One of the most impactful Extension programs in Arkansas is the 300-Day Grazing Program. The management philosophy and holistic processes presented in this program has gotten regional and national attention.
The demonstrations with this program have proven that hay feeding can be reduced from the state average of 140 days to less than 60 (in most cases even fewer than that) through grazing management, planned use of complementary forages, and concepts such as stockpiling forages. At the University of Arkansas Southwest Research & Extension Center in Hope, we have started cow-calf forage systems research to see how the concepts laid out by the 300-Day Grazing team can be implemented in the Deep South. We have decided to use rotational grazing management, to better utilize the forages we can grow; stockpiled bermudagrass, to be able to graze warm-season based pastures longer into the fall and early winter; and cool-season annual grasses, to provide high quality forage for the lactating cows to graze in the late winter and early spring. This research compares the animal performance (calf production and cow reproduction), forage production and nutritive quality, feeding requirements of conserved forages (hay and silage), and economics of both low management (continuous grazing at a moderate stocking rate, 2 acres per cow unit) and intensive management (300-Day Grazing principles) at moderate (2 acres per cow unit) and high stocking rates (1 acre per cow unit).
In the pastures managed using 300-Day Grazing principles, bermudagrass has been fertilized in early August for stockpiling and strip-grazing later in the fall (2/3 acre per cow in the first year and ½ acre per cow in the second year) and cool-season annual grasses (cereal rye and annual ryegrass) interseeded into some bermudagrass paddocks for grazing by the spring calving cows in the late winter and early spring fall (2/3 acre per cow in the first year and ½ acre per cow in the second year).
In the low management pastures hay was required for 74 days (mid December to late February) in the first year and 109 days (early January to late April) in the second year. Although cows in the high stocking rate pasture had to be feed hay for a short period in the fall of both years total hay feeding days were only 43 in the first year and 28 in the second year. The low stocking rate intensively managed cows did not require hay feeding in the first year and only one group was fed hay for 2 weeks in the second year, while a substantial amount of hay was harvested from these pastures during the summer.
Cows in the high stocking rate intensively grazed pastures were slightly lighter and thinner and weaning weights were less than cows in lower stocking rate pastures in the first year but pregnancy rates were in excess of 90%. In the second year there was no difference in cow body weight, body condition, weaning weights, or pregnancy rates due to cow stocking rate or management. In both years, because stocking rates were doubled the weaning weight per acre for the high stocking rate pastures was nearly double that of low stocking rate pastures.
Even though stockpiling and interseeding cool-season annuals added expense to the cow calf enterprise. Reduction in hay feeding and the value of hay harvested increased net returns in low stocking rate intensively managed pastures by $45/cow in both years, while because more cows were able to be carried in the high stocking rate intensively managed pastures total return per acre was increased by $227/acre in the first year and $440/acre in the second year.
If improved forage management and reduction in winter feeding are goals for your operation, there are a few key steps to remember. First, inventory the resources you have on the farm including forage inventory (forage species, production potential etc), livestock inventory (types and classes of livestock, calving seasons, weaning weights etc), and soil fertility (soil test, soil test, soil test!). Second, manage what you have by rotational grazing, stockpiling of forages, setting a fixed calving season, and weed control. Third, fill in the gaps with complementary forages. Forth, always plan one season ahead and manage pastures and cattle in a timely fashion. Fifth and likely the most important step…keep records of what happened and what the results were so future planning can occur.