The rising cost of fertilizer and fuel means livestock producers need to consider changing the way they manage pastures, says Gerald Evers, Texas AgriLife Research forage management scientist. He suggests producers consider developing a three-pasture grazing system to reduce inputs. While his work focuses on Texas, this same idea can be applied in other areas that use improved pastures that require fertilizer applications.
One example of a three pasture system consists of a hay meadow (about 40 percent of open pasture), a pasture to be over-seeded with ryegrass-clover (also about 40 percent of open pasture), and a third pasture used for feeding hay and calving (about 20 percent of open pasture).
"The hay meadow should never be over-seeded with annual ryegrass since ryegrass grows through May and delays spring growth of the warm-season perennial grass," Evers says. "This results in the loss of the early hay cutting when warm-season grass growth and nutritive value are the highest."
Fertilizer, based on a soil test, should be applied when daily low temperatures stay above 60 degrees. Typically, only one or two hay cuttings will be needed. The hay meadow can be grazed until mid-September. Any growth should be removed by grazing or a hay harvest in mid-September and fertilized with about 60 pounds per acre of nitrogen to produce a standing hay crop, he says.
"Standing hay” means that instead of harvesting fall growth as hay, the grass is harvested with cows by grazing when hay feeding would normally begin, Evers says. Though the energy and protein levels may be low, it is sufficient for cows not nursing.
The pasture to be overseeded with ryegrass and clover can have any type of summer grass on it, he explains. It is critical to select a clover that is adapted to the soil type and has the potential to reseed so it does not have to be replanted each fall.
According to Evers:
– Grazing can begin about six weeks before Bermuda grass or bahia grass is ready in the spring, which will further reduce the winter feeding period.
– Clover will use nitrogen from the air and reduce nitrogen fertilizer needs.
– Ryegrass and clover have a higher nutritive value than summer grasses. Higher nutrition means better animal performance. Cows need to calve in January and February to obtain the greatest benefit from the ryegrass and clover.
Both the hay meadow and the overseeded pasture may be subdivided to allow rotational grazing, Evers adds. The success of this system is dependent on fall rainfall to grow a fall standing hay crop and get ryegrass and clover established. It is important to have a hay barn of some type to store excess hay for use when a fall drought occurs, Evers says.
More information can be found in "Forage Systems to Reduce the Winter Feeding Period," an article by Evers which can be found online at: /files/ForageSystems.pdf.
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