David Boatright is set to take his family's forage-based cattle operation to the next level. The 18-year-old, who will graduate high school this month, will use the summer to revamp his pasture designs to accommodate a high stock density grazing system.
There was a time that Maplewood Acres Farm was in a continuous graze mode. "We would just open the gates and let the cows eat whatever and wherever they wanted," David recalls. Years later, his father, Matt Boatright, implemented a management intensive grazing system. "That proved to be a great decision for our farm," David says. "It provided more forage for our cows throughout the year."
The family raises registered Polled Hereford and Red Angus cattle, as well as, Boer goats just outside of Sedalia. Today, David manages the grazing aspect of the operation. He has a good working relationship with his father. "I run ideas by him and he allows me to really have an input and often times the final decision as to what is best for the farm." But he is quick to point out that the marketing aspect of the operation is solely on his dad's shoulders. "I like managing cattle and grass," he quips.
Making tough choices
"Like many other farmers, we need to get the most forage production out of the land to sustain our cattle numbers," he says. "I am looking to create a low-input farm."
Designing for density
After attending seminars, reading magazines and researching online, David decided to add high stock density grazing at their Pettis County farm. "I think it has huge potential for us," he says. "It will not only provide quality forage for our cattle, but also build the soil by allowing for longer rest periods between grazing. I am hoping to reach a point where we can feed little or no hay in the winter."
Currently, the 450-acre farm is divided into 30-acre paddocks for rotational grazing purposes. This year, David will break it down to smaller 1- to 3-acre paddocks using portable electric fencing. He will move the cattle once to twice daily in an effort to maximize available forage selection and increase trampling of undesirable forage to build organic matter, helping to retain moisture and build soil fertility. Using a print out of a farm map, he draws up plans for where fencing will be placed, where cattle will have access to water and when cattle will rotate through each paddock. "It definitely takes more detail to make the high stock density work," he says, "but having a plan and a visual map for a year in advance helps."
He says the new system should provide enough forage for spring and summer, as well as, build a stockpile for winter months.