300 Days of Grazing - Reduce Supplement Needs

Researchers at Arkansas University have put together an intensive programme to help producers get 300 days out of pasture. To date it has resulted in about $200,000 in direct savings to producers enrolled in the programme, reports Charlotte Johnston, TheCattleSite editor.
calendar icon 7 April 2012
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Speaking at the Cattlemen's College at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association trade show and convention, Dr Tom Troxel said that production costs are increasing, particularly feed, fuel and fertiliser.

He said that with this in mind it was important to focus on efficiency, including pasture, hay and feed management.

Over the last four years, the team at Arkansas has carried out 100 demonstrations in 48 counties.

At Batesville, the team has a demonstration farm, which Dr Troxel says is to show producers that it is possible to improve efficiencies through 300 days of pasture. The Batesville farm targets a 90 per cent net calf crop, with average weaning weights of 550lbs. The target is to reduce supplemental feeding to 60 days or less.

This means that the demonstration farm is looking to feed hay for 60 days or less.

Dr John Jennings, an expert in forage management, said that the average number of days for feeding hay does vary from county to county, but is around 135 to 140 days.

"We shouldn't have to feed hay that long," said Dr Jennings. "Instead we should look at extending the grazing season."

It costs $22 per acre just to run the equipment to make hay, he said. Production costs can be $29 to $35 an acre, depending on bales produced, but then there are the storage costs to consider as well.

Less hay would increase profitability, Dr Jennings said.


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"In few cases is the fullest possible use made of pasture."

Despite pasture being the cheapest source of feed, very rarely is proper use of pasture made, he said.

To see maximum yields and high quality forage, producers must plan and manage for a pasture crop."We plan for hay, wheat and barley crops, why don't we plan for pasture," Dr Jennings asked.

Steps for a 300-Day Grazing Season

  1. Start with an inventory of your forage base
  2. Determine what management practices to add to increase seasonal grazing from that forage base
  3. Add complementary forages to fill in seasonal gaps
  4. Plan forage and grazing practices ahead for the year
  5. Monitor and adjust forages and livestock as needed

To date there have been over 100 on-farm demonstrations, and about $200,000 direct savings have been made by producers who are enrolled in the programme.

Improving grazing management

Dr Jennings said that grazing management can be improved through rotational/ strip grazing.

Rotational or controlled grazing can potentially increase forage availability over a continuous grazed area by more than 50 per cent. Because of the increase in forage availability, several management options to potentially increase profit become available.

These options include increasing the number of cattle, grazing flexibility, stockpiling forage, extended grazing during drought, reduced input costs and time savings.

"Electric fence construction saved nine producers $17,274 versus traditional fencing. The programme has also found that strip grazing doubles grazing days on stockpiled forage and saves extra $10 per animal unit versus continuous grazing."

Complementary forages and legumes

In 2011, planting legumes saved two producers $8,276 compared to nitrogen fertilisation costs on grass.

Legumes fix nitrogen and so are not dependent on nitrogen fertiliser. The fixed nitrogen is used first to support clover growth, but it becomes available to neighbouring grass plants when the clover tissue dies. Another valuable role of legumes is to increase pasture forage quality, they can also sustain forage supplies when other species are not as productive.

Dr Jennings said that forages can be sod-seeded into dormant grasses to provide grazing during a period when perennial forages are unavailable.

Regardless of the establishment method, warm and cool season annuals have excellent forage quality characteristics and are good options to fill the gaps in the 300-day grazing system.

Hay management

By improving storage and feeding of hay, producers can increase efficiency, said Dr Jennings.

Hay storage can influence how much hay is available for winter feeding. Trials in Arkansas have shown that storing hay in barns can lead to losses of about 10 per cent, this compares to 25 per cent losses for hay uncovered outside.

Hay feeding practices can affect wastage and inefficiencies which in turn determines how much hay has to be harvested.

When feeding hay, losses of 13 per cent can occur when feeding round bale hay using ring feeding and 24 per cent when unrolling.

In comparison, processing hay and feeding it in solid-side feeders resulted in hay feeding losses below one per cent.

Stockpiling forages

Stockpiling forages is allowing forage growth to accumulate in one season to use for grazing in a later season, explained Dr Jennings.

Therefore forages grown in late summer and fall can be deferred for grazing until late fall or winter. Dr Jennings said that this tends to be more cost effective over feeding hay and supplements.

Further savings are made when time, labour and fuel used to move hay are taken into account. Less hay is needed, reducing hay production costs and allows producers to focus on quality of hay produced.

Stockpiled warm season forages (Grazed October to December)

The average savings for stockpiling Bermuda grass compared to feeding hay averaged $52 per head in 2010.

Stockpiled cool season forages (Grazed December to March)

The average savings for stockpiling fescue compared to feeding hay averaged $48 per animal unit in 2010. The greatest savings documented was $83.50 per animal unit which came from a farm that strip-grazed stockpiled fescue/ white clover and did not need to apply nitrogen fertiliser.

Conclusion

All of the 300 Day Grazing Programme demonstrations had a positive impact on either increasing the number of grazing days, reducing fertiliser needs or improving hay management efficiency, said Dr Troxel.

Total direct savings to producers for the three year demonstration period was $191,727. He said that due to the severe weather conditions of 2010, producers employing practices of this programme had much better forage production compared to producers not enrolled in the programme.

April 2012

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