Grazing Wedge System aids Producers in Forage Management
William Sexten, a state beef specialist with MU Extension, received a NCR-SARE Research and Education grant to develop a grazing-wedge program at the University of Missouri. Read more about the grazing wedge program and Sexten's work below.
Source: Missouri Farmer Today, Benjamin Herrold
A light rain fell on the rolling hills of Denny Pogue’s pastures on his Phelps County farm. Pogue eased his pickup out across the pasture, checking his first-calf heifers.
It was a gray November day. Pogue, who has a herd of about 85 cows, noted the grass was greener than normal for this time of year, although a cold snap was on its way.
Looking out the window at the green grass and clover, Pogue talked about the “grazing wedge” forage-management strategy he started using three years ago with help from the University of Missouri Extension.
Pogue has several paddocks lined with permanent fence. Throughout the spring and early summer, during the peak growth time, he further divides these into smaller areas using electric fencing.
“Where we really use the wedge, as it’s intended, is the spring and early summer,” he noted.
As part of the grazing wedge, Pogue measures the forage in each of his about 30 paddocks every week to two weeks using a device called a rising plate meter.
Pogue seeks to have the cattle graze the grass down to about 2 inches, which works out to about 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of forage per acre. His target “low” height is 2,500 lbs./acre, and his target “high” height is 3,500 lbs./acre.
When it gets to that point, Pogue says he needs to “get cattle on it or put it up for hay.”
Pogue says he uses these totals because his peak-forage growth occurs when there is between 2,500 and 4,000 lbs./acre. He checks the forage measurements of his paddocks, and then moves his cattle to the field with the next highest measurement.
He also tries to start grazing cattle before the fescue seed head develops to help combat the endophyte issues.
“You keep the feed quality a lot better, and it dilutes the endophyte,” Pogue says.
“We work real hard to keep legumes in the pasture. They dilute the endophyte and provide a general nutrition base.”
Pogue has long been interested in finding the best ways to manage his forage. He has attended grazing schools at the University of Missouri’s nearby Wurdack research farm.
He started rotational grazing in 1997. He’s tried “mob grazing,” but said that didn’t really work for his operation.
Justin Sexten, a state beef specialist with MU Extension, secured a grant for the grazing-wedge program through the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
The grant paid for the costs of setting up a website that has data from the pilot farms, as well as the plate meters used for measuring the forage.
Ted Cunningham, the Dent County Extension livestock specialist, worked with Pogue as he started the program.
“We tried to get together some producers who are progressive in their forage management,” Cunningham says.
Cunningham says the program helps producers monitor their forage situation and make decisions. It also can identify which fields are not producing as well.
“It really helps a producer to better understand how fast their forage is growing,” he says.
“It helps them plan. It helps them to inventory how much grass they have on the farm. . . . It gives you a visual tool for you to inventory how many pounds of forage you have.”
Cunningham says producers continue to show interest in forage management and maximizing their forage.
“We continue to see interest in rotational grazing and management-intensive grazing,” he says.
“. . . I think this is just the logical next step. We are more clearly measuring the height of the forage before turning cattle out.”
The rising plate meters measure the height and density of the grass to determine which pastures most need to be grazed or put up for hay next. Cunningham calls this “the real technical way” of measuring the forage.
Producers also can use a grazing stick, which he says “tells basically the same thing, you just have to use your eyeball.”
Cunningham says dairy farmers usually take measurements once a week, and beef producers usually measure about every two weeks.
Pogue says after the peak growing season begins to slow down about mid-June, he shifts his focus to stockpiling forage. On this November day, he was thinking about how long he could stretch his forage use without having to feed hay.
“What we’re doing right now is managing what we’ve already got grown and trying to keep it in good condition so we don’t have to feed any hay,” Pogue says.
Cunningham says producers who are interested in using the grazing-wedge strategy can attend an Extension grazing school, visit the grazing wedge website or contact him at: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 573-729-3537.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) LNC09-309, Using Grazing Wedges to Match Beef Cattle Nutrient Need with Pasture Resources while Reducing Feed and Fertility Costs.