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Q&A on better grazing
Four grazing specialists fielded questions from a packed room of farmers and ranchers at a Cattle Convention luncheon this week. The four experts were Tom Troxel, John Jennings, and Shane Gadberry from the University of Arkansas, and Bill Hopkin from the Utah grazing improvement association. Here are the highlights:
Q: What is the most important thing beef producers can do to improve grazing management?
Troxel: Have a shorter and more defined calving season. If you get all cows in the same stage of production at the same time, it opens doors to many efficiencies in nutrition and disease management, and forage utilization.
Gadberry: Cull cows that don’t breed back. Don’t feed non-producers.
Jennings: Have a year-long forage plan. Ask yourself what do you have in each season for grazing, and how does that match up with the needs of your herd.
Hopkin: On our public grazing lands, we need to better manage the time and intensity of grazing. Hay is killing ranchers, it’s $200 a ton. Learn how to use less, or no, hay.
Q: What are the key things to monitoring pasture performance?
Hopkin: Diligently manage the time of grazing. People lose production by grazing too long. You don’t hurt the land as much as you hurt animal productivity. Monitoring grazing is a big deal on public lands, it’s mandated. We need better tools.
Jennings: Do a forage inventory of your fields, know what’s there. Count everything at the end of your toe, then take five steps and do it again. Do that all the way across a field, and list the grasses, legumes, and weeds you have. Then follow your progress from year to year.
Gadberry: Watch changes in your pastures from season to season, and watch what your cows look like. We graze the calves first in a pasture, for the better forage, then follow with dry cows to eat what’s left. The calves have higher nutrient requirements.
Troxel: Soil test and forage test pastures. Then, body score the cows. You’ll know if your plan is working.
How should you manage pastures in a drought?
Troxel: Try to respond early, before you get in crisis mode. You can either buy hay, or sell animals, but the earlier you make that decision, usually the better.
Gadberry: A controlled breeding season with a narrow calving season helps. That way, if you get into a drought, it’s easier to wean calves early if they are all close in age. We know we can wean as early as 50 days and make it work, and then we can put the cows on a lower-level maintenance ration.
Jennings: Have your stocking rate at the right level, in moderation for the long term. You can buy cattle to take care of surplus grass at some points, but don’t routinely stock heavy. When drought hits, put your animals in a sacrificed pasture, rather than ruin the whole farm. And, plant some winter annuals such as wheat, ryegrass, or oats in the early fall. We always have some forage by November.