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Grazing Management Now Results in Better Cattle Spring and Summer Grazing Opportunities

By Patrick Davis

“Grass is greening up and cattle are being turned out to pasture,” says Patrick Davis MU Extension Regional Livestock Field Specialist.  Grass is the cheapest feed resource so proper grazing management is important to cattle operation performance and profitability. Below, Davis shares thoughts on cattle grazing and forage incorporation to improve spring and summer grazing opportunities.

“Make sure of adequate pasture forage height at the beginning of the grazing season,” says Davis.  At turn-out, cool-season forages should have about 6 inches of growth.  Davis urges cattle producers to maintain a minimum grazing residual forage height of 4 inches for cool-season forages and 8 to 10 inches for native warm season forages.  Grazing below these residual heights will affect season-long production, persistence, and new growth.

“Adequate forage availability as we begin the grazing season is also important for cattle performance,” says Davis.  If forage availability is low, cattle will increase travel to meet their intake needs.  “This increased travel can reduce cattle performance and body condition score,” says Davis.  Therefore, Davis urges cattle producers to provide hay or supplementation during the transition from winter hay feeding to grazing in order to maintain optimum performance.   

Forage quality is lower in taller, more mature forage, which negatively influence intake and cattle performance.  Davis urges cattle producers to clip or mow pastures for hay if seed heads are emerging and grazing is not keeping up with forage growth.  Harvesting excess growth resets the pastures and allows for high quality forage regrowth.  “If cattle producers mow pastures they may need to wait longer for grass regrowth to reach an acceptable grazing height,” says Davis.

“Rest period is also important for proper forage growth during the grazing season,” says Davis.  Rest period allows forage to grow to optimum height prior to the next grazing period and gives plants the opportunity to replenish energy reserves.  These two factors help ensure high forage intake and plant persistence.

Davis urges cattle producers to develop a rotational grazing system in order to better manage the rest period.  “Move cattle faster through the grazing rotation in early spring versus the late spring and into the summer,” says Davis.  Also, Davis urges producers to move cattle so they are not allowed to graze pasture regrowth without a rest period.

“Lengthening the rest period many also increase pasture diversity by promoting native warm season grasses to grow in your cool-season pastures,” says Davis.  This helps provide forage for cattle to consume during the warmer months when cool-season grass growth slows and is lower quality.  Davis urges producers to add summer annuals such as crabgrass, pearl millet, and sudangrass to your grazing rotation to fill in the cool season grass slump.

For any questions on how to manage your pastures for optimum forage production and cattle performance contact your local MU Extension Agronomy and Livestock Field Specialist.

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