GRASS LOAFING PADDOCKS FOR DAIRY COWS
by George M. Turner & Warren C. Thompson
The value of a sodded loafing area for
dairy cows is being attested to by dairy scientists and dairy herd managers
alike. The many benefits include 1) easier heat detection, 2)
a possibility of less trouble from common diseases because of disease dilution
in space, 3) a decrease in foot problems, and 4) the distribution
of manure on the grass rather than in the feedlot where it must be handled
The area of the concrete lot can be
decreased to minimum size when grass paddocks are available for occasional
use. For instance, the recommended concrete lot area for complete confinement
is 100 sq. ft. per cow, but it can be reduced to 60 sq. ft. when paddocks
are designed into the system.
Grass loafing paddocks should be adjacent
to the feed lot so cows can walk directly from the concrete onto the grass
as shown in Figure 1. It takes preplanning and
engineering of the facility to achieve this. The type land to be used for
grass paddocks can vary from Class II to VI. Normally this type land rolls
enough to drain well. This also allows many farmers to put acres of otherwise
low-productive crop land to valuable use.
The amount of grass area allowed per
cow should vary, depending on land quality, fertility practices, slope,
drought potential, the frequency and intensity of use, etc. The smaller
the area, the more critical maintenance and management become. A 50-cow
herd on class III to class VI land would normally need ten to twelve total
acres. The area should be divided into at least three plots for rotation.
Normally, the herd should have access to each one of the subdivided plots
for about a week, However this period may vary, depending on rainfall and
The main management responsibility
for successful use of grass loafing paddocks is control of the time of
use. Selecting the time when cows may be allowed to leave the concrete
and go to grass paddocks is the responsibility of the dairy herdsman. Cows
should not be allowed to use sodded areas when the sod is easily damaged.
This would be during times of high rainfall and during a thawing period.
Sodded areas can, of course, be used when they are dry or frozen.
Zones of Maintenance
One of the biggest problems in managing
grass loafing paddocks is the variation in intensity of use around the
concrete. As can be noted by Figure 2, there
will be a high maintenance zone caused by concentrated walking, usually
within a few feet of the edge of the concrete lot. This will usually extend
out about 50 yards. This area will probably need reseeding at least once
and sometimes twice each year. A little beyond, from 50 to 150 yards out,
is a medium maintenance zone where there will be slightly less wear. This
zone will probably need reseeding once each year. A large part of the paddock
will be in the third, normal maintenance area. The main maintenance activity
for this outer area is regular clipping to prevent dormancy, weed control
and correct fertilization. Manure in the paddock should be mechanically
scattered, either by spike tooth or chain-link harrow, three to five times
each year depending on buildup and animal concentration.
Enticed Zone Usage
Cows can be enticed to move to the
outer reaches of the paddock in several ways. Some hay may be fed on the
ground, and grain in very limited amounts, or minerals, can also be fed
in portable feeders. Drinking water may be located at the outer edges of
the paddock to encourage cows to move further out during warm weather.
The establishment of a sod cover in
a paddock will take four to six months before the area can be used by cows.
Late August to mid September is preferable for seeding. Seeding may also
be done in late February or in March, but rates should be increased 20-30%
for safety. The soil should be tested to be sure that the pH, phosphorus,
and potassium levels will not limit growth. Nitrogen should be applied
at the rate of 30-60 pounds per acre just prior to seeding. Tall rescue
at 120 to 160 pounds per acre is the best bet for most seeding conditions.
Kentucky Bluegrass at 80 pounds per acre will do quite well in the Inner
and Outer Bluegrass Regions of Kentucky.
Normal renovation practices may be
used on areas that already have some grass in them. After the seedbed has
been prepared, the seed may be broadcast and mechanically worked in to
a depth of about 1/4 to 3/4 inch with a spike tooth, chain link harrow
or cutting harrow. In some cases the cows can tread the seed into the sod.
When doing this, the seeding rate must be increased by 20 to 30 percent
over conventional seeding.
After the sod has been established
it must be managed as carefully as a high producing corn or alfalfa crop,
a football field, or a lawn. Routine dressing with needed fertilizer is
imperative. Use nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and limestone at liberal rates
as needed to stimulate top and root growth.
Grass loafing paddocks are a valuable
asset to other physical dairy facilities and should be engineered into
the overall milking center system. In the Kentucky climate, well-established
grass paddocks can be used for a loafing area and the construction of more
costly resting barns can be delayed or kept to a minimum.