Plan for next year’s forage

By Sydney Sleep

Winter is the ideal time to prepare for the upcoming grazing season.

Performing key activities in the off-season, like summarizing production and grazing records, analyzing last year’s management strategy, and drafting next year’s plan will put you ahead when the coming growing season arrives.

Hugh Aljoe, pasture and range consultant for the Noble Foundation’s Agricultural Division, notes that summarizing forage production and grazing data is simple if good records have been kept throughout the year.

In the Noble Foundation’s newsletter, Ag News and Views, Aljoe first suggests determining your hay production. This is easily calculated as the quantity of bales multiplied by the average weight to determine estimated dry matter production per field or pasture. Dividing this figure by the number of acres gives the production per acre.

For example, a 40-acre pasture that produced 180 bales weighing 1,100 pounds each produced 4,950 pounds of forage per acre. Going one step further can determine nitrogen use efficiency as well. If 92 units per acre of nitrogen were applied to the pasture, dry matter production per unit of nitrogen was 53.8 pounds.

Comparing hay production by pasture can determine which fields provided the best return in production per acre and cost per acre. “Knowing that we want to invest first into the resources that provide the greatest return, we can make better decisions as to which pastures get proportionally more, or less, fertilizer next year,” Aljoe said.

The same process can be used for grazing records, though it is more complicated. The number of days a herd was in a pasture, the number of each class of cattle in the herd, and approximate weight of the cattle in each class is needed.

For example, a pasture was grazed 24 days over three grazing events during the previous year. The herd consists of 45 mature cows weighing 1,250 pounds and two bulls weighing 1,800 pounds for 12 of the grazing days; 45 mature cows for six grazing days; and 42 mature cows for six grazing days. Assume beef cattle consume 2.6 percent of their body weight per day and that harvest efficiency is 65 percent for an introduced pasture with a good grazing rotation.

This grazing pasture produced an estimated 54,828 pounds of dry matter production. If it is 20 acres, the estimated production per acre is 2,714 pounds, which is calculated by dividing 54,828 by 20 acres.

Aljoe notes that the easiest way to calculate estimated forage production from grazing records is to use a spreadsheet like Table 1. This data can identify the most productive pasture for any given year or over a period of years, productivity changes due to management activities, and changes over time due to long-term management and rainfall.

After analyzing records, assess the previous year’s management plan and start drafting next year’s plan. Make adjustments where outcomes were less than desired.

“Production records are one of the best sources of information for planning purposes and winter is a good time of year to do these types of forage management activities,” Aljoe said.

Sydney Sleep

Sydney Sleep was the 2016 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern and is a junior at South Dakota University.