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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #301516

Research Project: Optimizing the Biology of the Animal-Plant Interface for Improved Sustainability of Forage-Based Animal Enterprises

Location: Forage-animal Production Research

Title: Can we graze 300+ days?

Author
item Aiken, Glen
item LEHMKUHLER, JEFF - University Of Kentucky

Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/25/2013
Publication Date: 1/2/2014
Citation: Aiken, G.E., Lehmkuhler, J. 2014. Can we graze 300+ days?. Cow Country News. p. 20-21.

Interpretive Summary: Dependence on stored feeds during the winter months is needed to maintain body condition and meet nutrient requirements of cattle herds, but these costs are typically a major part of the farm budget. We know, all too well, that hay shortages and unstable feed ingredient markets have reduced profit potential in cattle production. Furthermore, higher demands on supplies of co-product feeds have caused prices of these alternative feeds to rise and make them less cost effective. There will likely be less reliance on concentrate and co-product feeds as the forage-based livestock industry moves into the future. Hay and ensilage costs also have steadily increased as fuel and equipment costs have escalated. It is obvious that for a cattle operation to reduce its dependence on stored feeds it must take a whole-farm approach to extending the grazing season. Although cattle operations will not completely remove their need for stored feeds, a 300-day grazing season is possible if warm- and cool-season grasses and legumes are utilized and grazing systems are implemented that can optimize growth, persistence, and quality of available forages. General recommendations for achieving 300+ days of grazing are: 1) utilize forage systems that combine cool- and warm season perennial and annual grasses and legumes with potential to extend the seasonal growth distribution of quality, 2) implement grazing management for improving pasture productivity and increasing pasture carrying capacity, and 3) be a better grass farmer. Farms can make improvements in reducing stored feed needs, but this goal can only be accomplished through careful planning, hard work, and monetary investment.

Technical Abstract: The grazing season can be extended by using a system of forages that will require an intensification of the overall management of both the cattle and pastures. Fertilization and weed control should be done when needed, and pasture composition should be monitored and inventoried to determine if weed control measures are needed or if legumes/clovers should be replanted. Cattlemen should plan ahead in managing and preparing pastures that will be utilized in the next seasons (applying nitrogen to toxic tall fescue at the beginning of stockpiling). A whole-farm approach to obtain 300+ days of grazing was achieved over a 4-year period by on-farm demonstrations conducted by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Starting with bermudagrass and toxic tall fescue pastures and implementing research based management practices, the Project reported that income over specified cost/animal unit (1000 lb cow) was 121% greater in year 4 as compared to year 1. Cost burden of stored feeds can be reduced if different forages can be planted across pastures to maximize the availability of green forage across the four seasons. Success of this whole farm management approach will depend on using best practices for managing the grazing and forages.