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Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

In my part of the world, it is generally accepted that a beef cow will need 2 plus acres for the grazing season (say 7 months or 210 days).

I think a beef cow would eat 30 lbs of grass a day, or 6,300 pounds for the 210 grazing season.   So we're looking at 3 Tons or a little more.

But then I'm thinking about hay yields and isn't it reasonable to get a 4 ton yield for raising hay in Iowa in an average year?

So why can't 1 acre support a beef cow for the season in an average year?

Does that much forage get overlooked by cows or trampled or what?   Maybe bring in some sheep?


Thanks.  I appreciate it.

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9 Replies
Veteran Advisor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

1) cows trample hay

2) cows cannot graze hay down to that last inch, that a mower can get

3) cows eat the hay as it grows, making it grow slower, and reducing total yield.   When you cut hay, you cut it at the 'best time.  Cows are there all year.

 

 

You must have darn good grazing ground.   Around here, we figure 5 1/2 - 6 acres per cow, and in the sandhills 10 to 12.

 

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Senior Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

Intensive rotational grazing can help get # of acres per cow down some.
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Veteran Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

A good question no doubt.  In a single pasture setting, animals will utilize approximately 30-35% of the annual forage production.  The rest gets trampled on, pooped on, or gets too old and goes to seed, leaving coarse stems that animals won't normally eat.  Here in north central Missouri, most cool season grasses will produce 3-5 tons per acre depending upon the soils, fertillity level and weather.  So with a low yielding 3 tpa at 30% utilization rate, your pasture is yielding 1 tpa of utilized forage. 

 

You also have to remember that rare is the time when 100% of the hay offered to a cow is eaten and none wasted.  Second cutting orchardgrass or alfalfa shopped and hand fed in a bunk maybe.  Big round bales fed in a ring like most people do and you are looking at 5-15% waste depending upon the weather, animal numbers, style of ring and so on.  Sheep fed stemmy grass hay in a ring can lose you up to 50% (talking actual experience here.)  Stored hay loses dry matter as well, even when stored under roof.  Between storage loses and animal waste, the 4 tpa you haul out of the hayfield could easily turn into 3.5 tons with good feeders and dry storage to 2.75 tons or less with higher feeding losses and long term storage outside.    

 

When I design a grazing system, I figure dry matter forage intake at 2.5% of body weight for dry animals up to 3% for lactating cows.  For stockers, I figure 3.1-3.2%. Those figures may be slightly higher than what you will see published elsewhere, but I like to figure a bit on the heavy side to reduce the chances of overstocking, especially with stockers.  So yes, a 1,000 lb cow will consume approximately 30 lbs/day dry matter forage.

 

As for multi species grazing, sometimes that works well such as when you have brushy pasture and you graze goats and cows together.  The cows eat the grass and the goats the brush and there's no competition.  Cows and wool sheep don't work real well because most wool breeds eat legumes first and tender grass second, making good use of both.  If you have a lot of weeds and light brush, hair sheep work much better.  They still like legumes and younger, more tender grasses, but they will also utilize weeds and brush much better than wool breeds will.  My hair sheep have stripped the bark off of cedar trees and killed multiflora rose. 

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Senior Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

has seed made advancements over 50 yrs and yields more?

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Veteran Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

Yes it has, although not to the leaps corn and soybeans have made.  One reasonis that in Missouri for instance, many pastures were established to Kentucky 31 fescue in the mid-late 1950 after the severe drought mid decade totally killed the existing grasses, often timothy and redtop.  The reason Kentucky 31 is called that is because it was developed and released in Kentucky in 1931.  The stuff is still planted for pastures and the highly endophyte infected version is much used for lawns because of its persistance.  I wonder how many farmers would plant a variety of corn that was developed in the 1930s?  Very few I'd venture to say. 

 

Potomac timothy is another very old variety and was released in the 1950s I believe and there are newer private varieties that yield better.  There are newer private varieties of orchardgrass that mature approximately a week later than the extremely early common varieties.  The newer varieties also have better resistance to rust infection in most cases.

 

In many cases, pasture land is the soils and areas that is too poor, eroded, rocky, wet, dry, etc for row crop uses.  In those cases, a new super yielder grass probably isn't going to do much better than an old variety will, especially if it's fertility or moisture that limits yields.  That's where the folks at the local SWCD-NRCS office can help by identifying the soils and seeing what the expected grass yields for different species is.  One can then make species and variety choices from that information. 

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

I wish I could find the article, but last year I read about people experimenting, with cutting hay, and feeding it to cattle year-round, instead of grazing.  
If you have good, productive ground, they say it lets you have more cows, with less acres, because you can cut the hay, at the optimal time for yield & quality, and every bit of it, is put into a bale, instead of being trampled by the cows.

They were experimenting with it, I think maybe the University, and found it was labor-intensive, but it did work to maximize forage output, on limited acres.  They claimed it was more efficient because of the farmer's ability to time the harvest of the hay, no trampling, and the manure from the lots, was spread over the fields more evenly than cows would poop.

However, if my memory is correct, it only begins to be practical, in areas where you can hay the whole area.   Once you get into hills too steep, rocky or whatever to hay it all, it is better to have the cows graze it.

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Veteran Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

In north central Missouri the haul the feed to the cow system is rpetty much unworkable.  With the major cool season grasses, you would really need to be taking the first hay cutting around May 1-15.  At that time of year, curing hay is usually a 4 day job, but getting any more than 3 days of decent haying weather is nearly impossible.  Using acid as a perservative will shorten the baling time by about 12-24 hours, but your baler won't have a speck of paint left on it by fall. Done that before, but notice I said "before" and not "now."  Chopping and making silage or baleage would be one possibility, although an expensive one.  Green chopping would also be an alternative, but rain and muddy soils would bring that process to a screeching halt and leave you with hungry cows, stuck equipment and rutted fields.  If you have much alfalfa, driving over it on wet, spongy soils will severly damage if not kill it in each wheel track.  If you're having to turn the hay several times, you can nearly cover the entire field.  Been there, done that.  Several years ago a feedlot nearby tried a similiar method of bringing in hay and grain during the winter months and then green chopping alfalfa on uplands and corn on bottomland.  The first season it seemed to work, the second season was very wet, alfalfa got the wilt and died and the bottoms were under water.  They went belly up that fall and that was the end of that.

 

It may work in some place like southern California where the weather is normally dry, you apply water when you want it there, the growing season is long and land costs are extremely high.  In the north half of Missouri with its high clay soils and clay pan that limits water movement, I believe that's a recipe for financial disaster.  Just my opinion.

 

Something else is the labor involved.  If you spend all day setting on the porch and have absolutely nothing better to do, you can afford to spend the countless hours it would take to make that system work.  Otherwise, you need to figure if you could be spending that time doing something that will be more profitable.  For example, say you have a combine in need of a $10,000 repair that you could do yourself for $5000 (for parts).  The job would take you 1 week to complete.  If you can make more than $5000 spendiong that week hauling eats to the cows, then hire the combine fixed.  If you can't, you better be working on the combine rather than spending seat time mowing hay.  My dad called that wading over the dollars to get to the dimes.  In short, use your time where it will make you the most money.  Setting in a tractor seat doing a low skilled job is usually not it.  

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

Not practical here,either.   We have too many hills, that no one in their right mind, would drive an ATV on, let alone a tractor & baler.

 

I remember reading the article, and thinking the same thing:   That it seemed like an awful labor-intensive (and machinery wearing out) way to raise cattle.   I think one's time would be better spent working a part-time job, instead of spending all summer haying.

 

However, from reading the artlcle, it sounded like the thing to to.   Of course, if all you go by are magazine articles, you'd think that Stamp Farms was a good business model.

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Senior Contributor

Re: Grazing forage yield - I'm puzzled

    In my part of the world,PNW, I believe (good property) one acre would support an animal (beef) with an early and late dormancy grazing and a at the boot haying with good nutrient managment!Orchardgrass)

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