In reviewing our grazing records for 2018, I find, as expected, that we had another very good year, although our winter grazing wasn’t a good part of that. We just had too much moisture to get a good return on our stockpiling during November and December, plus we left more pugging behind than preferable.
Our yields per acre ranged from 260 animal units — one unit equals one heifer grazing day — down to 110. If animal units are worth 90 cents, then our paddocks returned more net income than many of the corn and soybean acres. Our inputs to achieve those yields are very low, resulting in the high net.
I can’t help but think about my grain farming friends, beating up their ground to raise more bushels, yet realizing a low or negative net per acre. Those fields on marginal land are especially stark with severe erosion from recent snow melt and heavy rains. Those areas are begging for a different program — all that adversity, not to mention that our rivers continue to silt with that lost soil to an alarming level. What about that big picture is just not right and what truly drives it? I just saw some stats that state that Monsanto netted $12.52 per acre from corn growers, while the growers’ net was a loss of $63 per acre. If those are accurate, that is a very loud message.
It is a slow spring. We have had no opportunity to run over our fescue pastures with the Colorado harrow. I feel that was really needed on the worst pugged paddocks, but it is too late now. It seems too early to tell if our frost seeding was successful. I am concerned with the amount of rain events we have had.
Otherwise, we are working to be ready for our 2019 calves. Boundary fences, mineral rub wagons and electric interior fences are getting our full attention. We are also giving a lot of attention to our management style this year. There will be some definite changes as we prepare for all steers for the first time in our history. That has us a little on edge, as we attempt to maximize our returns on a per pound gained basis, rather than per head per day return. Our goal is to make two pounds per day, with a floor of one and a half pounds per day. I feel like two would be great with no supplementation, but I am feeling that may be unrealistic.
I feel like we have to be really good with the follow through on our plan, especially since we work with two grass species that many condemn — endophyte fescue and high alkaloid reeds canary. To counter that, we plan to graze to get the top 30% or 40% of growth, the “ice cream” available. We will be careful watchers of gut fill and manure pats.
Our rotation moves will happen during the afternoon when our brix scores — sugar up in the plant leaves — are the highest of the day. We will take several brix readings at first to get that determined and then plan to have the steers in a fresh graze, so that their three- or four-hour gut fill will take place at the right time. That may sound complicated, but not really.
Temporary fencing will be used more with some of our largest paddocks, so that we can move to that fresh paddock daily. The perfect plan would be to have a gut fill at least once daily on that highest brix forage. It will not always be possible due to conflicts, weather or personal schedules, but at least a high percentage of days. This plan is both exciting and daunting since we are in uncharted territory for us. We will continue to keep you informed as the plan takes place.
The Western Illinois Grazing Group will be meeting for the first time in 2019 on April 24 at Midwest Grass and Forage on University Drive in Macomb. We will get started at 6:30 p.m. with a tour of their new facility, followed by a program. Light refreshments will be served along with plenty of time for discussion and networking. Everyone is welcome, and there is no cost or obligation.