Vet’s Voice: Assessing summer forage production | TSLN.com

Vet’s Voice: Assessing summer forage production

Dave Barz, DVM

Just last week I thought spring was here – the temperature was in the 60s and the snow gone; water was flowing and the yards were getting muddy. So much for my dream of spring – snow, wind and cold temperatures have returned. It is hard to believe, but now is a good time to assess summer forage production.

In recent years, feed prices have been extremely high. It doesn’t take a great mathematician to compute cost of feedlot gains at over $1.00 per pound. Hopefully this summer we will be able to put on pasture gain at 60-65 cents per pound. Though we cannot predict our summer rainfall, we can use past history for production estimates. Last summer had adequate rainfall and winter snows more than filled dugouts and dams. Hopefully this will allow grasslands to recover to a high level of production this spring and summer.

Rotational grazing greatly increases forage yield. Electric fences have been used with great success, allowing producers to break up pasture into units. Drinking water is the limiting factor in forming paddocks in a large pasture. Try to determine the best way to place fences to maximize watering systems available.

In our area most pastures are brome. These are cool season grasses that mature early in the grazing season. Once grasses sexually mature, they go into dormancy. If you harvest or graze these heavily early in the season (mob grazing), they usually regenerate before conditions become too hot. In some areas producers hay these pastures early and then turn cows out on regenerating grass. When rotational grazing, choose the area to graze early and graze it down to the residual height (less than four inches tall). Usually this is an area along a creek where there is generally adequate water supply for re-growth.

Take some soil samples to evaluate nutrients in the soil. Usually cool-season grasses prefer a soil pH of 6.2-7.0, while legumes do better if the pH is near 7. Fertilizers may be used in heavily-grazed areas, but it may be too costly for large pastures. If you prefer to alter the plant population in a portion of your pasture, overseed before dormancy breaks. Be sure to not overgraze reseeded areas. It may be better to allow this area to mature and harvest it for hay the first season.

Keeping perennial broadleaf weeds under control is very important to the future of pastures. If pastures have high populations of sweet clover, it is best not to graze them during the breeding season. Sweet clover has high estrogen levels during certain stages of growth and may affect the cow’s hormonal levels during early gestation, decreasing conception rates by 7-10 percent.

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A good area to utilize early in the season is a pasture that was lightly grazed late the previous grazing season with a lot of tall grass. These pastures provide an excellent mix for cow-calf pairs as new growth of green grass provides excellent protein while old grass contains energy. This is a great combination for cows in early lactation.

Cattle are very efficient at converting forage into nutrients needed for growth and body function. Grazing is the most cost-efficient means of utilizing ranch-raised forages. Careful planning and simple decisions based on last year’s grazing will help better utilize available pastures:

• Turnout first into pastures moderately grazed last season and well rested.

• Mob graze low areas of cool grass patures.

• Strip graze in areas where re-growth is expected.

• Increase stocking rates and move cattle from pasture to pasture offering new scenarios for next year’s grasses to the grazing mix.

• Add cost effective nutrients to improve forage production.

• Minimize weed infestation.

A careful plan and simple records of stocking rates, forage types and yields will maximize economic returns from your cow-calf operation.

Just last week I thought spring was here – the temperature was in the 60s and the snow gone; water was flowing and the yards were getting muddy. So much for my dream of spring – snow, wind and cold temperatures have returned. It is hard to believe, but now is a good time to assess summer forage production.

In recent years, feed prices have been extremely high. It doesn’t take a great mathematician to compute cost of feedlot gains at over $1.00 per pound. Hopefully this summer we will be able to put on pasture gain at 60-65 cents per pound. Though we cannot predict our summer rainfall, we can use past history for production estimates. Last summer had adequate rainfall and winter snows more than filled dugouts and dams. Hopefully this will allow grasslands to recover to a high level of production this spring and summer.

Rotational grazing greatly increases forage yield. Electric fences have been used with great success, allowing producers to break up pasture into units. Drinking water is the limiting factor in forming paddocks in a large pasture. Try to determine the best way to place fences to maximize watering systems available.

In our area most pastures are brome. These are cool season grasses that mature early in the grazing season. Once grasses sexually mature, they go into dormancy. If you harvest or graze these heavily early in the season (mob grazing), they usually regenerate before conditions become too hot. In some areas producers hay these pastures early and then turn cows out on regenerating grass. When rotational grazing, choose the area to graze early and graze it down to the residual height (less than four inches tall). Usually this is an area along a creek where there is generally adequate water supply for re-growth.

Take some soil samples to evaluate nutrients in the soil. Usually cool-season grasses prefer a soil pH of 6.2-7.0, while legumes do better if the pH is near 7. Fertilizers may be used in heavily-grazed areas, but it may be too costly for large pastures. If you prefer to alter the plant population in a portion of your pasture, overseed before dormancy breaks. Be sure to not overgraze reseeded areas. It may be better to allow this area to mature and harvest it for hay the first season.

Keeping perennial broadleaf weeds under control is very important to the future of pastures. If pastures have high populations of sweet clover, it is best not to graze them during the breeding season. Sweet clover has high estrogen levels during certain stages of growth and may affect the cow’s hormonal levels during early gestation, decreasing conception rates by 7-10 percent.

A good area to utilize early in the season is a pasture that was lightly grazed late the previous grazing season with a lot of tall grass. These pastures provide an excellent mix for cow-calf pairs as new growth of green grass provides excellent protein while old grass contains energy. This is a great combination for cows in early lactation.

Cattle are very efficient at converting forage into nutrients needed for growth and body function. Grazing is the most cost-efficient means of utilizing ranch-raised forages. Careful planning and simple decisions based on last year’s grazing will help better utilize available pastures:

• Turnout first into pastures moderately grazed last season and well rested.

• Mob graze low areas of cool grass patures.

• Strip graze in areas where re-growth is expected.

• Increase stocking rates and move cattle from pasture to pasture offering new scenarios for next year’s grasses to the grazing mix.

• Add cost effective nutrients to improve forage production.

• Minimize weed infestation.

A careful plan and simple records of stocking rates, forage types and yields will maximize economic returns from your cow-calf operation.

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