Getting Good Gains On Grass (Completed)
Grazing Pasture Walk
On Tuesday evening 15 people gathered at Otokahe Farm, owned and operated by Kris and Bert von Dohrmann. The von Dohrmann’s raise registered Belted Galloway Beef cattle on their farm in Jefferson, NH. The evening was an educational walk-through of the von Dohrmann’s pastures to learn about forage quality, grazing and pasture management, and selecting animals for your herd. These are all important factors in finishing livestock on grass. We walked through their largest pasture looking at how the grass was growing, what stages of grass were the best, and how to know when to move animals to the next pasture. We also met their 2 loving dogs, their herd of cattle and enjoyed homemade molasses cookies made by Kris.
When figuring out how to feed your animals, we need to consider their energy needs-is the animal lactating, is it a work animal, or is it a pasture pet? Animals with higher energy outputs will require a high energy diet. It is important to understand both forage quality and the animal’s specific energy requirements to improve efficiencies and produce a quality finished product.
While walking through the field we learned that forage quality is defined as the ability for the forage to meet the energy needs of the animal. Quality will differ between animal species, individual animals, and depends on the energy required of that animal. You can put 2 identical animals on the same forage, and one may need more supplementation than the other. Forage quality has a direct effect on an animal’s performance, and in turn your profits. To maintain good gains on grass, the higher the quality forage you can provide your animal the less you will have to supplement.
Forages are most nutritious when they are in the vegetative stage, with their leaves having more protein and energy, being more digestible and palatable to animals. Stems have high levels of indigestible fiber which won’t yield much energy for production animals, and once the seed head appears the nutritional value of the grass decreases.
1st cut hay usually isn’t as nutritionally valuable as it is cut later in maturity and contains more stems and has seed heads on the grasses. 2nd & 3rd cut hay is usually more nutritionally valuable as the grass is cut at the vegetative stage which is the most nutritious stage.
Pasture management is important as it is an economical feed source, and animals can thrive off it. Using pastures can help keep feed costs down and may give your animals more muscling as they are walking around and moving to get their food. Both animals and your pasture do best in rotational grazing systems. Rotational grazing systems break your pasture up into smaller paddocks. This gives your animals continual access to high quality pastures and allows the plants regrowth time. Overgrazing your pasture can result in damage to both grasses and pasture, and a longer wait time between rotations. For optimal regrowth of the grass it is recommended animals be moved every 3 days. Grazing pastures should be eaten down to 5-6 inches before switching to a new pasture. To know when to put animals back on your pasture look at the grass stems and leaves. If there are 3-4 full leaves growing off the stem, the grass has fully regrown and is ready to be grazed again.
Clipping or mowing fields after animals have been on them helps to reset the grasses for regrowth, is helpful in keeping pastures in a vegetative state, and most importantly manages weed growth.
It takes roughly 2 acres of grazing material for every 1,000lbs of animal. If you do not have adequate space for the animal you will need to supplement more with grain, because the area won’t be as productive.
Selecting Animals for Your Herd
Adaptability, soundness, and good fertility are the top things to look for when buying or keeping animals that will be productive and long living. Calm, well-tempered animals are easy to handle, are more adaptable and comfortable with new surroundings than high-strung, rowdy animals. Look at the feet and legs of the animal, if it has good feet and legs then it will be able to walk to the pasture and back to the barn and be able to walk around all day. Good fertility is also important; animals that produce offspring bring profit, if they don’t produce offspring they are costing you money.
Determining how much you want to spend before you look at animals will help you keep to a budget and not go over it. Buy the best animal your money can buy-don’t break the bank just to get a pretty animal. Work with local breeders to find the animal and breed that will best fit you, your farm, and your facilities.
Come to our next pasture walk to learn even more!