The basic recipe for beef is cattle, sunshine and grass. While sunshine can’t be controlled, how you manage your cattle and your pastures can make a big difference in profitability.
Stan Smith, Ohio State University Extension agent, is calling 2015, “the year of the grass manager.”
In his most recent column in the OSU Beef Cattle newsletter, Smith writes, “The majority of the past five or six years might aptly be labeled ‘the years of the corn and soybean farmer.’ As demand for grains outpaced the ability to produce adequate supplies, those who managed to grow corn and bean crops were rewarded with unprecedented prices that in turn yielded unprecedented returns to the investment in farm land.
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“Is it time to label 2015 ‘the year of the grass manager?’ Much the same as the scenario that we observed with cash grain production, demand for nutrient-dense red meat, and in particular beef, is out pacing the ability to produce adequate supplies. What that means is that outstanding grass managers -- those managing the process of converting forage to beef -- are being rewarded with unprecedented returns to their investment in forage producing land. Today, as opposed to the past five or six years, it's a whole new ball game. Simply put, the most astute grass managers are positioned to capitalize,” Smith says.
Now is the time to capitalize on your cattle by getting the most out of your grasslands and stretching your harvested feeds. We are fortunate in our operation to still have our cows on corn stalks right, but we’ll soon switch to feeding exclusively hay until spring rolls around. However, even the winter months are a great time to be thinking about pasture management.
“How you manage your pastures now can make all the difference in forage quality, animal growth and weed control problems next spring,” says Brian Tuck, Oregon State University dryland and irrigated field crops agent. He offers three tips for managing pastures in the winter.
1. Consider fertilizing in the winter.
“Healthy pastures need good fertility management to maximize forage production and animal health. During this time of the year as the weather gets colder, pasture grasses and legumes begin to go into dormancy and use little of the nutrients found in the soil, pasture fertilization is not normally a concern. But in fact, this is a good time to apply phosphorus,potassium and sulfur, which are nutrients that tie up tightly to soil particles (less hazard to cause ground water contamination) and take a longer time to become available to the plant as compared to nitrogen.
“During the winter months the rain and snow will help to move broadcasted nutrients into the soil so they will be available for next spring. Applications of lime for those with low pH problems are also suggested at this time of the year for the same reasons. Note, winter applications of nitrogen are not recommended as nitrogen is very mobile and does not tie up well to soil particles and can move easily into the groundwater and cause contamination. It should be stressed that if there is potential for surface water runoff such as with hillside or severely compacted pastures etc., broadcast applications of any nutrient have the potential for causing surface water contamination, so extreme care must be exercised as to when and how applications are made.”
2. Don’t overgraze.
Tuck writes, “The rule of thumb for grazing is take half and leave half, and not graze pastures below three inches in height. Research and practical experience have shown that removing more than 50% of the grass or grazing below three inches is very damaging to pastures and will reduce long-term plant health. Excessive grazing in the winter makes pasture plants more vulnerable to winter damage, disease and reduces spring regrowth.
3. Let pastures rest in the winter.
Tuck warns that soil compaction and plant damage can be a big issue in the winter. He writes, “I have seen pastures destroyed by allowing livestock to stay out on the pastures during the winter when the soil is saturated. Animal hooves can destroy plants by cutting roots and crushing the plants, which reduce plant vigor and open up spaces for weeds to become established. Hoof pressure will also cause significant compaction, which will reduce root growth and water infiltration, which increases the potential for soil erosion and water contamination and takes years to repair. To avoid this problem it is better to bring the animals into the barn and corral area for the winter.”
Are you amping up your grass management practices in 2015? Which management practices do you utilize during the winter months to get the most out of your pastures? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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