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Lessons at linneus

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

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.

Same goes for chargers.
“Don’t skimp when buying a charger,” he says. “If cattle aren’t used to
electric fence, you have to hit them pretty hard the first time. That’s how
they learn. I recommend a minimum of 1 joule per mile of fence.”

• Get the right forages.
Davis likes to see a fourth to a third of the plants in a pasture be legumes,
like red clover, alfalfa, or white clover. Davis’ favorite is birdsfoot
trefoil. “It yields about the same as red clover,” he says. “It’s harder to
establish than clover, but a stand will last longer. In the heat of summer, the
quality of trefoil holds up better, and cattle eat it better, in my opinion.”


As for grasses, Davis is
excited about the relatively new endophyte-friendly tall fescue. “It’s only
been on the market a few years, and we don’t have a lot of experience with it,”
he says. “We’re going to plant a quarter-section of it this year.”

• Give it a rest. One of the
key elements of MIG is that forages rest while cattle are in other paddocks. In
spring, when grasses are growing most rapidly, Davis says it’s common to have
cattle off of a paddock for 21 to 28 days. In summer, when things dry out and
slow down, that may stretch to 45 to 50 days.

“We really don’t like to
think in terms of calendar days,” says Davis. “It depends more on the growth of
forages and their recovery. We like to put cattle into a paddock when there are
8 to 10 inches of growth and graze it down to 3 to 4 inches, regardless of the
number of days.”

• Water everywhere. With
divided pastures, water becomes a big issue. Davis says it’s not only about
making water available in every paddock, but about making sure every animal can
drink when it wants to. “A thirsty cow is a hungry cow,” says Davis. “Don’t
make her wait to drink because some won’t wait.”  

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