Beef producers´ recent, challenging financial climate has many taking a closer look at the way they operate. One thing producers could consider rethinking is their summer grazing system, a Kansas State University (KSU) researcher says.

“No matter what system is used, the stocking rate is key,” says Bob Gillen, head of KSU´s Western Agricultural Research Centers. “When considering the number of cow-calf pairs a producer can put on summer pasture, it´s important to consider the fewest acres a grazing animal needs to meet performance targets. Plus, the animal´s performance needs to be balanced with what the pasture requires to maintain a desirable and vigorous plant community.”

Gillen says a review of numerous studies conducted on rangelands throughout the western U.S. shows that continuous grazing systems are better than simple systems for cattle performance. In contrast, simple systems show advantages for the health of the grass.

But no matter what grazing system is used, he says it’s important for producers to:

  • Utilize pastures moderately for any given grazing event,

  • Allow rest for pastures during the growing season,

  • Avoid repeated use of pastureland during the same time period over several years,

  • Avoid placing cattle on pastures that are long rested and

  • Avoid large diet shifts for the cattle.
Gillen encourages cattlemen to consider “introduced forages,” which often exhibit rapid growth over short periods of time and respond better than native forages do to fertilizer and herbicides. They also can handle higher grazing pressure for short periods.

When using complementary systems – which combine introduced and native forages – it’s important to balance the two. “In a perfect world, 75-90% rangeland and 10-25% introduced forages is a good ratio,” Gillen says.

He cites a study that looked at net returns, comparing the use of complementary forages with range-only grazing. It showed higher average costs of production per cow at $628 for animals that were grazed on complementary forages, vs. $504/cow for animals grazed on range only. However, the gross income per cow grazed on complementary forages was $757, compared with the range-only grazed cows at $566. The net return using complementary forages was $9.50/acre, vs. $3.08 when using range only.

In the study, the average costs of production were 77¢/lb. with complementary forages, and 83¢/lb. with range-only grazing.
-- KSU release