Year Round Beef Cattle Grazing Strategy to Eliminate or Reduce the Use of Stored Feeds
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 that a high level of management was required to implement a year-round grazing system. This is perhaps one of the most important reveling results of this study.
Individual cow 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 hay feeding were reduced by approximately 20 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. 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. In year 2, calves were 34 days younger at weaning than in year 1 but weighed 23 pounds more on the average.
Alternative feeding systems were compared economically on a cost per head per day for each alternative. 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.
With the exception of Foxtail 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. Grazing corn was less costly than feeding hay but still considerably more expensive than grazing fescue.
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.
The year-round grazing system we tested required a very high level of management from the producer. We were able to conclude that extending the grazing season in Kentucky by incorporating and managing perennials and annuals is economical and possible. However, managing a livestock forage system designed to extend the grazing system requires a high level of management that may not fit most livestock operations in Kentucky.
The most successful farm in this study is currently being used as a model farm in the UK Master Grazer Educational Program.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Over 500 producers have attended field days, tours and other educational programs conducted on the farms in this study.
Results from this study are published in the UK Extension Publication entitled, ” Managing Steep Terrain for Livestock Production in Kentucky” (ID-158).
Results from this study will be complied with results from other on-going grazing studies to development agronomic, animal performance and economic recommedations for extended grazing systems in Kentucky.
Results from this study have been presented at 12 county producer meetings and 4 State wide grazing conferences.