Ron Banks doesn't have time to fix somebody else's mistakes. “We grow cattle,” explains the owner of Rendezvous Cattle. “That's it.”

That's why he won't buy high-risk calves. That's also why he favors a wheat/crabgrass double-crop grazing program — healthy calves and high octane grazing get him where he wants to be and get him there quickly. And where he wants to be with his calves is consistent gains from the get-go, gains as high as 2.5 lbs./day.

Banks started the Hereford, TX, company 15 years ago. As a former director of membership at Texas Cattle Feeders Association, he was well acquainted with hundreds of feedyards, stocker operators and ranchers across the beef belt.

He saw the opportunity to help producers facilitate the cattle needs of feedyards, and vice versa. He began by setting up a network of ranchers and farmers who had sufficient grazing and good cattle sense, and now these “custom operators” provide the transition needed from ranch to feedyard.

They do it by using only the best grazing programs available in a particular region in a six- to eight-state area. A wheat/crabgrass rotational grazing program in northern Oklahoma near Pond Creek has shown the types of numbers that Banks' feedyard customers like — quick gains on cattle that will be feedyard-ready once they leave the pasture.

Crabgrass is a common forage in much of the nation. It can provide good grazing in the South from Arkansas to Virginia and North Carolina, and from Oklahoma and Texas to Florida, especially along the southern Coastal Plains' sandier soils. Much of the Corn Belt in Indiana, Ohio and Nebraska see crabgrass, which can be a good summer forage, and some Western states also produce crabgrass grazing.

The Rendezvous program brings wheat into the picture and depends heavily on seeding winter wheat into perennial crabgrass fields. The wheat is grazed and/or baled, and the crabgrass emerges once it receives spring sunlight and rain. Fields are usually side-by-side so grazing is interrupted only by an hour or so at the most.

“We don't operate any of those fenced-off ‘traps’ in which cattle graze one small area before moving to another,” says Banks, whose pickup license plate carries a hard-to-find “BEEF” vanity label. “We can move the cattle from one side of the road to another with ease.”

The wheat, then crabgrass, can provide consistent gains in this program. It can average 2-2.5 lbs./day in a 100-day grazing program.

Typically, calves are placed on wheat in mid-April at 650-700 lbs. Across the road, wheat is baled. “We can't graze-out both wheat fields because there would be too many cattle for the overall grazing program,” Banks says.

Harvesting the forage lets in sunlight and allows crabgrass to begin growing. Once the wheat is grazed out, cattle are moved across the road into the crabgrass pasture. Cattle are later rotated back to the original field to take advantage of new crabgrass growth there.

“We then rotate those cattle once or twice through July, depending on the amount or rainfall we get,” Banks says. “We then ship the cattle to a feedyard or other operation at 850-900 lbs.”

The heavier cattle work well in current conditions of high corn prices that call for fewer days on feed to help control feedyard cost of gain. “The goal now is to make stockers as big as you can,” Banks says. “This grazing program facilitates that need.”

Fantastic forage

Research in crabgrass rotational grazing has shown some strong results at the Noble Foundation Agricultural Division, a private farm and ranch research facility in southern Oklahoma at Ardmore. In fact, there's nearly 30 years of research into crabgrass that will forever have city dwellers cursing its ability to overtake their lawns with aggressive growth.

James Rogers, Noble Foundation pasture and range specialist, says these characteristics and its quality under proper cultural practices make crabgrass an excellent forage plant.

“Crabgrass is a relatively high-quality forage in the summer when most forages are low quality,” says Rogers, noting that R.L. Dalrymple initiated the foundation's crabgrass and rotational grazing studies in the 1970s. “Crabgrass forms a good sod and can provide complete ground cover.”

Rogers and his predecessors have had good results in blending crabgrass with rye. “Crabgrass works well in rye, especially in sandier soils,” he says. “You can get the rye out earlier so the crabgrass can come in sooner.”

One Noble Foundation pasture has been double-cropped with winter pasture rye and crabgrass for three decades. There have been only two crabgrass crop failures, one thanks to bad Oklahoma dry spells and another to lack of seed carryover.

“Our primary approach has been to minimum-till the pasture for cereal rye and volunteer crabgrass,” Rogers says. “The cereal rye is used for fall and spring pasture. The crabgrass is used for summer pasture and/or hay.”

Early on, a weedy crabgrass was used in the program. However, since 1990, the Red River Crabgrass variety developed by the Noble Foundation has been part of the double-crop program.

Big gains

Studies have observed cow-calf pairs, replacement heifers, first-calf heifers, and stocker steers and heifers over the years. High-value weight gains of stocker cattle best emphasize the value of the crabgrass/small grain forage-grazing program.

Over a three-year study, the rye produced an average of 550 lbs./beef/acre. The crabgrass added another 163 lbs./beef/acre. That's 713 lbs./beef/acre total. One peak year saw 717 lbs./beef/acre produced from rye and 149 from crabgrass, or 866 lbs. total.

“That production is about three times what we would expect from a cow-calf operation on fertilized, introduced grass in this region,” Rogers says. “Our data shows the double-crop produces about 60% more forage than single cropping either rye or crabgrass.”

Ron O'Hanlon, Crop Quest Agronomic Services in Dodge City, KS, says producers can use a program like the crabgrass double-crop to extend their grazing programs. “We're seeing more interest in the crabgrass-after-wheat program,” he says, “but probably not over 10% of them are using it right now.”

He points out that crabgrass is slow to come on until late spring.

“The warm temperatures of May and June are necessary for germination, but crabgrass can produce significant tonnage or pounds of beef when irrigation and/or sufficient rains are supplied,” he says.

For maximum forage yields, O'Hanlon says supplemental nitrogen is also required.

“Prior to planting wheat or small grains for grazing this coming fall, crabgrass can be controlled with Landmaster herbicide and/or any number of the other glyphosate products,” he says.

Banks says that in wetter years, “we put up a lot of crabgrass hay.

“The ‘little cattle’ really like it,” he says. “They perform well and that's what we're after.”

Larry Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, TX.

Crabgrass management tips

Research by the Noble Foundation has created some guidelines for best crabgrass production. Here are some best management practices for the forage.

  • Crabgrass produces best on well-drained, sandy soils, but is also very successful on loam and silt loam soils. It's less productive on clay loam soils, especially those with poor drainage.

  • Proper tillage in the off-season can double or triple crabgrass yields relative to no-tillage systems.

  • Crabgrass is nitrogen loving. It produces about 25 lbs./forage/lb. of nitrogen (N) applied. It also responds well to N supplied from legumes.

  • Crabgrass is usually second only to Johnsongrass in palatability trials.

  • Crabgrass can be established by overseeding into winter annual grasses and legumes from late winter to early spring as well as on good seedbeds from spring to June.

  • In the first year of crabgrass production from seed, forage yields increase as seeding rates rise up to 10 lbs./acre. However, seeding rates of about 3 lbs./acre generally seem adequate.

  • About 75% of crabgrass seedlings emerge from less than ¾-in. soil depth in optimum conditions.

  • Red River crabgrass can yield more than 12,000 lbs./dry matter/acre.

  • Individual average daily gain (ADG) as high as 3.57 lbs. have been produced with steers grazing Red River crabgrass. Expect ADGs of about 1.8 lbs. on crabgrass pasture under good management.

For more information, visit: www.noble.org/ag/forage/crabgrass4forage/improving%5Fforage.html.