Adaptation Curve

On one of our recent trips, we drove past a large confinement dairy.  My wife, Ruth, opined that those poor cows probably never had the chance to eat grass in a pasture.  She was correct. Organic dairies require some access to pasture but others do not.  Some dairy cattle can spent their entire short lives eating only the ration prepared for them. 

It’s a funny thing, though, if cows that have never grazed are suddenly turned out on pasture, they generally do not do well — at least for a while.  The cows have to go through what Dr. Provenza calls an “adaptation curve” —  a variable time period of higher stress and lowered productivity  while they adjust to the new situation.  In other words, it take a while for them to learn how to eat grass. 

I believe recognizing adaptation curves is an essential part of a holistic outlook. Here are a couple of examples. 

Feed flavors derived from what Mom eats are present in the amnionic fluid surrounding unborn calves and in the colostrum milk consumed by newborn calves.  Newborn calves are slow to eat feeds that do not match these previously encountered flavors.  If a dairyman wants to get his baby calves off to a good start, he should make sure the mother cow’s ration in late pregnancy contains some of the ingredients - feed flavors - that will be present in the ration first offered to the calves. This avoids the unwanted effects of the adaption curve.

Individual cows and groups of cattle that are moved from one farm to another experience an adaptation curve. The stress of moving can exacerbate dormant health  and production problems.  Anticipation of these effects and timely remedial action can be of great benefit.

Grazing cattle
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