Shoot-n-the Bull: Spring’s Coming!

As this cold winter starts to end, we need to be thinking about getting our plans set for the early spring season.

1.  Hay season is just around the corner.  Now is a good time to warm up the shop and get out the equipment manuals. Review the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance on your forage equipment.  Sharpen or replace those blades on the cutter to properly cut grass or small grain.  Grease all fittings.  If any are missing, replace them. Check tire pressure on all equipment, inflate if needed, and replace faulty tires.  Fill the baler up with twine.  Replace any broken, lost, or bent spring teeth on the hay rake.  Service the trailers and wagons and get them ready to roll.  By spending the time now for maintenance and repair, we can prevent loss of valuable down time when we need to make hay while the sun is shining.

2.  Take tissue samples from your grain fields and pastures.  Collect and send them off to the state laboratory  for analysis.  Your county extension agent will gladly review all the steps necessary to get complete and accurate results on your crop.  Compare those results with you soil test data that you have already received last fall.  Both these test scores will enable you to supplement the necessary ingredients thus boosting your crop yields efficiently and economically. 

3.  Feed your pasture and hay fields early so their roots will acquire the needed energy boost to shoot up and out for those good quality bales of nutrition.  Remember your soil pH should be between 6 and 6.2 for optimum results. You can use animal litter or commercial fertilizers to get the job done.  It is more economical and more efficient if you will supplement your crops with just the right amount of nutrients needed for harvest and then top dress after cutting or grazing for another good growth spurt.  The idea is to grow your forage like the lawn care industry does. Their equation is simple.  Mow + Feed + Water = Mow again!  This is not a joke.  We all need to copy from their ideas.  The more you mow at the correct stage of growth, the more quality and tonnage of protein you can produce per acre for your livestock.  As far as the proper time to harvest your crop, the key is very simple.  Mow before it boots!  If you can mow hay right before the booting stage appears (seed head emerging from the stem), that is the most ideal stage for grass or grain hay.  The protein content of the plant is at it’s peak.  This past year our mixed fescue, orchid grass, and clover hay’s protein content was 19 1/2%.  Our millet was 16 1/2%.  Our wheat was 12 1/2%.  These result were accomplished by not letting our forages mature out.  Our county average for a bale of hay is 7% protein.  We will sacrifice baling a few less bales per acre to achieve our figures anytime.  Poor quality hay feeds poor cows.

4.  Let us talk about grazing plans.  There are several programs out there on grazing.  Whether you have forty thousands acres or just four, all of us wants to maximize the amount of forage per acre to feed cows.  A good rule of thumb is that when cattle graze in a large open range or pasture acreage, thirty percent of the grass is trampled and destroyed. So if we can confine the area of grazing down smaller, we will decrease the percentage of wasted forage.  There are three popular programs that work.  First is grazing zones.  This program breaks down your entire range of available pasture into smaller sections with perm0e section to 100 acres or 50 acres down to five in size.  What this does is to drastically decrease the amount of damage or trampled forage from cattle walking on it. The herd will need a water source and shade in each section.  Graze your heifer replacements and first calf heifers through the system first.  Then after a few days run the main herd through to clean up the rest of the forage.  Always give the very best grass to growing heifers that require more protein to build structure to their bodies.  Let the main herd graze down the pasture but leave three to five inches of grass by moving the different groups of cattle on through the zones.  This will stimulate grass to row back quickly.  Also manure will be more equally distributed  throughout the area.  It is free fertilizer.  Take it.  Manicure by mowing excess length of pasture grass.  Know how to grow earth worms in the soil and I truly promise with water you will have bountiful grass.

Never let pasture grass head out.  Energy in the plant will go to the head and the plant will then shut down leaving poor quality non productive grass.   A more intense grazing system is called MIG.  Depending on how many cows are in the herd within the grazing zone, set up an electric hot wire using temporary portable fencing (pig tails) to graze cattle for a couple of days and move them across your grazing zone.  Remember to back fence so that the grazed area can rest and replenish quickly.  This program reduces more damaged forage from trampling and provides a smoother layer of manure distribution across your land.  MOB grazing takes this one step further.  The temporary electric cross fencing is the same except the amount of land grazed is significantly less than with the latter program. You have to move cows quicker to the next section in a matter of a few hours several times a day.  The biggest advantage is that all the forage is utilized within the cow with very little waste.  It is time consuming moving those fences but it works, especially if there is not enough pasture land available. 

Days are getting longer and believe me the weather will get warmer too.  Let us be ready to feed our cattle the best that we can with quality forages.  I assure you by practicing these ideas more money will be in our pockets at the end of the grass season.