TTU agriculture professor offers pasture feeding tips

As winter temperatures fall, hay feeding is typically on the rise among the Upper Cumberland’s beef cattle farmers — but a Tennessee Tech University agriculture professor advises them to develop practices to allow continued livestock grazing for as long as possible.

“Not only do permanent pastures have beneficial effects on soil and water conservation, but beef cattle producers will also profit more when they establish forage programs that provide a year-round feed supply,” said Sam Winfree, a professor in TTU’s School of Agriculture.

“An Ohio study found that, as the number of ‘hay days’ increases, the opportunity for beef cow herd profit decreases proportionally,” he continued.

That’s because abundant forages will reduce the need for grain and protein supplements and will reduce feed costs, while increasing the farm carrying capacity.

“Grazing is an economical forage harvesting method when compared to the cost of processing, storing and refeeding hay,” Winfree said.

He offers tips for 15 forage practices that will reduce beef cattle herds’ hay requirements.

“These practices actually will reduce feed costs, allow cow herd expansion and promote better performance in all classes of cattle and calves,” Winfree said.

• Maintain proper soil pH.

• Apply fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.) based on soil tests.

• Renovate grass pastures to contain about 30 percent clover or other hardy legumes.

• Rotate livestock to new pastures every 30 days, and even more often in some instances.

• Harvest pasture clippings as hay.

• Harvest hay crops before full maturity — at early to mid-bloom or while green.

• Use fall re-growth as ‘stockpiled’ forage. Apply fertilizer by Aug. 15 and keep cattle off the pastures until December or January.

• Use small grain annuals on cropland for winter grazing. Establish crops by Sept. 15 and graze cattle on the pastures in January, February and March. Spring oats may be seeded on the same pastures in March and grazed May and June.

• Use summer annuals, such as sorghum forages, for mid- to late-summer grazing.

• Keep hay crops free from foreign materials, including weeds, trash and dust.

• Store hay inside to prevent water damage and molding.

• Use temporary electric fencing to facilitate strip grazing and regular rotation.

• Graze hayfields after the second cutting in late fall or early winter. “Be careful not to overgraze into the plant crown because overgrazing stunts re-growth and allows weeds to invade the stand,” Winfree advises.

• Provide adequate shelter, shade and clean water for livestock.

• Provide access to free-choice, loose high quality minerals and magnesium supplements from October through May or year-round.

“High quality salt-mineral mixes are fortified with stabilized vitamins A, D and K, as well as essential trace minerals,” Winfree said.

These high quality mineral mixes add nutritional value to forages, especially when forage quality is marginal, he said.

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