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What is the most important change for improving your grazing program before the next drought?

May 31, 2013

John Jennings – Professor, Extension Forages/Animal Science

Sometimes I think a minor in psychology along with my agronomy degree would have been useful. Grass is easy to manage. Mow it, graze it, fertilize it, manage it and it grows like it supposed to. People are hard. Some only need a little education on a subject to make improvements and some just won’t change no matter what they hear or see. Most people really dislike change. I once heard someone say he likes change as long as he is in charge of making the change. Only problem with that is how long it takes to finally getting around to making that decision. I remember when I was in college and still knew everything how hard it was to convince my Dad to make changes on the farm. He would grumble about “that darn research” and about professors not knowing the real world. In that neighborhood if someone tried something new that seemed to work, others would follow suit. If someone tried something that went wrong, everybody in the neighborhood talked about it for years. Some folks just enjoy telling others what they are doing wrong, while believing they are doing everything right themselves. I once visited two neighboring farms. Bill had asked me to look at his pastures that day to show me how his good management was improving the grass. You could stand in the pasture of Bill’s farm and see Jim’s farm across on the next hill. Bill commented on how weedy Jim’s farm was, how poor his cows were after the long winter, and how he wished Jim would just listen once in a while when he told him what he should be doing. Bill had farmed a long time and by his book everything was in order and was a lot better than his neighbor Jim’s farm. As we walked through Bill’s weedy pastures I could see he had a few thin cows too. He baled lots of hay all summer and fed lots of hay all winter. He did most of the talking and only politely smiled when I started to make a suggestion on some possible improvements. The only question he asked was about the best variety of bermudagrass to plant for hay. I listened during the visit and thanked him when I left for all his information. When I got to Jim’s farm later, he had lots of questions. He started out asking what variety of bermudagrass he should plant to make better hay. I asked him to describe his operation and his goals. He worked in town and had mainly weekends to do the farm work. He knew he had weeds, he fed hay from fall till spring, he hated feeding in the dark in winter when he got home, his cows were thin at the end of winter, and he was tired of it. He wanted to change something, but didn’t know where to start. So we talked about making the best use of the grass he already had before converting to any other forages. Then we discussed several forage practices and which ones to use first, and when to start others. We discussed getting his grazing system under control first. He had several pastures on the farm, but had always let the cows graze wherever they could find grass. Shutting the gates and moving cows according to grass growth would gain him a lot more grazing days especially in summer and fall. Closing gates to provide rest for each pasture would also let his grass become more vigorous to crowd out weeds and the rotational grazing would get cows to eat a few more weeds. To reduce his hay feeding we planned a schedule to stockpile fall growth of one pasture for winter grazing and picked one pasture to plant some ryegrass in the bermuda sod. For each practice we talked about the pitfalls of bad weather, but also about the fact that no changes in the status quo also meant no chance at improvement either. We kept in touch as he made the changes and by the next year he was excited at the progress. He had reduced his weed problem, cut his hay feeding by half, and his cows wintered better. The next spring we were walking through his pastures and he looked across to the next hill at old Bill’s pastures. He commented that during the winter Bill would drive by several times a day hauling hay to different herds. He said Bill stopped one day just as he finished moving the electric wire where he was strip-grazing stockpiled pasture. Jim told him excitedly how easy it was and how it only took 30 minutes twice a week in winter to feed his cows by moving an electric polywire. He said Bill smiled politely and mumbled something about how he had too many cattle to feed and didn’t have time to mess with that stuff. Then he drove off to get another load of hay. Jim was done feeding so he took his son fishing. Nuff said.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mike hall permalink
    April 15, 2014 10:06 pm

    where would I find this person with the knowledge that would come to my farm and make the proper suggestions on how I can increase my grass production?????

    • ansc01 permalink
      May 1, 2014 10:53 am

      Contact your local county agent or call John Jennings at 501-671-2350.

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