Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rotational Grazing

From the Premier 1 Fence company monthly newsletter:
Pasture Management
Is It Worth The Effort?
by Byron Leu
Beef Production Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Pasture Management-Is It Worth The Effort?

Recent trends in the agricultural sector have led to a number of challenges for livestock producers in the Midwest. Grain prices and land values have both significantly increased over the past several years. These historically high prices have created a number of issues especially for beef cow-calf and sheep producers. The higher land prices are pressuring producers to incur higher grazing costs and pasture rental payments. In some instances, this cost has increased 20% to 50% for the grazing period. Also, high grain prices are creating land-use competition-with many producers considering planting grain crops on traditional forage ground to take advantage of the current high grain prices. These considerations are forcing livestock producers to explore methods to improve pasture production per acre in order to maintain their livestock enterprises-not only to control grazing costs per unit but also to produce adequate forage production in a cost-effective system.

Obviously there are numerous approaches that can be incorporated into an operation that address these production and economic challenges. Due to limited space, we can't explore them all-but let's look at several basic options:

Evaluate your forage base

  • Will your current pasture species provide adequate production and quality levels to meet your animal's performance and nutritional needs throughout the grazing period? What are the weaknesses?
  • Are legumes a part of your traditional grass-based pastures? Studies have shown that legumes can contribute to improved animal performance and also provide nitrogen for grass growth. Trials reflect that pasture stands of 2/3 grass and 1/3 red clover have shown similar production levels as N-fertilized grass. Also, researchers have shown that incorporating legumes into unimproved grass pastures increase pasture production over 30%. End result-increased animal performance, improved pasture productivity, and potentially lower fertilization expenses.

Develop a workable system

  • What system is best for you? The main point to this question is that if you are attempting to improve productivity and utilization rates, then it is recommended to consider some sort of rotational system. If you compare a rotational system with 4 to 5 paddocks to a continuous grazing program, you can expect a production increase of 15%. Double the number of paddocks (i.e., 8 to 10), and you can pick up another 15%. Without question, some level of rotational grazing can have a positive impact on your bottom line and strengthen the competitiveness of your grazing operation.

Phase out continuous grazing

  • Why? University tests have shown that animal gain per acre increased an average of over 40% in rotational systems when compared to continuous grazing. Plus, a University of Georgia study indicated a 36% increase in stocking rate and calf gain per acre when comparing rotational grazing to continuous grazing-with no difference in conception rates or individual calf weaning weights. Add in the potential of improved plant persistence, forage productivity, and manure distribution. So why not consider abandoning the continuous approach?

Balance your system to match your resources

  • This is key to the success of any grazing system. Utilize and incorporate the information and resources that you have available. This includes management approaches such as adjusting paddock size/location, frost seeding/interseeding, new watering strategies, incorporating a different grazing system approach, early weaning, trying new forage varieties-the options are extensive. Plus, don't forget the basics-manage both the production side as well as the expense side of the equation.
The intended outcomes of the incorporation of these options include an increase in pasture productivity, an improvement in forage utilization, a reduction in per unit grazing costs, and an extension of the grazing period. Is it worth the effort? This author is confident that these efforts will assist livestock producers who combat escalating land and feed costs-and at the same time meet or exceed animal performance needs and expectations. Good luck!

1 comment:

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