Give Your Combine a Break: Graze Your Crops
You may have heard or read about Nebraska farmers grazing corn. Many farmers have successfully grazed their livestock on corn; however, it is not the only crop that can be grazed. Diversity is one of the strengths of sustainable agriculture, so why not consider some other options?
He also had problems with eleven consecutive days of rain in June. During that period he decided to keep grazing alfalfa, a decision he regrets today. He says that the cattle ruined part of the field and the number of daily moves the wet alfalfa required (five) probably wasnít worth it.
Zurovski and Don Peregrine of Fullerton have both found that grazing corn and alfalfa at the same time works well. They give the cattle a strip of corn in the morning and then a strip of alfalfa in the afternoon. Peregrine says he didnít have any trouble with bloat and the alfalfa field, which was weedy during grazing, looks great now. He now has 270 head grazing a 40-acre field of corn that he thinks will last him 80 days.
Bender believes that turnips are an important part of his system. His main problem has been keeping the seeding rate low enough (1 lb./ac) with his broadcast seeder. In trying to seed turnips with other crops, Bender has been limited by the compatibility of the seeds with the broadcast seeder. So far, he has not found a mixture that is better than turnips by themselves. In his experience, turnips should be sown in the last week in July for best results in eastern Nebraska.
Tom Larson of St. Edward also lets his cattle graze turnips. He seeds them after oats in strips with corn and soybeans. Then, in the fall, cattle graze strips of corn and soybean stubble with the turnips and volunteer oats. With 14% crude protein and 84% total digestible nutrients, turnips deserve serious consideration as a forage crop.
To keep grazing until permanent pastures are ready, some wheat, rye, or triticale should be planted specifically for grazing only. One acre will often feed two or three cows for a month if grazing doesnít start until plants begin to joint. Plus, you can still plant corn, beans, or other row crops into the grazed-out stubble.
If what you need is hay thatís ideal for young stock, Anderson recommends cutting oats just as it is heading out. This hay can have over 10 percent protein and 65 percent TDN as well as good palatability. Or you can increase yield by about one-third, and cut oats in the milk stage for hay with 8 percent protein and 55 percent TDN - an excellent feed for stock cows.
Oats also have the potential to stimulate yields from a thin, worn out alfalfa stand. If you discover that you suffered winter injury to your alfalfa and have thin stands, you wonít reach your yield potential or much of it might be in the form of weeds. To improve the yield and quality, just drill a bushel of oats per acre directly into you alfalfa as soon as possible. Then cut your hay like normal.
Oats can also be grazed in the fall. UNL researchers found that steers gained about 2 lbs./day when fall grazing oats that had been planted into wheat stubble. The grazing lasted from about the middle of September to mid-October.
Annual summer grasses
What if you want hay or green chop? Then select sorghum-sudan hybrids or pearl millet because they yield well and they have good feed value when cut two or three times. On sandy soils, though, foxtail millet may be a better choice for a summer hay crop. It dries fast, doesnít regrow after cutting, and it handles dry soils well. Cane hay also is grown in many areas and produces high tonnage, but it is lower in feed value and it dries more slowly after cutting than the hybrids or millets.
Maybe you plan to chop silage. Then choose the forage sorghums, especially hybrids with high grain production. They canít be beat for tonnage or for feed value.
Burt Weichenthal, Extension Beef Specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, is currently doing research on summer annual forages that meet the
requirements of Western Nebraska.
Not just for cattle
When grazing the alfalfa is no longer possible, Choat moves his sows to the neighbors corn stalks. Given his experience last winter, Choat hopes to keep them on stalks until March 15 of next year. Then he will strip graze his field planted 75% to corn and 25% to soybeans. His plans are to graze the corn/soybeans until May 15, when the sows will again be put on alfalfa.
Choatís biggest problem is keeping the sows in the paddocks. The solution was a better electric fencer that keeps the fence charged even when it is set at the top of the alfalfa. Another problem has been the hog prices, but there isnít much you can do about them. However, Choat says that his low cost approach has allowed him to stay in business during a period that would have meant the end of his operation under conventional management.
Allan Nation, editor of the Stockman Grass Farmer, issued a challenge in the August issue to people considering a sizable grass-finished steer program: Develop a production system that will allow you to produce a truckload of 850 lb. steers every month of the year. Here is a similar, but less restricting challenge: Develop a grazing system that will allow you to graze high quality forages year round with whatever mix of livestock you can market profitably. As Nation says, "this will force you to think in terms of a planned series of forages rather than just one or two." Let your imagination be your guide.
- Assembled by Andy McGuire, from various sources