In the summer, when I talk to people, I frequently refer to “checking cows.” The other day, I had someone ask what that meant exactly. I then realized that I do so much more than just “checking cows.”
First off I check to make sure that all the cows are there. This is a little tough, because I don’t actually count everyone. I usually pick out a few cows I know and look for them and their calves. If I know there has been a calf that looks a little off, or that I’ve doctored in the past, then I look for that calf every time I go out to the cows. I also have my favourite cows that I have to always see.
I check on every cow and calves overall health. This is done simply by driving through the herd with our side-by-side and just observing the animals’ behaviour–are they eating? Are they with the herd? These two questions are main indicators in determining if a cow or calf is feeling “off” or unwell.
I check fences. This is done more earlier in the year, but I do quick fence checks before I move pastures every time. Checking fences makes sure the cows are contained to the correct pastures and on our property. Grain farmers don’t particularly like when cattle get into their grain fields because of a bad fence.
I check water troughs, sloughs, and salt/mineral feeders. I check the water troughs to make sure they are functioning properly. Sloughs are checked to make sure they have a good, stable water supply. (Side note: Only 1 of the 7 pastures relies on a slough for a water supply. We have other pastures that have sloughs for their main water source.) Salt/mineral feeders need to be checked to see if they need refilling. The cattle need salt in their diet to maintain a proper body weight and for proper nutrition. Same with minerals–cow vitamins. We strive for healthy, happy cows so keeping salt & mineral stocked for them is just another step.
I check on the pasture and move the cattle to different pastures. In a good year, I can grain 50 cows and calves and 2 bulls on a quarter section of land (160 acres) for 5 months. I rotational graze through 7 different pastures, with at least one pasture receiving rest during the first part of the growing season, and another pasture receiving rest in the second half of the growing season. Pasture moves are usually determined by the weather conditions (wet or dry), the amount of grass the cattle have ate, and the amount of grass that remains. I aim to graze 7 days/pasture in the first go round, and 10 days/pasture in the second go round. Some years, this works great, other years, I have to modify my plans according to how much grass it out there. It may sound complicated, and sometimes it is, but this is what my degree is in, and I enjoy the challenge it brings sometimes!
Here is a time lapse video of me moving the cows to another pasture. I do not chase the cows, but rather call for them. They know the reward is a pasture of fresh grass for them, so they come when they are called.