The 2015 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mid-year cattle inventory report ranks South Dakota third nationally in beef cow herd expansion - and suggests that herd expansion is up nationwide.
"When compared to the same period a year ago, beef replacement heifer numbers have increased 12 percent in South Dakota," said Tong Wang, SDSU Extension Advanced Production Specialist. "Nationally, heifer retention is up by 6.5 percent with beef cow numbers up by 2.5 percent."
Oklahoma and Texas are the only states which show a greater increase than South Dakota in absolute number of beef replacement heifers. "The expansion of beef cow herds is strongly supported by the historically high cow calf returns in the most recent years, which will very likely continue in the near future," Wang explained.
To expand the herd or not?
To make the cow-calf herd expansion decision more profitable, Wang said one aspect South Dakota ranchers can focus on is advanced grazing management practices which may reduce production expenses on a per cow basis.
Management Intensive Grazing
Management-intensive Grazing (MIG) refers to a grazing strategy where the pasture is fenced into smaller units called paddocks.
"In this system, animals are allowed to graze only one of multiple paddocks at a time, allowing other paddocks to recover," Wang said. "Compared to continuous season long grazing, MIG can greatly improve harvest efficiency, the proportion of forage consumed by livestock compared to the forage produced."
Meanwhile, Wang said selective and repetitive grazing, which is typical of continuous grazing, is minimized with MIG. "This is because stock density is high on a small paddock being grazed, limiting selectivity and improving use of all available forage," he explained.
In addition, Wang said MIG allows periods of re-growth and recovery for highly desirable grass species.
Cost Reduction Estimation
Pasture costs have a great impact on cow-calf returns. "With improved harvest efficiency, MIG may allow a higher stocking rate, which might alleviate the need to rent or purchase more pasture if the MIG system is managed well," Wang said.
Research studies have demonstrated that, under certain circumstances, MIG may satisfactorily support increased stocking rates compared to continuous grazing.
Ecological Benefit and Policy Support
In addition to the cost reduction benefit, MIG has the advantage of increasing vegetative cover and reducing bare ground. This enhances infiltration, reduces soil erosion risk and negative impacts on water quality.
"Compared to continuous grazing, research also shows that if managed well, MIG also has the potential to increase carbon sequestration in the soil over the long term," Wang said.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Cost-Share Program
Thanks to CRP, Wang said adoption of MIG strategy can be a win-win situation for the ranch operator and society.
Starting September 1, 2015, CRP-grassland offers cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent for fence and watering systems to enhance planned grazing, including MIG.
"This is definitely good news for ranchers who are considering expanding their cow herd and adopting MIG as a way to improve their operation," Wang said.
Source: SDSU Extension