Pasture management project gives livestock farmers grazing guidance

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COLUMBUS — An ongoing forage project conducted by Ohio State University Extension offers livestock producers detailed information on how fast pastures are growing statewide to help them make better management decisions.

The Ohio Pasture Measurement Project uses weekly pasture growth reports from more than 32 producers statewide to create a database that can help graziers estimate the amount of forage in their pastures.

What’s growing on? According to Jeff McCutcheon, an OSU Extension educator and co-creator of the project, the goal is to measure pasture growth to provide producers more detailed nformation during the grazing season. This can help them make better feed and pasture management decisions, he said.

“Understanding current pasture growth can help graziers decide to slow or speed up the grazing system, change stocking density, consider planting alternative forages, or fertilize before they need the forage and when there is adequate soil moisture to still grow more forage,” McCutcheon said.

The project, which began in 2005, involves farmers measuring the same pasture field every week using a rising plate meter and reporting the measurement to OSU Extension. Growth is then calculated and posted on on a weekly blog, http://ohioforages.blogspot.com, and you can also find it on page A6 of Farm and Dairy.

Comparisons

Measurements are also taken before and after each grazing or clipping of the field. The data provides livestock producers the most accurate, current, objective information on the performance of forages growing in Ohio, McCutcheon said.

It also demonstrates the use of pasture measurement and monitoring to aid in the management of grazing.

This is significant, considering that in Ohio, cool-season forages don’t grow at the same rate year-round.

“That’s a challenge for producers to manage,” McCutcheon said. “About 60 percent of forage production comes by June, and producers expect those pastures to feed livestock at the minimum for six months, with some people shooting for 10 to 11 months.

“It’s crucial for producers to figure out where they stand in terms of how much feed is available, and that helps inform the different decisions they can make after that point.”

One way producers can use the data is to estimate how much feed per acre they need to grow for their livestock, which typically consume between 2 to 4 percent of their body weight in dry matter daily. For example, a 1,200-pound beef cow that consumes an average of 3.5 percent of its body weight would consume 42 pounds of dry matter per day.

Using last week’s average growth, which was 45 pounds per acre per day, that would mean a producer is growing three more pounds per acre than the cow would consume, so they’re gaining feed, McCutcheon explained.

“As the year progresses, we will start growing less than what livestock consumes, so knowing what they have on a weekly basis can help producers plan when they’ll run out of feed and need to supplement,” he said.

One way producers can handle that is to take some of the extra forage and harvest it for hay that can be used to feed livestock later when there is no grass, McCutcheon said.

“The project is designed to help growers know how much feed is out there total.

“I’ve had participants who’ve been able to determine the exact amount of days of feed they have left based on these measurements.

“And if producers know where they stand in terms of forage, they are better able to decide where to go from there. Having the database there for graziers to access at any time helps producers with their management.”

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