Grazing livestock will pack on pounds during spring and early summer if three important criteria are met, says Seth Holt, Extension agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.
“Keep an abundant supply of minerals available for the livestock, gradually remove hay from the diet, and don’t release the animals onto the forage until the forage has reached a certain height or growth point,” Holt advises.
Livestock tend to get depleted of certain minerals on fresh forage, he says. To ensure that your animals don’t suffer from grass tetany, a condition that causes cattle to have seizure-like convulsions, feed a mineral source that contains at least 7% magnesium. Grass tetany usually occurs when animals begin to graze on fresh grass early in spring, and by the time they start to show symptoms, it might be too late to save their lives.
Don’t remove your animals completely off of hay as they begin to graze. Livestock can develop upset stomachs with diarrhea when first turned onto fresh forage, which can dehydrate them. Continue to feed hay for the first month of grazing while gradually reducing the amount of hay you’re feeding each week.
Perhaps the most important aspect of spring grazing is being patient, says Holt. Allow your forages to reach a certain height before grazing begins. If you’ll be grazing rye, fescue, oats or another cool-season forage, allow the plants to grow 6” tall before you turn your animals onto the crop. Warm-season grasses like Coastal bermudagrass and crabgrass have the same requirement, while sorghum-sudangrass has a grazing height of 15”. Then be sure to remove the animals when they’ve eaten the grass down to its growing point to ensure sufficient regrowth for future grazing.
“If we remember these keys points and practices for spring and summer grazing, and if the weather cooperates, then we are destined to have a successful grazing season,” says Holt.