Manage pastures to boost good grass

Good grass and cattle are at the heart of Texas and Southwest agriculture.

Native forages cover 157 million acres in Texas, and introduced forages cover 111 million acres, providing about 70% of nutrients consumed by livestock. Forage crops are the foundation for Texas livestock.

Annual cash receipts in Texas are more than $7 billion for cattle.

Nevertheless, some beef producers find themselves in a tight squeeze in these tough economic times. But good grazing management can help.

Texas AgriLife Extension state forage specialist Larry Redmon says many ranches are overstocked, which can be a primary reason for less profit.

Redmon says today’s increased cattle size is one reason some ranchers are overstocking pastures. He notes a beef producer actually could be grazing the same number of cattle that the very same land accommodated many years ago. But cattle are much bigger nowadays, and need more forage per animal than smaller cattle of the past.

Key Points

• Forage crops provide 70% of the nutrients consumed by all Texas livestock.

• Overstocking of cattle pastures remains a major reason for less profitability.

• Tifton 85 excels in backgrounding fall-born, summer-weaned calves.


In addition, he says the ranch also may be yielding less forage because of a deficiency in soil fertility.

Redmon says this is frequently seen in improved grass pastures. If bermudagrass gets enough fertilizer, it will respond with a large amount of forage. But depending on fertilizer costs, producers may not be using enough fertilizer. Some may not be fertilizing pastures at all.

The forage specialist strongly advises a soil test. Don’t guess at what you’ve got.

He says a soil test not only will tell a producer what nutrients are deficient, but can also help to prevent overdoing the fertilizer and wasting money.

Tifton 85 vs. coastal

Fall-born calves, weaned in June and July, and immediately backgrounded on bermudagrass throughout the summer can be a real challenge.

The Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton compared two popular grasses for this.

Researchers Monte Rouquette Jr., J.L. Kerby, G.H. Nimr and W.C. Ellis, conducted two grazing experiments at Overton to document the use of Tifton 85 vs. coastal bermudagrass for the backgrounding of fall-born, summer-weaned calves.

The AgriLife Research team found fall-born, early-summer weaned calves gained as much, or more, during summer months grazing Tifton 85 bermudagrass than did companion calves grazing coastal bermudagrass, while receiving 2 pounds per head per day of a 28% protein supplement in both year one and year two.

In the second year, combined steer and heifer average daily gain, or ADG, was more than 1.5 pounds while grazing Tifton 85, or 2 pounds with Tifton 85 plus the protein supplement.

The F-1 Hereford and Brahman crossed steers exceeded 2 pounds ADG in both years grazing Tifton 85, and with supplementation in year two, approached a 3-pound-per-day gain during July through September.

Protein supplementation of 2 pounds per head per day increased ADG by about 0.3 pound for stocker calves grazing either coastal or Tifton 85 bermudagrass.

The supplement to extra gain ratio for stockers was 6.1 for Tifton 85 and 6.9 for coastal bermudagrass. That meant for a $200-per-ton total ration, the supplemental costs for extra gain was 61 cents per pound for Tifton 85, and 69 cents per pound for coastal bermudagrass.

Previous research in Georgia also indicated a distinct increase in animal performance with Tifton 85 over coastal bermudagrass.

Overton, Texas, researchers conclude Tifton 85 bermudagrass offers new and exciting opportunities to background stocker cattle during the summer.

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SOUND STOCKING: Proper stocking rates on pasture remain a key to profits for today’s cattle producers. A primary reason for reduced profitability is overstocking.

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.