The cost of cattle production is rising and producers seeking to put more grass weight on their cattle are finding that sound pasture management has never been more attractive and/or profitable.
Here are some tips on increasing your forages, with the first one being...
Consult county Extension experts about the specifics of your local area before proceeding.
Stockpiled forages. Setting aside a supply of forage to use after forage growth has ended in the fall is called "stockpiling" or "deferred grazing." When pastures are managed for deferred grazing, a compromise sometimes has to be made between yield and quality, since the highest yield often produces lower-quality forage. Forages adaptable to stockpiling include perennials such as tall fescue, orchardgrass and ryegrass.
Overseeding a pasture or hayfield will increase both quantity and quality of forage. But beware! As I learned from adding too much clover and alfalfa to our pasture mix, if you plan to take a "first cutting" off your pastures in the spring prior to turning out your cattle, it’ll take forever to dry and bale. And if you do small square bales, your wife will complain the whole time you're unloading the wagons! Up here in northeast Pennsylvania, drydown can sometimes take as long as five to six days depending on the relative humidity and overnight temperatures. Summer pastures overseeded with legumes work best for providing a nitrogen source and improving pasture quality. The legumes that work best, no matter where in the country you live, are red and white clovers. But you need to watch for bloat and/or grass tetany in early spring if your cattle have been accustomed to dry hay all winter.
Cool-season pastures. Due to the summerlike temperatures we had in March, our cool-season grasses are growing remarkably well, and early in the North and East. They can help you extend the green period across as much of the growing period as possible and improve livestock weight gain. Perennial cool-season pasture grasses grow in dryland conditions, not drought-stricken areas, and can supplement native range by providing a month or more of nutritious grazing in the spring and possibly again in the fall.
Rotational grazing. A rotational grazing program, such as the one on our farm/ranch, uses several pastures, with one being grazed while the others are rested. We divide our pastures into smaller areas called paddocks (approximately 2 acres each) and move our cattle from one to the next determined by the rate of forage regrowth, which is directly related to weather or the lack thereof. The practice of rotational grazing can increase net profit by reducing the cost of machinery, fuel and storage facilities, and by cutting back on supplemental feeding and pasture waste (selective grazing).
Extended grazing. We leave our herd on pasture into the fall and winter, utilizing perennial pastures held in reserve (stockpiled forages). For those of you who supplement your cattle with grain, it has been estimated that each day your cattle graze on pasture, your feed costs could be cut in half. Another advantage to grazing your cattle in rotational pastures/paddocks is that the cost of hauling manure is reduced. Nutrients are returned to the land naturally to be used by growing forages while in the rest cycle of your rotational grazing program.