Forage management and cow size

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

Increased Hay Production per Cow: The increased use of the round baler and other hay production technologies since the early and mid-1970s (Van Keuren, OARDC –  The History of the Development of the Large Round Bale) has lowered the labor requirement and increased the convenience of hay production. Hay production per cow in the southeastern United States has increased by 136% (USDA NASS, 2016) since 1976. Reliance on stored forages by cow-calf producers is can be challenge to sustainable production.

Cow Size: There has been a 30% increase in cow mature size over the last 30 years. From 1975 to 2015, cow numbers have decreased by 35%, but beef production has been maintained at a level similar to 1975 (Beck, Gadberry, Gunter, Kegley, Jennings, 2017). Correspondingly, market steer and heifer weights have increased.  This also due to selecting bulls for increased yearling weights.

Forage Management: The larger the cow, the more forage is needed per cow. Forage management strategies have been developed to reduce reliance on stored forages for wintering beef cows. Beck et al. (2017) lists rotational grazing increases harvest efficiency of grazing livestock and can help maintain plant populations of clovers or other desirable forage species that lack persistence under continuous grazing management.  Stan Smith has written several articles on the use of Oats for summer slump/fall grazing. Other management strategies exist for fall and winter grazing (Boyles Vollbom Penrose, Bartholomew, Hendershot, 1998).  These can include stockpiling of forages like fescue for fall and winter. Early work at OARDC Eastern Agricultural Research Station observed if cows could see the grass sticking through the snow, they will graze through the snow to get the grass.  By intensifying the management of forages we can sustain and or increase stocking rates.  The OSU Beef Team members have, and continue to do so, write numerous materials on these grazing systems. Take a “little graze” through this newletter.


Beck, P.A. ,M.S. Gadberry,S.A. Gunter,E.B. Kegley,J.A. Jennings. 2017. Invited Review: Matching forage systems with cow size and environment for sustainable cow-calf production in the southern region of the United States. PAS 33:289-296.


Boyles, S., E. Vollbom, C.Penrose, H. Bartholomew and R. Hendershot.  1998. Maximizing fall and winter grazing for beef cows and stocker cattle. OSU Extension. Bulletin 872.

USDA. 2016 Agricultural Statistics Annual Chapter 6 STATISTICS OF HAY, SEEDS, AND MINOR FIELD CROPS.

Van Keuren, R. W. 2006. The History of the Development of the Large Round Bale. OARDC.