Three years ago, Legends set a goal to be the top seedstock producer in Northeast Texas. We want to offer our customers a better value at a lower price point than our competitors. To afford this, we must have a lower cost structure than the average seedstock producer. A forage-based, 365 day grazing program fits the genetic requirements that we want to foster, and aligns with the production system of our customers, giving them the assurance that our cattle are already environmentally-acclimated to thrive in their pasture.
How We Established a 365 Day Grazing Program
Year 1. We planted cool-season grasses.
We planted cool-season grasses such as ryegrass and clover since most of our pastures are warm-season grasses such as coastal bermuda or bahiagrass, which are great for about six months of grazing. We selected TAM TBO ryegrass as well as Blackhawk Arrowleaf clover for supplemental grazing as both varieties could be managed to reseed so that future plantings would not be needed, and waited until the summer grasses slowed growth to plant. We got great stands of both, and found that while the pounds of DM (dry matter) production for fall/winter grazing was not as much as we were hoping for, it did provide a power-packed supplement for our cows that had been previously grazing dormant summer grass forages. Once spring arrived, we saw an incredible flush of ryegrass and clover which was great but may have hindered the growth of our summer grass getting started. We also found that our hay consumption had come down measurably, but we were still averaging about 1 bale/cow for the winter season.
Year 2. We tried some no-till small grain once our summer grasses slowed growth.
We tried some no-till small grain once our summer grasses slowed growth, and used a 50:50 mix of wheat and oats. Again, we were a little disappointed in the amount of DM production for fall/winter grazing, but the green grass provided a better supplement to the cows grazing than the dormant summer grass, and we again averaged about 1 bale/cow for the winter season.
Year 3. We continued to refine our plans.
We planned to plant a spring crop on plowed ground which could be stockpiled for winter grazing, but we decided not to plant when the time came, given the drought that we were experiencing. As late summer arrived and hay prices climbed (and we had no bales in inventory), we planted a mix of summer and winter annuals which could be stockpiled and grazed in January/February. The main component of the summer annual was forage sorghum, and the winter component included turnips, radishes, triticale, and clover. We planted just ahead of beneficial rains and the crop did extremely well during the late summer and fall growing season (aside from the forage sorghum which were hit hard by army worms). We estimated that we had enough DM production per acre to carry 2 cows for 2 months. To date, our estimates seem to have been accurate and it looks like we will go through the winter with a negligible amount of hay compared to prior years.
Going forward . . .
We plan to get a spring crop into our rotation as well. We continue to rely heavily on the ryegrass and clover for early spring grazing, and utilize the small grains for certain situations. For spring-planted crops, we are using pastures that aren’t as productive with summer grasses. Since most grasses will lose most of their nutrition by January, a straight grass doesn’t seem like a good option given we want to provide a complete ration with minimal supplementation. The two most interesting options are field corn and grain sorghum. The plant will lose its nutritional power as it progresses, however, the grain has exceptional nutrition and will hold that through the winter. We anticipate that the cows will eat the grain along with the plant and get a good mix of forage and grain that meets their daily dietary requirements. We also plan to start with grain sorghum since it seems to be more drought tolerant versus corn.
It is important to note that this will need to be presented to the cattle incrementally. If you turn cows loose on a cornfield or even turnips, they will waste a high percentage of the grub and can bloat or flounder along the way. What we’ve found grazing the summer/winter mix is that our labor requirements for moving an electric fence every couple of days are much less than what would be required to put out hay and cubes.
Our strategic planting not only improves cow performance but continues to cut feed costs dramatically. Legends Cattle has declared a win through our 365 day grazing program.