half of the flats that have now become chicory dominant - as in practically a forest of shoulder high flowering plants - lovely to look and hell to set up an electric fence through, repeatedly....

    It's been amazing to me to see the vastly different paddock sward results from the same seed mix. Reading Voisin's Grass Productivity more in depth just now helps to put that into perspective but doesn't really give me much guidance on what to select for seed. I've read Newman Turner's suggestions and NZ govt books from the 1950's on species. Now, I know that seed selection depends on soil pasture characteristics, climate and drainage to some extent, and that all sorts of species that don't appear to be in the sward will appear over time, but the question is still are their particular species that you and others are finding work well in taller grass grazing situations and other that should be avoided?

    As a biological agriculture consultant, I am applying fertilizers to our farms's horribly depleted soil and will probably continue for another 4 years to bring up the levels of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. I'm curious as to whether you don't lime at all nor apply trace elements or if some other amendment is going into the system, even if it's in the form of free choice minerals directly to the animals. If you can get away without doing some supplementation for sheep, then you've got tremendously well balanced grasses or Amazon ewes.....I'm curious how you do it.

    My main query is about general species selection for paddocks that are to be tall grass grazed by dairy cows in a temperate Mediterranean climate. Your feedback most appreciated.

    Phyllis PET@slingshot.co.nz

  2. You are required to regularly water them to keep the grass evergreen and fresh. However, you may not have the enough time to devote after these activities and hence another best alternative to go for is drought resistant grass seed. local grass seed


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