Beef producers can reduce fertilizer and fuel inputs by going to multiple-pasture systems, says Gerald Evers, Texas AgriLife Research forage management scientist.

Many use two-pasture systems based on warm-season grasses, grazing most of the year on one area and harvesting hay on the other at least part of the year. The main disadvantage: Calves are usually born in spring and sold in fall, when calf prices are usually the lowest. Two-pasture systems also require hay for extended and expensive winter feeding programs and don't take advantage of free nitrogen from cool-season legumes, Evers says.

In much of Texas, grasses usually require a yearly application of nitrogen and other nutrients to produce good livestock feed. That’s no longer economically practical, Evers says. "Nitrogen fertilizer prices continue to skyrocket and the prices of other nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium and sulfur, also are rising because of increased transportation costs and higher world demand.”

But producers can stretch their fertilizer dollars and lengthen the grazing period by months to reduce reliance on hay – and maintain livestock nutrition – by moving to a three-pasture system, he says. One such system consists of a hay meadow plus a pasture to be overseeded with ryegrass-clover (each about 40% of open pasture), and a third pasture used for feeding hay and calving (about 20% of open pasture), Evers says.

"The hay meadow should never be overseeded with annual ryegrass, since ryegrass grows through May and delays spring growth of the warm-season perennial grass," he says. "This results in the loss of the early hay cutting when warm-season grass growth and nutritive value are the highest."

Soil test, then apply fertilizer when daily low temperatures stay above 60 degrees. Typically, only one or two hay cuttings will be needed. The hay meadow can be grazed until mid-September. Any growth should be removed by grazing or a hay harvest in mid-September and fertilized with about 60 lbs/acre of N to produce a standing hay crop, Evers says. Standing hay has low energy and protein levels, but is sufficient for cows that aren’t nursing, he adds.

The pasture to be overseeded with ryegrass and clover can have any type of summer grass on it, he says. Select a clover thats adapted to the soil type and has the potential to reseed so it does not have to be replanted each fall.

According to Evers:
· Grazing can begin about six weeks before bermudagrass or bahiagrass is ready in spring, which will further reduce the winter feeding period.
· Clover will use nitrogen from the air and reduce nitrogen fertilizer needs.
· Ryegrass and clover have a higher nutritive value than summer grasses. Higher nutrition means better animal performance. Cows need to calve in January and February to obtain the greatest benefit from the ryegrass and clover.

Both the hay meadow and the overseeded pasture may be subdivided to allow rotational grazing, Evers says.

The success of this system depends on fall rain. A hay barn to store excess hay as a reserve is also needed, he adds.

For more information, visit http://overton.tamu.edu/ForageSystems.pdf. Call Evers at 903-834-6191 or email him at g-evers@tamu.edu.