Cost of production for cow-calf producers has risen drastically over the last decade. Because of the widespread drought of 2012 and high cash crop prices, forage prices remain at record highs and supplies are very tight. Couple that with the fact that available grazing land is also getting harder to find and beef producers can have challenges in keeping their costs of production at profitable levels. Grain prices remain high and so will the competition for these acres. It’s important that cow-calf producers utilize available land as efficiently as possible, to keep feed costs at a reasonable level. Improving grazing management on pastures and utilizing crop residues will be very important for the survival of the cow-calf industry.
Now is a great time to come up with a plan for the 2013 grazing season because waiting until the grass is ready for turn out makes it extremely challenging for having success at grazing season extension. Over grazing in the spring growing season because of a lack of stored or stockpiled forages will also create a disadvantage for the rest of the year and could lead to potential forage shortages for the next winter.
Goals for profitable grazing management should include:
- Meeting the nutritional needs of the livestock from standing forage as many days as possible.
- Harvest forage with animals as efficiently as possible.
Winter feed cost is the greatest expense of a cow-calf operation. According to data from the North Dakota Farm Business Management Program, total annual cost per cow was $574 in 2011, of that total cost, 54 percent or $309.96 could be attributed to winter feed costs. Data from North Dakota also indicates that pasture costs are estimated at $0.85 per cow per day, while feeding harvested, stored forages can increase that number to $2.33 per head per day. The stored forage costs were derived from using $150 per ton costs on hay and a daily intake of 31 pounds of dry matter. This cost could be much higher if you take into account the cost to purchase hay has since gone over the $150 per ton price. The Weekly Hay Market Demand Report from the University of Wisconsin has large round bale hay prices ranging from $154-$268 per ton, depending upon quality. Given the difference in the cost of grazing versus feeding stored forage, it becomes very evident why extending the grazing season is beneficial in keeping production costs as low as possible.
How those grazing acres are managed will also have an impact on the level of cost reduction that is attainable. Utilization rates will vary greatly, depending upon the frequency of the moves; in a continuous paddock situation, the utilization rate would be 30-40 percent. Increasing the frequency that the animals are moved, will increase the percent utilization. In a four-year grazing study at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, researchers found that moving the fence every three days compared to every two weeks resulted in 40 percent more grazing days per acre. In other words, if the two week moves provided 42 grazing days per acre, increasing that to moving every three days would increase the grazing days per acre to 58.