Beginning graziers often are told to graze now and worry later about what's growing in the pastures.
That's good advice, agree Bob and Debbie Eash, who graze 120 Holsteins and Jerseys near Hudson, IN. But that doesn't mean all pasture is equal. After five years of grazing, they're using a number of forage species in paddocks designed for specific uses.
“The key to good grazing is having forage options and moving cows often,” says Bob.
Ryegrass is their favorite species by far.
“Our cows bawl for perennial ryegrass,” says Bob. “Not only do they like it, milk production goes up when we move them there.”
They now have 70 acres of perennial ryegrass, but 90 acres remain in a variety of other species.
“No one forage species has everything a grazier needs,” he says.
“We went into grazing after pricing a new confinement facility with a parlor and a manure lagoon,” says Bob.
“There was no way we could afford that,” adds Debbie.
So in 1997 they no-tilled a pasture mix into a depleted 56-acre alfalfa field. They took half their cows there, leaving the other half on a total-mixed ration.
“We were disturbed by the drop in milk production of the grazed animals,” Bob recalls.
“But we liked seeing the cows out there, and they were cleaner and healthier,” says Debbie. “The records showed we got less milk but grazing was more profitable.”
The 22,000-lb herd milk production average fell to 17,000 lbs. But it rebounded to 19,000 lbs when they started grazing perennial ryegrass.
“We feed nothing but grass and 12-14 lbs of pellets split between the two milkings,” says Bob.
Their 160 acres are divided into 59 paddocks, all numbered on a map. Debbie keeps a daily log of cow location. Paddocks are subdivided with step-in posts and polywire, with cows moved up to four times a day.
The Eashes have four kinds of paddocks:
High-energy. These paddocks, primarily perennial ryegrass, also include fine-leafed tall fescues, meadow fescue, timothy, chicory and white clovers.
“Ryegrass has a net energy of 0.94 compared to shelled corn, is 95% digestible and 28% protein,” says Bob. But it slows down in hot, dry weather.
Drought-tolerant. Alfalfa tolerates dry summer weather, as do orchardgrass, tall fescue, bromegrass and reed canarygrass.
Wet-period-grazing. “During wet periods, we graze paddocks we plan to renovate or those with rhizome-forming bluegrass or smooth brome,” says Bob. Reed canarygrass on low ground also tolerates abuse.
Extended-grazing. The Eashes graze from mid-April to December, and are heading toward seasonal milking. They plant several annual forages that enable them to graze earlier, later and through summer's heat.
Cereal rye is grazed fall and spring, then tilled down to plant brown midrib sorghum-sudangrass for late-summer grazing. Corn is planted with turnips or rape for grazing that persists into winter. They've also tried and liked a mixture of oats and forage peas.