Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Produce more pounds per acre
Finally summer has arrived! Most of us have tuned out our bulls and the breeding season is underway. We have all received good rainfall and the grass is growing rapidly. Many of you are now actively gathering winter feed stuffs. For the last hundred years we have become accustomed to the grass model for raising beef cows. It allowed the cow to take care of her own nutritional needs with little interaction from us. As more and more pasture ground is being broken by row crops, the demand for pasture has increased. This has dramatically raised the pasture rents forcing producer into alternative scenarios to the pasture model.
The first model would be to heavily graze a pasture with high numbers of cows. This has been termed ‘Mob Grazing.” The cows are then removed when the grass is short and the rains result in good re-growth. This works best early in the season when the weather is cool and the rains are adequate. In our area, the flatlands, many producers will hay a pasture; allow some re-growth and then place cattle on the grass in mid to late summer.
Strip grazing involves fencing and frequent cattle movement. Paddocks are heavily grazed and the cows are moved to another area. If properly planned the watering facilities and creep feeding can be placed in an area common to all paddocks. In eastern areas feed bunks are added to this common area and the cows and calves receive a total mixed ration some times daily and in other operations, every second or third day. This program is relatively labor intensive, but your reward is pasture concentration.
Cover crops are efficient aids in extending grazing. In our area radishes and turnips, etc. are seeded in early fall. These plants aid in soil fertility and reduce compaction. Cows are allowed to graze these crops through the winter as long as we don’t have heavy snows. When we work these cows during grazing they appear adequately nourished even though they may have bad breath and loose stools. We are also seeing more short maturing crops planted early (oats, rye, peas, etc.) harvested for feed before maturation and a second row crop planted. This double cropping makes great use of agricultural land for feedstuffs.
In recent years the cattle prices have made it lucrative to maintain cows in the feedlot without going to grass. Some producers have erected confinement barns for housing cattle for calving and nursing. Because of environmental control the health in the barns is good and the energy requirements of the cow are decreased. Studies at NDSU highlighted higher conception rates in cows bunk fed a complete ration (TMR). This is probably a result of controlled nutritional intake. In some of the feedlot scenarios there are grass paddocks for the calves. They have feed and water while avoiding much of the dust of the feedlot. This scenario works well with heifers allowing better nutritional control and ability to gather them for management protocols.
The cattle industry is at a crossroads. There is great demand for product and the cow numbers are low. Couple this with the loss of pasture land and the increase in pasture rents and you have opportunity. It is a great opportunity for profit if we can think outside the box and formulate a plan to produce more calves on the land you control. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, or extension specialist to devise a plan for your operation. Opportunity definitely exists. Your challenged is to act to increase the cost effective productivity of your farm or ranch utilizing one or several of the alternatives to the pasture model.