Cow-calf producers in South Dakota and across the country face a dilemma: On one hand, the market is signaling for more numbers of feeder calves; however, losses in grazing resources over the past decade limit how much the industry can grow using traditional management practices.

New challenges require new or different ways of thinking. Here are ten options to consider to increase the available feed supply for a cow/calf ranch.

Make Better Use of the Grass We Have

  1. Fertilize When Appropriate – for introduced, cool-season species in planted pastures this can be an effective method of increasing production.
  2. Rest, Rotation, and Grazing Management – introducing rest periods into a grazing system can improve plant vigor and resiliency and may allow for more head days per acre.
  3. Improve Grazing Distribution – improved water access or moving mineral feeding sites encourage cattle to find underutilized areas.
  4. Match Grass Growth Patterns with Grazing Pressure – utilizing pastures at the correct stage of production.

Reducing Demands on Pasture

  1. Early Weaning of Calves – saves the forage that the calves graze and reduces the nutrient requirements of the cows.
  2. Supplemental Feeding on Pasture – substitute harvested feeds or by-products for grazed plants.
  3. Reduce/Eliminate Pasture Entirely (Drylotting or semi-confinement) – use low-cost, properly supplemented crop residues based diets to replace summer grazing.

Develop New Grazing Resources

  1. Annual Forage Options – crops such as small grains, millets, and sorghums can be planted as part of a crop rotation with grazing livestock used as the harvest method.
  2. Cover Crops – especially useful to extend the grazing season into the fall.
  3. Crop Residues – vastly underutilized feed resource in the crop growing regions of the Midwest and Plains.

This list is by no means the last word and there are certainly other potential solutions. These are simply a starting point in the conversation for ranchers that are searching for alternative systems to expand or maintain their business.

Learn More at Dakotafest

If producers are interested in a further discussion on this topic, stop by the SDSU tent at Dakotafest in Mitchell, SD at 11:30 a.m. on August 18th, 19th, and 20th.

SDSU Extension staff will be presenting information on this topic at that time and will be available to answer any questions that beef producers might have.