Before Nebraska producers seek eligibility to emergency-graze on their Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, they should consider the following questions, says Aaron Berger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator.
1) Will there be enough water available on CRP acres? Water requirements for a cow-calf pair in July can be close to 25 gallons/day. Hauling water can be very expensive, but it may be viable when compared to the cost of feeding harvested feed. Early weaning calves and grazing dry cows on CRP acres may be a better option for producers where water availability is limited or will need to be hauled, he says.
2) Will forage quality be adequate? Depending on when CRP acres were last grazed or hayed and the species of grasses and legumes present, there may be a lot of old, low-quality grass growth. If most of the feed is old growth, supplemental protein and energy may be needed.
That’s especially true for replacement heifers and young cows with calves with high nutrient requirements. Cows going into and through the breeding season need good nutrition. Cows rapidly losing weight before and through the breeding season will likely have decreased conception rates. Supplementing cows on low-quality forage with adequate protein and energy to maintain cow body condition score through the breeding season is an important consideration when grazing CRP, Berger stresses.
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3) Will available CRP forage be efficiently utilized? Depending on the grass species present, CRP land could be made of old, brittle standing forage. This old-growth forage can easily be trampled by cattle and lost to grazing. Examining ways to strip graze or partition-out forage to reduce trampling losses may help producers use what grass is present.
There are a lot of CRP acres in the Panhandle. Being able to utilize those acres for grazing with the current drought conditions provides rangelands with a critical rest and provides cattle producers much-needed forage, Berger says.