Earlier in 2015, Drovers CattleNetwork introduced its first advisory board comprised of leaders from different segments of the industry and different regions across the country. The board will be called upon from time to time to provide input on the magazine, but more importantly, they’ll be sharing their insight on various subjects with our readers.
Here’s who is on our board.
Aaron Amstutz - Aaron owns and operates a cow-calf and cattle feeding operation in southeast Iowa.
Dana Hauck - Hauck ran a stocker cattle starting and backgrounding operation in northcentral Kansas. He currently serves as a board member of Innovative Livestock Services, Inc.
Mike Kasten - Mike Kastens has a cow-calf operation in Missouri and also serves as program director for the Quality Beef by the Numbers Program at the University of Missouri.
Erika Kenner - Kenner partners in her family’s seedstock and farming operation in North Dakota and serves on the American Simmental Association Board of Directors.
Wayne Fahsholtz - Fahsholtz is the former CEO of Padlock Ranch in Wyoming. He founded AgWin Group, LLC, a consulting business and can be reached at Wayne@agwingroup.com.
Jesse Larios - Larios is manager at Foster Feed Yard, a 36,000 head capacity yard located in the Imperial Valley in California.
The April issue of the magazine was focused on forage management so we asked our board members how they maximize forage resources available in their area to best meet their cattle’s needs. Here’s what they had to say.
On our operation in southeast Iowa we have fescue pastures, which are not ideal but work well if managed correctly. I like to give it a boost in the early spring by giving it a shot of about 70 pounds of nitrogen. This gives it a quick fast early growth. This early fast growth requires heavy stocking rates and quickly rotating pastures of spring pairs to keep up with the growth.
Fescue is not something you want to head out because you could end up with a toxic endopyte. When it does head out, we clip pastures to keep seed heads down causing the plant to get leafier. In the summer this grass gets tough and is not as palatable so I wean the calves in July. This cuts socking rates when grass is not growing as fast and also gives the cow a break for she is not producing well in this environment.
As for harvested forages we use some corn silage, which works well in the backgrounding and fat cattle ration. It provides a good source of energy and roughage. Most of our cow feed comes from ryelage; we like this forage for it is grown on row crop ground in winter. We chop the ryelage in May and are able to plant soybeans after. This saves big on forage acres needed.
We also grow some alfalfa or alfalfa orchard grass mixed hay. This is tub ground and mixed with ryelage as total mixed ration for cows. As in any of the forages grown the better we soil sample and supply the optimal nutrients the better our feed will ton and sample when we are done.
In our area of north central Kansas, there has always been a wide variety of forages utilized by cattle producers of nearly every segment of our business. We are headquartered in an area of great diversity. From approximately May through October, most cattle are grazed on native mixed prairie grass. We have everything in our native range from the blue stems from the tallgrass prairie to the buffalo and grammas.
Most cow-calf operations in our part of the country utilize some type of crop residue grazing after fall harvest, primarily milo stubble in our area. There is some grazing of wheat in the fall in some years but we are too far north for it to be reliable. There are quite a lot of forage sorghum and sudan-type forages planted with most of those put up as big round bales for winter feed as well as some being chopped and ensiled.
Historically, alfalfa has been the primary crop harvested for supplementation as a source of protein but that has changed a great deal in the last several years as the availability of both wet and modified distillers by-products from ethanol production have become more readily available. This is causing a substantial increase in the use of wheat straw, ground stover of various types and other dry low quality forages to be used in ground and mixed rations for cows, stocker/backgrounding operations as well as in feedlot finish rations.
We are starting to see a limited amount of alternative crops such as turnips or radishes which are often mixed with a cereal grain such as oats used for grazing as well. I would say by and large producers are trying to walk as much beef off as possible with grazing and less with mechanical harvesting in order to be as efficient and cost effective as possible.
I think a producer’s best way to optimize forage resources is with the correct calving date. For us this is fall calving. We are a cow-calf operation in the rolling hills of southeast Missouri. This is fescue country. Fescue is a much maligned, yet wonderful grass for cow-calf producers, if you use it correctly. Fescue shines for fall calving herds. It creates challenges for spring calving herds. So how do we optimize fescue in a fall calving season?
First, we start our calving season the last week of August and are finished by mid-October. This is seasonally when the fescue is starting to grow again. The growth is all leaf and the quality is high. Most years we have green growing grass through the AI breeding season giving us higher conception rates in the fall.
Second, we try to fertilize with nitrogen in late August to give us more growth to stockpile for winter grazing. In a good year we can graze up into mid to late February before we need to supplement with any harvested forages. Year round grazing is our goal. We have some river bottoms that are challenging to graze because they are subject to flash flooding. We mow these for hay. We purchase a large portion of the hay that we feed because we find this more cost effective.
Third, we do not wean calves until the last of May or first of June. I have people disagree with me on this, but if you wean the calves too early, you are not taking the full advantage of the fescue. Seventy percent of fescue’s annual growth takes place in the spring. When we turn out cows in early April with big calves at their side, this puts more pressure on the fescue and keeps it from maturing. Also, from turn out in early April until weaning the first of June, the cows will gain two condition scores while nursing their calves and the calves will have tremendous gains all on forage. In the summer when the grass dries up, the calves are weaned and the cows are dry.
Optimization comes for us by matching calving date to the peaks valleys of your available forage.
In our environment, we deal with winter feeding conditions most years for 6 months. We utilize all the grass lands available to us in the summer months plus alfalfa we have planted. Depending on weather during the summer, some ends up higher quality than others and some of our grass hay ends up being lower quality. We are able to utilize the lower quality grass to the cows in the winter by mixing with higher quality alfalfa.
If weather cooperates, we are able to graze corn stalks for much of the fall, but sometimes end up supplementing hay as well. Corn silage is also used to mix in our total mixed rations with our alfalfa and grass hay. Others around us also utilize corn stover for bedding and poorer quality feed to mix in their rations, and we have done that some years. Some will also use wheat straw as a filler, but we only use it for bedding.
Normally our growing season allows 2 cuttings of alfalfa and sometimes a 3rd.
We use a planned time-controlled system for managing our grazing land. This allows us to be in a pasture at different times of the season and it also keeps cattle moving and not staying in the same pasture season-long. Our plant spacing, ground cover and litter have improved. Our riparian areas are also much healthier. To enhance this process we have built miles of electric cross-fences and improved water sources by adding some wells and pipelines.
On part of the ranch, we defer summer grazing and use those pastures in the winter. This has resulted in about 65 percent of our cows grazing out all winter and the balance receives only a small amount of hay. One of the reasons that this has worked so well for us is that we moved our calving season to May/June. Cows are calving on green grass and therefore recover any lost body condition quickly. Another benefit of a May/June calving season is that we can graze out our replacement heifers and still have them ready to breed in July. When the heifers come in from winter pasture, they are placed on irrigated pastures until breeding time. The heifers are intensively grazed on pivots that are subdivided with electric fence. They are in groups of about five hundred and are moved frequently.
Our haying system consists of making haylage out of much of the first cutting. In our area, June is often wet and getting the first cutting up in a timely manner is sometimes difficult. Haylage allows us to move quickly and allows the plants a quicker time to begin growing again. Third cutting also has some challenges because of cold and wetness. We put it up as haylage also.