Using Grazing Wedges to Match Beef Cattle Nutrient Need with Pasture Resources while Reducing Feed and Fertility Costs

Project Overview

LNC09-309
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $148,137.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Dr. William Sexten
University of Missouri - Columbia

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing management, pasture fertility, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, stocking rate, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Soil Management: soil analysis

    Abstract:

    This project focused on teaching pasture inventory techniques, http://www.grazingbeef.missouri.edu/, designed to match beef cattle nutrient requirements to the forage system while strategically managing input costs, pasture quality and carrying capacity. Four core beef producer groups in northwest, west-central, south-central and central Missouri were developed in cooperation with state and regional Extension specialists. Within each core group, a producer-owned demonstration farm measured forage growth and utilization and document feed and fertilizer input changes due to management changes related to synchronizing animal demand to on-farm forage supplies.

    Short-term outcomes included increased social interaction and idea sharing between beef producers while increasing forage and beef animal nutrition knowledge. Intermediate outcomes included improved pasture utilization and efficiency by managing forage inventory in conjunction with animal need and reduced input costs by improving nutrient cycling and forage use efficiency.

    Using grazing wedge forage management techniques producers are maintaining forage in a vegetative state with minimal overgrazing, resulting in improved forage quality but also increased forage production due to vegetative growth. Forage quality data demonstrates pastures managed using the grazing wedge can meet or exceed the nutrient requirements of cow-calf operation provided adequate forage dry matter is available. Producers suggested the grazing wedge is best suited to a forage inventory tool rather than a quality management tool in beef production systems due to repeated demonstration of acceptable quality forage in managed grazing systems.

    Grazing wedges permit current and future forage needs budgeting. Using the grazing wedge to measure/manage residual forage cover improves pasture sustainability by reducing weed infestation while maintaining the pasture resource. Enhancing pasture recovery will increase profitability due to increased forage production and reduced input expense.

    Introduction:

    Rising fertilizer, feed and land input costs challenge beef production systems long term economic sustainability. This reduction in profitability increased stakeholder and producer interest in production systems addressing rising input costs. To address this challenge, pasture harvest must be optimized to decrease production costs and improve efficiency. Pasture remains the most economical beef cattle feed, yet in many grazing systems, pasture utilization is less than 40% of potential production. Improving forage utilization promotes efficient land resource use. As land costs increase due to alternative use opportunities optimal use of grazing lands becomes increasingly important.

    During periods of increasing input prices, there are three options to improve farm profitability; decrease input costs, improve current input use efficiency or increase end-product value. Cost reduction and improved efficiency are the easiest areas for producers to address as commodity producers are historically price takers focused on reducing production costs. Education effort targeting reduced input costs and improved efficiency appeals to producers enhancing educational opportunities. Producer education designed to reduce input costs and increase resource efficiency matches the NCR-SARE objective of improving farmer profitability.

    Project objectives:

    Short-term

    • Demonstrate forage budgeting techniques using grazing wedge in conjunction with forage and cattle management protocols
    • Increase social interaction and idea sharing among core producer group participants
    • Increased cattle and forage management knowledge

     Intermediate-term

    • Increased focus on strategic feed and fertilizer use in forage based beef production systems
    • Increase producer focus from increased forage production to increased forage use efficiency

     Long-term

    • Improved operation profitability
    • Increased forage utilization
    • Reduced or strategically altering feed and fertilizer use

    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.