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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: GRAZE-OUT PLUS: FILLING FORAGE GAPS IN THE SOUTHERN GREAT PLAINS, U.S.A.

Authors
item NORTHUP, BRIAN
item Phillips, William
item Mayeux Jr, Herman

Submitted to: Grassland International Congress Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: February 11, 2005
Publication Date: June 20, 2005
Citation: Northup, B.K., Phillips, W.A., Mayeux, H.S. 2005. Graze-out plus: Filling forage gaps in the Southern Great Plains, U.S.A. [abstract]. Proceedings of the 20th International Grassland Congress, June 26-July 1, 2005, Dublin, Ireland. p. 716.

Interpretive Summary: Many wheat farmers and stockmen in the Southern Great Plains put low-cost gain on yearling stocker cattle by grazing combinations of annual winter wheat in fall through spring, and warm-season forages in the summer. While widely used, this forage system has gaps in time when high quality forage is not available. In 2003-2004, we conducted a study to test how well a non-toxic endophyte-infected variety of tall fescue functioned at filling these gaps in a modified forage system. Yearling stocker cattle were assigned to 4.5-acre fescue pastures and intensively stocked (3 head/acre, about 3 times normal levels) for 30 to 35 days in both the fall (October-November) and spring (May), and at normal levels on wheat pasture in November-April. Livestock gains were measured at each change of forage, and costs of establishing and maintaining stands were used to compare costs of gain. Fescue establishment costs ($257/acre) were 2.7 times that of wheat ($94/acre). However, when spread over the planned stand life (7 years), establishment costs were only 48% of total annual (establishment + maintenance) costs, which were less ($77/acre) than costs for winter wheat. The fescue paddocks supported 259 and 238 grazing days by stocker cattle during the two periods, and generated 450 lb/acre gain at times when other forages were not available. Based on historic gross potential values of gain for the area ($0.50/lb), an additional $50/head potential return could be produced by including fescue pasture in a wheat-based system. This gap-filling capacity would allow producers to extend the supply of high quality forage.

Technical Abstract: Putting low-cost gain on yearling cattle with forages is a key agricultural activity in the Southern Great Plains. However, the primary forage systems [winter wheat (Triticum aesitivum) and warm-season grasses] have gaps when quality forage is not available. This study tested how a non-toxic endophyte-infected variety of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) functioned in a production system that involved intensive grazing. In 2003-2004 yearling stocker cattle were assigned to fescue paddocks (n=3) and intensively stocked (~3 times normal, 7.4 hd/ha) for 35 days in October-November. The cattle were then moved to wheat paddocks and grazed through April, then re-assigned to fescue paddocks and intensively grazed for 32 days (April-May). Carrying capacity and livestock gains were determined during the study, and establishment and maintenance costs were used to compare cost of gain related to costs of sward management. Fescue establishment costs ($635/ha) were 2.7 times that of wheat ($234/ha). However, when divided by the planned stand life (7 years), establishment costs were only 48% of total annual (establishment + maintenance) costs, which were less ($191/ha) than costs for wheat. Fescue paddocks supported 259 and 238 grazing days during the two periods, and generated 511 kg/ha gain at times when other forages were not available. Based on historic gross potential value of gain for the region (US$1.10/kg), an additional US$50/hd potential gross return was produced by incorporating fescue paddocks into a wheat-based system. This gap-filling capacity would allow producers to partially fill forage gaps, extend the supply of high quality forage, and change marketing strategies for their products.

Last Modified: 8/27/2014
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