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300 days of grazing: How to stretch pastures and feed less hay

Gene Johnston 02/06/2012 @ 11:00pm On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

Your beef cows graze pastures about seven months a year. The other five, you’re feeding purchased or harvested feed.

How do I know that? Well, it’s the average, whether you’re in a northern state or the South. Estimates from Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin all fall in that same window: cows graze about 220 days, then eat hay the other 140.

University of Arkansas Extension experts took a hard look at that number four years ago. The price of feed, fertilizer, and fuel had all taken a dramatic jump. They decided that the best thing they could do to help beef operators in their state was to find ways to extend the pasture-grazing season.

“We decided that 135-140 days of feeding hay was too much, it could be much less,” says Tom Troxel, beef specialist at Arkansas. “We developed this idea of the 300 Days of Grazing Program. As it turns out, the program is adaptable just about anywhere,” Troxel and colleagues told beef producers at the 2012 Cattle Industry Convention.

If the grazing period can be 300 days, that chops the hay-feeding period to about 60 days – three more months on pasture, three less on hay and/or grain. “That’s the cheapest feed we have, the pasture,” says John Jennings, Extension forage specialist. 

The specialists decided to implement the 300 Days program on demonstration farms scattered around Arkansas. They now have 110 farms involved in the program, with collective savings of over $200,000 so far. And, they feel they’ve just scratched the surface.

Getting started

They use a five-step process on each farm to begin the program.

  • Inventory the forage base on the farm. 
  • Determine the management practices that will increase grazing days.
  • Add complementary forages such as warm-season grasses and legumes to enhance long-term grazing.
  • Plan grazing and forage practices for an entire year.
  • Monitor and adjust as each unique year unfolds.

Here are some of the practices they like to incorporate.

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