Late Summer Forage Management Can Support Herd Health
By Jason Hohlt, USDA NRCS (acting) state rangeland management specialist
A longtime friend of my dad used to say, “The only thing that makes the fishing better in August is September!” In most parts of Texas, it would be fair to say the month of August does not discriminate and can be equally hard on cattlemen and fishermen.
Whether your pastures have been blessed by timely rain or you could use some moisture, we are all easily reminded that the weather is beyond our control. We can take action based on the things we can control and use this time of year to have a successful fall and winter grazing program.
Since the focus of this issue of The Cattleman is herd health, a couple points on forage management are worth mentioning. Statewide, we should have grown more than half of the forage for the entire year by the end of August. Monitoring the amount of forage in the pasture now will give good insight into how many animals can be supported through the fall and winter without overgrazing.
Many times the topic of overgrazing comes up in a discussion because of the damage overgrazing can cause to grass plants. However, from a herd health standpoint, there are other considerations. When livestock graze close to the ground, they are more likely to have parasite problems. Second, a pasture grazed too short usually goes hand-in-hand with lower body condition scores on cattle. With lower body condition scores, the percent of cows that breed back on time, and the resulting calf crop, often suffer.
Have a plan to avoid a forage deficit. Monitoring forage levels gives the manager information that can be used to execute a well-prepared management plan. Often, conservative stocking rates and flexibility built into the herd are the pillars of a successful ranch management plan.
Here are regional reports from 10 rangeland management specialists with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Take a look at the map to find the specialist who covers your county. For more information and additional services contact your local NRCS office or visit tx.nrcs.usda.gov.
High Plains Region
By Clint Rollins, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
The first part of the 2017 growing season in the Texas Panhandle has seen timely and effective rainfall across the majority of the March 2017 wildfire areas. This moisture has been critical in the post-burn recovery process of the native grass forage.
The view across the burned country is a lush, green carpet of grass as far as the eye can see. The temptation to graze these acres is strong, but not advisable during the first growing season following any wildfire.
Livestock producers who chose to defer grazing during the 2017 growing season will see their native rangelands recover quickly.
Desirable grass species will have the opportunity to produce viable seed for reproduction. With the increased percentage of bare soil on the surface, the mature seeds will have a better chance of germinating by making direct contact with the soil surface.
The added benefit of resting the burned acres through at least Oct. 31 will be the amount of good-quality forage available for light-to-moderate winter grazing. The hoof action from the grazing animals could possibly increase the amount of grass seed germination for the following growing season.
Consider resting the burned areas for 90 consecutive days (April to June) during the early 2018 growing season. The increased forage biomass and litter on the soil surface will increase soil moisture retention and water infiltration and minimize soil erosion.
One negative aspect that I have observed across the burned country is the tremendous amount of weeds on the native rangeland. These weeds will compete for valuable soil moisture, which is necessary for grass production and recovery.
If chemical weed control was not applied in a timely manner this year, then it is advisable to plan pre-emergent weed control in late winter to early spring.
Cross Timbers Region
By Kevin Derzapf, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
What’s on your mind this time of year besides sweat? If you step out and take a look at your pastures you will find that all grasses — or let’s say forages because cattle eat a little bit of everything — aren’t created equal, are they?
Have you noticed there are some plants that cattle don’t use much or at all until they dry out, some are taller or shorter and there are some plants that mature earlier in the season and some that don’t set seed until October?
All these variations in plant species and dates of maturity help to meet the cattle’s nutritional needs throughout through the summer slump and deep into winter.
This is the time of year to be thinking about stockpiling grass for the winter.
What is “quality” stockpiled forage?
The typical scenario is to stockpile bermudagrass forage; to graze it to 3 to 4 inches by mid-August and then fertilize it with 60 pounds of actual nitrogen (N) by about Sept. 1. This will give you about 3 months of regrowth before the first hard freeze, providing quality grazing after the frost and deep into winter.
Resting native pastures this time of year is also extremely beneficial for the grasses. It allows many of the native grasses to set seed and recover before the first freeze. I recommend resting native pastures this time of year (the last 3 months of the growing season) at least once every 3 years.
By Matt Machacek, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
For many ranchers, water quantity and quality are major concerns this time of year. Many ranches in the Blackland Prairie rely on surface water due to lack of dependable groundwater.
I have seen excellent ranchers with multi-pasture rotational grazing plans who have been forced to open all their gates this time of year. It’s not because they are low on grass, but because their ponds are unable to provide quality water. Consider this time of year to conduct a water resource inventory on your ranch and add water improvement goals into your long-term conservation plan.
There is limited research available on how suspended sediment or turbidity levels affect livestock performance. Some studies have shown up to 23 percent higher average daily gain in stocker calves that are provided with fresh water instead of pond water. Other studies have also shown no significant differences.
Most can agree that cleaner water should be something we should strive for to help our animals and environment.
Stagnant water with excessive nutrients will create algae blooms. While most are not of real danger (reddish or brown), if blue-green algae is present, immediately keep livestock away, contact your vet and test your water.
If muddy or stagnant water is a concern on your operation, consider these tips:
- When installing new dam ponds on your ranch, consider a pipe system to gravity feed water into an off-site trough.
- If you are constructing a new pit pond, or have a low pond, consider fencing a permanent access point and rock lining the bottom to prevent stirring up clay particles.
- For a more cost effective solution for an existing pond, consider electric fencing around the unit and use a solar pumping system to provide clearer water to an adjacent trough.
- Consider temporary electric fence to limited access points to keep cattle from wading around all edges. These points can also be routinely moved to ensure shoreline revegetation.
Contact your local NRCS office for additional tips, or an engineering plan for new construction.
Northeast Texas Region
By Ryan Walser, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
This report pertains to the counties of Anderson, Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Franklin, Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Morris, Nacogdoches, Panola, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Upshur, and Wood.
The Summer Slump has hit and it is time to continue scouting pastures for the presence of pests, including grasshoppers and, especially, armyworm moths, to determine what management action is needed to meet the goals of the operation. This is a good time of the year to assess and plan for winter, assess the amounts of forage left in each pasture and if you plan to stockpile grass, it should be planned for at this time. This is also the time to plan for fall planting and make sure seed is available.
The quality of forage at this time is fair to low. Rotating cattle through pastures is usually at its slowest pace. If you have a spring-calving herd then your cows should be bred. If you have a fall-calving herd it is important to plan your pasture rotation through the coming months and know how much forage you have going into winter.
- Planning for a prescribed burn starts now.
- Drought plans and contingency plans should be ready to implement.
- Pasture scouting for weeds and pests should be ongoing.
- Fall planting of annuals is about to start but is dependent on soil moisture.
Coastal Prairie Region
By Stephen Deiss, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
Here on the Coastal Prairies, we generally have the capability to grow lots of vegetation, but not all of it is considered “good.” Ranchers are engaged in a constant battle to maintain grazeable acres on their properties, and not lose those acres to brush.
During my visits with ranchers, there is one absolute constant — we are going to talk brush management at some point.
We are in the lull between chemical treatment seasons. It is too late to spray mesquite and expect great results and preparations are being made for fall sprayings on huisache and Macartney rose.
However, it is not too soon to plan. Aerial spraying is the most economical approach for an initial treatment for much of our area.
I am suggesting to ranchers that they not even consider the first spraying until they commit to a second and third application involving additional spray or prescribed burning. No 1-time application will adequately address the problem.
I have, however, seen excellent results with a systematic approach, which has resulted in substantial increases in grazeable acres. I have documentation on systems that work well in our area. I’ll be happy to visit with you about it.
South Texas Region
By Jose Martinez, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
After a good winter and a moderate spring, pastures overall in South Texas produced good forage the first part of the growing season — February to May.
August brings crucial decision-making for the South Texas grazing manager. If precipitation falls below the year’s normal in July and the amount of standing forage decreases to less than 1,500 pounds per acre by August, then the producer should consider making livestock adjustments by starting to wean the cows early, if possible.
If a dry spell continues, the producer should consider adjusting their stocking rate. One way to do so would be by selling old or less productive members of the herd.
The continuous monitoring of the available forage, the flexibility of the land manager to adjust their stocking rate, and a good drought plan are the best tools to prevent overgrazing. Overgrazing can greatly limit the land from taking advantage of fall rains. Sacrificing a pasture should be the producer’s last consideration for dealing with drought conditions due to the likelihood of long-term damage to the land.
Fall is also the time to plan a winter burn and make sure the burn block has enough fuel to carry a fire.
For assistance on forage monitoring or conducting a prescribed burn, call your local USDA NRCS office and request technical assistance from your regional Grazing Lands Coalition grazing specialist.
By Kason Haby, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
In addition to considering herd health this fall, let’s also think about plant health. Perennial warm-season grasses, such as sideoats grama and Indiangrass, are seeding now. Deferment during seed production is important to allow the seeds to mature, but deferment after seed production is actually more important to the health of the grasses.
After the seeds mature, grasses return to a vegetative production stage. In this late-season vegetative stage, ungrazed plants will potentially have the most leaf area of the year, and thus produce more energy than what is needed for maintenance.
Where is this extra energy going? Storage.
Energy in the form of carbohydrates is stored in the lower stems and plant base. The grass plants use these carbohydrate reserves for spring green-up until enough leaf is grown to begin adequate energy production (through photosynthesis) for growth and maintenance.
Defoliation during the fall interrupts carbohydrate storage and redirects energy to regrow leaves. Additionally, overgrazing during winter removes carbohydrate reserves in the stem. Both of these result in slowing initial growth during the following spring. Pasture rotation is important all year but is critical in the fall. A 1-herd grazing system allows rest for the maximum amount of acreage, regardless of the number of pastures.
Fall-rested pastures usually have fewer weed problems in spring as well, due to the high level of ground cover. Standing forage in rested pastures can serve as winter grazing or as fuel for a prescribed burn.
Edwards Grazing Lands Coalition will host a fall grazing and livestock management workshop in Uvalde County at the end of September and a Pasture Walk in Kerr County focusing on plant identification and grazing management in October.
For more information on these and other workshops, or to be added to our email list, contact me at email@example.com.
By Scott Bryan, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
Late summer is an important time of the year to monitor the growth and use of forage plants in all pastures. A grazing exclosure on a key grazing site in each pasture is a useful monitoring tool.
August is considered the halfway point of the rainy season for the western part of the Trans-Pecos. The eastern part of this region usually receives a little more rain during the spring. However, it can be quite spotty. If little to no rain was received, the next 2 months typically provide the best opportunity for precipitation and thus, favorable growing conditions before the dormant season.
When spring precipitation has been lacking and the climate forecast is looking dry, consider culling the herd. Reducing numbers during a prolonged dry spell will lower the stress on the forage plants and allow them to recover faster when optimal growing conditions return. This is especially important if favorable growing conditions were absent during the growing season (April to October). Balancing animal nutritional requirements with available forage from now until the end of the growing season will ensure grasses are properly grazed throughout the dormant season, help grasses store important energy reserves for next spring and result in healthier rangeland and livestock.
Concho Valley Region
By Grant Teplicek, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
When the fall calves begin hitting the ground, producers are getting ready to vaccinate and work the new calves. The ranchers with spring-calving herds are getting ready to wean calves and select replacement heifers. The sheep and goat producers are preparing for the fall and winter by drenching and scheduling shearing crews.
Brush management practices are being carried out through grubbing or spraying mesquite. Selectively removing brush will improve wildlife habitat and increase grazeable acres. Some producers are installing fireguards in preparation for conducting a cool-season prescribed burn while others are starting to watch the weather for a day to implement a warm-season prescribed burn.
These prescribed burns reduce brush canopy and improve forage quality.
Producers who have grazing fields are beginning to prepare seedbeds for fall planting and setting their planting dates for wheat or oats for winter grazing.
Stocker operators are starting to make arrangements for stocker calves and small grain fields for grazing.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension will be hosting the Texas Sheep and Goat Expo at the First Community Spur Arena in San Angelo on August 18 and 19. You should plan to attend this unique sheep and goat expo.
Rolling Plains Region
By Matthew Coffman, USDA NRCS rangeland management specialist
Herd health in the Rolling Plains boils down to one word — parasites. A walk through the pasture, even in the month of February, would result in several ticks hitching a ride on any unsuspecting traveler.
The decent moisture we had last fall, and the lack of some good hard freezes in the Rolling Plains this winter, allowed more pests to overwinter better and emerge earlier.
Since this is true for the parasites we can see, such as ticks and flies, we can assume it holds true for the ones we don’t see, including coccidia and haemonchus.
Work with your veterinarian to develop and implement a parasite treatment program. Anthelmintics, drenches, pour-ons, injectables, sprays and dust bags can give you several modes of attack on parasites.
Good range management can help combat parasite problems. Many parasites will overwinter in the soil or complete part of their lifecycle in the manure of their host species.
A grazing plan that includes pasture rest and rotation can break the life cycle of some parasites. Parasite larvae that emerge from manure or soil hope to be picked up by another grazing animal so that they can continue the life cycle in the gut.
When parasites emerge into a pasture being rested and find no host, this will interrupt the cycle and is a valuable preventative measure.
Using rotational grazing also prevents the build-up and concentration of fresh manure and can drastically reduce fly problems.
For those who are weaning calves and pregnancy-testing females in the fall, this is the perfect time to look for the healthiest cows. If summer has been dry and left our pastures lacking moisture, our goal should be to select the best of the best from the herd and save what forage we can for them through the coming winter.
Look at soundness, body condition score and weaned calves, and then decide which cows will produce the best calves the following year. Making the choice to cull will save grass for the best producers. ❚
“Texas Range Report” is excerpted from the August 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.