Midwinter grazing management can be the most critical time of the year for setting up your spring pasture growth. This significant time meets with challenging weather conditions. Weather conditions such as rain that causes soggy soil prone to pugging, low temperatures that stall pasture growth rates, and short daylight hours that reduce the ability for plants to harvest energy with photosynthesis.

There are ways we can mitigate the downfalls of winter conditions. And no, I'm not going to suggest drying cows off and running them off-farm. I'm going to suggest an option worth considering for farmers with no feed pads, who winter milk and graze all year round. Please read on if this interests you.

Dairy cows looking over the fence for fresh pasture.
Dairy cows looking to leave their wet paddock for a fresh break of pasture.

Do you shut the gate behind your cows once they're in their paddock?

First of all, let's stop this. Your animals will tell you if there is sufficient pasture and importantly, foot space. If your animals walk home early and stand on concrete, what does this tell you? You guessed it; the paddock is bordering on a mess with the pasture available depleted or soiled past a desirable level for consuming.

Cows walk and graze by nature. When pasture is depleted or soiled, your cows will continue to wander looking for fresh blades of grass. In a boggy paddock, this habit ends up in the spiral of death for your paddock (insert dramatic music here).

Letting your cows exit the paddock on their own accord goes a long way to preserving wet paddocks.

On my family dairy farm, we've found some stark evidence that this practice works. Per-cow production maintains. Lameness incidents decrease. And another benefit is that labour typically spent herding is not. Gone are the days where paddocks would resemble a chocolate self-saucing pudding and spring felt like it would never arrive. And this last line is the best and perhaps a little too profound. The tender loving care of pasture over winter determines the timing and vigour of spring growth rates.

What are your experiences with leaving the gate open?

Happy farming!

- Ollie Roberts, 03 Jul 2019