SAREC analyzes grazing systemWritten by Christy Hemken
The GrowSafe feeders, which were installed at the beginning of 2008, measure residual feed intake. “Through this we can identify those animals that can convert more efficiently, using less feed to achieve the desired average daily gain,” said UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley at SAREC’s recent summer tour.
“A five percent improvement in efficiency is about four times as powerful as a five percent improvement in average daily gain from an economic standpoint,” he said. “We know we need to get at that number and this is going to become more and more important.”
Relating to the cull cow experiment, 72 cows were divided into nine groups, which were fed one of three treatments: ground hay/corn, silage and a self-fed treatment. The study found that after a 90-day period weight gain amongst them all was similar, but those on the silage- and hay-based diets brought a $100 return per head, while those on the self-fed diet only returned $15.
“The idea was that somebody without a feedlot or without the capability for finishing could use a self-fed program to put additional weight gain on that cow,” said Paisley. “We wanted to look at the feasibility of whether or not we could winter that cow on a self feeder and how that compared to traditional methods.”
“Economically, the traditional programs were quite a bit more economical than the self-fed,” he explained.
In the intensive rotational grazing system, UW Professor Dan Rule’s group of 40 Lowline Angus steers, along with a group of cow/calf pairs, are grazing this summer beneath a center pivot.
“Dan’s project gave us an opportunity to put together a system like this,” said SAREC Director of Operations Jim Freeburn. “We’ve wanted to put intensive rotational grazing out here and it’s a great project.”
The paddock fences incorporate a lay-down system. “The pivot runs right over and the posts pop back up, so we don’t have to worry about the pivot going over it,” said Freeburn. “With the research farm we don’t know how long the system will be in here, so with the lay-down posts we can remove it and relocate it.”
Two types of fences are incorporated, one purchased and one homemade. “The homemade system is a lot simpler and cheaper, and a little less maintenance,” said Freeburn. “But both work great.”
“With the price of fuel we’re better off grazing it than haying,” he said. “We’re not getting 100 percent utilization, but we’ve got to adjust herd numbers to get the most we can.”
He said bloat hasn’t been a problem with the cattle. “We’ve had them on all the Bloat Guard you can give them because that’s one issue we didn’t want to deal with,” he explained.
“In an ideal situation you’d have some grassy corners on which to pull them to let things dry up a bit after a rain, and that’s the biggest problem with this system,” he noted, although the pivot is programmed to turn off over the pasture where the cattle graze.
The paddocks consist of orchard grass, meadow brome and alfalfa. “We shot for about two pounds of alfalfa, four pounds of orchard grass and six pounds of meadow brome,” said Freeburn. “The alfalfa came on like we applied a 12-pound seeding rate.” He said the farm conducted fall seedings with excellent results.
The farm has applied around 180 to 190 pounds of nitrogen and 50 to 60 pounds of phosphorous to the managed pastures. “It’s been fertilized like you would for a 180-bushel corn crop,” said Freeburn. “It’s intensive management and you have to put the money in the fertilizer or you won’t get the growth.”
Freeburn said a system like SAREC’s is intensive in rotation and management, requiring analysis of the cattle, grass and water. Most paddocks on the Center have received between 10 and 11 inches of moisture this summer, in addition to rainfall.
The intensive grazing system is intended to be a demonstration of grazing and pasture strategies and equipment, and the SAREC staff welcomes visitors anytime to tour any ongoing project, livestock or crops related.