Moving electric fence to open strip grazing is high paying job, saves cost

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LINNEUS, Mo. – The good news is that the job pays $300 an hour and it takes only 10 minutes to finish on a frigid winter morning.

That’s part of a job description for winter feeding of a 100-cow beef herd. It requires moving an electric fence to open a new strip of pasture for another day.

Jim Gerrish, forage agronomist at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, thinks more people should create the job. Beef producers who want to make more money should feed winter grass instead of hay.

Cranking a tractor to feed hay bales to cows takes more time. Worse, it’s not a money-making job, Gerrish added.

Eliminate cost. In a workshop, specialists told ways to reduce, and possibly eliminate, winter hay feeding, the costliest part of keeping cows.

Workshop participants toured annual ryegrass pastures planted last August to provide winter grazing for the fall-calving research herd.

“I’ve never been excited about any one grass,” said Gerrish, internationally known grazing guru, “but I am excited about annual ryegrass.”

The beef cows, with young calves at side, seemed to share the enthusiasm for the winter grass. When an electric tape was reeled up, the cows rushed into a knee-deep stand of fresh grass and started eating.

“You want cows in good body condition and on a good ration when they go into the breeding season,” said Gene Schmitz, regional extension livestock specialist, Princeton, Mo. Good nutrition helps boost conception rate and improve uniform age of calves.

Annual ryegrass. Rob Kallenbach, extension forage specialist from Columbia, Mo., said that until five years ago producers didn’t have annual ryegrass that could survive a Missouri winter. Grazing plots are seeded to the winter-hardy Marshall variety.

“In buying annual ryegrass, ask your seed dealer about winter hardiness first,” Kallenbach said. “If you buy an unnamed bin-run seed, you will get a coastal variety. I guarantee you will have winterkill. Paying a little extra pays off.”

The group also saw ways to strip-graze stockpiled tall fescue pastures that were fertilized and left ungrazed since Aug. 15. Fescue is the most widely used pasture grass in Missouri.

Kallenbach has learned in recent studies that fescue infected with endophyte fungus improves when stockpiled over winter. The ergovaline toxin, from the fungus that cuts animal gains, washes away during winter, he believes.

Fescue value. Specialists are now looking at plans to save stockpiled fescue to graze after the hay-feeding season. Green stockpiled grass will replace hay for spring-calving cows going into the breeding season.

“Stockpiled fescue is better feed than 80 percent of the baled hay in Missouri,” Kallenbach told cattle producers. Other specialists challenged him on that figure. They thought he was too generous in his evaluation of most hay quality.

The repeated theme in all of the demonstrations was the importance of strip grazing. In an opening session, on fence and water, Gerrish showed the simple tools needed: portable, step-in, spiked posts and reels of electric polytape.

Divided pasture. A pasture is divided into paddocks to limit feeding. One day of feed is best, but three days should be the maximum allowed. The more frequent the move, the greater the pasture utilization.

Left on her own, a cow will mess up more forage than she eats, the specialists said. With limited feeding, cows clean up everything. That applies even to grazing stalk fields, Gerrish said.

At the end of the grazing period, when cattle are to be moved, the electric tape is reeled up and the portable posts are pulled. Another fence has already been set, marking off the new feed supply.

The fence just pulled is leapfrogged beyond the fence in place to be rebuilt to mark off grass for the next grazing period.

Quick move. The crowd timed Gerrish as he moved fences on research paddocks. It took six minutes.

“If I was feeding 100 cows, it would take a little longer,” Gerrish said. “I would be opening up a 120-foot strip, instead of a 30-foot strip.”

Participants admitted they spend more time moving big bales to feed their cows. Feeding grass eliminates expenses needed for both baling and feeding hay. That’s the payoff for the high-paid fence-moving job.

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