Livestock producers: Prepare forage and grazing plans |

Livestock producers: Prepare forage and grazing plans

BROOKINGS, SD – Most producers have their cash crop acres allocated and seed purchased long before the snow flies. Justin Fruechte, forage specialist with Millborn Seeds, Brookings, SD, encourages livestock producers not to wait until spring to decide how to manage the remaining acres for forage and pasture production.

“By developing forage and grazing management plan early, livestock producers have the opportunity to implement strategies which can increase forage production and extend their grazing season,” Fruechte said.

Forage assessment: Fruechte said livestock producers should begin by taking inventory of their on farm forage and the acres allocated to producing feed in 2011.

While taking inventory, he said producers should ask themselves the following questions: Were you able to graze late into the fall? Do you have enough forage stockpiled to make it through winter? Or, did supplies fall short, and you anticipate needing to purchase additional forage before spring?

“Based on this forage assessment, livestock producers can determine if they need to increase or maintain production this growing season to meet their herds’ 2011 needs,” Fruechte said.

Allocating acres: Once you’ve determined your 2011 forage and grazing needs, it’s time to decide what forage species to plant in which acres and develop a rotational grazing plan for pastureland.

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“I like to review a soil sample and the field’s history when selecting which forage species to plant in the spring,” he said.

He shares the following example: If I’m converting a corn field to forage production in 2011, I would first plant a cover crop mixture like a brassica blend in the spring to break up residue and make the soil more mallow. This can be grazed in late spring, planted back to warm season annual forage and then dormant seeded to grass.

However, if I plan to plant the acres to alfalfa, I would begin by using the soil sample to determine the soil’s fertility needs; then, prepare the seedbed prior to planting by applying fertilizer and a pre-emergence herbicide.

Rotational grazing plan: When it comes to developing a rotational grazing plan for pastureland, Fruechte encourages producers to look back at how much forage was left in each pasture at the end of the grazing season.

“Based on this assessment, producers can graze pastures with the most forage left over first, giving their over-grazed pastureland an opportunity to rest and rebound before turning cows out,” Fruechte said. “By changing the rotation in which you graze each pasture also creates more diversity of warm and cool season plants.”