Plan­ning, Pa­tience Lead To Bet­ter For­age And Cat­tle

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FARM & HOME -

STOCK­TON, Mo. — Pa­tience pays off for cat­tle pro­duc­ers who wait for fes­cue to grow some be­fore turn­ing cat­tle out for spring graz­ing, says Univer­sity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion live­stock spe­cial­ist Patrick Davis.

“Af­ter a long win­ter of feed­ing hay, pro­duc­ers are anx­ious to turn cat­tle into the fes­cue pas­ture,” Davis says. “How­ever, it is bet­ter to wait un­til fes­cue grows to heights of 3 to 8 inches be­fore let­ting cat­tle onto fes­cue pas­tures.”

Proper for­age height is crit­i­cal for sev­eral rea­sons, Davis says.

One rea­son is to re­duce the risk of fes­cue tox­i­co­sis. Re­cent re­search by MU Ex­ten­sion agron­o­mist Sarah Kenyon found that er­got al­ka­loid lev­els are most toxic in the bot­tom 2 inches of fes­cue. Graz­ing too short puts cat­tle at risk. Another rea­son is that fes­cue tries to make seed in the early spring. As stems elon­gate and seed heads emerge, the toxic al­ka­loids con­cen­trate in the seed.

Strong root sys­tems are another rea­son to let fes­cue grow to at least 3 to 8 inches. Plants need good roots to take up wa­ter and nu­tri­ents. Graz­ing too soon re­duces the op­por­tu­nity for roots to grow well and can de­stroy the root struc­ture. This re­sults in thin­ner grass stands and in­fes­ta­tion of weeds.

Over­graz­ing also causes cows to eat more stems and fewer leaves. The stem is less nu­tri­tious than the leaf, so cat­tle may not con­sume enough nu­tri­ents.

Pre­vent for­age tillers from mak­ing a seed head by graz­ing be­fore seed heads form. This al­lows leaves from other tillers from the same plant to grow rapidly, im­prov­ing pro­duc­tion and in­creas­ing yield of di­gestible nu­tri­ents.

Stay ahead of graz­ing fes­cue by plan­ning, says Davis. Keep fes­cue at 3-8 inches in a ro­ta­tional graz­ing sys­tem. This al­lows bet­ter con­trol of graz­ing pres­sure and height than in a con­tin­u­ous graz­ing sys­tem. Once the sys­tem is in place, mon­i­tor the stock­ing rate of the herd to match it with for­age pro­duc­tiv­ity.

This is dif­fi­cult to do by man­age­ment alone dur­ing pe­ri­ods of rapid for­age growth. “As I talk with cat­tle graz­ers, usu­ally early in the graz­ing sea­son, they will have ex­cess for­age and de­fi­cient stock­ing rate,” Davis says. Too low a stock­ing rate gen­er­ally leads to over­ma­ture, low-qual­ity for­age.

Davis says there are three ways to deal with ex­cess for­age: De­velop spring-calv­ing re­place­ment heifers, re­tain weaned calves longer to put on cheap gains, and har­vest the for­age for hay.

Re­place­ment heifers can be an ex­tra source of farm in­come or a way to turn cat­tle over and bring new ge­net­ics to the herd. Longer re­ten­tion of weaned calves may lead to pre­con­di­tion­ing and adding cheap gain, which could im­prove mar­ketabil­ity and profit po­ten­tial. If har­vest­ing hay, feed it back on the pas­ture it came from to re­plen­ish some nu­tri­ents re­moved dur­ing hay­mak­ing. Also, pas­tures will need a longer rest af­ter hay har­vest to al­low for­age to re­turn to an ac­cept­able height. Cut hay to no more than a 3-inch stub­ble for bet­ter pas­ture re­growth, to main­tain a vi­able root sys­tem and to re­duce toxin load.

“As the graz­ing sea­son be­gins, plan­ning is im­por­tant so that you man­age the fes­cue at the proper height to help en­sure ad­e­quate an­i­mal per­for­mance and plant per­sis­tence,” Davis says.

For ques­tions about stock­ing rate and proper man­age­ment of fes­cue pas­tures, con­tact your lo­cal MU Ex­ten­sion agron­omy or live­stock spe­cial­ist.

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