Three Ways to Gauge Pastured Livestock Health


| 11/22/2013 4:21:00 PM


Tags: pastured beef, raising livestock, New York, Meg Grzeskiewicz,

Before I launch into my first MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog post, I’d like to say hello to everyone. I am in my early twenties and starting a mob-grazing company in upstate New York: Rhinestone Cattle Co. Last year, I worked as an intern for Greg Judy in Missouri. My posts will deal specifically with beef cattle and mob grazing, but often will apply to other ruminants and grazing methods as well. I want to focus on sharing the easy, inexpensive things you can start doing today to get ahead in grazing.

Here are three easy observations you can make every day to see how your animals are performing. Use them to constantly adjust your grazing program, instead of “flying blind” until sale day or weighing. They can help you adjust paddock size or give supplemental nutrients. These three indicators are valuable whether you’re using mob grazing, low-density rotation or even set stocking.

How to Check Rumen Fill

Stand facing a cow’s left side (with her head to your left and tail to your right). You need to be on the leftCheck Livestock Rumen Fill side, because that’s where the rumen is. Look for a triangular indentation behind her ribcage and before her hook (hip) bone, high on her side, just beneath her loin muscle. If you can’t see a pronounced depression, her rumen is full. Her forage intake has not been limited, and she has eaten to her heart’s content.

However, if you can see a sunken triangle, she is hungry. You need to provide her with more forage mass. If you’re high-density grazing, allocate larger paddocks. In a low-density rotation, it’s time to move to the next pasture. If moving your herd faster or using up more pasture isn’t feasible, put out some hay.

Observe Livestock Drinking Behavior

Clean water is absolutely imperative to the health of your herd. It can affect stocker gains by one-half pound or more per day. Watch your animals drink. They should put their noses right in the water and drink without hesitation. If they sniff or lick at the water more than once, you have a water quality problem. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t make your livestock drink it! If your cattle drink from a pond, put up a single-strand electric fence (hi-tensile or temporary polywire) two to three feet out into the pond. This gives the animals the perimeter of the pond from which to drink, but keeps them from standing in the middle. The water will become less muddy and won’t be contaminated with urine and manure.

If your herd drinks from tanks, adding a chlorine tablet will keep algae and bacteria at bay. This is especially important if your tanks are filled from ponds or wells. Punch holes in a plastic drink bottle, and place a few little stones in it to keep it underwater. Add a small piece of a swimming pool hypochlorite tablet, which you can get at a hardware or pool store. Check the bottle every few days and add more chlorine when it’s gone. I did this with a tank so full of algae I couldn’t even see the float, and after three days the water was clear. The chlorine doesn’t bother the cattle; they actually drink more because of the improvement in water quality. This translates to better gains.

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