Throughout my career with University of Missouri Extension my role as been to help beef producers find ways to improve their profitability. I’ve noticed producers often look for the “silver bullet” in some gadget form that will suddenly cure all their woes. The “silver bullet” we’ve all been looking for may not be a gadget at all, it may have been there all along – management.
For producers who set up a grazing system last year through the Department of Natural Resources cost share program the average producer spent $55/acre on fence construction and $80/acre on water development and distribution. Quick question, what did you spend on fertilizer last year? Most producers find that they can build the fence for about the same cost per acre as one year’s worth of fertilizer. Water development will probably be 2 year’s worth of fertilizer.
How long it takes to get that investment back will depend on the value of what you are producing. The economics will be significantly different for a grass based dairy, stocker operator, cow-calf unit, grass finished beef operation, goat producer, etc. But what I can tell you is that rotating your animals through smaller paddocks can increase the amount of grass going through the animals stomach and thereby increase livestock gains. A one field, continually grazed system that is properly stocked probably only gets about 30-35 percent of the grass grown through the animal. Alternatively, a good system that rotates fields every 1-2 days can get up to 70 percent utilization.
While the economics will depend on lots of variables, let’s compare increasing the utilization of grass from just 40 percent to 60 percent on two separate operations. For a stocker operator grazing steers throughout the year on an average acre of southwest Missouri pasture, what does the additional 20 percent of forage gain them? It increases gain per acre from 239# to 400#. At a value of gain of only 65 cents/lb, that’s an additional $105. Take out $20/acre for additional costs it leaves $85/acre more money in your pocket. The $135 investment is paid for in less than 2 years. If a cow calf operation on the same acre goes from 40 percent utilization of grass to 60 percent they have just lowered the number of acres needed per cow from 2.7 acres to 2.4. But the real advantage comes in the amount of hay that is needed. By lowering the number of days hay is fed the investment is repaid in 3.6 years.
Finally, probably the biggest return for your money will be stripgrazing any grass you have available this fall and winter. Research has shown that once frost gets here if a cow is given access to more than she can eat in 3 days she will waste a large percentage of it.
Our grandfathers knew the answer long before we did, a little bit of time spent managing things goes a lot further to increasing profitability than trying to find the next “silver bullet” gadget.
Wesley Tucker is an Agriculture Business Specialist with University of Missouri Extension and a cow/calf producer from Polk County.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here