If managed correctly, producers can get more from pastures
No more land is being made, so it’s important for farmers to utilize the space they’ve got. One way producers can maximize available land is by improving pastures to graze more cattle on the same ground.
In order for producers to be able to maximize grass and add a few more head, soil fertility must be up to snuff. Producers should not purchase whatever fertilizer happens to be the most popular or cheapest, because they might just be throwing their money away.
“Obtaining a quality soil sample is vital for receiving accurate nutrient recommendations for your field,” Jill Scheidt, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist, said.
The Extension recommends soil be tested every three to five years to see what might be lacking in soil nutrition.
“Once you know what your soil requires, you can purchase and apply the fertilizer in the appropriate amounts,” Scheidt explained.
The best way to maximize pastures is to implement a rotational grazing system, also known as Management Intensive Grazing (MIG).
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, under rotational grazing, only a portion of the pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of pasture “rests,” Resting grazed paddocks allows forage plants to renew energy reserves, rebuild vigor, deepen their root system, and give long term maximum production.
Better production from the forage translates to higher stocking densities while still being able to provide superior quality, nutritious grass. The more paddocks you have, the more intensive your grazing plan is, but the extra work is worth it in the long run if your farm is able to accommodate such a practice. Generally, more intense management results in greater livestock production per acre.
The pastures and grazing schedules on every farm are different, but a general rule of thumb to follow, Scheidt said, is “the three-leaf or take half, leave half” rule.
“Always make sure the grass has three living leaves or no more than half of the grass the cattle started with gets grazed off,” she said.
Stockpiling forage can help effectively manage pastures through dry spells or help decrease the need for hay in the winter. Stockpiling forage and rotational grazing go hand-in-hand, according to John Jennings, animal science professor with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“Rotational grazing can extend the grazing season during stress growing periods and can protect standing forage for grazing during dry periods,” Jennings said.
He went on to explain that stockpiling forages is a very effective and consistent method for providing fall and winter grazing. Many forages work well for stockpiling, but the best are probably tall fescue or Bermudagrass. Other forages could work well based on regional experience and conditions. By adding both rotational grazing and stockpiled forages, the producer can gain several weeks to several months of grazing, all with the existing forage base.”
Developing New Stands
Developing a new forage stand can increase stocking densities. Improving the soil fertility, selecting appropriate forages and grazing goals for the new stand are all important aspects of such a project.