Grazing, Shade and Health

Shade Haven mobile shade systems can increase profitability for livestock graziers through better pasture management and healthier, more productive livestock. Grazing is not only healthier for the cattle, it also results in a healthier product for consumers – both beef and dairy. We caught up with Dr. Guy Jodarski, lead veterinarian for Organic Valley, to get his expert insight on how grazing and shade impact animal health.

Q: Studies indicate grass-fed cattle are healthier and produce more milk. Why is grazing healthier?
A: Grazing itself is a natural behavior for cattle, they prefer to do that. The exercise is good for them, the fresh air, being out in the sunshine and the nutrition of the fresh forage – it’s higher in vitamin content. There are a lot more benefits of grazing to the farmer and to the land. The key is managed grazing, where you’re rotating the cattle. Don’t keep them in one place or let them just run all over. You put them in a smaller area and keep moving them and then resting those areas.

Q: How important is plant diversity to the health of grazing cattle?
A: Diversity is something we’ve been thinking about a lot more in the last few years. Diversity is what is found in nature. You don’t see just one plant; you get a lot of plant species working together. So you have a healthier system that resists challenges in weather, resists disease problems. And it provides the animal with choices of what to eat. Cows are really good at picking out the most nutritious and highest energy level feed. When you put them into a new area, and you look at the plants they are eating and do a little analysis, you’ll find that those are the highest sugar, the highest energy plants. They taste the best, but also have the highest energy content. The idea of diversity from a nutrition standpoint has to do with minerals. Because every plant has a different root structure, and some of the roots go quite deep – especially in perennial plants that come back year after year. So they bring up trace minerals that the animals need and have them in the leaves and stems.

Q: How do you know what should be in your pasture?
A: The best thing is to go to local pasture walks. There are different grazing groups, as well as Extension and Organic Valley that sponsor pasture walks. If you are in a place where there are other farmers that are grazing, there will generally be pasture walks fairly close. Look at what other farmers are doing, what works—especially farmers that are close to where you are. Every region is a little different. There is an organization called GrassWorks that does a nice job of educating people about grazing. There are also different seed vendors with different pasture mixes. Even if you have an older pasture, you don’t have to tear it up. You can do no-till drill into the pasture or do what is called frost seeding early on in the spring to put more clover in your pasture. What you really want is a balance between grasses and legumes and forbs.

Q: What are your thoughts about the importance of shade on animal health?
A: It is nice to see cows out grazing on pasture, but it comes with challenges. Weather is one of those challenges. In grazing season, we have a lot of hot weather, and shade is really important to preventing heat stress in cattle. The two most important things are access to water and access to shade. Shade can be natural with trees, but many people don’t have trees in their pastures. So providing artificial shade is very beneficial. If it is artificial shade, it is important that it is movable, because the cattle will make a lot of manure and foot action that will compact the ground.

Q: Is shade important to better milk production?
A: Yes, but not only for production, it helps milk quality too. It’s also important to keep dry cows cool, because they are carrying a calf. A cow’s body temperature will go up if they are out in the sun, and then at night they will radiate that heat out. The problem with dry cows, if they get up to 105 degrees body temperature and stay at that temperature very long, they could abort the calf.

Q: With mobile shade you can move the shade to create clean lie down area daily, how does that impact the health of dairy cows? It is important to keep the area where cows are congregating clean. If they don’t have shade, they will bunch up and really muck up a spot. Then if they lay down in that spot, mastitis is an issue. In the summertime, in particular, if cows get in mud and manure and they lay in it, they are very susceptible of catching mastitis. With coliform mastitis, E. coli is one of the things that can be involved and that can be deadly. That can kill cows. Even if they don’t get the toxic coliform mastitis, they can get other mastitis that will cause cell counts to go up. So milk quality is a big issue. Foot health is another thing. If they stay in an area and get it mudded up, they can get foot rot and hairy heel wart which can be transferred in those conditions. Keeping the rest area clean and dry is very important, and mobile shade will help that.

Q: Your specialty is dairy, but can you comment on the effects of heat stress on beef and how mobile shade might impact health and productivity beef as well?
It is very similar. In the case of beef – if it is a cow-calf operation, the cows aren’t going to produce as much milk if they are uncomfortable and their body temperature is high, so the calves aren’t going to grow as fast. With steers or stockers that you are looking to put weight on, if they overheat, their appetite goes down. They pant. And if they are just standing around panting, they are not going to gain weight.

Q: Anything other thoughts on the benefits of grazing?
A: It is the most profitable production system for both beef and dairy, because the costs are very low for feed and other inputs. The cattle feed themselves and distribute their wastes – saving time, labor and machine use. Also, with managed grazing the number of tons per acre of grass or hay you grow per year is also going to go up. You can produce two to three times more forage on the same land with managed grazing (compared to a set-stock system). Grazing makes meat and milk more nutritious for people. Good pasture rotation also prevents parasite problems in cattle, which can be an issue for younger animals.

About Guy Jodarski
Guy Jodarski, DVM, based in Neillsville, Wisconsin, is the Lead Veterinarian for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley. He works in organic and sustainable livestock practice with an emphasis in dairy cattle herd health. Dr. Jodarski has been in practice for 31 years. He enjoys teaching how to keep cattle, swine and poultry healthy without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones and chemicals. Dr. Jodarski serves on the One Health Committee of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association and is a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the National Mastitis Council.


Mark Your Calendar

September 19-21, 2018 – Organic Farmers Veterinary Workshop, Viroqua, WI
Want to learn more about keeping your livestock productive and healthy? Plan to attend this informative, hands-on event. Dr. Jodarski will be part of this three-day workshop focused on teaching farmers techniques and tools to diagnose and treat cattle. Includes time on a nearby grazing farm.
Plan now! This workshop is offered just once every two years.

Event Contact: Farmer Hotline, or 888-809-9297