Summer Pasture Management and Haying

by Daniel Mallory, University of Missouri Regional Livestock Specialist

As summer approaches, the question that everyone has on their mind is how much rain are we going to get? This has a dramatic effect on how beef producers should manage their cow herd. If we get continued rainfall, management of pastures becomes more or less a haying issue. If we turn dry producers will have to be vigilant in managing their pastures.

A couple summer pasture management tips: first, do not graze below 4 inches, leave this amount of residual to allow the plant to recover faster; second, allow the grass to regrow to 8-10 inches before re-entering a paddock for a second grazing period. Depending on the type of grasses (cool-season vs. warm-season) in the pasture, this is typically 30 days, however, in drought situations with extreme heat it could be 60 days plus. Depending on the level of pasture management desired, days spent in each paddock (grazing days) could be from a single day to 7 days. Cattle ideally should be moved from paddocks in 4-5 days so that initial regrowth is not grazed again.

The ability to accomplish a successful summer grazing system requires several paddocks (# of paddocks = rest period/grazing days +1), that do not need extensive fencing. Paddocks can be made with a single strand of poly tape and electric fence posts, allowing producers to adjust paddock size according to weather conditions. The largest limiting factor for a producer adopting these systems is access to water, so if you are planning to adopt a grazing system make sure water is accessible in all paddocks.

If there are enough paddocks that you simply cannot stay ahead of the grass and are considering baling, you might consider finding a custom baler before purchasing equipment. Producers should calculate the cost of owning and maintaining baling equipment with the amount of hay they are going to produce, then compare that to prices from custom balers. Another option is to purchase hay, however this leaves the producer exposed to varied prices based on demand.

When it comes to pasture and haying, beef producers have an important challenge of getting quantity with quality. Following plant species, plant maturity is the second factor affecting quality. As grasses mature from a vegetative stage to a reproductive stage protein decreases and fiber increases, using a rotational system essentially keeps the pasture in a vegetative stage thus keeping the quality higher.

When quality hay is not available producers may consider ammoniating low quality hay or straw. Ammoniation can double or triple crude protein levels in crop residues (corn stalks or straw) and increase digestibility 10 to 30 percent.

For more information contact Daniel Mallory at 573-985-3911(malloryd@missouri.edu)