Gray And Green Perfect Color Pattern In Spring

Beefs and Beliefs

Save a little old forage to mix with that young spring growth and your cattle will perform better.

Published on: May 16, 2013
 

I drove up to Keith Long's place at Beaumont, Kansas, earlier this week to talk about saving winter stockpile forage into the spring grazing season.

It's a topic I haven't covered very well in the past and when Keith and some others were talking about  the issue on Kit Pharo's discussion group I realized from his description that Long would be a good one to explain this concept to readers.

Simply put, it's long been known that cattle on wheat pasture in my part of the world do better if they have some dry hay to eat along with wheat pasture. Young spring grass, be it cool-season or warm-season is about the consistency and quality of wheat pasture.

Grass shepherd: Keith Long manages his grass to give cows and calves a better mix of protein and energy in the springtime.
Grass shepherd: Keith Long manages his grass to give cows and calves a better mix of protein and energy in the springtime.

I'll have Keith Long talking about this quite a bit more in the August issue of Beef Producer but here's a teaser for the August story.

Young grasses and wheat pasture are very high in protein and relatively low in energy. Arguably they are out of balance with energy too low for the amount of protein. As Walt Davis always says, the killed some cattle with excess protein back in the early days of experimenting with rotational grazing in Europe. They did it by too-frequent rotations and too-short grass, thereby creating a forage base very high in protein and low in energy. Of course, this isn't good for the forage plants, either.

Gray and green: Both the old gray forage and the lush spring forage are a little thinner this year than normal in the Kansas Flint Hills but this shows a pretty nice mix of both.
Gray and green: Both the old gray forage and the lush spring forage are a little thinner this year than normal in the Kansas Flint Hills but this shows a pretty nice mix of both.

Some people claim this is problem with wheat pasture and/or young grass plants is lack of roughage but I think that idea has been pretty well disproven.

A Texas publication says the ratio of digestible dry matter to crude protein in wheat pasture is about 3 to 1 and that research suggests the efficiency of nitrogen use in the rumen of cattle is hindered at ratios less than 4 to 1. So it should be with very young, lush spring growth.

Mark Bader, who owns Free-Choice Enterprises, is a big proponent of this energy-protein imbalance theory and recommends to graziers they do exactly this thing of saving enough old forage to supplement fresh spring growth for a time.

Good pie: A cow pie of nice average consistency, not too runny, and without too much whole fiber present, shows a good nutritional mix.
Good pie: A cow pie of nice average consistency, not too runny, and without too much whole fiber present, shows a good nutritional mix.

The way Long and other good, managed graziers do is they stockpile enough forage through growing season to get them through the winter and into the next spring. They plan to graze off the last of it during the first month or so of growing season and then be on all-fresh forage.

This can be done with warm-season native grasses or with cool-season forages such as fescue.

The dry forage from last year, despite its relatively low digestibility, can help balance the energy deficit in the fresh new growth.

Long is grazing his cow herd in pie-shaped, or wagon-wheel-shaped, grazing cells. He cuts across the spokes of each paddock with up to half-mile runs of polywire to create one-day graze periods for most of the year.

He says it's about seven to 10 acres per day for 226 cows with their calves and a stock density of between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds per acre.

"I am probably grazing it a bit too hard but the spring has been so cold that the grass is very late starting," he says.

On top of that he's been through two years of drought so it was pretty tough to save enough back. Normally, he says, he would have more brown, residual grass and more green grass by now.

These temporary subdivisions of the eight paddocks in each cell work out to about 104 paddocks, Long says, so it will be 103 days before the cows come back to any given area. That should give plenty of recovery time, especially if this year brings a little more normal rainfall pattern.

Incidentally, Ted Alexander in Sun City, Kansas, has long practiced the same pattern of stockpiling a little forage to help stocker calves get a good start and better performance when they arrive in April or early May.