Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition
advertisement

Arkansas cattlemen target 300 grazing days

Dave Wilkins Published on 28 September 2012
Mitch Baltz hay

Mitch Baltz used to feed hay more than 100 days every year, just like most Arkansas cattle producers.

Today, he feeds hay less than 50 days a year. Some of the bales in his barn have been there for five years.

“I’m carrying over a lot of hay from one season to the next,” says Baltz of Powhatan, Arkansas.

In Van Buren County, Steve Swenson has also sharply reduced the amount of hay he feeds.

Even with last year’s drought, Swenson didn’t start feeding hay until Dec. 1 – nearly four months after many of his neighbors did. His cows didn’t get any hay until mid-February the two years prior to the drought.

The reduced reliance on hay on both Arkansas farms is the result of extended grazing seasons.

Baltz and Swenson are participants in the 300 Days Grazing Program launched about four years ago by the University of Arkansas Extension system.

As demonstration farms, they’ve implemented multiple practices in an effort to hit the target 300 days of grazing each year.

Drought prevented them from reaching that goal in 2011 but, even under extremely dry conditions, they’re making much better use of the forage on their farms than they used to.

Baltz was able to graze his cattle for 350 days in 2010, and Swenson was able to graze his for 312 days.

Both producers have installed electric fencing for rotational grazing, have stockpiled forage for winter strip grazing and interseeded some of their fescue fields with clover.

They’ve significantly reduced input costs – a primary objective of the program.

“Several years ago when the price of feed, fuel and fertilizer was going off the charts, we were discussing possible educational opportunities for producers to deal with that,” says John Jennings, a UA Extension animal scientist.

The 300 Days Grazing Program was the result.

UA Extension livestock and forage specialists put together a list of eight different practices intended to help producers extend their grazing season and reduce costs.

The practices included management intensive grazing, stockpiling fescue and bermudagrass for fall and winter strip grazing, adding legumes to pastures, reducing hay losses and growing summer or winter annual forages.

Three demonstration farms initiated multiple practices, while many others implemented just one or two. More than 110 farms have participated the past four years.

The drought has been tough on all Arkansas farms but those in the program appear to be handling it better, Jennings says.

“Producers are sticking with some of these practices. It’s not rosy but they are in better shape than their neighbors, for sure,” he says. “I think they will recover faster than some others who are grazing their pastures down to the roots.”

Stockpiling forage for winter strip grazing has proven to be one of the most effective practices.

“We can stockpile bermudagrass and fescue. Either one works really well,” Jennings says. “Those are the big keys for fall and winter.”

Management intensive grazing using temporary electric fencing is the key for the spring and summer months, he says.

Cattle grazing
Rotating cattle and preventing them from overgrazing may not always improve animal performance, but “in almost every case it extends the forage performance,” Jennings says.

“If you can protect the grass that has already grown, it’s a huge drought management tool,” he says. “If you can get an extra 30 days out of the same grass, that’s worth a lot of money right now.”

Arkansas cattle producers typically feed hay 135 to 140 days a year, usually starting in mid- November and continuing to the first of April.

Feeding hay for five months of the year may make sense in places with harsh winter climates like Minnesota or Wisconsin, but it’s not really necessary in Arkansas, program participants are finding out.

Baltz, who has a herd of about 40 Angus cows, says stockpiling fescue and bermudagrass for winter strip grazing has made the biggest difference in his operation.

He didn’t start feeding any hay last year until after the middle of January. About 40 to 45 days of hay was all that his dry cows needed to get them through the winter.

“I think the stockpiling and strip-grazing is the biggest thing,” Baltz says. “I think it’s one of the best and most effective ways to graze.”

He usually starts strip-grazing the last part of October or first of November.

“We always graze the bermudagrass first. It’s warm season and doesn’t hold up as well during the winter,” he says.

Baltz uses a single strand of polywire, some fiberglass step-in posts and two geared reels to keep ahead of his herd during the fall and winter strip-grazing season.

Annual soil testing and proper fertilization are keys to stockpiling forage, Baltz says. He has tested all of his fields each of the past five years.

“That actually saves me a lot of money,” he says. “I’m not putting on a lot of fertilizer I don’t need.”

He generally applies about 100 pounds of potash to the bermudagrass in August. The fescue requires a little bit of nitrogen (usually applied in early September) but no potash or phosphorus. Baltz hasn’t applied any P or K to his fescue fields in three years.

The Swensons, who have about 100 Angus cows on a farm near Shirley, Arkansas, converted 140 acres into paddocks for rotational and strip- grazing purposes. They also installed tire waterers.

Seeding white clover into a 40-acre fescue field has made the biggest difference on the farm, Steve Swenson says.

By the second year, the interseeded field looked like it was covered by a thick white blanket. It’s divided into four 10-acre paddocks for winter strip-grazing.

The clover adds valuable nitrogen back to the soil and helps offset the effects of the endophytes in the fescue, Swenson says. He hasn’t applied any commercial fertilizer to the field in four years.

Before the drought hit in 2011, he was able to get two or three hay cuttings off the field each year and still strip-graze it all winter.

“To me, the white clover was the most beneficial thing that we have done,” Swenson says. “That 40 acres basically supports the whole farm.”

Swenson was initially skeptical about installing electric fencing for rotational grazing, but has come to view that as beneficial as well. All of the program practices implemented on the farm have made it a more productive operation.

“It’s done a lot for us,” Swenson says. “But you have to be there and manage it. There’s a little bit of work to it.”  FG

PHOTO
TOP: Producers look, listen and learn during the forage tours hosted by the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Dave Wilkins.

BOTTOM: Producers target 300 grazing days: Cattle grazing. Photo courtesy of Fredric Ridenour.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS