Altering stocking strategy can boost beef production.

A Kansas State University (KSU) researcher suggests producers who put more cattle than recommended on grassland early in the grazing season can boost beef production on a land area basis if the heaviest of those cattle are removed partway through the season.

The key, says Keith Harmoney, KSU assistant professor of range science, is in having a slightly greater stocking density while the grass is immature and actively growing, then removing the heaviest animals during the last half of the grazing season.

Ongoing research shows a modified intensive early-stocking system using 1.6 times the normal recommended stocking density early in the season, followed by removing the heaviest animals in the last half of the grazing season, increased beef production 25% on a land area basis compared to continuous season-long stocking, Harmoney says.

“This practice uses high-quality, early-season forage similar to intensive early double stocking practiced in eastern Kansas,” he says. “It also capitalizes on the grazing animal's ability to select plants and plant parts with greater nutritional value later in the season, which commonly happens with season-long stocking.”

The system provides financial flexibility and could mitigate the effects of market volatility by allowing producers to market animals at two different periods through the year. Harmoney says the net return over five years was approximately $13/acre more with the modified stocking system than with the continuous season-long stocking system.

The ongoing study is also evaluating changes in the vegetative composition under the modified stocking strategy to monitor the long-term sustainability of the practice.

“Animal gain data is very positive,” Harmoney adds. “But, the study hasn't been performed enough years yet for us to know exactly how the modified stocking strategy will affect the plant community.”
Clint Peck

Water and salt are used by ranchers to move cattle from one area to another. A study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers has found that while water is an effective tool for moving cattle, salt isn't as helpful as thought — at least, not on sagebrush steppe rangeland.

ARS researchers tracked the movement of cattle over large western rangelands by fitting them with global positioning system collars. David Ganskopp, an ARS researcher at the Range and Meadow Forage Management Research Unit in Burns, OR, observed that cattle were nine times more attracted to water than salt.

Cattle were willing to travel farther to get to water, and were more apt to head toward the water when water and salt were separated. Water is necessary for cattle on a daily basis, and they would alter their distribution patterns to remain near water sources.

According to Ganskopp, cows could remember water sources they previously visited, and how to find them. If producers selectively opened and closed gates to watering points on the range or moved portable water tanks to unused areas of pasture, the animals would occupy those under-grazed areas.

Researchers concluded that while salt isn't a great way to attract cattle over great distances, it's an excellent supplement that should be kept readily accessible for cattle.
ARS news release, Oct. 20, 2004

Are calf scours a problem in your herd? University of Nebraska Extension veterinarian Dave Smith suggests that to prevent scours producers should focus on environmental management.

The three main causes of scours — rotavirus, coronavirus and cryptosporidia — contaminate the environment during calving season. A system has been developed to help prevent calves from making contact with pathogens in large enough doses, or for periods sufficient, to cause disease.

The Sandhills Calving System recommends preventive strategies including segregating calves by age to prevent direct or indirect transmission of pathogens from older to younger calves, and routinely moving pregnant cows to new calving pastures to minimize the amount and contact time with pathogens.

To make this system work, several pastures need to be utilized throughout the calving season. The effect is to restart the calving season each week by having new calves born in a new pasture without exposure to the older calves.

For more information, visit
Kansas State University Beef Tips newsletter, January 2005