Denny Pogue will increase his beef cow numbers this year by 30% – adding a spring herd to his established fall herd of 70 cows. “This will allow us to utilize lower-quality forages with dry cows twice a year instead of just June through August and use the higher-quality forages for cow-calf pairs or weaned calves,” he says.

The St. James, MO, grazier also intends to graze calves normally weaned and sold in June to take advantage of excess forage and reduce his haying to one early summer cutting, weather permitting.

“Holding calves back and grazing them through the fall utilizes hay as forage when it’s in its prime, without paying someone to harvest it,” points out Pogue. As for the cows, he says, “We run our herd the whole year with no supplementation. That’s the real goal.”

Pogue uses pasture budgeting to determine how much forage his ground produces and when and how long to graze it for maximum value. Three years ago, it prompted him to move to wedge grazing, a system that maintains pastures or paddocks in a staggered or “stair-step” growth pattern (see our story, “Grazing On The ‘Wedge’ ”).

“When we go out and look at cows,” he says, “we’re looking more at pasture height and quality.”

A good grazier will become even better with a pasture budget, believes University of Missouri forage specialist Robert Kallenbach. A budget can determine stocking rates and identify seasonal problems with forage availability or pasture systems.

The information needed to set one up is readily available, he says. A number of land-grant universities offer pasture budgeting programs and yield and quality information about forages. Also, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has yield data for forages tied into soil type.

In one afternoon, a grower can figure out if his pastures and forages will support the number of animals he wants to carry, Kallenbach says. “The budget can help guide what sort of inputs to use over the next several years to change or tweak your farm. The hard part is doing the budget. It is an afternoon of work for several years of bliss.”

The most important tool: be observant, he says. “Second is to use a yardstick to measure how much forage is available and how much it grows at different times.”

In a notebook, record what you see, what you measure and how long you expect that pasture to produce. Then track how long it does. It gives you a better idea which animals belong in which field. Photos, taken from the same vantage point over a period of time, can also help producers observe pastures carefully.

Once that’s done, budget the highest-quality feed to the animals with the greatest nutrient requirements. For instance, lactating dairy cows should get the best-quality feed while lower-quality forage could be used for dry beef cows.

A grower will see economic return when he runs 110 cows in place of 100, wastes less feed or harvests forage more efficiently, Kallenbach says. “With pasture budgeting and improved stock management, a grower may be able to take the efficiency of a pasture and boost it from 50% to 60%. Or, alternatively, if you have excess forage, you can make it as hay and sell it to neighbors.”

A budget can help decide when to renovate pastures, when and or if they should be fertilized, if the mix of cool- and warm-season grasses is right and if the forage should go for silage or be stored as hay. In other words, says Kallenbach, a good budget sharpens your management.

Budgeting Forage Adds Profit, Too

Two Louisiana growers each has 10 cows and 20 acres of pasture, but one uses a pasture budget to save money.

Grower A plants his 20 acres to ryegrass to carry his cows through winter.

Grower B budgets ryegrass as a protein supplement, then calculates how much each cow needs. He plants a five-acre strip of ryegrass and separates it from the rest of the field, which is unimproved pasture. Every other day, the cows graze the ryegrass for two hours and then return to the other pasture.

Both cow groups will gain weight, but Grower B will have less money invested in feeding, points out Johanna Pate, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)rangeland management specialist for Louisiana.

Growers benefit when they budget forage by how it meets the animal’s needs, she says. “Ryegrass is high in protein. Animals are going to graze it for a little while, and then graze the hay. It is overplanting to plant an entire field to ryegrass. The cattle are going to end up trampling it and laying on it.

“Rotational grazing allows the manager to regulate frequency and intensity of grazing to control quality, yield, utilization and persistence of pastures. It is also more likely to maintain pastures in an actively growing state.

“When a grower comes in to the NRCS office, he’ll say, ‘I’ve got this field and this soil type.’ We help him determine the capability of the field, what grasses will grow there and what he can expect yields to be. With good budgeting, he’ll know how many animals to run,” Pate says.