300-Day Grazing Demonstration Update
Dr. Tom R. Troxel
Livestock producers continue to suffer from increasing feed, fuel and fertilizer costs. Producers are challenged to determine what management adjustments are necessary for their operation. In order to survive, some producers chose not to make purchases (i.e. fertilizer), reduced livestock numbers, cut expenses at the risk of reducing livestock performance, or a combination of all three.
In July 2008, the Animal Science faculty began a project to apply research-based management practices to demonstrate 300 days of grazing conducted at the Livestock and Forestry Branch Station at Batesville, AR. The concept was to plan forage production in seasonal blocks of summer, fall, winter, and spring to match the nutrient demands of a fall-calving herd.
For the first four years of the project, the cow herd comprised of 38 mature cows with a fall calving season (September and October) and a late November to late January breeding season. Two Hereford bulls were leased and were tested for fertility and trichomoniasis prior to the breeding season.
Pastures consisted of 40 acres of common bermudagrass divided into four 10-acre paddocks, and 90 acres of cool-season forages comprised primarily of tall fescue divided into four 22.5 acre pastures. Red & white clover and alfalfa were added to the system in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, cool-season forage pastures included 33 acres of KY-31 endophyte infected toxic (E+) fescue, 12 acres of Ky-31 fescue/white clover, 22.5 acres of Novel endophyte (NE+) nontoxic fescue/red clover, and 18.5 acres of mixed grass of which about 5 acres was NE+ fescue (N9) and 4 acres of alfalfa. Cool-season pastures were managed for spring and fall grazing and for winter stockpiled forage. The bermudagrass pastures were managed for grazing from June through October.
All pastures were soil tested in 2008. Soil pH was > 6.0 and soil P was >100 lbs/acre for all pastures. Soil K was high in bermudagrass pastures, but was medium for fescue pastures. Nitrogen was applied at 50 lbs/a to bermudagrass in summer on 10-acre paddocks as needed. Nitrogen was applied in early September each year for stockpiled forage. Potash fertilizer was only applied to fescue pastures where clover was overseeded. Each of the pastures contained ponds or water tanks for livestock water. All pastures were fenced with electric fences and could be subdivided as necessary for rotational grazing management. The overall stocking rate was 2.7 acres/AU.
For the first four years of the demonstration, the number of hay feeding days was 28, 54, 35 and 42 days for year 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively. But how are we doing for 2012 – 2013?
Drought Management Strategy
After grazing 38 cows for 4 years, it was decided to increase the herd to 50 cows beginning July 1, 2012 without increasing grazable acres. What a terrible year to do that! Beginning on July 1, all cows were placed in a sacrifice pasture. It was decided to sacrifice a pasture for hay feeding and not graze any other pastures but allow the 3 to 4 inch grass residue to remain standing. Once rainfall returned, the pastures with the standing residue would respond faster than pastures grazed to the bare soil. In addition the standing residue helped keep soil temperatures cooler than soils without standing residue.
On August 1, 2012, 20% of the cow herd (10 cows) was sold. The money was used to pay for the hay and plant winter annuals (wheat and turnips). Below is the grazing and cattle management time table:
- After feeding hay for 49 days (mid-August): cows were turned out on the bermudagrass pastures for about 30 days
- Late August: wheat and turnips were planted as the hurricane was coming ashore.
- September and October: calving season
- Mid- September (after the prussic acid damage was over): cattle cleaned up fields that contained Johnsongrass
- Mid-October: cattle returned to the bermudagrass pastures
- Mid-November: cattle grazed Alfalfa then wheat and turnips. The number of grazing days on the alfalfa was cut in half because the deer got the other half.
- December 1: cattle cleaned up fields that contained fescue and Johnsongrass
- Mid-December: cattle grazing stockpiled fescue
- Mid-January or hopefully a little later: cattle will receive hay and supplement
There should be plenty of spring forage (as long as it rains), therefore, 30 days late winter hay feeding may be all that is required. If that is the case, the 300 day grazing demonstration would have fed hay 79 days during one of the worst droughts in Arkansas history.
There are currently 40 cows and calves grazing the demonstration. In April the calves are generally administered an 8-way clostridial vaccine and a killed vaccine containing respiratory viruses, leptospirosis, and vibriosis. In addition, all cows and calves will be dewormed and blood samples will be collected from the cows to determine pregnancy. Cows and calves will be weighed. We hope to return to 50 cows but pasture recovery must proceed restocking. To learn more about the 300 Day Grazing Demonstration and other research at the station plan to attend Livestock and Forestry Branch Station on April 16, 2013.