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Grazing Signals: What to Look Out For

Grazing Signals

Grazing Signals | Mole Valley Farmers

Beware ‘grass blindness’!


When cows go out to grass for the 2017 season, it is important that  we don’t take our eye off the ball. Attention to detail is key however, we should remain aware of focusing intensively on the grass and not enough of on the cows, beware ‘grass blindness’!


Hoof Signals


Remember the four pillars of Hoof Signals, these key success factors remain just as pivotal when cows are outside:


1. Low Pressure


Consider the bottlenecks in your system, where cows are spending long periods of time on their feet. These might be collecting yards, gateways, water troughs and cow tracks.


Pressure can come from standing for long periods but also from cows running and slipping. Stress free stockmanship and cow handling, play a crucial role when we consider cow flow as herds are coming in for milking. Calm people create calm cows. Let the herd drift without turbulence or disturbance. Cows should be able to walk at their own pace and be given the time to consider where they place their feet.


Where cows are having to walk long distances to grazing pastures, good cow tracks are essential.


Another point to consider is heat stress. Over the last couple of years the high summer temperatures have resulted in many herds suffering the effects of heat stress. When humidity levels are high the temperature only needs to be around 25C before the signs of heat stress begin to be seen. Normal breathing rate is 26 to 40 breaths per minute. If cows are taking over 60 breaths per minute it is time to take action. Studies show that as the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) increases, lying times reduce, as cows lose body heat more effectively when standing due to an increase in surface area and therefore lameness incidences increase.


Cows suffering from heat stress have reduced intakes. If forage intake levels are affected, it is important to make sure cows are receiving adequate quantities of digestible fibre. Monitor for signs of acidosis such as loose, bubbly muck, dirty backs and swishing tails.


Acidosis, often associated with high levels of starchy feed, can often be a problem when cows go out to grass. By its very nature, spring grass is low in structural fibre and high in rapidly fermentable carbohydrates. There is considered to be a link between acidosis and lameness, relating to the metabolic impact of acidosis predisposing the animal to laminitis and an increase risk of sole ulcers.


2. Minimal Infection


In order to minimise infection we need to minimise moisture and dirt, two factors that are difficult to manage when cows are out at pasture. Good cow tracks help prevent poaching of fields. Poor ground conditions should be avoided wherever possible.


Water is probably the most undervalued nutrient, yet it makes up approximately 80% of milk. When at grass consider the cow’s access to water (how and where troughs are placed), as well as the quality and quantity of the water supplied. Ideally cows should not have to walk more than 250 meters to a water trough.


The final two success factors for Hoof Signals are;


3. Early effective treatment and


4. Good hoof quality.


Spot signs of lameness early and act immediately.

Average GB Grass Growth Rate | Mole Valley Farmers
Average Milk Yield | Mole Valley Farmers

Grass Watch


Milk potential will be affected by Dry Matter Intake (DMI) and the length of time the cows are out at grass. Cow intake levels are at their highest during early morning and late evening. Fluctuations in milk yield whilst grazing often reflect fluctuations in DMI. Periods of rain will reduce the grass dry matter, resulting in lower intakes as will periods of high temperatures and heat stress. During these times buffer feeding can help balance intake variability. Monitoring Body Condition is a way of assessing if we have estimated potential yield from grazing correctly.


Mole Valley Nutritionists have access to Trouw Nutrition’s Grass Watch data, a weekly monitoring service. The weekly report is compiled from milk yield from grazing and fresh grass samples analysed through the Trouw Nutrition GB laboratory. We are also able to analyse individual farm fresh grass samples to use within our Precision Nutrition rationing programme.


This year the Grass Watch reports (see examples above) have been improved to include regional reports for Grass Growth, Grass Quality and Temperature Humidity Index.

Source Details

 Morys Ioan, Nutritionist

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