Reading Condition in the Herd

Hoo boy. Matron, who knows her beans, put up a picture of Jane in a blog post Monday. Jane is a good-looking cow. She is, apparently, not an easy keeper but she looks great. That is a testament to Matron’s abilities and to the condition of her soils…after years decades of management. I highly encourage you to take a look.

My pastures haven’t been well managed. I still have a lot to learn about grazing. My herd genetics are not what we hope they someday will be. And it is still early in the season so the cows haven’t slicked out the way I hope they will. But some cows just don’t shed their coat well. And those are the ones that didn’t breed last year. But 111 is a fertile, short, fat tank and she is losing her winter coat. But beyond that, Matron always points out that if the cows are properly mineralized they won’t look shaggy…scruffy. I have a couple of cows that are nothing short of scruffy. I think I’m on the right track with our mineral program but I have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do.


She really is the future of the herd. I try to look at every cow every day at least once. That’s easy since there are so few. But it’s not just a glance. I look for gut fill by standing at the cow’s left and looking at the gap between the last rib and the pelvis. If there’s a triangular depression there, the cow hasn’t had enough to eat. If it’s full (even slightly bulging) I have done my job. If it has expanded and looks inflated, we need to stop what we are doing and deal with bloat immediately. Short of suggesting you make sure the cows have access to something brown and dry when the pastures are growing fast I’m not going to spend any time on bloat today.


I also walk around behind every cow. Every cow. Every day. How do things look back here? Round? Plump? Are the cows gaining weight from day to day? Are their rumps and tails covered in loose, wet manure? Some of them are. That early spring grass is pretty rich so I’m making it a real point to have a little dry grass hay available to them…even if they ignore it.


The dairy cows are a little thin for my liking. The beef cows are a little hairy. Some are a little loose. They all get looked over every 12 hours as we move them. That really is the best part of my day. Just listening to the frogs, looking for snakes. Listening to the quiet rhythm of the cows grazing; tongue, rip, breathe…tongue, rip, breathe.

In the video above 41 came into fresh pasture with a full rumen but she went right to work. Cows will always eat a little more…cause if they don’t, another cow will. The grass is fairly dense here, mixed with young plantain and lots of dandelion but not much clover. It wasn’t long before they were all laying comfortably on the fresh ground taking naps and chewing cud. You can see a clear line between the morning’s grazing area and this new, fresh ground. That’s why we keep moving…and keep moving fast. An acre a day…so fast I have a hard time keeping the mineral feeder fenced in with them. That rate would translate to 500 acres/day if I had 5,000 cows. I’ll have to figure something out before we get there…lol.


I hope your grazing adventures are as fun as ours. Or if our grazing adventures are your grazing adventures, I hope I’m capturing it in a way that is helpful to your vicarious farming dream. It’s not all grass and manure. There is a lot of rolling up fence, pulling fence posts, pounding them back in and carrying heavy things around too. So if you are farming vicariously, go out in the rain and pick up something heavy. Be sure to splash a mud puddle in your boot so every other step sloshes.


3 thoughts on “Reading Condition in the Herd

  1. Ha Ha, I got a couple of shaggies too, and my old (16) cows that didn’t winter well are slicking out good. It’s been cold here and grass stopped growing, so I’m feeding and holding them back. It’s supposed to warm up this week so hopefully this last week of April that always catches me with grass growth slowing will pass quickly and we’ll be back on track. Remember Jane got 4 pounds of rolled barley and a glug of molasses each day until 3 weeks ago. That helps with the condition, her milk supply was going up with grass growth, 4 gallons of milk OAD at 10 months into lactation is a high production cow. Good for the butterworks not so good for condition keeping 😦

    • Yes, I should have been more clear. Jane gets a fair amount of pampering but all of your stock look great…at least in the pictures you publish…lol.

      So if you get a heifer out of Jane will you milk two again?

      • If I have too, since Jane is dear to my heart, but I truly don’t see her calving well like her mom did until she was 12. I might be wrong, but even if it’s a heifer I would still have at least two years from to July to wait for that first milking, and most likely 2.5 years. A lot can happen in that amount of time in a milkmaid’s or cow’s life.

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