By Dean Slates
At a recent county fair, I had a farmer note to me that he felt sorry for the “grazers” because they had grazed-off all their second and third cutting of alfalfa hay. Since those grazers had grazed their alfalfa crops, he reasoned that the grazers would be forced into buying high-priced hay to support their herds over winter.
Those comments opened a window for a pleasant conversation about feeds and grazing.
Similar situation. Intensive grazing involves a management regimen that obviously does not fit every farm (or farmer). But the fact is that this year’s dry weather has put every dairy or beef farmer in a similar predicament.
You either fed forages that you harvested and stored, or you grazed forages (rather than harvesting, storing and then feeding them) or you bought forage and fed it, or you used some combination of these options.
I know of no pastures, except alfalfa meadows, that continued to produce quality forage during the hot, dry season, and even the alfalfa production became meager. These conditions continue over much of the region.
What all this leads to is that most livestock producers are faced with tight, if not outright insufficient forages to feed during the winter period.
Good inventory. One of the important activities for all livestock producers, be they grazers, or not… is to take a good inventory of feeds on hand.
How much of what quality? Then you need to compare that feed inventory to your feeding plan. How much of what kinds (and quantities) will be needed?
Armed with that information you are enabled to make critical decisions about winter feed supplies. If there are expected shortfalls, then you can begin planning as to how those shortfalls can be met, well in advance of the reality.
One strategy that all livestock producers need to employ is to cull out the low producers and “free loaders.” If beef cows and heifers are not pregnant… move them to the feed lot or to the market.
You can’t afford to feed expensive, scarce feeds to nonproductive cows.
Cull cows. Dairy farmers need to also cull those low producers, those problem cows. Cull cow prices are weak, but those low producers need to be taken off the payroll. Your investment in feed needs to be directed to those efficient, high producers who will return the highest yield on your feed investment.
Whether grazing is part of your livestock feed strategy, we’re all in the same boat – we need to take a realistic look at the herd situation and then plan to meet short falls or reduce feed needs by culling.
Tips. My suggestion: first, cull the “loafers”; second, inventory feed and forage resources; third, cull the low producers; and fourth plan to meet the shortfall.
Final note: There are producers who, in fact, have surplus forage resources available for winter feeding. If you are one of those whose management and luck have you so fortunately postured, I strongly recommend that you also follow the above noted four-step plan.
When you get to step four, you can substitute “plan to maximize the return on the expected surplus feed” for “plan to meet the shortfall.”
(The author is the OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Holmes County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be in care of Farm and Dairy, P O Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)