January 9, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

University of Kentucky Beef Specialist John Johns estimates today’s livestock producers are only utilizing about 35 percent of their forage.

“No industry other than agriculture can exist with that number,” he said “If we could increase that utilization to just 60 percent through better grazing techniques, better fencing and better management, anyway you want to look at it, we could greatly expand the industry in this state and do it more economically than we are doing now. So teaching producers something about new grazing management techniques is very important.”

Johns, along with Monty Chappell, UK sheep and goat specialist, and Bob Coleman, UK horse specialist, are part of a five-state effort focused on improving grazing knowledge and management in their region. The group has put together the inaugural Heart of America Grazing Conference, taking place January 24 at Rend Lake College in southern Illinois.

UK is sponsoring the conference with the University of Illinois, the Ohio State University, Purdue University, the University of Missouri and Rend Lake College.

“Forages really are the keystone to production in small ruminants and their utilization is the key to profitability in the industry.” Chappell said. “We know that we can produce large amounts of forage. And, if we manage it properly, we can use it well.”

Conference attendees will hear from a variety of speakers ranging from Extension specialists and industry professionals to producers who are successfully using new grazing techniques in their enterprises. UK Extension Forage Specialist Gary Lacefield will discuss ways to extend the grazing season. Other discussions will cover practices of effective grazing and the positive environmental impact of grazing.

“Successful grazing has an impact on the average U.S. citizen,” Chappell said. “Next to the natural savannahs and rainforests, grasslands are the biggest exchangers of carbon dioxide. If grasslands can be more profitable, then more land in Kentucky and the surrounding states will benefit by having less soil erosion and higher water quality. So really, it affects the person in downtown Lexington, Louisville, etc. as much as the livestock producers and rural communities.”

Although Coleman deals mainly in the horse industry, he agreed and emphasized that all species benefit from better grazing techniques and management.

“The interesting thing is that producers of all species can learn how to better use forages,” he said. “ There are probably an awful lot of horse owners who could reduce their cost of ownership if they could just use their grass better. They need to learn how not to abuse it. It would be incredible for horse owners if they could use 60 percent of the grass they grow, year after year.”

Johns pointed out that increasing utilization of forage isn’t a total solution for producers to be more successful.

“We have to increase utilization in a sustainable manner,” he said. “Yes, we can overstock and get tremendous utilization. But this conference is about how to graze so you increase utilization and, at the same time, improve the forage and make it a sustainable activity each year.”

Johns also added that this five-state region is not typically thought of as a large livestock- producing area.

“If we utilize the forage we produce, we could really be the major livestock producing area in the country,” he said. “Kentucky already is a major player in beef cattle, but there is a lot of room for growth, and that’s true with any of the livestock species. However, the only way we will grow is by better using the forages we are currently producing.”

The Heart of America Grazing Conference will run from 8:45 a.m to 3:30 p.m on January 24. The deadline for pre-registration is January 17, however registration will be accepted at the door the day of the conference.

To pre-register, send a check or money order for $20, made payable to University of Illinois Extension to Ed Ballard, U of I Extension, 1209 Wenthe Drive, Effingham, IL 62401-1697. After January 17, call Ballard at 217-347-5126 or bring your check with you to the conference. The amount includes lunch.


Bob Coleman 859-257-9451