The market may be telling beef producers that it's time to amp up the herd. But pastureland resources are a limiting factor for many, says Warren Rusche, South Dakota State University Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
Make better use of existing pasture
1. Fertilize when appropriate. For introduced, cool-season species in planted pastures this can be an effective method of increasing production.
2. Rest, rotation, and grazing management. Introducing rest periods into a grazing system can improve plant vigor and resiliency and may allow for more head days per acre.
3. Improve grazing distribution. Improved water access or moving mineral feeding sites encourage cattle to find underutilized areas.
4. Match grass growth patterns with grazing pressure. Utilizing pastures at the correct stage of production.
Reducing Demands on Pasture
5. Early weaning of calves. Early weaning saves the forage that the calves graze and reduces the nutrient requirements of the cows.
6. Supplemental feeding on pasture. Substitute harvested feeds or by-products for grazed plants.
7. Reduce/eliminate pasture entirely (drylotting or semi-confinement). Use low-cost, properly supplemented crop residues based diets to replace summer grazing.
Develop New Grazing Resources
8. Annual forage options. Crops such as small grains, millets, and sorghums can be planted as part of a crop rotation with grazing livestock used as the harvest method.
9. Cover crops. Cover crops are especially useful to extend the grazing season into the fall.
10. Crop residues. Vastly underutilized feed resource in the crop growing regions of the Midwest and Plains.
"This list is by no means the last word and there are certainly other potential solutions," Rusche notes. "These are simply a starting point in the conversation for ranchers that are searching for alternative systems to expand or maintain their business."