Why ranchers love to turn out to grass.

I love this time of year.
When the feed trucks get parked, and gates get thrown open.
When the grass is green and tall and glistening.
When you can see faint spots of manure all down the road; evidence of cows being trailed to new pasture.
When fences are checked and cattle are counted out the gate.
When we turn out to grass.

Most ranchers spend all winter feeding hay to cows. 
There's a purpose to feeding hay - it allows grass pastures to rest and rejuvenate.   Hay also provides essential nutrition to cattle during the winter months when grass and forages don't grow.  A lot of ranches here feed on "sacrifice" pastures.  These are areas that make up a small % of a ranch's acreage where they feed and calve each year.  Just like your lawn - when grass isn't growing, it becomes more susceptible to plant damage.  To minimize damage to the grasses, we don't let cattle graze during the dormant months (unless a pasture has been stockpiled; meaning the only time it is grazed is during the non-growing season), and keep them on the sacrifice areas to limit the amount of damage.  This allows pastures to flourish, and be ready to grazing in the spring, summer and fall.
It's funny - the cattle CAN'T WAIT to be fed hay in the late fall, but then everything gets turned 180* and the same cattle can't wait to get turned out to grass in the spring.  I think every rancher would tell you they're excited to be able to turn their cows out to grass come spring, once the pastures have had a chance to grow and the grass is abundant enough to sustain a group of cows grazing.
Grass has growth points, and if you graze the grass too short it won't grow again or "come back" as we say.  So before cattle are turned out, you have to make sure that there is enough grass growth to sustain the number of cows you're going to put on the pasture, and still allow for re-growth. Amanda Radke over at the Beef Daily has an excellent blog series about grazing found here.
 In years where a rancher faces low rainfalls, or cold springs, they're often forced to feed hay longer so that their pastures have time to mature.  It's common to run into those issues here in Eastern Oregon, and it's not uncommon for some producers to just be turning out to grass now.  It's a tough balance, as hay is expensive to buy and takes a lot of labor to feed. 

For me, I love the sight of cattle grazing contentedly in the spring.
Calves buck, and cows keep their heads down as they convert carbs and starches into milk and meat.
I remember at Double M, spring was my favorite time - the feed truck was parked, and Sunday mornings we got to sleep in.
Pre-kids of course.  :)

How's the grass growing where you are?


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