Cattle farmers can save money by rotating pasture use

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2013

SALISBURY — As we all know, the cost of farming just seems to keep increasing every year. From the high price of fuel, to the competitive prices of grain for ethanol, it seems that it’s an everyday battle to keep up. However, there are options. Cattle producers should consider implementing rotational pasture management to help increase the profitability of their animals and to help increase longevity within their pasture management systems.
Rotational grazing allows cattle to enter a paddock, graze the paddock, and then be moved off the paddock to allow a rest period for the forages. When cattle are given high acreage to graze for extended periods of time, they will eat the forages that are the most desirable over and over. What this does is not allow the forages adequate amount of time to recover from the cattle grazing. It can cause them to be severely stunted and even die.
By implementing multiple paddocks, cattle are allowed to graze a paddock and are then moved so that forage has time to recover. Also, when cattle are put into tighter grazing paddocks, this increases the amount of manure that is being concentrated in a smaller area, which helps with fertilization. Paddocks can be set up using temporary step-in posts and polywire.
Fescue-based pasture systems are a good option for cow-calf producers because cows do not need to gain weight as compared to steers or heifers. A word of caution in the summer: Fescue can cause toxicity problems within cattle. One way to help avoid this is to plant some grazing areas with summer annuals to allow cattle a better summer grazing option. As always, make sure that cattle have constant access to water and shade.
Using temporary step-in posts and polywire, producers can really get creative with creating lanes that will allow cattle access back to water that might be a distance from the grazing paddock. Also make sure that cattle are allowed to have access to salts and minerals. I encourage all producers to evaluate the economics before they make a decision. If they are able to establish a pasture management system that allows them to reduce the amount of hay and grain they are feeding, this will reduce fuel and feed cost.
If you have chickens on the farm, allowing them to follow behind the cattle will help to reduce some of the insect population. Flies lay eggs in the manure piles. By allowing the chickens to come behind the cattle, they will scratch those manure piles and eat larvae that may have developed. They will also eat other insects that could potentially be harmful to your forages. These are just some tips that might allow producers to reduce some of their cost.
Thomas Cobb is the Extension agent in Rowan County with livestock and dairy responsibilities.