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The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, March 2008

Dr. John B. Hall, Extension Beef Specialist, VA Tech

Improved Forage Management Key to Surviving High Grain Prices

High grain prices are a new fact of life for the beef industry.  Barring major changes in energy policy or an amazing worldwide grain crop, feed grain prices will remain inflated for the foreseeable future.  Feedlots will probably be more interested in heavier calves than feeding light weight calves.  Commercial and purebred cow-calf operations will need to make more efficient use of forages.  In addition, these operations will need to consider strategies to maximize calf weight on forage-based diets before heading to the stocker operation, feedlot, or bull test station.

Increasing prices for fuel and fertilizer make increasing hay and silage production an expensive solution for feeding cattle.  In contrast, investments in improvements to grazing management and extending the grazing season will pay greater dividends.  The types of improvement used will depend on the individual operation and location.  Below are a few examples with links to additional information.

  1. Frost seeding clovers is an economical method of increasing nitrogen availability and enhancing pasture quality and yield.

  1. Although fertilizer is expensive, lime is still an economical soil amendment.  Raising the pH of pastures to 6.8 or 7.0 will increase productivity.

  1. Adopting managed rotational grazing will also increase pasture quality and carrying capacity.

  1. Proper grazing management coming out of drought will enhance forage availability in the future.
    See recent article by Ben Tracy in VA Cattlemen’s Magazine

  1. Stockpiling forage to extend the grazing season will reduce winter feed costs.

  1. All operations should consider earlier weaning.  This will reduce overall feed consumption and maintain cow condition.  Earlier weaning allows for higher quality forage to be used by calves as well as allowing the option to retain calves to heavier weights post-weaning.

  1. Improved storage and utilization of stored forages should be a goal for all operations.  Better forage management is an important tool for reducing feed costs in the face of high grain prices.

I have never subscribed to the notion that beef producers are just grass farmers that market their grass through cattle.  Beef quality and consumer acceptance are too important to let it be meat that comes from anything with four legs, a tail, and a moo.  However, I do believe that cow-calf and stocker producers make the best beef by providing highly nutritious, low cost feeds to cattle with superior genetics.  The best low cost feed for the cow calf operation is properly produced forage.


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