May 13, 2021

Tailor grazing plans to match farm needs, resources

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Choosing forage species to fill in forage slumps will extend the grazing season.

“Finding a new species to fit that gap helps provide a more equal forage throughout the grazing season,” said Luke Wilson, market development manager for Barenbrug USA.

“You will have savings because when you run out of forages in your pastures, feeding hay is never cheap,” said Wilson during the Cattlemen’s Webinar Series organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Feeding hay could cost from $8 to $50 per cow per month.”

For example, Wilson said, if a pasture is tall fescue, there will be a lush spring growth followed by a summer slump and then a little forage growth in the fall.

“You could add Mojo crabgrass, a warm season annual that will produce at its peak while the fescue is slowing down,” Wilson said.

“You can add forage turnips to provide feed from mid-September to early November, mixed with a small grain or annual ryegrass to provide forage while you’re allowing the tall fescue to grow and stockpile,” he said.

Forage breeding programs are focused on both yield and quality.

“Sometimes yielding more isn’t always better because of palatability,” Wilson said. “If the forage is palatable, the animals will have higher intake, and if the forage is more digestible, they will be able to utilize more of it.”

Many grasses that cattlemen are using today are 80 to 90 years old, Wilson said.

“There have been advancements in newer genetics, including a greater range of maturity dates to allow a larger window to graze,” he said.

In addition, new genetics can have improved disease resistance, better palatability, better fiber digestion, more drought tolerance and winter hardiness.

“One of the more recent advancements is utilizing endophytes in plants to help with their persistence and durability,” Wilson said.

Cattlemen need to make sure their forages have the nutrition required to thrive.

“Everybody should do a soil test once every three years, which can answer a lot of questions,” Wilson said. “Because without the proper nutrition, you’ll never be able to get the full potential of the seed you planted.”

Unique Strategies

“Adaptive grazing management is the practice of using proven grazing management principles and practices to meet the dynamic biological, economic and social needs of individual grazing operations and communities,” said Johnny Rogers, Amazing Grazing coordinator at North Carolina State University, who also spoke during the webinar.

The key, Rogers said, is the practice is for individual grazing operations.

“We can’t have a template that works in North Carolina and transpose that to Minnesota,” said the cattleman who operates Rogers Cattle Co., a Red Angus seedstock operation.

Grazing operations have a certain carrying capacity based on the amount of forage that can be produced.

“The maximum stocking rate is where we can achieve animal performance and take care of our forages so they are sustainable over time,” Rogers said. “The true stocking rate is just under that, which is the number of pounds of live weight on a farm on an annual basis.”

The forage rest period is really important for a grazing plan.

“You need to set up a grazing rotation so you never come back on the grazed forage too soon,” Rogers said. “That’s going to depend on the time of the year and the forage species.”

A properly grazed forage will sustain a more robust root system which will help build soil health, Rogers said.

“It also helps during drought because the plants can pull nutrients and water from deeper in the soil profile,” he said.

Rogers talked about the power of one wire and the use of temporary electric fence in a grazing system.

“By dividing a pasture in two we double the stock density, we increase the rest period and we teach cattle how to respect a temporary electric fence,” he said.

Once cattle are trained to respect an electric fence, it can be used in a lot of ways.

“We use it to sort cattle out of a larger group,” Rogers said. “I’m on an end of the fence, my wife is on the other end, there’s no electricity on the fence and so just by holding it between us, the cattle respect it even in a corral or catch pen.”

Stockpiling forages to extend the grazing season is one of Rogers’ favorite forage management practices.

“All forages can be stockpiled, the difference is how long they can be stockpiled and how they hold their nutritional value,” he said.

When utilizing a stockpiled pasture, Rogers said, consider the nutrient requirements of the livestock.

“We like to use our stockpiled grasses on one- to three-day moves,” he said. “We graze the pasture that contains clover and other grasses first and save the fescue fields for later.”

To improve animal performance and to increase yield, Rogers recommends adding clovers to fescue pastures.

“They can improve animal performance, increase yield and add nitrogen to the system which can be very valuable especially with higher fertilizer prices,” Rogers said.

“I like to use frost seeding to incorporate legumes at the end of February and into March,” he said. “Manage those fields by mowing or grazing it to keep the grass shorter the first year to give the clover a chance to get established and then use rotational grazing to maintain the clover.”

Grazing annual crops can provide a rest period for the perennial pastures, as well as improve the biological activity and soil organic matter.

“A good way to use these is with strip grazing,” Rogers said. “There are a lot of options like oats and crimson clover or sudangrass and cowpeas.”

Rogers aims to plant a grass, legume and broadleaf.

“The seeding rates will be a little higher for grazing than a traditional cover crop,” he said. “You can plant winter annuals like oats, wheat, rye or triticale or summer annuals like sudan grass and millets fill in really well.”

Martha Blum

Field Editor