Extending the Grazing Season in a Rotational Grazing System for Dairy

Final Report for FNC96-140

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $4,160.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our operation is a family operation which was started by my father in 1969. I joined him in 1978 and took over full control in 1990. I milk about 120 cows year round, with emphasis on profitability and not production. The total operation consists of 480 acres. Two hundred acres are in red clover and alfalfa, with the balance in pasture. Some hay is sold each year as a cash crop.

The goal of this project was to try to extend the number of days of quality pasture available to the milk cows each year. The normal grazing season in our area is April 15 to November 1. We were able to extend this from March 8 to November 20. By increasing the days on quality pasture, income over feed cost should improve.

On September 1, 1996 the following fields were no till planted:
- grazing alfalfa on fescue pasture that had been killed using Round-Up
- hairy vetch and turnips on pasture that had been suppressed with Gramoxone
- turnips and grazing rye on pasture suppressed with Gramoxone
- turnips and grazing rye on pasture suppressed with Select
- triticale on pasture grazed off to the ground
- grazing rye on pasture grazed off to the ground.

The alfalfa failed to germinate except for a small patch on ground that was bare of cover, leading us to believe the chemical company’s recommendation for four inches of vegetative growth for good herbicide kill left too much stubble for the alfalfa to compete with. The pastures that were not sprayed had dramatically different results. The cows were left on these pastures to keep the competing grass down. The grazing rye came up and generated significant forage while very little of the triticale grew leading us to believe that the grazing rye had much more seedling vigor. The turnips and rye worked well together with the turnips supplying excellent forage in the fall and the rye and ladino (the herbicide wasn’t intended to kill this) supplying excellent spring pasture with the ladino supplying summer and fall grazing. One thing noticed on the herbicides was the Select was much easier on the ladino than the Gramoxone.

The following charts show nutrient values and yields for the various pastures: samples were taken before cows entered the pasture by cutting 3 x 3 squares to grazing level and sending them to the lab for analysis.

[Editor’s note: There are charts that could not be posted online. If you would like to see these please email us at [email protected] or call us at 800-529-1342. Thanks]

With the crabgrass and turnips planted in the spring, we found that the turnips almost crowded out the crabgrass and just enough survived to seed itself for next year. The sorghum sudan grass works well in summer, but good crabgrass is cheaper to grow and is better forage.

Farm Management Specialist, Wayne Prewitt and Agronomy Specialist, Pat Miller with the Vernon County Outreach and Extension Center were instrumental in doing this project. By going to this rotational system in which the cows were moved when the grass was about 3 inches tall, we were able to cut the grain cost down to $.60 per cow, per day and production ran from 33 to 38 pounds per day on a herd that was well into lactation when this study started. Income over purchased feed cast ran $3.25/cow/day. In past years, this figure would be about $3/cow/day during grazing season the extra production from a high grain diet more than offset by the higher concentrated cost. This was expected by I feel can be improved upon by doing three things:
1) Reduce the size of the pasture to 5 acres or less from 8-40 acres currently
2) Feed about an extra four pounds of corn per day
3) Get the large majority of the cows freshening January thru March to take better advantage of spring pasture and to be dry during the time when there is no pasture.

I learned that low input dairying is more profitable than the conventional dairying as I have been doing it. The grazing season is lengthened by the use of annuals but there is a trade off in the cost of planting them and the time period from spraying to letting the cows in the fall (about 60 days) that a conventional pasture would be being grazed.

I feel that the use of annuals should be considered on a case by case basis do to the cost factor and depending on how much land is available to the producer. I think the best time to use them is following a time of stress on the pasture.

In the fall of 1996, a field day was held on the farm with a reporter from the Joplin Globe present. In the spring of 1997, a presentation along with Pat Miller was given at West Central Missouri Dairy Day. Another presentation at Diary Day in 1998 is planned. In August, a group from the Intensive Managed Grazing School made a stop at the farm.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.