https://www.agweb.com/farmjournal/article/when-to-cut-alfalfa/ When to Make First Spring Cut of Alfalfa and Mixed Alfalfa/Grass Producers must answer a couple of basic questions when deciding the time of the first spring cutting of alfalfa and mixed alfalfa and grass fields. What’s your hay harvesting schedule? What are your objectives for the harvested hay crop […]
From May of 2018, thanks for this article go to UNL Beefwatch and Bethany Johnston, Nebraska Extension Educator, Beef Systems, at University of Nebraska Lincoln. You can always find great grazing related information by checking out the UNL Beefwatch newsletter.
“We always turn out on May 15th.” Have you heard that before? Does a calendar date decide when the plant is ready to be grazed? While cool-season grasses break winter dormancy when the soil temperature is a few degrees above freezing, warm-season grasses prefer soil temperatures above 50 degrees F to break dormancy and begin growth. Both previous year drought and soil/air temperature affect how you should manage your pastures this growing season.
Maybe a producer should consider the “leaf stage” instead.
The leaf stage of a plant can help a producer decide when the plant has enough leaf area to best tolerate grazing.
What is “leaf stage”? A simple definition is the number of leaves on a plant’s tiller or stem. If you pluck a stem at ground level, you can physically count the leaves. Count mature leaves, or leaves that are collared- the leaf blade goes all the way around the stem, like a collar on a shirt.
Now you try. Check out this picture and see if you can tell what leaf stage it’s in.
And this one?
Yes! It’s a 3 leaf stage.
What Do You Do With This?
Now you can check to make sure your grasses are ready to graze.
Cool-season grasses can be grazed in the spring, but need to develop 3 leaves before you graze. After the third-leaf stage, the plant has captured enough energy reserves to regrow after the plant has been defoliated. The plant’s stores are not quite built up at the two-leaf stage. Grazing at the two-leaf stage could weaken the plant.
Remember, cool-season grasses like warm days and cool nights. Cool-season grasses start growing in the fall and another surge of growth occurs in the spring. Examples of cool-season grasses are smooth brome, western wheatgrass, needle and thread, porcupine grass, and prairie junegrass. With the cooler than normal temperatures this spring, producers may need to delay turnout until their cool-season grasses reach the third-leaf stage.
Warm-season grasses grow well when the weather turns warmer (warm days and warm nights). These plants usually grow rapidly in the summer months of July and August.
Due to colder than normal temperatures, grazers may need to consider a “delayed turnout” this spring. To prevent damaging grass production, grass needs a head start to grow leaves and store enough reserves in the roots for regrowth after grazing. A helpful rule of thumb for grazers is to wait until the 4th leaf stage before grazing.
To graze warm-season grasses, wait until the grasses have reached a four-leaf stage. There should be four mature leaves coming off of one tiller or stem. Again, this allows the plants to regrow after grazing or defoliation events. The four-leaf stage is when four of the grass blades are fully developed at the collar of the grass blade.
Electric fencing is fine. It makes it possible to be more flexible and versatile with our management and I recommend it without reservation. As one of the ads by one of the companies that sell power fencing products states, it will maximize grazing and increase profits, and without question, that’s what all of us who
use or plan to use electric fences are hoping to do. But, as with most things that we do there is a process, a step-by-step method, that makes all of this work as it should work.
Electric Fences Require Us To Work With Animal Psychology
Now we all can recognize that a 4 or 5 strand hard wire electric fence with proper post spacing is without question a physical barrier. But what about that one strand of poly wire that will divide the pasture on a temporary basis and is moved periodically? Cattle can push it down, run thru it or jump over it. Sheep and goats can push against it and go under it or over it as well. (Now I’m guessing here about the sheep and goats I really don’t know about them.)
I have never attended a pasture walk or workshop that included fencing instruction that did not emphasize the fact that electric fencing, especially poly-wire, is a psychological barrier not a physical one. Yet, the mistake I have seen some folks make, and they pay for it over and over again, is simply failing to train the livestock to respect the electric fence. Their animals don’t understand the idea of a psychological barrier. This can lead to frustration, wasted time, and in some cases a complete collapse of the whole operation.
So Start With Training
Here’s how we have trained hundreds of stocker calves to the electric fence and I have been told that this works for sheep and goats as well. These are sale barn calves not home raised calves so it is fair to say that some of them have not been treated very well. The calves are unloaded into a catch pen with water and hay and are kept there for 24 hours.
The day that they are turned out of these pens they are released into what we call a trap. This is a gathering pen that funnels into the working pens. The calves are not driven out of the pens that they have spent the last 24 hours in. We just open the gate, walk away, and leave the calves on their own.
The trap has two rolls of hay, one at each end, and a water trough at the end farthest from the gate leaving the catch pen. We run a single poly wire across the trap, except for an opening on one side about 15 feet wide. Animals must be travel through this gap to get from one end of the trap to the other and with the water trough only on one end it becomes necessary to make this trip. The rolls of hay are placed close to the hard wire perimeter to cut down on fence walking.
Cattle farming is a business that is filled with a lot of opportunities – from selling for local fair shows to beef and dairy. In order to start your own farm, you will need to acquire some start-up money, a plot of land, a business plan and learn how to design a cattle farm. While […]
High protein forage can increase rates of gain, benefit soil
Respect it, but don’t fear it. That’s the message from cattle producers and beef specialists alike who through years of experience and research appreciate the value of grazing cattle on pure or percentage stands of alfalfa.
Properly managed alfalfa makes good pasture with several added benefits, including:
• Improved weight gains on all classes of cattle (gains of 1.5 to 2 or more pounds per day can be expected);
• Adding fertility to the soil with a nitrogen-fixing crop;
• Creating a hedge against poor forage production during dryer growing seasons; and
• Increasing plant biodiversity to benefit soil health.
Yes, there are circumstances when turning cattle into a lush stand of alfalfa at the wrong time and perhaps with the wrong class of cattle can result in bloat. But paying attention to a few production and management principles can greatly reduce the risk of bloat and provide the opportunity to capture the benefits.
While pure stands of alfalfa pasture can be very productive, they may be more appropriate for end use as high-quality hay or silage for dairy cattle. From a beef cattle grazing perspective, most interest these days is in 30 to 60 percent alfalfa grown in a blend with grass forages and/or in combination with other legume species.
“We’ve looked at alfalfa in several different grazing studies over the years, most often used in a binary mix (alfalfa/grass forage blends),” says Bart Lardner, formerly research scientist at the Western Beef Development Centre, now a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan. “And the alfalfa component produces several benefits. The industry has lost a lot of money over the years by avoiding alfalfa, partly due to unwarranted fear.”
Timing is one of the keys to reducing the risk of bloat, says Lardner. In high percentage, alfalfa stands to avoid grazing alfalfa before and up to the bud stage, when plants can be lush and tender. And avoid introducing cattle to an alfalfa pasture when the dew is heavy or while it is raining. As plants mature and develop more fiber, the risk of bloat greatly decreases as the stand reaches 30 to 40 percent flower stage. And including alfalfa in a pasture forage mix that includes more fibrous grasses also provides cattle with a wider feed selection than just straight alfalfa. “It may take some experience for people to find their comfort level for grazing alfalfa, but it is an excellent forage,” he says. “Yearlings will gain nicely on alfalfa with no comparison to grazing straight grass.”
Alfalfa grazing management tips:
1. Never turn hungry livestock into a pasture containing a high proportion of bloat-causing plants.
2. Fill animals with dry hay or grass pasture before beginning to graze high bloat-potential pastures.
3. Avoid turning animals onto fresh, high bloat-potential pasture that is moist with dew, rain, or irrigation water. Both rates of intake and initial rate of digestion are higher from moist plants, causing more rapid initial digestion.
4. Never allow animals grazing high bloat-potential pasture to get so hungry that they consume too much in one feeding. Always have sufficient feed available.
5. Make paddock rotations mid-day or later to help minimize moisture and increase plant carbohydrate concentration.
6. Avoid dramatic changes in forage quality when rotating from paddock to paddock by leaving an adequate residue.
7. Observe livestock closely the first several days and remove any “chronic-bloating” animals.
8. Avoid grazing legumes before they begin to bloom. Make closer observations for bloat when many plants are at a younger growth stage.
9. Manage grazing to encourage livestock to consume low- or non-bloating plants and plant parts (such as an alfalfa/grass forage blend) rather than just succulent top growth. For example, use daily strip grazing or use high stock density in multiple paddock systems rather than continuous stocking.
10. Once grazing begins, don’t remove animals from pasture or make frequent, major changes in the type of pasture being grazed unless animals have greatly distended rumens. Mild bloat is common on high bloat-potential pastures. Frequent diet changes prevent rumen microbes and animals from adapting to bloat pastures.
11. Be extra observant for cattle bloat when high bloat plants show a rapid flush of growth such as during cloudy, wet periods in the spring and after a plant stress event such as hail or drought.
12. Delay grazing high bloat-potential plants for three to five days after freeze damage.
13. Avoid grazing alfalfa stands in September as plants need adequate carbohydrate reserves for overwintering. Can graze above ground biomass after final fall killing frost.
14. Graze with animals that have smaller rumen capacities, like yearlings and calves, rather than mature cows.
15. Talk to your veterinarian about the advisability of using a product like Alfasure (mix with water to prevent frothy bloat). (In the U.S. look for Bloatguard.
On commercial and hobby farms, fences tend to serve a very important function. They are used to protect and confine animals while also protecting crop areas. There are many types of fences out there for your small farm, and making a smart decision will depend on the purpose the fence is supposed to serve. I […]
SACB Method: (pronounced ‘sawb’) a simple and easy way to graft calves. Everyone and their dog has a sure fire method for grafting a twin or orphan calf.
However, each method takes time and patience. These are things I don’t normally have during calving. Further, the very fact that an animal has to be handled individually, means that the procedure is not scalable. Scalable means a procedure can be replicated without increased labor. If something is scalable, you can grow your business in that direction and still remain a low-cost producer. That being said, there can be significant gain achieved by successfully grafting a calf onto another cow.
When we first started keeping custom grazing cows year-round, bottle babies were a bane to my existence. Twice a day someone had to prepare bottles and stand there waiting for all the calves to finish. EVERYDAY! TWICE OR THRICE A DAY! That was not my idea of fun. To get rid of a bottle baby, we had to wait for a cow to have a stillborn or lose her calf which started another adventure of time wasting and patience!
One day I heard about a drug called Atravet. Atravet is a sedative in powder form that can be added to grain and fed to a cow. Fifteen minutes after consuming the grain, the cow will have a nice buzz and allow the calf to nurse without any fuss. Normally two to three sessions were all it took for the cow to take the calf as her own. We used the Atravet method for several years until we moved away from custom cows to grazing yearlings.
When I went back to calving cows, Atravet in powder form was no longer available. Let me tell you, there was one unhappy cowboy riding the range! My idea of fun was not spending two to three hours skinning a dead calf, tying the hide onto a live calf, then trying to get a cow to stand while the calf nursed. There had to be another way. That other way presented itself though keen observation – some might call laziness – which eventually became the SACB Method.
During calving season I check the herd on horseback three to four times a day. Any twin or abandoned calf is roped, tied, put in the calf sled, and taken back to the corrals. These calves are then started on a bottle. When a cow has a stillborn, she is immediately trailed to the corral. The cow is put in the headgate and a bottle baby is brought to the cow. Getting down to calf level, I try to get the calf to nurse. If the cow starts kicking, things are made very uncomfortable for the cow until she stops kicking. Once the cow learns not to kick and the calf is nursing, the first steps of the SACB Method are complete.