December 07, 2023

Quality forage production positively impacts livestock performance

LEXINGTON, Ill. — Rotational grazing and quality hay are important for conception rates in cattle.

“It is important for the cows to have a good body condition score for good conception rates and that goes back to rotational grazing and good quality hay,” said Terry Bachtold, who manages about a 20-head cow herd on his farm near Strawn that also includes corn and soybean production.

Bachtold has 130 acres of pasture that is divided into 11 paddocks.

“We put about 10 cows and calves in the six- to seven-acre paddocks,” said Bachtold during a panel discussion at the Forages for Feed meeting presented by the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council.

“The creek is fenced off and we have lanes on both sides of the creek,” he said. “A water line goes down both lanes so every paddock has a source of water.”

Cows and calves typically go out to the pasture around mid-April and they are moved to a new paddock about every seven days.

“In the spring, we cut hay off some of the paddocks,” Bachtold said. “The paddocks are alfalfa/orchard grass and when the alfalfa dies out I interseed red clover into them.”

In late summer, after the cattle have grazed the paddocks, he applies manure on the pasture.

“I don’t like weeds, so I do a lot of spot spraying in the pasture,” he said.


Don Mackinson has 200 acres of alfalfa on his farm that includes a 150-cow Ayrshire and Holstein herd.

“We raise all our forages that includes different varieties of alfalfa,” he said about the farm near Pontiac. “I farm with my son and brother and our family has been farming this ground since my great grandpa came in 1865.”

Making dry hay over the last couple of years has been a challenge for Mackinson.

“We like spreading our hay out wide to get it to dry,” he said. “We want the highest protein hay we can get and when you loose leaves on the hay, you loose protein.”

Last year Mackinson purchased a bale wrapper for the big square bales.

“We are very happy with our wrapper, the protein and feed value is so much better,” Mackinson said.

“We increased 20 to 30 points for relative feed value and milk production increased three to four pounds per cow per day.”

Mackinson cuts his hay every 28 days.

“We stick to that as much as possible, we’ll shut the corn planter off to chop hay, that’s how important high quality hay is to a dairy,” he said. “We chop the first cutting and fill the Harvestore with that.”

For fertilization, Mackinson applies dry fertilizer on his alfalfa fields twice a year, after the first and fourth cutting.

“I don’t know what we’ll do this year because of the price of fertilizer,” he said. “We don’t spread any manure on the alfalfa fields unless we have to. We put the manure on the soybean stubble.”


Elton Mau, the third member of the panel at the meeting, manages 125 head of sheep on his farm near Arrowsmith.

“I’ve been doing this since 1996 and my sheep are a commercial Dorset crossed with Ile De France that are made for grazing,” he said. “When I bought this place I quit using fertilizer and I use a four-year rotation of corn, beans, wheat and cover crops.”

After preg checking his flock in early March, Mau reported 80% of the ewes have twins, 10% singles and 10% multiples.

“Two ewes have four lambs and one has five lambs, so I have to feed my sheep as good as a dairy cow,” he said.

Mau’s flock lambs in May and June. He plants a variety of forages including turnips, cereal rye and red clover for his pasture.

“The forage has to stay lush, green and vegetative so I try to move the sheep about every two days,” he said. “I incorporate annuals with turnips and forage chicory that has a nice wide leaf.”

The shepherd likes to plant cover crops in his pasture.

“You have to determine your livestock needs,” he said. “I have sheep that need a lot of nutrition in the spring so I use cover crops and in the fall I use cover crops to finish the lambs.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor