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Lessons at linneus

01/25/2011 @ 8:44am

Perhaps no place in the country deserves more credit for advances in grazing management than the University of Missouri’s Forage Systems Research Center in northern Missouri near Linneus. For over 40 years, the 1,200-acre farm has developed ways to increase pounds of beef produced per acre.

The result is a system of managed intensive grazing, or MIG. It involves every element of grazing management from fencing to soil fertility to forage species and water location. Cattle are usually rotated through small pastures, called paddocks or cells, every few days.

Most famous for its grazing schools, farmers and ranchers spend three days in an intense classroom and field training experience at the farm. They hear and see what has been learned through research and try putting it to practice.

Here are a few of the big lessons Dave Davis (pictured), superintendent of the facility, and his colleagues like to share.

• Take what you want. “We tell farmers to take part of it or all of it; any of it will probably help,” he says.

Some farmers see the small paddocks and frequent moving of animals and say it might work on a research farm but never on their real-world farm. “I tell them to go home and take one pasture and split it in two,” says Davis. “Put an electric fence diagonally through the middle if that will let you get water to both sides. Then, rotate cows back and forth.

“Right away you get better forage utilization, more tonnage of forage, and higher quality forage. You also have better manure distribution. You reap all the benefits of MIG, just not the full amount.

“If you like that, the next year split it again and rotate through four paddocks. The only investment is a few posts and some electric wire. That’s how to start slowly to learn what it’s all about.”

• Advances in electric fence. In the old days, farmers had the small steel posts with plastic insulators that slipped over the top. “They were just looking for a way to short out,” says Davis. “And the smooth steel wire was prone to breaking.”

In contrast, modern plastic posts don’t break or short out. Today’s polywire  (plastic interwoven with conductive wire filaments) is more user-friendly and easier to handle. Davis suggests studying up on what’s available in posts and wire.

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