Getting better at grazing this fall

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Well, the growing season may be over, but the grazing season may not. My whole career, I have heard many talking about how long the grazing rotation should be: maybe 14 days in the spring, or 60 in the late summer during dry weather. I have also heard the discussion over which is more of a management challenge.

Over 30 years ago I heard someone say that the greatest challenge is the 150-plus-day rotation during the winter months. That one took me a while to process, but once I did, it made a lot of sense.

Getting better

Few have accomplished it, though many have made it a long way. I think of not in terms of whether you succeed at it, but whether you can get better at it. The greatest cost of keeping grazing livestock is stored feed, and if we can reduce how many days we feed, we will be better off. You may not make the rotation last 150 days, but can you make it last longer — say, 90 days?

Every day I am not feeding hay is a day that I am not spending as much money or time feeding livestock. This is a good time to try to plan ways to reduce the days you feed hay next year, or better yet, this year. Is there a hay field that you can still graze without causing damage? Is there a harvested corn field you could graze? Little things could save.

Issues

During the summer, did you have any issues you could address to reduce issues next year? I noticed a lot more cocklebur in the pastures this year, and mowing simply will not eliminate this weed. I have seen two-inch high cocklebur with seeds on it. Spraying next year seems to be my best option.

It was very dry later in the summer. Was water an issue? If so, now is the time to plan. My neighbor had issues, and he rebuilt his pond, then put in a barrel-sized, insulated tank, buried about 80% in the ground, with a float and valve on it that is gravity-fed from the pond and requires no electricity. It looks impressive and is unlikely to freeze.

If it gets very cold this winter, do you have a plan to provide water? Over the years, there have been several times that I had to break ice when it remained below zero for extended periods of time. If there is a dry day or two in the next few weeks, can you move out some round bales of hay to feed later in the season, before it gets too muddy?

Feed

Do you have enough feed for the winter? Hay is likely less expensive now than it will be in late February. Keep in mind that a portion of a hay diet can be replaced with corn.

A pound of corn typically provides the energy of two pounds of hay. Shelled corn with the kernel cracked into three to four pieces maximizes utilization, but I get better intake using whole kernels when I feed it directly on the ground.

Working cattle

On at best a loosely related note, but a very important one, we worked all of the cattle on the first of November. About half of my paddocks are on one side of the farm, and about half are on the other. When we finally put in working facilities several years ago, we placed gates on each end of the holding pen.

When I move cattle, I put them in the pen, close one gate, walk down and open the other, and out they go. When I need to work cattle, I set it up based on the pasture rotation, so the cattle think it is time to be moved, and it is a one-person operation. I can then sort them into a sub-pen, then into the tub, down the alleyway and to the chute.

It is so much safer, and the cattle stay completely calm. The facilities are probably the best money I ever spent on the farm, and I can now A.I. cows and treat animals when needed, and most importantly, stay safe.

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Chris Penrose is an OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development in Morgan County.

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