September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Pasture sense

By Sadie [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

There's nothing I enjoy more about dairy farming than watching the cows out on pasture. That's why bringing the cows in from pasture is my second favorite task (right after letting them out of the barn). I wouldn't get to spend much time watching the ladies graze if I didn't have to escort them back to the barn.

This spring, though, bringing the cows in has become something of a chore. There's always a short transition period after the pasture gate is first opened as the cows readjust to their grazing routine. But this year that transition period doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. I swear our cows have lost their pasture sense.

At first, I thought it was just the younger first lactation cows who were a little senseless. This was their first time in the big pasture; but they spent last summer in the little pasture, so it's not like they're complete rookies.

As soon as I'd call the cows and head out to the pasture to bring them in, a group of those first lactation cows would take off running in the opposite direction. Even worse, instead of herding together, they would scatter like billiard balls just struck by the cue.

Part of problem, I think, is due to the layout and topography of our pasture. The pasture is shaped like an upside down L. The barn is located at the outside corner where the two legs meet. There's a pond in the valley next to the barn. And there's a rim around the pond, which makes it impossible to see the barn unless you're on top of the ridge.

For awhile, I surmised that these young cows just didn't have any sense of direction, so until they could actually see the barn, they'd just run around aimlessly.

Then, one day the group got to the pond closest to the barn. They could see the barn and the rest of the herd waiting at the gate to get into the cow yard. Instead of taking a right turn and going to join them, they took a left turn and sprinted up the hill toward the other leg of the pasture. At that point, I realized that poor orientation wasn't the only issue these heifers had – attitude was obviously a factor as well.

Any doubts about attitude disappeared when we started playing Ring-Around-the-Pond. There are five ponds in our pasture. I've run more circles around those ponds in the two weeks the ladies have been grazing than I did during all of last summer. 

It was really disheartening when the older cows started acting senseless as well. (But at least they can't run as fast as the young cows.) It just goes to show that attitudes are contagious, regardless of the species.

The attitude factor was further demonstrated this past weekend. We kept the cows in the barn because all the rain turned the lane into mud and made the sod extremely soft. But since we're switching cows now, the three extra cows went out to pasture.

Guess which cows got to be the switch cows! 

The first lactation cows who are just about to go dry. That translates to three cows with no pasture sense and no real desire to be milked at 12 hour intervals.

Plus, since the milk cows were in the barn, we put the dry cows out in the big pasture because they hadn't yet been moved to the little pasture. Bringing the three switch cows in by themselves was an impossible dream, so I ended up bringing all the dry cows along, too. And the dry cows have worse attitudes about going to the barn than the young cows do.

It's a good thing one of my New Year's resolutions was to exercise more, because I needed every extra bit of speed and stamina I've gained to get the switch cows into the barn this weekend.

I'm convinced that Glen must think I need to lose another 10 pounds, because right after I got done complaining about the three most senseless cows in the herd, he made two of them switch cows that morning!

I broke down and took the 4-wheeler that night.

And I could take the 4-wheeler every time I get cows – it is a lot of fun to race up and down the hills – but the experience just isn't the same as bringing the cows in on foot. We never had a 4-wheeler growing up, so we did a lot of walking and running in the pasture. At times it was a chore, but more often it was a chance to connect with nature. To find flowers, watch the birds and smell the clover.

And it was a chance to watch the cows be cows. That's why, after 20-some years, I still enjoy bringing the cows in. Even if some of them haven't yet found their pasture sense.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children – Dan, 4, and Monika, 2. When she’s not parenting or farming, she’s writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at [email protected].

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