Year Round Beef Cattle Grazing Strategy to Eliminate or Reduce the Use of Stored Feeds

Final Report for OS03-009

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2003: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


Three steep terrain Eastern Kentucky farms typical of most in the Appalachian region of the United States were chosen to conduct a demonstration of animal and forage management to maximize grazing and minimize feeding of stored forage for beef cow – calf production. The livestock forage management plans for these farms required very intensive management which included frequent pasture rotation, establishment of several perennial and annual forage crops, close attention to beginning and ending grazing heights, planting dates, fertilization and detailed record keeping. At the end of this study, only one of the three producers successfully implemented and executed the grazing plan for the two year duration of this study. It became apparent by year 2 that the year-round grazing plan we were testing required a much higher level of management than most eastern Kentucky producers would or could commit to providing. This is perhaps one of the most important and unexpected results of this study. Results from the one successful farm completing the study are presented in this final report.

Tables and Figures mentioned in this report
are on file in the Southern SARE office.
Contact Sue Blum at 770-229-3350 or
[email protected] for a hard copy


In summary, the year round grazing system tested during this 2 year study period reduced hay feeding from a state average of 120 days to 81 days by year 2. Based on our economic evaluation of this grazing system, the variable cost of establishing multiple forage species for grazing is less than the cost of feeding hay. An increase in animal performance and grazing days from year 1 to year 2 are indicators that a multi-forage species grazing system requires a high level of management and experience that takes time to develop. Only one of the three producers that started this grazing study successfully implemented and executed the grazing plan. This suggest that grazing systems designed to reduce hay feeding by establishing and managing multiple forage species for grazing require a greater labor and management input than most small scale, part-time livestock producers are willing to invest into their livestock operations.

Figure 1. Year Round Grazing Planning Map.

Project Objectives:

1. To implement a beef cattle grazing system that includes cool-season, warm-season and summer annuals to extend the grazing season and reduce the amount stored feed utilized.

2. To measure the effect of a year-round grazing system on animal performance (i.e. weight gain, body condition, conception rate and weaning weights).

3. To evaluate the economics of a year-round grazing system that requires the establishment and management of an assortment of forage species.

4. To establish a year-round grazing farm for educational and demonstation purpose in the region.


Materials and methods:

Grazing Plan
The average beef cattle producer in Kentucky feeds stored feeds (hay and supplements) 120 days per year. This study was designed to test a grazing system that utilizes a combination of cool-season grass/legume pastures, warm-season grasses, summer annuals and winter annuals in an attempt to reduce dependence on stored feeds for beef cattle production to only 30 days.

Research results and discussion:

Table 1 Year Round Grazing Plan describes the grazing system plan tested. Figure 1 is the GPS/GIS map of the farm.

Field 1 & 2

These two pastures were predominately tall fescue, red clover and white clover based. They were managed for spring, late summer and fall grazing. Field 1 was the most productive so it was selected for fall stockpiling. In mid-August of each year, 60 lbs of nitrogen/ac as ammonium nitrate was applied. Field 1 was strip-grazed to increase utilization and prevent over-grazing. Field 2 was less productive than field 1 due to it’s higher slope (>25%) and lower soil fertility.

Field 3
This pasture had a very poor stand of cool-season grass and high weed population. Corn was no-till planted for late season grazing and as a renovation method to improve weed control before renovating to a permanent mixed cool-season grass/legume pasture. This field was adjacent to a woodland area. Corn grain yield was reduced significantly due to heavy wildlife damage which subsequently reduced the number of late season grazing days available.

Field 4
Eastern gamagrass (cv. Pete) was established in year 1 by inter-seeding directly into no-till corn with a no-till Tye Pasture Pleaser drill at the seeding rate of 8 lbs/ac. Corn was planted (population of 22,000 seed /ac) with a John Deere 2-row max-emerge planter just prior to seeding the eastern gamagrass for late season grazing. In year 2, eastern gamagrass (60% ground cover) was strip-grazed to prevent over-grazing.

Field 5
Steep slope was also a limitation with this pasture (>25%). Foxtail millet was broadcast seeded in year 1 at a rate of 20 lbs/ac each spring for summer grazing. Nitrogen fertilizer as ammonium nitrate was applied at 60 lbs/ac. In year 2, sorghum-sudangrass was broadcast seeded at a rate of 30 lbs/ac. Dry weather during both summers of this study limited the productivity of these summer annuals and reduced the number of grazing days available

Field 6
This pasture was located in a small creek bottom with very productive alluvial soils. Each fall, glyphosate was sprayed at the rate of 2 qt/ac as a burndown and forage type winter rye (cv. Winter King) no-till seeded at the rate of 1.5 bu/ac for early spring grazing (March). Corn was no-till planted in May into the winter rye stubble for late season grazing (Jan – Feb) or as a green-graze rescue crop if needed.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Cattle Performance Summary
Ten mature, mixed breed pregnant beef cows were assigned to the farm at project initiation in November, 2003. One cow failed to calve in year 1 and was replaced by a bred cow for year 2. Individual body weights and body condition scores (scale of 1 to 9) were taken at project initiation and on multiple dates thereafter. The initial forage base of the farm was fescue. Other forages, perennial and annual cool and warm season were established for use during the two year project. Days of forage consumption by species for each year are shown in Table 2. Days of hay feeding were reduced by approximately
20.5 percent from year 1 to year 2. Days of grazing stock-piled fescue as a winter forage and green corn as a summer forage increased from year 1 to 2 while days grazed on dry standing corn decreased from year 1 to 2. Use of summer annuals and perennials also increased from year 1 to 2 while grazing season days on fescue decreased over the same time period. These changes in forages grazed and the timing of their grazing resulted in improved nutrient intake for the cows as shown in Table 3. Cows increased in body
weight and condition score from year 1 to year 2. Average cow body weight was almost 200 pounds heavier at the end of year 2 compared to the initial weight for year 1. Calf weaning dates and weights are shown in Table 3. In year 2, calves were 34 days younger at weaning than in year 1 but weighed 23 pounds more on the average.

Economic Analysis

Economic Analysis
Our year round grazing system was evaluated economically on a cost per head per day for forage species component of the system. Only variable costs were considered. Fixed costs of land facilities and machinery were excluded as these would likely be difficult to affect in the short run of a grazing season. Also, the fixed costs of established forages, i.e. the established fescue stands were not included.

The additional cost of fertilizer, seed, and chemicals were included, as were the variable machinery, fuel, and labor costs to establish the grazing crop or fertilize the existing crop. Hay costs included the cost of the hay and a labor/machinery cost to deliver the hay to the cows. These costs were assessed as follows:

Hay: $25/bale + $5/bale to deliver the hay to the cows
Corn: $125/ac + $15/ac for no-till planting
Stockpiled tall fescue: $25/ac for Nitrogen fertilizer + $5/ac application cost
Grazing eastern gamagrass: $43.60/ac in 2003-04 and $30/ac in 2004-05
Winter rye: $46/ac + $10/ac application costs
Pearl millet: $38.17/ac + $10/ac application costs
Sorghum sudangrass: $33.37/ac + $10/ac application costs

Tables 5 and 6 are comparisons of the various forage species components of the grazing system tested. With the exception of pearl millet in the ‘03-‘04 season, feeding hay was always the most costly alternative. Stockpiled tall fescue was the most economical feed source when only variable costs were considered. Late season grazing corn was less costly than feeding hay but still considerably more expensive than grazing fescue.

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.