To get the maximum benefit from forages and beef cattle, they must be matched, says Clyde Lane, Jr., University of Tennessee Extension beef specialist.

“Animals that are considered high producers need high-quality forages and increased amounts while lower-producing animals can get by on poorer-quality forages and smaller amounts,” he points out.

In Tennessee, meeting animal needs usually means having both cool- and warm-season grasses. With fields of both types, it’s possible to keep cattle grazing most of the year.

When developing and managing forages for beef cattle, it’s important to know certain things about the cows, says Lane. Characteristics to consider include milking ability, body weight, body condition score and time of calving. As producers have used expected progeny differences (EPD’s) in the selection process, milking ability has tended to increase. To meet the requirements for producing larger amounts of milk, higher-quality and greater quantities of feed are needed.

Obviously, the larger the cow the more feed it will take to meet her requirements. If it’s necessary to increase the body condition score because cows have gotten thin, the amount and quality of the forage must also increase. Match the time of calving with the amount of forage available. The greatest requirement for the cow is at the time of calving and continues until she is rebred.

Fall-calving cows have adequate forage to meet their needs at calving and until they get bred. However, as the calf gets older and can start grazing, meeting its nutritional need gets more difficult. Either some type of grain must be provided or a small-grain pasture must be available, adding to production costs. Also, the cow will need more and a higher-quality stored forage since she’s still producing milk and getting ready to be rebred.

The feed situation presented above is why most producers are encouraged to start calving in January. By the time the majority of cows require extra nutrition, they can be fed high-quality hay for a short period and then go to grass in the spring.

To improve profitability, it’s critical that beef producers utilize most of the forage produced, Lane adds. If animals have free access to all of the pasture area, they will graze selectively. Some of the grass will be overgrazed while some will be undergrazed and allowed to mature. By utilizing some type of rotational grazing program, a greater utilization of forages can be accomplished. The pastures should be small enough so that all of the grass will be consumed in less than seven days. That forces the animals to use all of the grass and allows the producer to keep the remaining fields at the proper growth stage to maintain optimum quality.

It may also allow some of the grass to be harvested as hay. The idea is to utilize almost all of the available forage. Once a cow refuses to consume some grass because it’s too mature, she will refuse it every time she goes by it. Then the mature grass will need to be mowed, which will be an additional cost.

When trying to increase profitability with forages, stockpiling must not be overlooked, he adds. Fertilizing and not allowing the grass to be grazed can produce a considerable amount of forage. Letting the cows harvest the grass will be much less expensive than harvesting and then feeding. Stockpiling can delay the time when hay feeding must start, shortening the winter feeding period and reducing total cow costs.

Lane urges producers to consider adding clover to grass pastures. A good stand of clover can reduce the effects of the tall fescue endophyte, and also can improve the quality of the forage consumed. That can be very beneficial when cow requirements are higher following calving or gains need to be improved with stocker cattle, he says.