As prices for harvested feeds, fuel and fertilizer continue to rise, cow-calf and stocker operators recognize that more grazing and less feeding can reduce production costs and improve profits. With that in mind, specialists at the University of Arkansas have developed a “300 Day Grazing Program.”
University of Arkansas Extension forage specialist John Jennings, PhD, says if you can plan and manage for a hay crop, you could instead plan and manage for a pasture crop for extended grazing. Steps include:
• Take an inventory of your forage base.
• Identify management practices that could increase seasonal grazing.
• Add complementary forages to fill seasonal gaps.
• Plan for the entire year.
• Monitor and adjust forage production and livestock as needed.
Practices the Arkansas specialists have studied and demonstrated in the program include:
Stockpiled forages — Saving forage grown in late summer and fall for grazing during late fall or winter can reduce the costs associated with harvesting, storing, moving and feeding hay. In their trials, the Arkansas group found the savings for stockpiling bermudagrass, compared to feeding hay, averaged $12, $42 and $52 per animal unit in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. The savings for stockpiling fescue averaged $42, $54 and $48 per AU in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Improved grazing management — Controlled grazing-management systems, using temporary electric fencing to concentrate animals and strategically graze warm-season, cool-season and stockpiled forages generated considerable savings in the Arkansas tests. Arkansas Extension beef specialist Shane Gadberry, PhD, says rotational and strip grazing can double the number of grazing days on stockpiled forage.
Complementary forages — Seeding annual forages, either into empty fields or into the sod in dormant grass pastures using no-till equipment, can provide grazing during periods when perennial forages are unavailable, thus filling seasonal gaps. The Arkansas researchers recorded savings of $62 and $55 per AU in 2009 and 2010, respectively, from using winter annuals.
Efficient hay management — The researchers note that while the goal of the 300 Day Grazing Program is to reduce dependency on feeding harvested forages, hay feeding will not be eliminated. Protecting hay during storage and feeding in solid-sided or ring feeders significantly reduced hay waste.
Establishing legumes — Clovers and other legumes offer a number of benefits in pastures and hay meadows, including nitrogen fixation to reduce fertilizer needs, improved forage quality and better forage supplies during times when other species are not as productive.
Details on the 300 Day Grazing Program are available online at aragriculture.org/forage_pasture/grazing_program.