Nine tips for extending your grazing season
Extending the grazing season can put you on the path to using less stored feed and to adding more money in your pocket. Former Missouri State Grazing lands Specialist Mark Kennedy outlines nine strategies to give you a jump in getting more out of your grass.
1) Use proper stocking rates. For every cow that you’re overstocked, you have to provide about 13,000 pounds (lb.) of
forage from outside sources, Kennedy says.
2) Utilize pastures more efficiently through improved grazing management. As pastures are subdivided into smaller units and grazed for shorter periods of time with the same number of livestock, Kennedy says spot-grazing decreases and utilization increases.
“Typically, with a four-pasture rotational-grazing system where livestock are moved every seven to 10 days, utilization is 35%,” he says. “With a 12-pasture system where livestock will be moved every two to four days, utilization of pasture should be around 65%.”
3) Utilize legumes to extend the grazing season into the summer. “Legumes continue active growth longer into the summer than their companion cool-season grasses,” Kennedy says. Legumes also provide free nitrogen fertilizer for companion grasses.
4) Add warm-season grasses to the forage base. According to Kennedy, cool-season grasses dominate most Midwest livestock farms. “Cool-season grasses typically produce 60% of their growth in the spring, 30% in the fall and 10% in the summer if moisture is adequate and temperatures aren’t extreme.” He adds that warm-season grasses provide optimum growth with temperatures from 85° to 100° F and they provide active growth from mid-May until frost in the fall.
5) Stockpile tall fescue for winter grazing. Utilizing stockpiled fescue is the cheapest winter feed we have available, Kennedy says. “Typically, feeding stockpiled tall fescue by strip-grazing it will cost one-third to one-half as much as feeding hay and the quality is just as good or better.”
6) Remember winter annual forages will provide high-quality winter feed at a cost lower than hay or silage. In a study at the Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus, Mo., it cost $172 per cow to winter on hay for 130 days; $108 to utilize winter annuals for 90 days and hay for 40 days; and $70 per cow to utilize stockpiled fescue for 90 days and hay for 40 days. While winter annuals cost more than stockpiled fescue because of seed and machinery expense, Kennedy says they are still cheaper than hay
7) Graze crop residues. This is an option for some livestock producers in the Midwest. Kennedy notes that a field that produces 120 bushels (bu.) per acre of corn will contain 3-4 tons of roughage dry matter per acre.
“Beef cattle will normally consume 30% to 40% of the crop residue providing an additional 65 to 110 days of grazing,” he explains. Depending on the cow’s physiological stage, he adds, supplemental feed may be needed to meet the nutritional needs of the cow, especially if she is lactating.
8) Graze dormant alfalfa and other hayfields. It is recommended to allow growth to accumulate in alfalfa and other hay fields for six weeks before the first killing frost. Once cold weather has ensured dormancy, Kennedy says the accumulated growth can be grazed safely for livestock. Plus, he adds, grazing dormant alfalfa tends to reduce the alfalfa weevil population the next spring.
9) Graze dormant warm-season grasses. Studies in Oklahoma and Arkansas have shown that stockpiled Bermuda grass will maintain crude-protein levels of 10% if grazed by the end of December.