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Pay attention to pasture

Are you taking time to properly manage your pastures? Make sure your pasture program is the one best suited for your operation.

Sierra Day

May 3, 2021

3 Min Read
cattle grazing in pasture on sunny day
GRASS CHECK FOR GRAZING: As you perform your daily herd check, take a moment to check the grass and prepare for this year’s grazing season. Sierra Day

When it comes to selecting the right grazing system for your operation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Everybody’s soil is different, everybody’s topography is different, and their ability to have water in certain locations is different,” says Trevor Toland, owner of Toland’s River Oak Ranch near Macomb, Ill. Toland is a former member of the Illinois Pasture Project and credits this experience for some of his grazing knowledge. The ranch uses rotational grazing to focus on heifer development. “Everyone has a different situation. No one pasture program can be tailored to fit everyone.”

For anyone who has a decent amount of pastureland and is considering rotational grazing, Toland advises having at least eight paddocks. This approach allows for five days of grazing and then at least 35 days of rest and regrowth.

“On the sixth or seventh day of grazing, regrowth of grass begins,” Toland says. “Cattle prefer fresh grass and will begin to regraze, which can stunt growth and is hard on your pasture.”

He says rotational grazing limits overgrazing and in turn, can improve soil health, drought tolerance and even soil temperature.

“I was in the Illinois Pasture Project for five years,” he says. “We found out that the soil temperature is 20 degrees [F] cooler in a rotationally grazed pasture compared to a traditionally grazed pasture that had been eaten to the ground.”

The constant routine of rotational grazing also reduces fence pressure, he says. Cattle learn they will always have fresh grass to graze and won’t worry about getting to the other side of the fence.

Cover crop no-brainer

If your operation doesn’t have as much access to pasture acres, supplementing cover crops may be the avenue for you.

“I think cover crops really provide a lot of opportunity in Illinois,” says Doug Hanson, seed specialist at ProHarvest Seeds and a cattle producer near Danforth, Ill. “For a livestock producer that has some acres, cover crops can be used to complement their current grazing system.”

He explains that putting a cover crop like millet or rye out in the fall between a corn and soybean rotation can provide high-quality feed nutrition and increased soil nutrients in the field.

“Whether cattle graze or we chop it for feed in the spring, we have a cover crop that fits between two insured cash crops,” Hanson explains. “It’s kind of no-brainer to use this system when we are able to get feed at a reduced cost, and still have an insured cash crop.”

A key part to pasture production is being able to reflect and build upon what you have learned with each grazing season.

“My grazing system changes and adjusts every year just from things I learn — and depending on what Mother Nature throws at us,” Hanson says.

No matter which pasture program you choose, good management relies on observation and adaptation.

“In grazing, being adaptive is really important,” Toland says. “You have to be ready to get out there and look at the pasture every day.”

About the Author(s)

Sierra Day

Field editor, Farm Progress

A 10th-generation agriculturist, Sierra Day grew up alongside the Angus cattle, corn and soybeans on her family’s operation in Cerro Gordo, Ill. Although she spent an equal amount in farm machinery as she did in the cattle barn as a child, Day developed a bigger passion for the cattle side of the things.

An active member of organizations such as 4-H, FFA and the National Junior Angus Association, she was able to show Angus cattle on the local, state and national levels while participating in contests and leadership opportunities that were presented through these programs.

As Day got older, she began to understand the importance of transitioning from a member to a mentor for other youth in the industry. Thus, her professional and career focus is centered around educating agriculture producers and youth to aid in prospering the agriculture industry.

In 2018, she received her associate degree from Lake Land College, where her time was spent as an active member in clubs such as Ag Transfer club and PAS. A December 2020 graduate of Kansas State University in Animal Sciences & Industry and Agricultural Communications & Journalism, Day was active in Block & Bridle and Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow, while also serving as a communications student worker in the animal science department.

Day currently resides back home where she owns and operates Day Cattle Farm with her younger brother, Chayton. The duo strives to raise functional cattle that are show ring quality and a solid foundation for building anyone’s herd.

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