Grazing Yearlings on Annual Forage Pastures

Final Report for FNC97-176

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $4,986.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


My farm has been a small grain and cattle operation with a back grounding enterprise. Some of the practices that have been implemented on my farm are:
- Continuous cropping for the past 10-12 years, which is not a normal practice for his part of the country.
- Crop rotations have included crops such as wheat, oats, barley, corn, field peas, sweet clover, alfalfa and sorghum/ sudan grass. These rotations have been implemented to an effort to compete with weeds, insects, diseases and to more efficiently utilize limited moisture.
- I am investigating grazing annual forages for several reasons including costs, range availability, forage quality and sustainability.

Research and producer experience has indicated that annual forages such as barley, oats, fall rye, sudan grass and sorghum sudan grass hybrids can be used to provide productive pastures in the Northern Great Plains.

Given the present economic situation for cash grain crops, grazing annual forage pastures are but one method of increasing net returns while still providing the farm manager flexibility in choosing cropping, haying and grazing alternatives.

This study will attempt to determine if a greater economic return per acre can be obtained by grazing yearling beef cattle on annual forages compared to traditional small grain crops. In addition, the study will be used to supplement ongoing research being conducted in western North Dakota to help develop the needed management strategies for grazing annual forages.

Materials and Methods:
In the spring of 1998, 450 crossbred yearling cattle (360 heifers & 90 steers) grazed on sequences of annual forages. The farmland was arranged into 9 units of varying acreage. Within each unit, annual forages were seeded to provide for sequential grazing over a 4 month period. The grazing system resembled a high intensity, short duration system in that each grazing period lasted from 5 to 21 days in length before rotating to another annual forage pasture. The system also resembled a twice over rotation system in that each pasture was grazed from one to three times. The overall stocking rate for the grazed fields was 2.97 acres per animal unit (one yearling = 0.65 animal unit). However, only 6 of the 9 units were actually grazed due to the forage production being adequate to support the yearling enterprise. The remaining 3 units were hayed or harvested. Two of the 6 units grazed produced forage in excess of what was required for the yearling enterprise and this excess forage was harvested for hay.

Annual forages selected for grazing included: crested wheat grass (not an annual, but an early, cool season tame grass sorghum oats mix, oats and rye oats mix. the grazing management involved grazing fall rye in mid May, rye oats in late May, crested wheat grass in early June, oats in mid June, forage barley in late June, fall rye again in early July, oats again in late July, fall rye again in early August, oats again in mid August, forage barley again in late August and sorghum oats mix in September. Approximately 869 acres were grazed in this system (679 acres grazed only and 190 acres grazed and harvested).

The remaining units were comprised of forage barley and a sorghum oats mix. Acreage totaled approximately 313 acres which were hayed or harvested to provide additional income and/or to provide seed for the subsequent year (123 acres were harvested only and 190 acres were harvested and grazed).

Results and Discussion:
Seeding and grazing dates and accumulated grazing days per acre are presented in Table 1. Under the grazing management used, the entire annual forages grazed provided 1.33 AUM per acre.

[Editor’s note: There are tables included with this report 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]

Forage and grain yields and prices are presented in Table 2. Forage and grains produced in excess of that required to support the yearling enterprise increased gross income by $16,582.

Although grains were not determined by pasture type, the overall average daily gain for heifers was 1.72 pounds per day and for the steers was 1.92 pounds per day. Combined overall average daily gain was 1.76 pounds per day. Cattle performance data is presented in Table 3. Overall beef production was 110 pounds per acre grazed.

The enterprise budget for the yearling enterprise is presented in Table 4. NDSU’s “GrassFat” computer program was used to determine the profitability of the system. Net returns to the yearling enterprise over all costs to the entire system were $4322 (all costs of seedings, haying and harvesting were charged to the yearling enterprise). Overall net returns were $20,904 for the entire system.

The enterprise budget for traditional spring wheat production is presented in Table 5.

Summary and Conclusions:
This project has confirmed recent research whereby beef cattle can successfully and profitably graze annual forages in the Northern Great Plains during the growing season. Stocking rates as high as 2.05 AUM per acre can be achieved on a particular field, however, the average stocking rate of 1.33 AUM per acre is more realistic for an entire system. Live weight gains per 110 pounds per acre were achieved while some excess forage was still produced. Net income for the yearling enterprise over all costs was $4322 or $4.35 per acre. Net income for the entire system was $20,904 or $21.07 per acres. This compares to a net income of $8.25 per acre for traditional spring wheat production. As more research is conducted, this type of system will improve and will more efficiently match annual forage production and grazing strategies.

Final project reports will be submitted for publication in North Dakota State University (NDSU) Research Extension Center annual reports from locations at Carrington, Dickinson and Streeter. Final project reports will be forwarded to all county offices of the NDSU Extension Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices in North Dakota where they will be made available to the public. News releases using information gathered from the project will be produced and distributed.


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.