Improve winter cattle feed with nitrogen

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NOVELTY, Mo. – When it comes to winter feed for beef herds, applying a pound of nitrogen to pastures in August gives a good return.

A pound of nitrogen fertilizer makes about 20 pounds of forage dry matter, Justin Sexten, beef nutritionist, told Greenley Center Field Day visitors, Aug. 9.

Feeds for wintering the cow herd can be hay and distillers byproducts. But for ease of feeding and nutrient value, it’s hard to beat stockpiled fescue pasture, said the University of Missouri Extension specialist.

Five wagonloads of visitors came by on the beef tour at the MU research farm east of Novelty, Mo. Most visitors also took the crop and pest control tours.

“This is something you can take home and use now,” Sexten told beef producers. “Mid-August until Sept. 1 is the time to clip, or graze, pastures down to a 4-inch height.”

Then apply about 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre and wait for the fall rains to activate growth.

“It will rain again,” Sexten assured herd owners who have survived a prolonged hot, dry summer. “I just don’t know when, or how much, it will rain.”

Sexten added that if you wait for the rains to come before applying fertilizer, it will be too late. “The early growth is the fastest. Later in the season, grass grows slower.”

With nitrogen at 55 cents a pound, a price mentioned by a visitor as a current local cost, the feed will cost less than three cents per pound of dry matter.

If you can buy hay for less than $50 a ton, that would be competitive, Sexten calculated. “However, it will be hard to find hay with the nutrient content of stockpiled grass.”

There are other advantages of stockpiling. “The cows will harvest the grass. You don’t have to haul baled hay to them or figure how to store, handle and feed distillers grain.

“A challenge with stockpiled forage is if rains are delayed. Alternative winter feeds may be needed,” Sexten added. “Consider a balance of stockpile, hay or supplement such as DDGS (dried distillers grains).

“People will say they don’t have enough acres to set any aside ungrazed for 75 days. You don’t have to think of stockpile grass as the sole source of nutrients of the herd through the winter. Think of stockpile as a supplement. It can provide protein and energy lacking in a lot of hay put up this year.

“Then use an electric fence to open a strip of pasture for grazing—just enough to supply supplemental needs of the diet.”

A hot wire makes for efficient use of stockpile. “If you turn 100 cows on 100 acres of stockpile, they will stomp half of it into the ground. Opening a narrow strip allows the herd to graze, and not waste, grass.

“You can keep moving the hot wire down the field,” Sexten added. “You don’t need to back fence the strips.”

At the current cost of DDGS, fall grass is a less expensive supplement for the winter hay.

Sexten also told how he uses a grazing wedge to inventory and monitor grazing paddocks at the MU Beef Research Farm, Columbia. Beef producers are now using the software, available on the MU website, to visualize how much forage is available in all paddocks.

“The wedge shows how little grass is left in the last paddock grazed and how much is in the next paddock to be grazed,” Sexten said.

The graph should be a wedge. “If it is a flat line, that means all paddocks are overmature, or short on grass,” he added.

To see wedges, go to http://grazingbeef.missouri.edu.

After the tours, visitors returned to the Greenley barn for a free lunch. Early birds were treated to breakfast by the Missouri Corn Growers, a new event this year.

At lunch, Marc Linit, who oversees the Agricultural Experiment Station, said the centers and farms provide regional research for farmers across the state. All are part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Future field days include Aug. 23, Graves-Chapple Farm, Corning, Mo.; Aug. 24, Hundley-Whaley Farm, Albany, Mo.; Sept. 9, Southwest Center, Mount Vernon, Mo.; and Sept. 29, Forage Systems Research Center, Linneus, Mo. Details are on websites for each MU research farm.


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