Pasture management plan

Pasture management plan

It’s been more than 20 years since Monticello beef producer Dave Lubben began management-intensive grazing, a phrase coined by independent grazing consultant Jim Gerrish. Known for his research at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center near Linneus, Mo., Gerrish basically wrote the book on MiG.

Last August, Gerrish witnessed his research in action when he visited Lubben’s pastures as part of a weeklong management-intensive grazing workshop.

Cattle are selective grazers. Rotating every one to three days prevents cattle from getting into a habit of selective grazing, giving different forages a chance to flourish. “Whether it’s tall fescue, smooth brome or bermudagrass, if you have pasture dominated by a single species, that is a direct product of management choices,” Gerrish says.

When Lubben first started, his pastures consisted entirely of brome. Now, birdsfoot trefoil, timothy, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, crabgrass, barnyard grass and red clover have found their way into the mix. “It has been a real benefit to natural propagation,” he says. “You walk out and trip over things and wonder, ‘How did that get there?’ ”

Key Points

MiG can bring forage diversity, extended grazing season, improve body condition.

Biggest advantages: peace of mind and quality of life for family.

Next question: How will next generation take MiG to the next level?

Extend the grazing season

With more lush grass available and different forages reaching peak production at different times, the grazing season is extended. While legumes provide more summer productivity, cool-season grasses provide more grazing in late spring and fall. “Before, we were feeding the cows in August during our summer slump when rainfall gets short,” Lubben says. “Since we went to management-intensive grazing, we don’t have to supplement the cows in August.”

With this diversity and fresh grass growth every day, body condition scores improve. “It should improve the cow reproduction cycle. Once cows are in condition, they ovulate sooner and will breed back better than on dry pasture. If a cow has more backfat, thanks to higher-quality feed, she should produce better milk and raise a healthy calf,” he says. “I’m moving the cows every day, so I don’t creep-feed. Even the calves are grazing nice, lush grass.”

MiG provides peace of mind

More residual growth aboveground means more root growth below. Grazing before grass can recover has a negative impact on the root system, hindering its ability to hold the soil. Leaving adequate residual allows the root system to thrive, building organic matter, preventing erosion and stabilizing streambanks.

However, the biggest benefit, Lubben says, has been peace of mind and quality of life for his family. “When I first started, my kids were 8 and 10 years old. They could roll up poly wire by themselves without adult supervision, as opposed to running a 12-row cultivator,” he says. “They can be part of the farm and go out and check the cows and calves without having to operate big machinery.”

A year ago, Lubben’s daughter and son-in-law, Lydia and Neal Grant, along with his niece, Allison Kelchen, graduated from Iowa State University and returned to the farm. Management-intensive grazing offered extra income.

“In many cases, especially since grain prices have declined, the potential net profit is well above what most commodity row crops are,” Gerrish says. “From the older to the younger generation, there is more net income to go toward family living and growing equity on the younger party’s side.”

“Now, Lydia, Neal and Allison are picking up where I left off with management-intensive grazing,” Lubben says. This includes improving water availability in paddocks and expanding management-intensive grazing on rented pasture acres. “What I’ll be looking for is, how do they take it to the next level? What’s the next level in improving efficiency, and what ideas do they bring to the table?”

Overwhelmed with grass

With 500 acres of grass pasture reaching peak growth in early May, Dave Lubben has an overabundance of grass. “We’ve got enough grass that we’re overwhelmed by June, and we have to bale it to keep it in condition,” he says. “I’ve got 500 acres, and by May all 500 are ready to graze. You can’t get all the cows through there fast enough. The grass is growing pretty fast. You’ve got three weeks to get through 500 acres. So, I’ll bale 150 acres of it.”

After a 30-day rest, grass growth has slowed, and all 500 acres can be grazed. Pasture acres that are mowed are then baled and wrapped in baleage bags for winter feeding. By wrapping bales in baleage bags, retaining moisture and improving palatability, Lubben can reduce waste at feeding by about 20% to 30%.

“I put baleage out there, and they’ll lick it clean. It improves palatability, because it’s 30% to 40% moisture. Instead of something dry and brittle, it’s soft and palatable,” he says. “It’s like eating a candy bar.”

He adds, “With dry hay, you might waste a third of a bale. If a 1,200- to 1,500-pound bale is worth $100, and you can save 20% to 30% from wastage, your savings add up pretty fast.”

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PEACE OF MIND: “The biggest benefit of management-intensive grazing has been peace of mind and quality of life for our family,” says Dave Lubben. Kids can be part of the farm, helping check the cows and calves, and not having to operate big machinery, he says.

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PASTURE MIX: With more lush grass available and different forages reaching peak production at different times, the grazing season is extended. While legumes provide more summer productivity, cool-season grasses provide more grazing in late spring and fall. “With management-intensive grazing, we don’t have to supplement the cows in August,” says Dave Lubben.

This article published in the January, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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