Forage Quality Determined with Grazing Wedge
The grazing wedge is a tool for visualizing forage inventory in different pastures. It visually represents the quality and quantity of forage dry matter available both now and during the next round of grazing, enabling farmers to plan pasture management accordingly. Cattle graze good quality forage (not too mature) without overgrazing and risking poor regrowth. University of Missouri Extension provides an online grazing wedge calculator for producers at www.grazingbeef.missouri.edu.
Beef producers sampled pastures managed with grazing wedges to determine forage quality. Grazing proved to be a challenge because of the historic drought experienced by producers across the Midwest. Producers had to address not only recovery from the 2011 drought but had to deal with excessive heat in June and July of 2012. The seven Missouri producers who participated in the project in 2011 continued to collect forage quality samples, but the number of samples was reduced in 2012 due to the drought.
By early July, most producers observed little or no forage regrowth. They were encouraged to stop grazing pastures at a residual height of 1,500 pounds of dry matter per acre to minimize opportunities for weed growth, and to allow rapid regrowth when rain returned. Producers who were able to keep cattle from grazing residual forage observed increased regrowth when a late-season storm system brought rain to most of the state.
The results of the 2012 forage sampling indicate crude protein and energy (TDN%) were sufficient to excessive for all stages of beef cattle production. Generally, fiber concentrations (NDF%) increase and NDF digestibility declines as the growing season progresses, indicating the optimal time to harvest excess forages is before June. The data continue to indicate that forage quality in pastures managed with a grazing wedge could provide sufficient nutrient concentrations to meet or exceed nutrient requirements of cow-calf systems.
The use of grazing wedges improved the ability of the producers to maintain ideal pasture residual to optimize regrowth while minimizing weed infestation following drought. Once pasture growth resumed, producers used the grazing wedges to inventory pastures and determine the availability of stockpiled forage. Feed and forage purchases were based on inventory at the end of the growing season.
Producers agreed with forage quality tests, which suggested that producers rarely lack forage quality but more often lack forage quantity.
View a presentation on this project, from the 2012 Farmers Forum, through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit www.youtube.com/NCRSAREvideo for this and other videos.
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 .
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.