Feeding Beef Cattle only on lawn grass clippings

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City Rancher

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Feb 17, 2009
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Hi All,

New to the forum, joined to do some research on an idea I have.

This topic has been brought up before but the answers have been inconclusive so far.

Here is my idea: I have access to ½ acre to 1 acre of land. I would like to raise 3-4 beef cattle for my own meat and sell the rest. I want to buy them around 400 pounds when they have been weaned off their mothers. I would keep them approx. a year or so to get them up to 1000-1200 pound butchering weight. I would only feed them grass clippings from lawns in my local area (outside city of Los Angeles). In order to keep the small area where the cattle would be kept clean I would collect the waste and give it to neighbors for manure.

Could I support the bulk of the cows nutritional needs on lawn clippings? Bermuda, Ryegrass, Tall fescue, and Kentucky Bluegrass seem to be the most common types in my area. I live in a "horse property" area so it would be within zoning to keep a few cows.

This seems to be the ultimate in recycling, collecting waste lawn clippings for free feed, getting quality grass fed cattle (not that common out here) and using the manure for gardens etc.

Problems I foresee – Main problem would be any fertilizer/pesticides on the grass that were poisonous to the cattle. But keeping in mind most lawns here are watered 3-4 times a week, most of it should be washed off. At the same time, they spray vegetables and fruit with tons of pesticides and I eat them everyday.

Another problem is lawn clippings seem to start to rot very quickly, would this be harmful to the cattle if the grass had started to ferment? My plan would be to collect every day or two (the clippings could be a week old at this point) and spread out in the feeding area so what wasn't eaten right away had a chance to dry out.

From what I understand, most cattle in my area are sent to a feed lot at around 600 pounds and kept in less than clean conditions and fed less than quality foods for 3-4 months before being butchered.

So could feeding cattle grass clippings with some potential pesticides on it be worse than the low quality corn, cereal grains, chicken poop, etc. cattle are fed, of which none are their natural diet requiring the cattle to be shot with antibiotics to keep somewhat healthy?

Some questions:

I realize this question is area specific but is it reasonable to expect to pay $200-300 for a calf weaned from its mother and be able to sell a finished cow/steer for $1000-1500?

I am interested in what type of cattle people feel would be best? Easiest to handle, not too picky of eaters, good and quick weight gain.

Also, any other must have nutrients I should supplement with that the lawn clippings would not provide (if it is even felt they could survive on lawn clippings) Plenty of water and a salt lick would be provided.

So what does everyone think, could this be done???
It's called zero grazing, or 'cut and carry' - maybe there's another US term for it?

Three things:
(the clippings could be a week old at this point)
ample time for rotting to reduce palatability/nutrient content and produce mould spores - harmful to pregnant animals, don't know about youngstock.

2) A variety of garden plants are actively poisonous. If it's only grass clippings, you might be right, start getting varied garden trimmings and it could cause trouble.

3) As long as you know how much a cattle beast can eat in a day... Quick estimate - maintenance = 2% of body weight (in kilo, so a 500 kg steer needs 10 kg Dry matter in feed). Multiply up by drymatter - say the grass is 20% DM that's 50 kg freshweight per day.

I'd be interested to know how you propose to collect the manure - but if you chuck it in a heap for at least 2 - 3 months you get a nice dry silt. Don't try using it (or giving it away) fresh.

What's this about chicken poop??? :roll:
A feed lot diet is not low quality, it actually is much higher quality then what diet you propose. You are proposing a diet that would be low in energy, and low in dry matter. I see you having a problem getting enough dry matter intake and therefore not having much weight gain. Now if you were feeding a few cows then I would think you might be on to something but I think you would be wasting your time and money feeding them just grass clippings unless you were feeding them fresh and then only a small component of the diet. I don't think you would get them to eat week old clippings, needless to say that might be kinda dangerous to the cattle if that was all that was offered. Just plan on feeding them fresh clippings and or hay and then alot more corn and protein supplement, either soybean meal or a pellet.
I agree with hayray on this one. I think you're going to need a lot more supplements and protein than the clippings will provide. If you rely on the grass clippings alone, you'll never get to the weight you're looking for and you'll have to be really careful about what's in them.

I applaud you for thinking totally outside the recycling bin though.

On the Cattle Today home page, you can check the market reports for your area. Even with the market the way it is, I think you're shooting a bit low on the initial calf cost.
Thanks for the replies so far. Lets say I could get the clippings fresh so rot was not an issue. The main concern seems to be in getting enough protein and dense food into them. But is what I am proposing that much different than cattle raised till slaughtered on a 100% grass fed diet out in a pasture?
You need to forget all the mis-information that you received somewhere else and start with a clean slate, as was mentioned earlier, there are so many problems with your idea, for example, less then quality diet, chicken poop, anti-biotics, etc. You will get some good info. and help from people on this board but give up your initial idea and for starters learn to feed them correctly, you want to grow them before they die on you.
Are you doing the lawn mowing? If so take some of the money you're making and buy some good hay. Supplement if necessary with a high quality commercial feed. 4-5 head in a small patch, expect to have to feed plenty.
No, I wouldn't be doing the lawn mowing. Plan is to set up deals with companies out here to pick up the grass, I get free feed and they save dump charges. On my search of this forum I have come across guys who mow their own large lawn (acres) and other peoples and feed it to their cattle then they eat it up just fine. Of course this is not their only food.

My whole point in doing this would be to do something different and get free feed. Otherwise I can just buy my steaks and hamburger at the market and save the hassles.

What I'm trying to figure out is, if hay pastures are planted with rye grass, bermuda, etc. and so are lawns, why is what I'm proposing any different than a cattle operation who markets their meat as 100% grass fed?

Can anyone explain that to me other than just telling me I'm wrong?
Well I think feeding as you mentioned has its place trying to find alternative feed source for free. You will be ok feeding fresh clippings, not any composted or heating. Piled feed like silage is packed and preserved to prevent the excessive rotting and mold spore formation. I beleive the grass in a very young stage is really low in protein and really high in sugars and energy - need to look this up, if this is the case then you could easily add some protein. Give it a try and see how it works. I guess I would worry about all the junk that gets sprayed on lawns in urban areas. On agricultural crops the sprays and fertilizers have either withdrawl times and are safe for food crops.
You have to realize that lots of folks trim their lawns 1-2 times a week. The "forage" is far different than a pasture that gets grazed 1-2 times a month, if that. Fiber length is a big concern and nutrition is, too. A lot of lawn fertilizers have weed controllers in there that specifically say on the bag not to feed the treated grass to animals. Can you trust what you are getting?

If you are still bent on doing this, take a sample of the "forage" and have it analysed for feed quality. Then send those results to a nutrirtionist that has experience with grazers and get an opinion. Make sure you have an honest conversation with this person about what your intentions are.

By the way, the only bird poop my cattle see is from the wild turkeys that stroll through the pasture. :lol2:
I don't see the point in discouraging this plan. :???:

Seems to me that lawn clippings would be decent cattle feed. I can see it being very high moisture, but with plenty of protein. If you take a few pounds, dry it down to hay moisture you would find that you would have only a few ounces of dry matter. Depends on how much the calf can eat of the green clippings. In time it would probably adjust and eat large quantities. I doubt there would be problems with herbicide/pesticide residual? Anybody ever see how often a potato field is sprayed? :shock: :help: Almost daily :cry2: they even spray to kill the plant a day or two before harvest. So a little in the cattle diet? so what? :cowboy:
I would recommend going ahead with your plan. I would add a couple pounds of dry feed, but on top the clippings.
Dairy calves would be the cheapest, bought as soon as they are on solid feed would cost about 70.80 cents per pound. Good beef calves would a 400 pounds be in the $1.15 range per pound. Give it a try, maybe a couple dairy calves and a couple beef. See which works out the best for you. Good Luck!
And DO NOT feed moldy clippings. I think it would work good to seal in large air tight bags.
Jensen":odjfgpd1 said:
I don't see the point in discouraging this plan.

My thoughts exactly! I hope we can get frequent updates from you City Rancher. This should be interesting! :D
Just seems pretty labor intensive, a lot of time feeding and definitely a lot of attention to small details. Guess it could work but it could end up a wreck as well.
Labor intensive for a couple hundred stock cows YUP. :nod: But he is only talking 4 calves. :cowboy:
City Rancher":30rut65f said:
Thanks for the replies so far. Lets say I could get the clippings fresh so rot was not an issue. The main concern seems to be in getting enough protein and dense food into them. But is what I am proposing that much different than cattle raised till slaughtered on a 100% grass fed diet out in a pasture?

No such thing as "fresh" clippings. They are going to start decomposing the moment that they are cut. When piled, you have pressure and heat that makes the process happen faster. If we cut our grass in the morning, I can already smell the decomposing and fermenting by evening.

To each their own, but I wouldn't be doing it.
wheni mow around the house i blow it into the pasture. they come from all over the fields to come get...but only when its fresh. soon as it drys a little or if its clumpy and wet or starts to rot from being to thick they dont want none of it...i dont think you could get enuff everyday fresh enuff to feed 4 calfs..esp when they get to be 700-800 lbs each. thats a lot of intake. bet there wont be a sprig of grass in the lot theyre standin in....

if yer gonna claim the manure you best have em on concrete....cuz 4 calves on one acre gonna be wallowing like pigs in a short time
Same with us...when the cows hear the mower start they gather at the fence for their "treat" it is a suppliment to pasture not ment to be a feed source. Same goes when the see the grand kids weeding the garden they gather, shoot, the hens line the fence for the snack.
Unless you know what has been applied to the lawn I wouldn't feed it to my gals...just me but I don't like surprizes and do like healthy animals. Dmc
I don't see a lot wrong with feeding grass clippings in moderation, but not as their primary food source. First you would have no idea of the food value of each batch fed. So how do you know how to supplement with other products? The next problem is that you have no idea what others have used on their lawns. Some herbicides and pesticides have restricted use.
Many people feed their own clippings to their cattle with no problem but then they have control of what they are feeding. In your case you will have no clue. For instance MSMA has arsenic in it.
Almost all herbicides and pesticides have restricted use. Same stuff used on lawns as used on forage crops. Such as Alfalfa the #1 forage crop. IMO If I wanted to I would use lawn clippings without hesitation. I buy a lot of hay with no idea what it has been sprayed with. What about the chemical use in baled hay that keeps the high moisture stuff from molding? Very commonly used in dairy quality alfalfa. To worry about a little spray on lawns is silly. At most a twice a year application. And I bet there is more restricted use of chemicals on lawn then on forage crops. Humans, Kids are exposed to lawns.

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