The sun is shining, the grass has turned green and the temptation to turn cattle out to pasture is strong at this time of year.

Spring grazing is often the weakest link in the grazing system on cow-calf operations, says Jane Thornton, pasture and rangeland specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, noting decisions made in spring can have implications throughout the rest of the year.

In the conversation below, she discusses several ways of meeting the nutritional requirements of cows and newborn calves, while maximizing forage production from pasture land.

“Cattle have no environmental consciousness and no economic consciousness. So it’s up to us to make sure we take care of the environment — the plants and the animal’s nutritional needs — and make money. The animal doesn’t care about either of those,” she says. (continued below)

While “sacrifice” pastures are commonly used to hold animals until other land is ready for grazing, proper management can minimize the damage, notes Thornton.

“If that field has adequate fertility and gets adequate rest after, those pastures, even though they’re a sacrifice, can probably do better on most farm than they do.”

There’s not much that producers can do now for this spring, but it’s not too early to start thinking about the spring of 2016. Thornton says that might mean stockpiling forage on some pastures this fall or seeding a winter annual, such as fall rye, winter wheat or winter triticale, this spring.

“You could seed it early, and then use it for rotational grazing all summer and then not hit it too hard in fall and pick up the grazing again in spring,” she explains.

It’s still early, but dry conditions are already prevalent in parts of Manitoba and Alberta. Thornton notes seeding a winter cereal or corn for grazing, or seeding a cover crop for green-feed are some options for mitigating the risk of an early end to the grazing season.

Check out this page from Manitoba Agriculture for more on spring pasture management.

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