First Step to Raising Cattle, Lamb or Chicken is Growing Grass From small farms to larger farming and cattle operations, improving pastures has become the focus for many farmers Nationwide. Growing healthy lush pasture grass has become more important than ever before. Thus, small farm operations and homesteaders Nationwide have been leaning more towards permaculture […]
Prorate your hay based on both the nutrient content of bales and the health status of gestating cows using these tips. This week, I traveled to Idaho to speak at the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association Winter Meeting. It was my first trip to Sun Valley, and the ski resort town was anxiously awaiting the arrival of […]
This week’s snowy weather has reminded cow-calf producers that winter hay feeding has begun or will begin shortly. Estimating forage usage by cows is an important part of the task of calculating winter feed needs. Hay or standing forage intake must be estimated in order to make the calculations. Forage quality will be a determining factor […]
A late, wet spring put a double whammy on beef producers who rely on winter feed. Most producers used up most — if not all — of their hay carryover, so are starting with no reserves. Plus, the weather-delayed, and in some cases, prevented hay from being harvested. All of which makes winter feed planning even more critical this year. […]
“How big should my paddocks/pastures be?” The answer involves some forage clipping, some weighing, and some math and Dave Scott explains it all here. Enjoy! Dave Scott’s Sheep RanchDave Scott and his wife own and operate Montana Highland Lamb (Home Grown & Happy) in Whitehall Montana. Dave is also a livestock specialist at ATTRA’s National […]
We have 70 days left until our average killing frost date. That means we’re starting to stockpile now to extend our grazing season, allowing pastures to grow so we won’t have to feed hay this winter.
This is Part 2 in Jim’s series. If you missed Part 1, here you go! When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially Nitrogen (N).
Have you thought about how much N you may actually be applying when you feed hay?
It may be more than you think.
Let’s Look at How N Moves From Fed Hay Back to the Soil
The amount of nitrogen in hay is directly tied to the protein content of the hay. Protein on average contains 16% N. Grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than required.
If the hay is just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about half of the N will be excreted in the feces and a half in the urine.
Livestock will generally excrete 85 to 95% of the N consumed.
We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.
What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today
Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.
All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.
Hay = Inexpensive Fertility
While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.
This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.
Feeding Uniformly is the Key
The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.
Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.
The authors start with four pieces of information that put the role of carbohydrate reserves into question. Then they share ideas for good grazing to work well with plant physiology.
For years, managers used the carbohydrate reserve theory to decide when to graze plants on rangelands to maintain healthy and desirable plants. The carbohydrate reserve theory states that the soluble carbohydrates stored in the roots and crowns of plants indicate plant health and ability to regrow after grazing. During the early vegetative stage of plant growth, carbohydrate “reserves” are low, so plants should not be grazed. During the late vegetative and early reproductive stages of growth, carbohydrate “reserves” are higher, and plants can better tolerate grazing as shown here:
Over the years, researchers produced carbohydrate concentration curves for different grasses, forbs, and shrubs, like this one. Unfortunately, carbohydrate reserves in plants are not good indicators of its ability to regrow after grazing for several reasons:
1. Carbohydrates are typically measured as concentrations that change only a small amount during the year but fluctuate widely throughout the day.
2. Concentrations don’t reflect the total amount of carbohydrate available for regrowth. To accurately measure the total amount of carbohydrates, the concentration of soluble carbohydrates in different plant tissues (roots, crowns, leaves, stems) must be multiplied by the weight of those tissues. Most early studies only analyzed roots and crowns but stems in grasses and forbs and twigs in shrubs are also important storage sites for soluble carbohydrates.
3. Carbohydrate reserves, whether expressed as concentrations or as total amounts, are not correlated with the ability of a plant to regrow after grazing. The rate and amount a plant can regrow without light are also not correlated with either concentrations or total amounts of carbohydrate reserves stored in the roots or crowns of the plant (Richards and Caldwell, 1985).
4. The carbohydrate reserve stored by bunchgrasses is very small, equal to about 1 to 2 days of photosynthesis during the summer.
So, what factors are important for plants to tolerate grazing?
Differences in structure enable some plants to better tolerate grazing (Briske and Richards, 1995).
1. Grasses, forbs, and shrubs that produce and maintain many viable axillary buds tolerate grazing because they have the potential to regrow following grazing:
2. Grasses, forbs, and shrubs that protect growing points (meristems) have the potential to regrow quickly following grazing, thus reducing the amount of nutrients and water needed to regrow. Some grasses and forbs do not elevate growing points until late in the growing season, protecting them from grazing.
3. Grasses that develop new shoots at the same time during the grazing season are less tolerate of grazing compare to plants that develop new shoots at a different time during the growing season because not all shoots can be grazed at the same time.