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Will's Windmill column: Adjusting for expensive beef forage

The days of cheap forage are gone. Just looking at the nutrient removal costs in a ton of hay will push hay prices to over $70 per ton. By the time machinery costs and labor are calculated, $100 a ton is about the break-even price of producing hay. This has several management implications.

First, grazing management becomes more important. The forage produced in your pasture is not a cheap forage, it should be valued at least the equivalent of hay. Livestock harvesting of forage is much more economical than machine harvesting. Given these statements, what can be done to utilize this resource more effectively?

Some suggestions include:

n Increase the number of paddocks on the farm. More paddocks on a given area means smaller paddock size. Putting the same number of animals into a smaller space increases stocking density. Increased stocking density results in more uniform grazing, better forage utilization and more uniform manure distribution. This can help to increase pasture organic matter content.

Increasing the organic matter content by 1 percent adds 20,000 pounds of organic matter per acre to the soil. Organic matter can hold up to 90 percent of its weight in water. So a 1 percent increase in soil organic matter can result in an additional 2,000-plus gallons of water per acre. In addition, each percent of organic matter in the soil releases on a per acre basis 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen, 4.5 to 6.6 pounds of P2O5, and 2 to 3 pounds of sulfur per year.

n Use soil sampling to make more effective and efficient use of purchased fertilizer. Grazing animals move nutrients and concentrate nutrients in pasture areas, particularly if paddock size is large and/or stocking density is low. Even if pastures are not divided into smaller paddock subdivisions, divide the pasture into smaller soil sampling units.

The idea is to do some type of grid sampling that will permit variable rates of fertilizer to be spread across a pasture according to need. Soil sampling is cheaper than either over or under applying fertilizer over a large area.

n Add legumes to the pasture mix. A paddock containing 25 to 30% evenly distributed legumes, such as red/white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, or alfalfa will provide the nitrogen needs for the grass and reduce or eliminate the need for purchased nitrogen fertilizer.

n Develop a plan to protect the sod base during periods when soils are saturated with moisture. This could be either a heavy use-feeding pad or a specific pasture feeding area. The advantage of a heavy use-feeding pad is that it will allow you to move and spread manure to other areas of the farm.

Since hay is no longer a cheap feed, what can be done to reduce waste and loss of that feed source? How can hay be used more effectively? Some suggestions include:

n Look at how hay is being stored. The greatest loss occurs on hay stored in the open on the ground. A first step is to get it off the ground. Stone or pallets can be used. After that, storage that provides some cover can further reduce losses. It may be economical to build a storage structure.

n Reduce feeding waste. Use hay savers in bale rings. Consider feeding on a heavy use pad. Feed smaller amounts of hay at one time.

n Make use of hay testing. When feed and mineral were less expensive, over supplementing had smaller economic consequences. Hay quality should be matched to animal nutrient requirements. A small investment in hay testing can pay some big returns.

n Feed low quality hay after weaning. For many spring calving herds that means September. During this time let your pastures stockpile or at least recover for next years grazing. Stockpiled forage is typically higher quality than most of the first cutting grass hay. Use this stockpiled forage in late fall or during a low snow winter.

A source for this information is Ohio State's Beef Cattle Newsletter. For more information on forage management, please contact me: Will Yliniemi, Hubbard/Becker County Extension Educator at 1-218-732-3391 or 1-218-846-7328, by cell at 1-218-252-1042, or by e-mail at

Forest management for wildlife workshop

A Wildlife Workshop emphasizing forest management will be held on Saturday, May 3 from 9 a.m.-12 noon in Park Rapids, at the Environmental Education Building on the Hubbard County Fairgrounds.

Many landowners want to know how to enhance their property with improved forest and wildlife habitat. This workshop will focus on assisting private forest landowners in reaching their wildlife and forest management goals.

Topics to be covered at the workshop include: Basic Goals and Objectives of Wildlife Habitat and Forest Management; Establishing Food Plots that meet Your Management Goals; Soil Testing and Soil Preparation for Trails and Food Plots, Introduction to Carbon Credits; Cost Share Opportunities in Forest Management; and Developing Forest Management Plans.

Workshop presenters will be from the following agencies: Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forestry; DNR Wildlife; Natural Resources Conservation Service; University of Minnesota Extension Service; and Soil and Water Conservation District.

Space is limited, so early pre-registration is encouraged by calling 1-218-732-0121 or by contacting Shane Foley at Hubbard County Soil and Water District by email at Brochures outlining the contents of the May 3 workshop are available by contacting Foley at the above listed number and e-mail.