Grass clippings are constantly a source of “what in the world do I do with these?” scenarios, especially when you have livestock. So if you’re curious whether you can feed your livestock grass clippings, there are certain dos and don’ts you should follow.
You can certainly feed grass clippings to your cows. However, you should neither make it a habit nor should you feed them grass clippings if specific parameters are not met. Cows love to graze, and they will happily take care of your grass clippings.
The problem boils down to what is in the grass clippings and how long they have been out before the cows eat them. Herbicides are always a significant concern. Although cows are large animals, they have sophisticated and delicate digestive systems that can suffer damage.
So let’s take a closer look at how to feed cows grass clippings, the dangers, and how much.
Dangers of Feeding Cows Grass Clippings
As with everything, there are certain precautions that you should take before you proceed with feeding your cow’s grass clippings, especially if you are just looking for a convenient way to get rid of rows of unsightly clumps of grass.
- Grass clippings may contain dangerous herbicides or other harsh chemicals
- Grass clippings may have harmful bacteria, especially while fermenting
- Depending on the grass, nitrogen levels may be too elevated
- A single, bad batch of grass clippings can cause digestive issues
- Grass clippings can stop up a cow’s bowels
If you have used or suspect a neighbor has used herbicides, especially the kind you spray, your grass clippings may be contaminated.
While herbicides probably won’t kill your cows, they can cause many digestive problems that may require a veterinarian’s attention. The main concern with herbicides is that they will disrupt the delicate balance of a cow’s rumen. The rumen is one of four stomachs that cows have, and it’s responsible for breaking down their food.
If the rumen isn’t working correctly, the rest of the cow’s stomachs can’t do their jobs, and the cow can become malnourished, no matter how much food she’s eating.
If you think your grass clippings may be contaminated with herbicides, your best bet is to compost them or dispose of them in another way instead of feeding them to your cows or livestock.
While fresh grass clippings probably won’t contain enough harmful bacteria to harm your cows. Immediately after the grass is cut, it begins to die and decompose. So if you feed it to your cows immediately, there won’t be an issue.
However, if you allow it to lay out, grass will begin to go through its fermentation process, and a host of bacteria are introduced.
This is the worst time to feed grass clippings to your cows, as the harmful bacteria can cause a whole range of health problems in your cows.
Those health problems won’t only affect the cow’s digestive system either.
Too much nitrogen can also be harmful, as the cow’s body is designed to remove excess nitrogen through its manure. Too much can overpower their body’s ability to process and remove nitrogen, causing problems with their digestive system.
Wet Harmful Grass Clippings
Last but not least, too many grass clippings, especially when incredibly wet, can clog a cow’s bowels up, which is not only very painful for the cow but can cause lasting problems or even death if the bowels rupture.
Wet grass clippings can also be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. So, if you are going to feed your cows grass clippings, ensure they are dry and free of harmful chemicals or bacteria.
Benefits of Feeding Your Cow Grass Clippings
In life, there is balance in everything, even if we don’t see it or recognize it for what it is immediately. The same holds true here. But unfortunately, there are several potential pitfalls when feeding cows grass clippings.
Fortunately, there are some benefits as well.
- Cows can clear a mowed pasture quickly
- You can make silage with grass clippings
- They can provide additional nutrients
- Bermuda Grass and Timothy Hay are the best
The best time to feed grass clippings to your cows is within a few short hours after cutting it, well before it has time to decompose.
The longer the grass sits unattended or uneaten, the more dangerous it becomes to feed it to your cows.
How to Feed Cows Grass Clippings
That’s why one of the most effective ways to feed your cows’ grass clippings is to have them follow along behind you as you mow.
At the very least, allow them the complete freedom to graze in the area you just mowed.
Are Grass Clippings Good For Cows?
Grass clippings are not the most nutritional sustenance in the world for livestock. However, they are a little better for some animals than others. For instance, goats can eat grass clippings but get very little out of them.
Cows that eat grass clippings retain a few nutrients and water, depending on when you feed them the grass clippings.
They’ll also get more nutrients if the grass clippings they are eating are either Timothy Hay or Bermuda Grass, neither of which is a great lawn grass but is perfectly fine in a pasture.
Lastly, you can always convert your grass clippings into silage, which has a very high protein content, around 18.5%. For obvious reasons, cows need plenty of protein, so converting it into silage is a good idea, especially if you can do it on a large scale.
Converting Grass Clippings Into Silage
Making small batches of silage is pretty simple. All you have to do is drop the grass clippings in a Ziploc bag, remove the oxygen from the bag, and let it sit for a certain amount of time.
Don’t confuse hay with silage, though some do, and they are two different things.
Making silage is relatively easy, but if you are feeding several cows, you will need a way to roll the silage up in a massive amount of plastic. You will also need to dig a large pit to place the silage while it ferments.
Whatever you wrap it in, there cannot be a single hole or exposure to the outside air. This is because the silage must pass through the fermentation and reach the pickling stage before opening it up. So if there are any holes, it will rot and decompose most of what you have in there.
Once the process is complete, about two to three weeks, you can unroll the stuff and feed it to your cows.
You only need to feed the cows a small amount for each one. The stuff will have a sour, rancid smell, but if done correctly, it can contain 25-35% protein, which the cows will love.
If you discover any of the sections have been exposed to the outside air, you will need to dispose of massive sections of the silage until you are confident that none of the exposed portions remain.
Can a Cow Survive on Grass Clippings?
Just because non-farmers always see cows out in the fields, eating grass and using their tails to slap off the horse flies, doesn’t mean that grass is all they ever eat. Cows can go a long way on grass, but it is not the entirety of their diet.
Cows also need grain supplements, hay, time out in the pasture, foraging, and various concentrates. Cows would much rather spend their days chowing down on hay than grass because they prefer it.
So while your cows can eat grass and grass clippings, you’re not doing them any favors for the most part, and they would much prefer that you feed them something else entirely.
Grass clippings have a variety of uses, and, as far as cows are concerned, they can be a good snack when mowing time comes around.
However, you do need to take the time to consider what the grass clippings might have in them and never allow them to lay out too long before the cows can get at them.
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- Can Goats Eat Grass Clippings?