Matching Yearling Cattle and Forage Management with Marketing Strategies
Farm Business Management Update, October 2000
By Henry Snodgrass
Management, by definition is the act, manner, or practice of managing, handling or controlling something.
Managing the forage cycle: Producers are limited in the ability to completely manage the forage production cycle to provide an even flow of forages to all animals. While factors such as fertility, weed control, and species mix can be modified, the level of forage produced on the farm is a function of weather and biological timetables. Producers can understand the production cycle and manage the harvest of the forage.
Traditionally our native grasses will begin rapid growth in late March and early April (Figure 1). This growth spurt will continue into late June or until the temperature is too high to support strong forage production. In addition, the availability of soil moisture may be a limiting factor to forage production. In many instances, both the reduction of available soil moisture and high temperatures occur simultaneously.
Figure 1: Seasonal Forage Growth Patterns
Source: White, H. and D. Wolf. 'Controlled Grazing of Virginia Pastures': Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication Number 418-012, July 1996.
Forage production traditionally declines for cool season species during July and August. Starting in late August when cool nights return and soil moisture increases, forage production picks up and continues until November. Properly using extra forage production in the spring and fall is to the producer's advantage.
A good management plan to use the available forage can also improve the quality of the forage by allowing legumes to compete with the other species present. Keeping forages grazed to an optimum height encourages rapid re-growth and delays maturity, and reduces or delays the production of seed heads. Good management can reduce or eliminate the need to clip pastures. Forage production traditionally declines for cool season species during July and August. Starting in late August when cool nights return and soil moisture increases, forage production picks up and continues until November. Properly using extra forage production in the spring and fall is to the producer's advantage.
A good management plan to use the available forage can also improve the quality of the forage by allowing legumes to compete with the other species present. Keeping forages grazed to an optimum height encourages rapid re-growth and delays maturity, and reduces or delays the production of seed heads. Good management can reduce or eliminate the need to clip pastures.
Figure 2 illustrates the growth stage of orchard grass, from leafy to stemmy stages resulting in a dramatic increase in dry matter. However, this is accompanied by an increase in cell wall materials (fiber and lignin) and a decreases in protein and nonstructural carbohydrates, lower overall forage quality, and reduced animal performance.
Varying stocking rates is an effective management tool: By having additional cattle on a pasture during the growth flush, the producer can efficiently use the forage being produced, keep the pasture in a good productive condition, and extend the level of quality forage available to animals. A way of varying rates is to stock at a level not sustainable through the entire grazing season. For example, a pasture capable of carrying 1.5 steers per acre for the season may need to be stocked at a rate of 2 or 2.5 steers per acre during the spring flush and then plan to remove the additional cattle from the pasture when forage production declines in summer. This plan could include: Selling heavy cattle; moving cattle into a feedlot under retained ownership; or using hay land for summer grazing following removal of the first hay cutting. Whatever plan is used, the producer can make decisions based on the growing season, the strength of the market, the projections for the market in coming months, or a combination of all options.
Marketing Options: The market for yearling cattle fluctuates during the year. Being in a position to market cattle out of the typical fall market window may allow the producer to capitalize on the up cycles during the year.
The heavier yearling cattle prices have, on average, held steady to showing a small rally during the months of July and August over the past ten years (Figure 3 and Table 1). By sorting off the heavier end of cattle, the producer can take advantage of the stronger prices.
Other benefits can accrue to marketing cattle earlier in the season. Marketing earlier allows: adjustments of stocking rates to fit the amount of forages available; gives producers' flexibility of moving cattle that may be getting too heavy to fit the package buyers want; trucking some of the cattle before the fall rush; and producers an opportunity to manage tasks such as warming and re-implanting while cattle are up.
Table 1: Seasonal Cattle Prices
Each pasture season presents marketing opportunities. Good managers will try to use these opportunities to their advantage.
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