Someone has wisely stated, “the cheapest land you’ll ever buy is increasing the utilization of your own.” But how does one do this? This article explores strategies cattle producers can employ to increase productivity of existing pastures.
Research throughout the U.S. has shown significant increases in cattle gain when clover is added to permanent pastures. In addition, a good stand of clover (30-35 percent basal coverage) can provide 100 lbs/A or more nitrogen, thus reducing the need for purchased nitrogen fertilizer. The introduction of new grazing tolerant and highly persistent clover varieties and the high cost of nitrogen fertilizer have combined to renew interest in clover utilization.
Maintain Soil Fertility
Soil pH is critical. Maximum plant uptake of the major nutrients N, P and K occurs when the soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.8. It should be noted that all nutrients are essential for optimizing plant growth and survival. Particular attention should be given to soil potassium levels. Low soil potassium levels can result in poor yields, increased disease susceptibility and higher plant mortality.
Weeds rob pasture forages of nutrients and moisture, provide unnecessary competition and lowers overall pasture quality and productivity. Weeds can be controlled mechanically or chemically. However, one of the cheapest and easiest ways to control weeds is to maintain a good stand of desirable grass. This is best accomplished by employing proper fertilization and grazing management practices.
Utilize Proper Grazing Management
In general, a good pasture will support one cow/calf pair per 1.5 to 2 acres. Studies across the U.S. have shown beef stocking rates can be increased 25 to 35 percent when a “residue and rest” or “rotational grazing” system is utilized. An added benefit of such a grazing system is improved forage vigor, quality and persistence.
Overseeding high quality winter annuals such as rye, wheat, oats and ryegrass on warm season perennial pastures improves forage quality and extends pasture utilization into more months. This reduces the need for purchased and/or stored winter feed supplies.
Beef producers who remain profitable in the future will be those who utilize management techniques that allow maximum utilization of every acre. Follow these strategies and begin maximizing the use of pastures on your farm.
Wayne Tankersley is a forage agronomist with Pennington Seed, Inc.