Improved production from managed grazing is one reason dairy cow numbers are increasing, not decreasing, in Georgia, Hancock said. Forage-based milking herds have a cost advantage.
In a short lesson on grass biology, Hancock explained why grass should be grazed during the rapid growth stage. Production efficiency peaks then.
In early growth, nipping new grass too soon stunts plants. Roots fail to grow deep. At the reproductive stage, when plants set seed, growth stops. Leaves become fibrous when nutrients move into the seed head.
The rest period for forage determines the success of the grazing system.
Hancock praised Missouri farmers who use the "grazing wedge."
"Missouri leads the nation," he said.
To graph the wedge, producers measure dry-matter growth in each paddock with a rising plate meter. The graph shows which paddock to graze next. This helps prevent paddocks from going into the reproductive stage before they are grazed. Each paddock can be grazed at peak production in the rapid-growth stage.
Producers can see the system at the Extension website.
Letting the livestock graze the forage, instead of harvesting and feeding it, is the way to increase profits. "Baled hay is the biggest block to profits," Hancock said. "If you need hay, let your neighbor grow and bale it."
Hancock left a challenge for producers: "There's no reason not to have a 300-day grazing season. Grazing grass can eliminate most of a 120-day hay-feeding season each winter. The goal is not to unroll a bale of hay."
Pasture grasses can be stockpiled, ungrazed, in the fall growing season. That forage can be grazed by livestock through most of the winter.
The underground part of the plants, the roots, extends downward during that fall while resting from grazing. Longer roots help supply the winter forages.
Source: University of Missouri Extension