May 5, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell
Lexington, Ky.

Livestock producers can increase net profits by doing a better job of managing forages. Two ways to accomplish this are to use more available pastures and feed animals higher-quality forages. Farmers can achieve both objectives by using an improved grazing system.

“Our pastures generally are too large for efficient management. It is one reason we are using only about one-third of the forages we produce,” said Garry Lacefield, Extension agronomist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

“Much of what our animals consume isn’t as high quality as it could be,” he added.  “This is especially true of late-spring and summer pastures as well as a significant amount of the hay produced.”

Lacefield said farmers can directly affect net profit by using rotational grazing to efficiently harvest forages with livestock and maintain productive pastures.

“The greatest income-enhancing opportunity rests squarely with grazing,” he added.  “I don’t know any other principle or practice that offers beef producers more potential to increase the profitability of their operations.  Over time, rotational grazing will increase yield, improve stand persistence and quality, extend the grazing season, and improve animal health and performance. Plus, it makes good environmental sense.”

Rotational grazing maintains forages at a higher quality, more palatable stage, which can mean more animal product per acre. One study revealed a 43-percent increase in carrying capacity and 40-percent boost in milk production with rotational grazing of alfalfa-orchardgrass pasture, compared to continuous grazing. In addition, farmers can harvest selected paddocks for hay or silage during springtime surplus production.

Farmers usually can manage pastures for ultimate forage quality better with rotational grazing than most continuous methods.  Additionally, quality for most tall-fescue-based pastures usually is associated with legume content.  Farmers typically can maintain legume productivity and persistence better by using various rotational grazing methods, compared to continuous techniques.

“When improved grazing methods are used, forage ‘waste’ decreases, providing more available pasture for grazing over a longer period of time,” Lacefield said. “This is especially true during drought conditions.”

Improved animal health and performance is another advantage of rotational grazing, according to Lacefield.

Using a grazing system that requires scheduled animal movement gives you the opportunity to frequently observe animals for health problems,” he said. “Controlling problems before they become serious is a health benefit for animals and an economic benefit for owners.

“Research supports animal benefits from rotational grazing.  Scientists in Arkansas had a 44 percent increase in animal gain per acre with rotational compared to continuous grazing. In Georgia and Oklahoma, the increase was 37 percent and 35 percent, respectively.”

Lacefield said improved grazing methods have a positive impact on the environment, especially water quality.

“Most of these systems involve reducing pasture size, providing more water sources and, often, fencing animals out of ponds and streams or designing limited access to these areas. Keeping animal manure and urine out of the water supply has a positive environmental impact.

“Animals return to the pasture approximately 75 to 85 percent of the nutrients they graze,” he said. “When large pastures are continuously grazed much of this ‘waste’ is deposited near water sources and shade areas. Research shows that rotational grazing methods result in better distribution.”

Beef producers will not automatically make more money by changing the grazing system, according to Lacefield.

“Although improving the grazing system provides an opportunity to improve the bottom line, a profitable, successful system must have adequate fertility, pasture quality that matches animal nutritional needs and minimal pest problems,” he said.  “Other requirements are good quality, healthy animals to make the best use of available pastures and an overall plan for optimal grazing and minimal stored feed requirements.”

He said success also requires management to control stocking rates, harvest surplus forage in a higher quality stage, and mow excess growth or weeds.

“Animal-based agriculture can play a major role in increased farm cash receipts if we use more of the forages we already produce at a higher quality stage and more efficiently convert our tremendous forage base into high-quality animal products,” Lacefield said.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 Ext. 257
Source: Garry Lacefield 270-365-7541 Ext. 202