Shamrock Vale Farms in Kensington, Ohio, is one of the oldest and most successful grazing operations in the Buckeye State. Earl and Dan McKarns, a father-son team, raise about 150 registered Angus seedstock cow-calf pairs in a total forage system.
On Aug. 19, the McKarns family opened the farm to nearly 300 visitors who wanted to learn more about raising grass-based cattle. Here’s a quick summary of the advice doled out by several grazing experts who spoke at the event.
Jeff McCutcheon on paddock layout
Ohio State University Extension Educator
Agriculture and Natural Resources
If you’re thinking about grazing your cattle, McCutcheon recommends starting with a temporary setup. Besides the fact that it could take awhile to decide where that fence should really go, each growing season in Ohio is different. Flexibility is key if you’re going to have a successful operation.
McCutcheon also noted paddocks won’t be uniform. The size of each paddock should be based on production, not acreage.
In an ultra high stocking density setup, paddock size is decreased so the cattle eat all the available grass, rather than pick through it and waste portions. This helps makes the most of each paddock and encourages more uniform grazing.
Jim Gerrish on extending the grazing season
Independent grazing lands consultant
To extend the grazing season, Gerrish recommends stockpiling your pastures. Fields of fescue, orchardgrass and legumes are a good choice for stockpiling.
In Ohio, graziers should begin stockpiling around Aug. 15, Gerrish said.
The McKarns family stockpiles by cutting hay in August and making 50-60 acres of small round bales that are left in the fields. The grass then continues to grow until early November, so when winter rolls around, the family has a supply of stockpiled grass and hay right in the fields.
When you begin to use those stockpiled pastures, use the lower quality ones first, Gerrish said. Save the high quality forages for the months when cows are later in their pregnancies and need better nutrition.
Bob Hendershot on developing water systems
Natural Resources Conservation Service
High quality, easily accessible water is essential to a successful grazing operation, according to Hendershot. Inadequate water reduces a cow’s intake and poorly hydrated animals don’t do as well.
One of the most important things graziers can do is provide a water tank in every paddock. Ground water is the highest quality water, but even if the only nearby water source is a pond or stream, Henderson recommends pumping that water into a tank.
While cows can drink directly from a pond, they dislike putting their heads below their knees to drink, as it reduces their visibility. And that often leads to animals that don’t drink enough.
By putting the water into a tank, the cow doesn’t have to lower her head as much to drink and since she can see better, she’s more likely to drink the proper amount of water, Hendershot said.
On average, a 1,000-pound cow needs about 12-15 gallons of water per day when it’s 40-75 degrees.
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Mark Sulc on new forage species and varieties
Department of Horticulture and Crop Science
Ohio State University
It takes eight to 10 years to develop a new variety of forage grass because scientists are looking for very specific characteristics. New varieties need to have a combination of vigor and yield, winter-hardiness, pest resistance, drought tolerance, grazing tolerance and seed production.
New varieties are being developed in orchardgrass, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, timothy, reed canarygrass, red clover, white clover, festulolium and Teff.
Beth Burritt on livestock behavior and grazing
Utah State University
Like people, animals like to eat foods that taste good to them. But what makes some food tastier than others? According to Burritt, the brain teaches us — and animals — to like foods that offer essential nutrients.
Experience is also an important part of food behavior. Young animals eat what their mothers eat and avoid what their mothers avoid. Also, animals will avoid, or try to avoid, food that has made them sick in the past.
But that’s not say animals can’t be trained to eat new or unknown foods. Burritt said by mixing a new food — even something like weeds — with a familiar food, animals can learn to change their eating patterns.
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