Before putting cattle out on pasture this spring, consider these tips

Ashley Olson
While there is no set time to put cattle on pasture, however there are many considerations to think about that can help determine when the time is right.

April showers bring May flowers and green grass. We are all looking forward to warmer weather and getting our cattle out in the pasture. There is no set time to put cattle on pasture, however there are many considerations to think about that can help determine when the time is right.

Some of these considerations include asking questions such as how much stored feed do I have on hand, what is the early growth on the pasture grasses and are they any risks associated with putting them on pasture?

Transitioning to pasture

Spring is imminent and feed reserves are getting to low levels as we feed up the end of last year’s crop and get ready to fill the barn or shed with new season hay. It is a good idea to take a feed inventory to make sure there is enough feed left to help transition the cattle onto pasture.

By slowly transitioning to pasture and off of the winter ration it can help reduce negative effects on animal health performance by not making a drastic feed change all at once.

To determine the amount of feed needed to make it through the transition from the winter ration to full pasture visit and click on the Decision Tools and Software tab. There one can find the Forage Inventory Tool and utilize this to determine baled and ensiled forage inventories and forage needs.

Is your pasture ready?

Next it is important to monitor the growth on your pasture to know when is the best time to actually start the grazing season. We can look from afar and see it is greening up, but how tall is the grass and what are the pasture conditions?

Spring growth should be at least 6 inches before introducing and grazing and once it is grazed down to roughly 3-4 inches cattle should be removed so new growth can occur. These heights all depend on the species of grasses growing in the pasture so actual length recommendations can vary.

Spring tends to be wet, so monitoring the soil moisture to make sure the cattle are not damaging the forage stands will help keep the pasture growing and not slow any spring growth. Consult with an agronomist or pasture consultant for additional resources on pasture growth.

Consider risks to animals

Another consideration when putting cattle on pasture is to be aware of any risks to the animal itself. The previous paragraph took the pasture health itself into consideration, but we also must think about animal health. Grass tetany is a condition that occurs in cattle when they have a magnesium deficiency. Fresh grass tends to be high in protein and potassium, but low in magnesium.

Symptoms of grass tetany include nervousness, agitation, staggering and lack of coordination. Contact a veterinarian immediately for treatment if you observe this. Also watch for bloat in cattle put out on pasture. By slowly switching over the ration to grass and slowly allowing grazing of fresh grass this can reduce bloat issues. Offering free choice mineral is also a good option to allow the cattle to utilize when needed.

There are numerous considerations to keep in mind when putting cattle out to pasture for the first time in the spring. Do not be afraid to consult with your nutritionist, agronomist, veterinarian or local Extension educator for resources. You can visit for more resources that UW-Madison Division of Extension has to offer.

Ashley Olson

Ashley Olson is the Vernon County Agriculture Educator for University of Wisconsin Extension

Extension University of Wisconsin-Madison