His cows graze in pastures of plenty

The buffet of grasses on Mitch Baltz’s place is a work in progress, but the Powhatan, Ark., cattle producer sees a day coming when his cows and calves will spend most of the year grazing in pastures of plenty.

It’s becoming normal to feed hay fewer than 50 days during the year. Using a mixture of fescue and bermuda grass pastures, augmented with white and red clover and orchardgrass, Baltz is providing his 43 cow-calf pairs with a veritable buffet.

With high-tensile electric fences to separate pastures into four strips of lushly growing grass, Baltz is the maître d’ for his cattle, however, controlling access to both forage and water.

Key Points

Arkansas producer builds a buffet of grass for his cows and calves.

Rotational grazing is one of the keys to using less hay during the winter.

Clover plays a vital role in fertilizing the soil.

When he pulls up in his four-wheeler to let them into four-star grazing, the cattle are waiting. To provide variety in their diet, Baltz feeds a daily ration of a little bit of grain.Before he lets them in, however, the grass has grown as much as 8 inches high.

After a couple of days, when the grass has been mowed down to 2 inches, he’ll pull the fence and let the cows and calves into another banquet of high-standing forage. “I can tell the difference in that I’ve got a lot more grass when I let it grow before putting the cows on it,” Baltz says. “I’ve also noticed how fast the grass recovers after the cows have been on it.”

Underneath the fescue and bermuda-grass spreads the white and red clover he’s been establishing on his farm.

Baltz followed recommendations from the 300 Days of Grazing program of the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture and sowed a mixture of white and red clover into block-style strips.

“By planting clover in blocks, you can either keep them on or take them off by using an electric fence,” says Kenny Simon, the UA program associate. Simon points out that white clover is more grazing-tolerant and easier to maintain than red clover, which is more drought-resistant.

Baltz planted white clover in March 2009 and got a 50% stand by September of that year. He got a 60% stand of red clover in February 2010. Using rotational grazing, legumes, and stockpiled fescue and bermudagrass, Baltz fed his cattle hay fewer than 30 days in 2008-09; and fewer than 15 days for 2009-10.

He reduced his hay-feeding days from 100 to 30 in that time frame. In the process, he saved $2,200 on winter feeding. Baltz focused on minor nutrients such as boron in getting the clovers established.“Clover plays a big part for me,” he says.

Baltz has already taken advantage of the clover. In the afternoon, after the cattle are full, he’ll sometimes let the calves into the areas where it is lush.In areas with weeds, the cattle glean the fields of ragweed. “We try to force the cattle to eat the weeds,” Baltz says.

“The first step for weed control is to let the cattle graze the weeds,” says Bryce Baldridge, University of Arkansas Extension agent for Lawrence County.

The goal, Baltz says, is to get to the point where his pastures are self-sustaining and feeding the cattle. Then he can focus on the next step — genetics.

Keeping your young ’uns happy

Young calves love to see their mamas, but they also like to eat.

Mitch Baltz combines the two urges, separating the calves and their mothers with an electric fence.

“I call it fence-line weaning,” Baltz says. “I put the calves on one side and the cows on the other side so they can see each other.”

Last year, he had 43 calves. “The very first day, 38 of the calves came to the feed trough,” Baltz says. “On the third day, 42 of the calves had come to the trough to feed. One stubborn ole calf didn’t get the idea until three weeks later.”

Baltz retains ownership of his weaned calves in the fall when the pastures are full. The practice holds two benefits: First, the calves are ready for market in the spring, when prices tend to be better; second, it means dry cows during the winter, but fall calving might mean more hay feeding. The calves weighed between 700 and 800 pounds by the time spring came around.

He feeds the cows and calves on stockpiled fescue and bermudagrass.

“I try to stay off the pasture in the fall to build up stockpiles, so they’ll have lush pastures to keep them satisfied and won’t think as much about the fact that they’re away from their mamas,” Baltz says.

Lucky cattle: White clover and red clover give the cattle a treat and add nitrogen to the pastures.

Fenced in: (Left to right) Kenny Simon of the University of Arkansas, producer Mitch Baltz and Extension agent Bryce Baldridge check out electric fencing.

This article published in the May, 2011 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.