July 31, 2008

Pasture Profits: Cattle Producers Learn How to Manage Forages, Springs

By Clinton Thomas, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Jul. 31--WHITESVILLE, Mo. -- With profits tightening in the beef industry, cattlemen are on the lookout for new ways to maximize production on their pastures.

Producers from Andrew County braved the rain for a pasture walk for this reason Tuesday evening at Johnnie Hubach's farm northeast of Whitesville. The cattlemen compared notes on topics like spring development, weed control and even a forage measurement system developed in New Zealand.

The group initially gathered at a spring that Mr. Hubach had converted into a water source for his cattle. With a concrete pipe, a pump and 1,350 feet of electrical cable, Mr. Hubach can move water from a 2,000-gallon storage area 13 feet deep to any one of seven watering sites for his cattle. Such easy water access takes a lot of the guesswork out of pasture rotation.

"You have to keep an open mind when developing a spring, because they don't all work out like this," Mr. Hubach said.

He told the group about a similar project he tried at a farm to the west. With the second spring, Mr. Hubach hit bedrock about 10 feet below the surface and had to place separate storage units side-by-side. What works in one location won't necessarily yield results in another.

Rodney Saunders of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Andrew County used diagrams to show the basic idea behind spring development. He pointed out that the Hubach spring was located uphill from a stream to ensure a steady flow of water through the storage area.

"Generally, you try to go upstream to intercept the water under the ground," Mr. Saunders said.

Jim Humphrey, livestock specialist for University of Missouri Extension, demonstrated a practice New Zealand producers use to major the amount of forage in a pasture. A tool called a digital plate meter allows Mr. Humphrey to quickly take 55 measurements in a paddock and compute the average amount of forage in the area. The machine automatically gives a reading in kilograms per hectare -- New Zealand uses the metric system -- that Mr. Humphrey converts into pounds per acre.

The measurements let producers know exactly when a pasture is ready for grazing, or when it's time to move the herd to another area.

"Some producers in New Zealand measure as often as once a week, even twice a week," he said.

Brant Mettler of Dow AgroSciences stressed the importance of weed management. He said livestock producers should place as much importance on weed control as row-crop farmers do.

"If you take away a pound of weeds, you're going to grow a pound of grass," he said.

Agribusiness reporter Clinton Thomas can be reached at [email protected]


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