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

2012 Annual Report for 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

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

Summary

Using grazing wedges to match beef cattle nutrient need with pasture resources while reducing feed and fertility costs project was challenged by the historic drought experienced by producers across the Midwest. Despite the lack of forage growth reported by the participants using the grazing wedge, this inventory tool helped prevent overgrazing and forage budgeting once forage growth stopped due to drought.

Forage samples were collected at cooperating producer locations early in the year but shifted from pasture samples to alternative crops such as turnips, sudangrass, pearl millet and corn silage due to drought. The primary forage quality parameter producers were concerned with was nitrate level.

Producers continued to post forage growth data to grazing wedge website (http://www.grazingbeef.missouri.edu) however by the early July most cooperators observed little to no forage re-growth. Producers were encouraged to stop grazing pastures at a residual height of 1500 lbs of dry matter per acre to minimize opportunities for weed growth and allow rapid re-growth when rain returned. Producers able to use sacrifice pastures during the drought to keep cattle from grazing residual forage observed increased regrowth when a late season hurricane brought rain to most of the state.

During 2012, 161 forage quality samples were collected and summarized. Data (661 total samples) continue to indicate forage quality in pastures managed using the grazing wedge can provide sufficient nutrient concentrations to meet or exceed nutrient requirements of cow-calf systems. Because of excessive quality beef producers have transitioned to using the grazing wedge as a forage inventory tool rather than quality indicator.

Functionality of core producer groups was maintained during 2012. Facilitated group discussion continues to improve as groups become increasingly familiar with others’ operations. Co-learner education model continues to require facilitation by Extension personnel, primarily to serve as reference for factual information. Core producer generated data and experiences are widely used at field days and pasture walks to illustrate concepts and provide examples other producers relate to.

Managing forages using the grazing wedge improved core producers’ ability to maintain ideal pasture residual to optimize regrowth while minimizing weed infestation following drought. Enhancing pasture recovery following drought will increase producer profitability due to increased forage production and reduced input expenses.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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

Accomplishments/Milestones

The 7 core producers continued to collect forage quality (161 samples) and yield data in 2012. Sample numbers were reduced due to severe drought and lack of forage growth.

During 2012, eleven pasture walks and core producer meetings were held with 211 producers in attendance. As groups continue to meet producer interactions improve resulting in increased idea sharing and questions. Pasture walks or forage planning meetings were held early in the spring to prepare for upcoming grazing season. Late season pasture walks and producer meetings were focused on forage and management systems to deal with drought and resulting lack of forage. Due to severity of drought producers where evaluating alternative forage sources such as turnips, cereal rye, annual ryegrass, corn stover, corn silage and corn baleage. Meetings focused on using alternative forages to supplement pasture growth and minimize purchased inputs.

Producer collected data was used at 8 different national, multi-state, and regional forage meetings and field days with 387 attendees. The grazing wedge and producer grazing data is used as a demonstration of a forage inventory and feed budgeting tool.

The grazing wedge offered opportunity to inventory the farm and plan feed accordingly. Once pasture growth resumed pastures were inventoried and producers were able to determine stockpiled forage availability. Feed and forage purchases were based on inventory at the end of the growing season

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In 2012 producer education focused on managing forages during drought. Most of Missouri was recovering from drought in 2011 so early educational efforts focused on pasture management to enhance recovery of 2011 drought stricken pastures. The attached newsletter was distributed to cooperating producers to illustrate recovery options and management programs.

Later in 2012 producers continued to address not only 2011 drought recovery began dealing with historic drought and excessive heat during June and July. The attached slides used in producer education meetings highlight the key concepts of grazing using the grazing wedge during drought. The first indicates the concept of the grazing wedge and the importance of prioritizing forage use. Producers were taught forage quality is a threshold effect, when forage matures quality declines so mature pastures should be grazed by cattle with lower nutrient requirements while cattle with high nutrient requirements optimize the quality forage harvest. Culling was discussed extensively in addition to using poor quality forages to support low producing or dry cows weaned due to drought.

Producers sampled grazing wedge managed pastures to determine forage quality. Forage sampling results indicate crude protein and energy (TDN%) were sufficient to excessive for all stages of beef cattle production. Fiber concentrations (NDF%) increase and NDF digestibility declines as the growing season progresses indicating optimal time to harvest excess forages is prior to June. Producers agree with forage quality tests and suggest they rarely do they lack forage quality but more often forage quantity.

Drought pasture management focused on maintaining sufficient pasture cover. The final slide demonstrated how a cooperating producer maintained 1500 lbs of DM per acre in managed pastures in order to prevent weed encroachment while maintaining root reserves and leaf area.

Grazing wedges were used to budget current and future producer forage needs. Core producers were able to use growth rate data and forage inventory to purchase additional feed and forages.

Collaborators:

Dr. Robert Kallenbach

[email protected]
Extension Forage Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
208 Waters Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
Office Phone: 5738822801
Gene Schmitz

[email protected]
Regional Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri
119 W. Main
P.O. Box 637
Warsaw, MO 65355
Office Phone: 6604385012
Ted Cunningham

[email protected]
Regional Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
112 E. 5th Street
Salem, MO 65560
Office Phone: 5737293196
Robert Kelly

[email protected]
Regional Ag Business Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
4125 Mitchell Ave
St. Joseph, MO 64507
Office Phone: 8162791691
Joe Horner

[email protected]
State Extension Beef and Dairy Economist
University of Missouri Extension
223 Mumford Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
Office Phone: 5738829339
Wayne Prewitt

[email protected]
Regional Ag Business Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
Courthouse Ground Floor
Nevada, MO 64772
Office Phone: 4174482560
Dr. William McClain

[email protected]
Regional Agronomy Specalist
University of Missouri Extension
P.O. Box 190
Steelville, MO 65565
Office Phone: 5737752135
Jim Humphrey

[email protected]
Regional Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
P.O. Box 32
2nd Floor Courthouse
Savannah, MO 64485
Office Phone: 8163243147
Al Decker

[email protected]
Regional Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension
1 North Delaware
Butler, MO 64730
Office Phone: 6606794167
Ryan Milhollin

[email protected]
State Extension Associate
University of Missouri Extension
223 Mumford Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
Office Phone: 5738820668