Booming land prices, coupled with fewer acres to rent in his neighborhood, have led Cliff Schuette to develop a forage chain. It lets him graze year-round and make the best use of 115 rented acres.

The chain consists of several species that peak in quality and yield at varying times. About 100 acres are dedicated to perennial species; the rest are in summer and winter annuals. The combination supplies sufficient forage for his 50 cow-calf pairs throughout summer, and fall stockpiling provides for quality grazing in winter.

“Mother Nature gives us lots of options,” says Schuette, a Breese, IL, beef producer, crop consultant and sales rep for two seed companies. “We just have to plug them in at different times of the year to optimize production.”

Schuette's Simmental-Angus brood cows graze rotationally. Twenty calve in March and April and the balance calve in September and October. The heifers and steers graze with their mothers until they weigh 500 lbs each.

“The young animals gain 1½-1¾ lbs/day/head when they're on pasture,” he says. “My stockpiled forages provide as much gain in winter as the pastures do in summer.”

After the heifers and steers are taken off pasture, they're moved to an on-farm feedlot. Thirty-five go to local Super Valu stores; the rest are sold at semi-annual consignment sales sponsored by the Illinois Heifer Development Program.

Here's a snapshot of how his forage chain works:

In March and early April, cattle graze 15 acres of cereal rye no-tilled the previous September.

“The cereal rye really comes on when feed supplies are at their shortest and most expensive, and it grows earlier in the spring than ryegrass does,” says Schuette.

From mid-April through May, the cattle continue to graze the cereal rye, plus the rapidly growing perennial pastures — a mixture of fescue and red and white clovers. The cattle are moved to fresh paddocks every one to three days.

By late April, the cattle can't keep up with pasture growth and the excess is harvested as baleage.

By early July, all perennial pastures are back in rotation. Cattle are also grazing 15 acres of pearl millet and turnips drilled into the cereal rye in late May. In August, they continue grazing annuals and some perennial pastures. The other perennial pastures are topdressed with nitrogen and the growth is stockpiled until Thanksgiving or Christmas. Turnips, spring oats and cereal rye, seeded in September, also are stockpiled.

“Last year, we stockpiled an average of only 2,500 lbs of dry matter per acre from Aug. 1 to Dec. 15 because it was so dry,” Schuette reports. “Two years ago, we raised 7,000 lbs/acre in that same time.”

In very dry years, he feeds some baleage for a few weeks in August. By early September, cool weather causes the fescue to grow rapidly. Cattle graze predominately on it through December, then are turned into stockpiled paddocks.

Snow accumulation isn't a hindrance, he says. “I've seen them graze through 2' of snow if there's a good amount of forage underneath.”

He feeds no grain supplement, regardless of what the animals are grazing. “We manage our forages so that they have enough protein and energy in them when they're being grazed,” says Schuette.