Cow Days and Winter Grazing Schedule

12Today’s post will not be for everyone. Those of you who don’t have cattle will cross your eyes in boredom. This is for those of you who have cattle and are practicing management intensive grazing.

It’s been a very dry summer. Every day, we pray for rain. As you know there are several things that are outside the control of farmers. Even good farmers can take a hit from drought and pestilence. However, good farmers know that good planning will cut their losses to as much of a minimum as possible.

Today I wanted to share our grazing plan with you. This is our plan for how many cows, how much pasture and where they are all going to be for the fall and winter months. It is our best plan for the dry winter season.


I’m not even going to pretend that I understand all of this. 🙂 However, I do know “how” we make a grazing plan, I just don’t think that I could do it myself on such a large scale of cattle. It is truly an art.

But first, let’s talk about Cow Days.

A cow-day is the amount of feed one cow will eat in one day.

If you’re an equation type person, it looks something like this:

#Cows x #Days/#acres = cow-days per acre.

If you own a copy of Salad Bar Beef, read chapter 21. It goes into depth on the variable and how to figure this for your own herd. Many of you may know that I grew up on a small family farm in Texas. We had 14 cow equivalents and by the time Daniel and I were married, figure cow-days and the grazing plan on our small acreage was a breeze. You have to start somewhere. A few cows and a little parcel of land is perfect.

Below is the email Joel sent to Daniel of our grazing plan. Greenmont, Briarmoor, Grey Gables, Anne’s, and Mitchell’s are farms that we rent here locally. If we don’t get another drop of rain, we’ll be feeding some hay this winter. The farmers in our area have already run out of grass and are feeding hay now and will continue to do so all the way until Spring. Did I mention that we are in a drought?

Hi Daniel–

250 cow equivalents at Grey Gables finish grass Nov. 15 and move to Greenmont

200 cow eq. at Briarmoor finish hay around Nov. 12 (40 days on hay) then move to Greenmont

that puts 450 cow eq. at Greenmont from Nov. 15 on.  Greenmont has 25,000 cow-days of grass
that feeds 450 cow eq. for 55 days–until Jan. 10

Polyface–flat field, then meadow, then field by Jim–Nov. 1.  Oakley’s leave
add bred heifers from Anne’s group Nov. 15.
Oakley’s place has 1500 cow-days–we graze it last.
Begin feeding hay at Polyface around Dec. 5.

Anne’s 170 cow eq. stay until Nov. 1, then to Mitchell’s for 2 weeks until Nov. 15
then bred heifers come to Polyface and rest go to Greenmont
I know this is a bummer to move them to Mitchell’s for just 2 weeks, but it’s the
smallest group and that’s the lowest stockpile, so seems like the right
match.  Any other group will blow through Mitchell’s in a week.

None of this accounts for anything being slaughtered between now and mid-November, so every
animal that gets gone pushes these dates farther into the winter.

Greenmont has 36,000 cow-days in hay.  If Greenmont has 450 cow eq. beginning Jan. 10
that’s 80 days, which goes to April 1.

Polyface has 13,500 cow-days in hay.  If we begin feeding 150 cow eq. Dec. 5 that’s 90
days, or to March 5.  We may not have 150 cow eq.  If we have all the weaned calves, that
would be about 50 cow eq., and then if we have 50 cow eq. in bred heifers, that’s 100.  The
other 50 may be fluff–some for bulls.

If we have only 125 cow eq. at Polyface, that 13,500 cow days would go 108 days, which
would last until  Mar. 23.  I think I may be underestimating the amount of cow-days in the
new barn, and I did not count the stack of real nice hay in the old barn at all.  So I’ve been
fairly conservative.


Clear as mud? 🙂

8The object of this post is to get your creative juices running. To find out more about grazing plans, cow days and intensive grazing, check out Joel’s book – Salad Bar Beef.

Happy Friday!!


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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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9 Responses to Cow Days and Winter Grazing Schedule

  1. Rose says:

    Now HERE is a real reason to do math! If only I had known such reasons existed as a child, staring down belligerently at my Bob Jones Grade 3. 😉 I can just imagine the amount of satisfaction you must get from creating such a well-organized plan and then getting to see it carried out. So cool. Thanks for sharing! Super interesting, even for those of us who have (sob) zero cows.

  2. David Dean says:

    Estimating the number of cow days of forage left in the field seems to be the greatest variable and requiring some experience. We have 65 acres of pasture that has just been rested for a year after a farmer moved a continuous graze operation off our land. We are hoping to start a herd of salad bar beeves. Maybe 10 as a start so we can gain some experience with knowing the cow days of forage our land can provide using the principles outlined in the inspiring read, Salad Bar Beef.

  3. Graham says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have always wondered what your winters looked like. That is too bad you all are dry. We are in Cumberland Virginia, and we have been getting some rain more recently, but were dry this summer. The grass does seem to be growing less rapidly then it should though. The calculation of cow days makes sense, but the hard part is figuring out how much grass you have. I guess that just comes from experience. I am hoping I will learn about some of these things during my internship at J&L Green Farm starting in November.

  4. Scott says:

    NEAT…thanks Sheri for sharing this.. it’s encouraging to see what you guys have done- and what the future holds for me.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Having been through 4 years of extreme/exceptional drought here in Oklahoma I am so thankful to Joel and polyface. We bought salad bar beef years before we had any cattle. I am convinced that it is what has kept us from having to feed so much hay like our neighbors. Thank you for letting us see inside your operation so that we can keep tweaking ours.

  6. frog hollow farm says:

    We haven’t started beef yet were looking forward to it , our problem is about hay/pasture is snow. Sometimes lots of it so we have to feed hay with some grain. Then after winter and before spring is Mud season as the ground thaws, if it rains all the worst more mud. So were trying to figure out barn days as well for putting up enough hay per animal with extra days for longer winter or longer mud season.

    • Sheri Salatin says:

      Frog Hollow Farm, we get snow and mud season here too. Check out Salad Bar Beef if you haven’t already. And if you’re in the area in early March, come to the farm for a visit. 🙂

  7. Pingback: The Cows Came Home | Polyface Hen House

  8. Great way to keep your pasture managed; a big deal for dairy goat farmers!