“Stocker enterprises are characterized by risk and margins, some of which can be managed in marketing and herd-health programs,” says Mark McCann, Virginia Tech University Extension animal scientist. “Forage programs, while less predictable, can also be managed in a way to be more dependable through management of resources, selection of varieties and grazing management. The one ingredient that can't be predicted but must be managed around is rainfall. By being somewhat conservative and following best-management practices, the chances for satisfactory pasture and cattle performance is enhanced.”

In an insightful fact sheet, "Managing Pastures for the Stocker Operation," McCann outlines the fundamental principles and relationships between forage growth and nutrient requirements for stocker cattle weight gain. Tips he provides for managing stocker forage systems include:

• “Stocking rate is the most common problem in dealing with sub-par grazing performance of stockers. Just as it is critical in marketing programs to work in load lots; it is equally critical to stock pastures appropriately. Lighter stocking rates with more available forage usually will allow for greater individual animal performance and also allow some reserve for dry periods. Stocking at rates that worked well during wet years will simply result in overgrazing during drier years. Remember the impact of grazing pressure on available forage quality as well as quantity. By-products, hay or silage can be supplemented to have a sparing effect on pasture forage.”

• “Stockpiling tall fescue beginning in August can greatly reduce or eliminate hay needs. The negative impact of infected fescue is greatly reduced during the fall and winter months. Additionally, stockpiled fescue will maintain its nutrient content into the winter.

• “Lighter weight stockers will respond to low levels of energy and protein supplementation after the top portion of stockpiled fescue has been grazed,” he says.

• “The addition of an ionophore will still enhance efficiency and profitability in grazing programs and should not be overlooked. Most products can be fed in a supplement, mineral mix or in a molasses block. Results are dependent on consumption of the product at recommended levels so free choice sources such as mineral and blocks need to be monitored.”
You can find McCann’s fact sheet at pubs.ext.vt.edu/news/livestock/2010/09/LU_09-01-10-3.html.