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Grazing Factsheets - Grazing Management

Grazing Factsheets

Grazing Management


Prescribed Grazing
Grazing Management Effects on Plants
Managing Year-Round Forage
Stockpiling Forages
Hog Pastures and Conservation Compliance
Forage Quality
Forage Quality Testing
Livestock Distribution
Brush Management
Weed Management in Established Pastures
Drought Planning Considerations
Native Warm Season Grass
Pasture Management System Layout
Prescribed Grazing Tables - FOTG
Steps for a Year-Round Grazing Management Plan

Grazing (Clipping) Effects on Forages (Being Developed)
Factors Affecting Dry Matter Intake (Being Developed)
Prescribed Burning (Being Developed)

The following factsheets are available to download and require  Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher (FREE software).

 
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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Prescribed Grazing

Illinois

What

A planned grazing system involves an orderly sequence of grazing and resting grassland. 

Why

Livestock are selective about the plants they eat. They tend to repeatedly graze some plants, and ignore others. Selective grazing weakens the more desirable plants, and allows unwanted plants to thrive and multiply. Nearly all pastures have areas where livestock concentrate, such as around water, bedding grounds, and feed grounds. If the pasture is continuously used, these areas become overused, resulting in pasture deterioration.

Grazing and resting grassland plants in a planned sequence increases the vigor of better plants, giving them a chance to grow and multiply. Therefore, gradually increasing the number of high-quality plants per acre.

Improved grass conditions increase livestock production, improves wildlife habitat, reduces soil erosion, and conserves water. By resting pastures, overused areas are allowed to become productive. 

How

Combining livestock from several pastures into one herd, and grazing one pasture at a time, tends to disperse cattle. Grazing distribution is improved in the pastures, and provides a rest period for the pastures when the cattle are in a different pasture. 

Kinds of Systems

Planned grazing systems vary from unit to unit, depending on the type of livestock, the kind of pasture, and the objectives of the operator. Listed below are some commonly used systems.

Two-pasture, one-herd system – a herd is rotated between two pastures. Each year, pastures are rested during a different part of the growing season to benefit the entire plant community. The system takes advantage of the various growth periods of the more desirable plants.

Three-pasture or four-pasture, one-herd system – are similar to the two-pasture, one herd system, except that the herd is moved through more pastures. Grazing and rest periods vary with three-pasture and four-pasture systems, depending on the producer’s objective and the time of year. The length of each grazing period may be as short as 10 days or as long as 120 days. With some three-pasture systems, livestock are moved every four months. With some four-pasture systems, they are moved every three months. With some three-pasture and four-pasture systems, livestock are rotated through each pasture two or more times during the year.

Merrill-four pasture system – three herds of livestock graze three pastures while a fourth pasture is rested. About every four months, one herd is moved to the rested pasture and the pasture they were in is rested. Each pasture is grazed 12 months, then rested four months.

High-intensity, low-frequency system – one herd of livestock grazes eight or more pastures in a planned sequence. Livestock are moved into one pasture and the other pastures are rested. When the forage is grazed to the desired intensity, livestock are moved to the next pasture in the rotation. Livestock typically stay in a pasture 10 to 25 days. The frequent moves allow long rest periods for each pasture. The system greatly improves grassland condition, but individual livestock performance may decline due to the > 10-day grazing sequence.

Short-duration system (Management Intensive Grazing) – similar to the high-intensity, low-frequency system, except the speed of the rotation is adjusted according to the growth rate and the required rest period of the plants. During the peak of the growing season, livestock are moved rapidly - every three to five days - with slower moves when pasture growth rates slow down. A grazing cycle is completed every 25 to 35 days, depending on forage species and time of season. When the system is operated properly, good livestock performance and good grassland improvement are the result.

Cell-grazing system – is a form of short-duration grazing, but usually contains 12 or more pastures in a cell. In cell grazing, the same basic principles of short-duration grazing are used. Layout often uses a design of radiating fences to facilitate the movement of livestock. In these cases, water usually is located in the center of the cell and fences radiate out from the center forming pastures. Because livestock come to the center daily for water and minerals, they should be moved between pastures away from the center to encourage better distribution of grazing. Producers with cell grazing usually use electric fences to reduce fencing costs.

The Best System

The best system, or systems, may depend on present pasture and topography, available water supplies, economics, grass condition, kinds and classes of livestock, long-range goals for grassland improvement, and the time necessary to supervise the operation. The point is, pasture greatly benefits from the graze/rest sequences of properly managed grazing systems. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Grazing Management Effects on Plants

Illinois

What

Proper grazing is allowing livestock to graze at an intensity that maintains or improves the ability of plants to provide forage for livestock and wildlife, and to protect the soil.  

Why

Proper Grazing will:

1. Increase the vigor and reproduction of desirable plants.
2. Improve—or at least maintain—the general condition of the pasture.
3. Increase forage production.
4. Improve plant cover and plant litter necessary to prevent soil erosion and to provide for water conservation and water quality. 

How

Grass manufactures food in leaves and stems. Leaves convert radiant energy to chemical energy.

Proper grazing intensity leaves the most important plants in a pasture with sufficient leaf growth to maintain plant vigor and to effectively reproduce. Also, providing enough plant cover throughout the year to protect the soil from erosion. The maximum leaf growth that can be removed and still meet these objectives vary according to grazing season and climate.

Growing points. All plants have growing points, areas where new cells are developed. The growing points of grass are just above the last completed joints of each stem. Early in the season, the growing points are situated at the base of the plant. As the season progresses, the joints of most species elongate and push upward to produce a seed stalk. During elongation, the growing point is elevated and is in a vulnerable position. Removal of the point by grazing or mowing forces the plant to send up new leaves from the base of the plant, and to start over as if spring were beginning. Therefore, causing additional drain on root reserves and can weaken the plant.

The growing points of trees, shrubs, and forbs are on the outer tips of branches.

Season. The time of year affects how much leaf removal a plant can tolerate. Removing two inches in the spring has a greater effect on a plant than removing several inches while the plant is dormant.

Deferment. Plants rested or deferred from grazing during the growing season are usually more vigorous, and can withstand a higher percentage of leaf removal than plants that are not rested. However, excessive harvest of any forage plant is undesirable.

In general, proper grazing removes no more than 50 percent, by weight, of the annual growth by the end of the grazing season. If the plants are grazed only during the dormant season, or if they are grazed using an intensive short duration grazing system, the key species on the site may be grazed to use 65 percent of the growth by the end of the grazing season.

Wildlife use. If land is used to produce game birds and big game animals, wildlife food, especially browse plants such as trees, shrubs, and forbs must be considered. Because these plants grow from the outer tips of branches, proper grazing is based on removal of available twigs and leaves.

Proper grazing of browse plants removes no more than 50 to 60 percent of available twigs and leaves during the growing season, or no more than 65 percent during the dormant season of deciduous species. No more than 65 percent of twigs and leaves should be removed from evergreens. 

It’s Up to You

You need to know all you can about the kinds of plants growing on your farm or ranch including their value, growth habits, and how to judge proper grazing of the desirable plants. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Managing Year-Round Forage

Illinois

General

Livestock operations that have high quality forage available for grazing throughout most of the year are more flexible and have the greatest chances for success. There is no one plant that will provide high quality forage throughout the year. However, there are plants that produce high quality forage during their individual growth cycle. Producers should select a combination of forages with different growth cycles that will best support the objectives of their operation. It is especially important to have quality forages available for livestock during weaning, prior to breeding or during any other stressful time.  

Planning

Selecting an effective forage program will require thoughtful planning. Decisions based on one forage source seems simpler than managing several different types of forages, but there are pitfalls. A farm with all the pastures planted to only one species will be totally dependent upon that one species. Should disease, weather conditions, insect outbreaks, or other catastrophes occur, extra costs would be incurred to restore the stand; possibly leaving the business operation vulnerable by having to buy costly feed or sell on forced markets. A diversity of forages allows options.

Permanent tame pasture should have perennial grasses as the foundation. Each pasture should include enough legumes to maintain nutrient balance, providing a forage supply that is high in protein and total digestible nutrients.

Considerations for planning a forage system include:

  • Overall forage/livestock system objectives
  • Management ability of the system’s manager
  • Nutritional needs of the animals in the system
  • Time of year livestock will be on the system
  • Total amount and time of forage need
  • Capabilities and needs of the land resource
  • Adaptability of the forages to the land resource
  • Management requirements of the selected forage
  • Nutrient requirements of the selected forage
  • Economic performance of various forages

(“Optimum” rather than “maximum” production, should be the goal) 

Complimentary Forages

Overlaying the nutrients provided by the forage onto the nutritional needs of the animals gives a good visual profile of where deficiencies may occur during these deficient time periods. Complimentary forages can be used. For example, annual plants can be overseeded into existing forages to meet obvious needs. Lespedeza, red, or white clover overseeded into fescue pasture offers both cool season and warm season forage on the same pasture and dilutes the effect of endophyte. Fescue pasture, fertilized in late summer takes advantage of normal fall precipitation and cooler temperatures and provides good quality stockpiled forage well past January 1. Winter grazing is more cost-effective than feeding hay. Remember, any nutrients not provided by the forages must be purchased, increasing the cost of production.

Some pastures may not be available for grazing at all times of the year because of wet soil. Wet soils cause feeding difficulties and boggy conditions for livestock. Well-drained fields should be planted to sod-forming forage plants that can be used during problem periods.

Planting forages that grow during different times of the year allow the grazer to manage his animals so they will have access to high quality forage for the longest possible period. Optimizing production and return from the forage resource system makes sense to the prudent forage manager.

For additional information see the factsheet on “Extending the Grazing Period”. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Stockpiling Forages

Illinois

General Information

Stockpiling forage is an excellent method of saving forage for overwinter use without harvesting. Stockpiled forage can provide adequate protein and energy for dry cows, heifers, weaning calves and ewes for grazing in the fall and winter after forage growth has stopped. Grazing can be provided as long as the forage lasts and as long as grass tips are visible under the snow.

The primary reason for using stockpiled forage is to reduce feed and feeding costs. For each week that the grazing season is extended, total annual feed costs for a forage-fed animal (i.e., ewes or beef cows) are reduced by about 1%. The savings reflect the harvesting costs for grazed forage as compared to hay or silage harvesting, primarily on account of machinery, labor and other inputs not experienced in harvesting the same forage by grazing. Also, livestock grazing stockpiled pasture, spread their manure back onto the pasture without the cost of conventional manure hauling and spreading. 

Stockpiled Forage Quality

Stockpiled forage is surprisingly high in forage quality. Data from the University of Wisconsin reported stockpiled bromegrass forages over winter seldom fell below 18% crude protein. Similar analyses from Iowa have indicated about 15% crude protein. Several reports from other research of stockpiled tall fescue all indicated about 20% crude protein. Forage quality is high because stockpiled forage has a high percentage of leaf material due to reduced grass stem growth and heading in late summer. 

Stockpiled Management

Several strategies can be employed to supply forage into the fall or winter and effectively extend the grazing season, thus reducing the need for stored feeds. These strategies can be categorized into two major groups: 1) Stockpiling (conserving cool-season forages in late summer for use in the fall and winter), and 2) utilizing forage crops that continue to grow into the fall and early winter.

The normal procedure for stockpiling forage is to remove the animals from the pasture and allow forage to accumulate on a pasture beginning about August 1st to August 15th. Allow regrowth to occur for about 60 to 75 days. The late season growth will produce 0.75 to 1.5 tons of forage per acre, allow pastures to rest and legumes to rebuild root reserves for winter. An application of 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen between August 1st and August 15th will greatly increase late season pasture tonnage where there is less than 40% legumes.

Not all cool-season species are adapted to stockpiling because most species reduce growth in the fall because of shorter day lengths and/or lose leaves (quality) after being frosted. Tall fescue and birdsfoot trefoil are two forage species which are suited to stockpile management because they continue to grow into fall and do not lose leaves as readily as other cool-season species due to frost. Bromegrass can be stockpiled but should be grazed first in the rotation.

Strip grazing or rotational grazing is recommend when grazing stockpiled forages. Livestock should be limited to a few days up to a week of forage at one time so the use of temporary fencing is recommended. Watering stock on stockpiled pasture is a concern in freezing temperatures. Even in November, pasture forage is between 50 and 70% moisture. Hauling water is an option, as is pumping from pond or stream or using frost-free water systems. Sheep have low water requirements in cool weather and dry ewes can be supplied from only good quality stockpiled forage. For beef cows a water source is essential. 

Summary

Stockpiled pastures can be a low-cost source of forage for livestock during the fall and winter months. By adopting management practices, the stockpiled forage can provide high quality and high yielding forages for fall and wintertime grazing. Producers can tailor the type of stockpiled forage to livestock requirements. Managing animals on stockpiled pastures requires rotational or strip grazing with moves every few days. Although experience has indicated little concern with soil compaction or increased winterkill from fall or winter grazing, use caution in wet conditions or on heavy soils. 

References

  • University of Wisconsin, Dan Undersander, Forage Crop Specialists, Stockpiled Forages.
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, J. Johnston and C. Wand, Stockpiling Perennial Forages for Fall and Winter Grazing
  • Penn State University, Fact Sheet: Strategies for Extending the Grazing Season.
  • University of Missouri, Missouri Grazing Manuel. Revised 3/99.

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Hog Pastures and Conservation Compliance

Illinois

General

Significant problems exist in meeting conservation compliance requirements for livestock producers. These include high intensity grazing of hogs on forages in rotation with row crops, grazing crop residues, and manure injection of HEL fields.

Swine pasture trials have been conducted to learn more about the interrelationships of pasture species selection, seeding rate, stocking density, grass stand (plants per sq. ft.), and per cent ground cover. These trials have networked the experience, knowledge, and skills of pro-active swine producers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and University of Illinois Extension.

Initial trials were seeded in the spring of 1992 utilizing alfalfa and grass mixtures. The grass species included were: 1) Tetraploid perennial ryegrass, 2) Matua Rescuegrass, 3) low endophyte Tall Fescue, and 4) Orchardgrass. These trial plots were intensively grazed and evaluated during 1993 with a mean stocking rate of 11.6 sows and litter per acre. Grass stands and % cover were evaluated throughout the year.

Results indicated that tetraploid perennial ryegrass exhibited a very vigorous growth habit and was able to withstand high levels of grazing and trampling. It maintained higher levels of ground cover throughout the season. Tall Fescue established well, exhibited high stand counts, and even with very high grazing intensity was able to maintain over until late in the season. Tall Fescue also reduced the seed cost per acre. The use of alfalfa-orchardgrass under high intensity use, held up through mid season but declined rapidly to only 20% cover in the fall. Matua rescuegrass was found to be unsuitable under these harsh conditions.

Another trial was established in (4) locations during the spring of 1994 with an oat cover crop. Species selected included: 1) Tetraploid perennial ryegrass @ 20 lbs./A, 2) Low endophyte Tall Fescue @ 16 lbs./A, 3) Alfalfa-Orchardgrass-Ladino @ 6-6-1 lbs./A, and 4) A combination of Tetraploid perennial ryegrass and Tall Fescue @ 12-8 lbs./A. The goal was to increase the initial number of plants per square foot to maintain a higher % cover throughout the year.

Mean plant residue % (ground cover) in November 1995 showed Tall Fescue - 66.85 % A; Tall Fescue-Ryegrass – 65.05 % A; Orchard-Alfalfa-Ladino 54.8% B; Tetraploid intermediate ryegrass – 51.9% B. LSD=9.3326. Means with the same letter are not significantly different at .05 level. (Oswald 1997)

  • High levels of management are necessary to maintain compliance in the conservation farm plan.
  • Species selection is the first step toward establishing a vigorous cover. Species must be suited to the soil and climatic conditions, fit the particular farm plan and crop rotation and endure heavy grazing and trampling.
  • Seeding rates higher than traditional recommendations may be needed to increase the number of plants/sq. ft.
  • Stocking density is perhaps the greatest obstacle in maintaining cover and compliance. No more than 10 sows and litters per acre would be recommended. Have additional pasture to rotate depending upon crop, livestock or environmental conditions.

Most research work with hog pastures has historically dealt with nutrition and economics. Today’s nutrient-dense diets and environmental concerns turn the focus toward Conservation Compliance.

Rearing swine on pasture has traditionally been a profitable low-cost alternative to the higher initial investment of confinement housing. As of January 1995, Farm Plans are to be fully implemented. Non-compliance means loss of programs/income available for the producer.

In order for intensive outdoor swine production to be profitable, sustainable and in compliance with USDA programs - producers must manage pastures carefully. Good planning should include: species selection, establishment, stocking rate, and environmental concerns.

Further study is needed to evaluate grasses under typical farm conditions. Pork producers and government agencies must continue to work together to achieve compliance in conservation farm plans under intensive management systems.

Recommendations

Since ryegrass is much more competitive in initial growth and the fescue is slower to establish, a mixture of 12 lbs. Tall fescue and 8 lbs. Ryegrass should be considered. This would also reduce the seed cost per acre. Diploid cultivars of ryegrass are more vigorous in growth and tiller production than tetraploids. More winter hardiness may be exhibited in northern areas.

Producers need to be aware of livestock-plant relationships such as fescue endophyte fungus, fescue foot, bovine fat necrosis and the forage management necessary to prevent these problems in ruminants. Low endophyte varieties are available but not as persistent as infected varieties. Ergot control by controlled grazing or clipping can keep grasses vegetative and more productive while keeping livestock healthy.

Forages for Swine

For decades, forage crops were an essential part of a swine feeding program. The development of synthetic vitamins in the 1950’s and the shift toward confinement production systems reduced the use of forages in the swine diet. Today, most producers rely upon complex fortified diets to maintain optimum growth and production.

High-quality forages can still be utilized to simplify the feeding and management of the breeding herd. Sows, for example, can be fed less often with a smaller amount of concentrate when fed high-quality forages. Honeyman and Roush, Iowa State University, showed a feed cost reduction of over $3.00/gilt in a 56-day gestation trial grazing alfalfa. Sows may be more content when fed diets containing a significant amount of forage compared to limit-fed sows.

Some negatives are also connected to feeding forages such as the seasonal availability of pastures, and the low dry matter content of the feed. Contamination of pastures by parasites and/or bacteria are potential problems in nonrotated outdoor systems. Hogs maintained outside have a higher energy requirement due to exercise and weather-related stresses. This may require more feed and cause slower gains and less efficiency.

The legumes, alfalfa, red clover and ladino clover have been included in hog pasture mixes because of the high protein content (14-22%) depending upon the maturity. The fiber content is in the 25 to 30% range. Legumes provide energy in the range of 900 to 1200 Kcal./lb. Legumes are also very palatable and seem to be more acceptable than grasses to the hogs. Grasses are normally seeded with legumes because of their ability to prevent soil erosion. They provide less protein, with similar energy and fiber amounts.

Plant species selected for hog pasture must be adapted to the soil and climatic conditions. They must also fit satisfactorily into the crop rotation, be palatable, and yet have good ground cover potential.

They must have the ability to endure trampling and grazing. Different grazing intensities may change the morphology of plant growth. Animals may also affect pasture species composition. Pasture should have a high carrying capacity but not be overgrazed. Reduced leaf area would tend to increase erosion potential. In Northwestern Illinois, many producers are using farrowing pastures that are about two and one-half acres in size for 25 sows.

There is probably no perfect forage crop for swine pastures that combines nutrition, palatability, yield, length of grazing season, as well as conservation use. Alfalfa (medicago sativa L.) is generally considered the number one forage for swine. Alfalfa is the basis for most forage mixtures in Northwestern Illinois. Other legumes suited to swine are ladino (white clover) (Tribolium repens L.) and red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) These legumes are not ready for pasturing as early in the spring and do not yield as much as alfalfa. Assuming good drainage and adequate fertility, alfalfa is the highest protein producer of all legumes, is more resistant to diseases than red clover, and is more drought resistant due to its deep root system.

Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis L.), a sod-forming perennial, is often used with alfalfa. Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.), a cool-season bunchgrass, matches well with the life cycle of alfalfa. Growth begins in the early spring and is heavy yielding with nitrogen fertilization. It produces well under high summer temperatures and all of its regrowth is vegetative. Orchard grass will grow on a wider range of soil types with slightly lower fertility than will smooth bromegrass.

Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) is considered a short-lived perennial bunch grass. Timothy is considered less valuable as a forage for swine because it is not a sod-forming specie and cannot withstand heavy use.

Summer annuals may be used for additional pastures. Sudan grass is palatable when seeded thickly and provides forage during the hot part of the growing season. The early growth of Sudan contains a cyanogen that can be converted to prussic acid, which can be toxic to pigs. It is safe for grazing after it reaches 18 to 24 inches in height. Pearl millet, an annual, also provides hot season growth without without the potential of prussic acid.
Brassicas such as Rape, Kale, and Swede can provide high energy in a palatable form. However, Rape can lead to photosensitization (sunburning) in white-skinned pigs. 

Summary

Forages can be used successfully in pork production. Because of their low-energy density and high fiber content, they should be used only to a limited extent for young pigs. Forages are best utilized at an early stage of maturity. Forages may be used to reduce both grain and protein costs. Both the pasture and the forage crop must be well managed to provide optimum feed savings.

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Forage Quality

Illinois

What

Forage quality can be defined in many different ways. As presented here, forage quality is considered as the value of pasture grasses and legumes as a nutrient for grazing livestock. Forage quality can be described in terms of protein, fiber, and other components.

The area of forage quality has specific terminology. The terminology includes different components of forages that are actually measured, such as protein, and fiber. Predicted values, such as intake and energy are also included. The following terms are commonly used in forage testing. 

Forage Quality Terms

Crude Protein (CP) in forage is the total amount of protein, some of which is insoluble or nondegradable. Crude protein measures only the nitrogen content of the feed. The nitrogen contained as "amino acid nitrogen" or "non-protein nitrogen" is not distinguished. The value is obtained by multiplying the amount of the nitrogen in the feed by 6.25. The value comes from the fact that most protein contains about 16 percent nitrogen (16 / 100 = 6.25).

Degradable Intake Protein (DIP) - protein that is broken down in the rumen, mainly into ammonia. Most rumen microbes need ammonia in order to maintain adequate microbial growth.

Undegradable Intake Protein (UIP) - the protein fraction also referred to as bypass protein. UIP is resistant to rumen microbial degradation and therefore bypasses the rumen. Most UIP can be broken down.

Soluble Protein (SP) - protein that is degradable in the rumen very rapidly. Soluble protein is converted to ammonia in the rumen within minutes of being ingested. The remainder of the degradable fraction may take hours to be broken down.

Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) - an estimate of the portion of a forage sample consisting of the walls of the plant cells. Estimate is determined by boiling a forage sample in a neutral detergent and weighing the residue. Boiling removes the soluble components of the cell-most of the sugars, fats, starches, and proteins. The remaining residue; therefore, is made up of plant cell walls composed mostly of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The amount of NDF residue is negatively related to forage intake, so high quality forages have low amount of NDF.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) - is considered the indegestible portion of a forage sample. Measurement of ADF is similar to NDF except that a forage sample is boiled in an acidic detergent. The boiling process, with the detergent, removes sugars, fats, starches, and protein, but removes hemicellulose as well. The amount of ADF residue is negatively related to energy, so high-quality forages contain low amounts of ADF.

Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) -an estimate of digestible forage. TDN is not measured directly but is calculated from ADF. TDN is used by many beef producers to balance rations.

Net Energy (NE) - calculated from ADF. Net energy estimates are used largely by dairy producers in ration balancing for maintenance (NEM), gain (NEG), and lactation (NE1).

Relative Feed Value (RFV) - estimate of hay and forage quality. Calculations are from NDF, and ADF, with primary emphasis, on NDF. The average or reference RFV equals 100. Higher scores denote higher quality and lower scores denote lower quality.

Digestible Organic Matter (DOM) - percentage of energy and protein in forages expressed as organic matter intake.

Digestible Dry Matter (DDM) - or digestibility is determined in several ways. Estimated mathematically from ADF, the higher the ADF, the lower the digestibility. Digestibility is also measured chemically. Sometimes measured with actual rumen fluid and other times measured with laboratory enzymes.

Dry Matter Intake (DMI) - can be determined with feeding trails. Usually intake is simply estimated from NDF. The higher the NDF, the lower the intake.

Factors that Affect Forage Quality

In a pasture there are three major factors that affect forage quality. The first factor that affects forage protein and fiber is plant species. Legume species tend to have higher quality than grass species. The second factor affecting quality is plant maturity. As a plant matures from the leafy, vegetative stage into the stemmy, reproductive stage, protein decreases and fiber increases. The third factor-affecting forage quality in a pasture is plant part. Leaves contain more protein and less fiber than stems and are therefore higher quality. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Forage Quality Testing

Illinois

What

It is important to know the quality of pasture if animal performance is going to be optimized. The difficulty is that pasture plants are constantly changing in growth and physiological maturity. Also, through the growing season, environmental changes affect forage quality. Grazing pressure affects the degree of selectivity by the grazing animal, thus, influencing the quality of the forage consumed.  

Why

Greater net profit is the primary reason livestock producers need to know the quality of forages their animals are grazing. Not knowing the exact quality of forages the animals are consuming acts as a two-edge sword that can cut into profits either way it swings. It is very important to know the quality of forages that animals are consuming as this help you determine the amount of forages that animals are consuming and if it is meeting the nutritional demands of the animal. 

How

If pasture forage is to be tested for chemical constituents, the sampling method needs to be such that it closely approximates what the animal will consume. This approach would be near impossible to achieve in continuous grazing systems where animals have a high degree of selectivity. With intensive or rotational grazing, sampling which closely approximates the animal should be possible. One approach would be to observe the most recent post-grazing paddocks and then samples the next pre-grazing paddock accordingly. by occasionally sampling throughout the season, one could develop a good picture of pasture forage quality in a particular system. Of course, sampling will need to continue if botanical composition changes during the grazing season or over years.

Sampling techniques. Different techniques for taking pasture samples can be used, but the basic principles will be the same for each technique. Sample strips of 1 ft. wide by 2 ft. in length at random throughout the paddock, or sample a 2.5 sq. ft. area. Take 3-5 samples per acre or 10-15 samples from a 5 acre area and combine samples to make one composite sample for grazing area.

Collect each paddock sample and place in a plastic bag. Then properly identify sample and mail to testing laboratory carefully avoiding weekend mail or over holidays. 

Sample Analysis

Once you have gone to the effort of collecting a sample correctly, how can you insure the results you receive from the testing laboratory are accurate? Concerns about laboratory testing often focus on methods used for determining forage quality. Concern should be focused, however, on the accuracy of results and not on the technique used. To help you determine if test results are accurate listed below are some questions to ask the laboratory.

1. Is the lab certified or does it participate in a check sample program. The National Forage Testing Association has a certification program that compares a laboratory’s performance with that of other labs to warn of potential inaccuracies.

2. Does the lab include duplicate samples analyzed? One of the easiest ways for a laboratory to monitor results is by analyzing replicates of a sample. If the analysis for replicates is not similar, there is a problem in the testing procedure. In addition, the inclusion of standards or check samples (material of know quality) in each group of samples analyzed can indicate if the analytical procedure is working correctly or not.

3. What analytical methods does the laboratory use? There is more than one method of analysis for most plant constituents. Laboratories should use methods that are well validated and approved by the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists.
Laboratories that use infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to analyze forage for quality can be asked three additional questions that will help determine if the results are accurate. Like other laboratory analyses, NIRS analysis is sophisticated and should be conducted and monitored by trained personnel.

4. How often are NIRS instruments and calibration equations monitored? NIRS Running a check sample daily should monitor instruments or after every 25th sample, whichever is more frequent.

5. Does the laboratory do chemical analysis in addition to NIRS? NIRS methods are based on calibrations derived from chemical methods. NIRS labs without a chemical analytical capability has no way to monitor the reliability of their calibration equations. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about forage testing contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone Directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Livestock Distribution

Illinois

What

One of the objectives of a grassland management program is to force livestock to uniformly graze the vegetation in an entire pasture. Livestock prefer to graze the flattest areas of a pasture and areas close to water. Unless forced to do otherwise, they will continue to graze the preferred areas. Such grazing patterns result in portions of pastures being overgrazed and portions being lightly grazed. 

 Why

When cattle are evenly distributed within a pasture, more of the available plants in a pasture are grazed, and overgrazing of the easily accessible plants is reduced. Even distribution results in a larger amount of a pasture receiving proper grazing, which may reduce the necessity of supplemental feeding. A grazier must look at each pasture to ensure that the animals are grazing most of the plants. When livestock are allowed to follow their natural habits, the forage yield in some areas will continue to decrease because of overgrazing, and useable forage on the less accessible areas will be wasted. 

Distribution Factors

Several factors influence the way livestock graze a pasture:

Water Location. Generally, cattle drink water at least once a day. They may drink more often, depending on the temperature and availability. Therefore, where water supplies are located within a pasture has a significant effect on grazing patterns.

Natural barriers. Steep slopes or cliff faces, large gullies and rock outcrop influence the movement of livestock.

Slope. Animals have trouble walking and grazing on steep slopes. Therefore, they tend to avoid such areas.

Prevailing wind direction. Animals do not like to graze into a strong wind, but choose to graze into gentle winds. Therefore, wind direction and intensity have an effect on grazing distribution.

Shaded or protected areas. Animals seek shelter from cold, heat, and strong winds. Pasture areas that provide shelter with plant cover are used more during temperature extremes and when the wind is strong.

Exposure. West-facing and south-facing slopes are warmer, and may be used more on cooler days or in the winter. East-facing and north-facing slopes are cooler, and may be used more on warmer days.

Season of use. Some pasture areas are attractive to livestock because of their vegetation. Animals seek the most palatable plants growing at the time. For example, they are attracted to cool-season growing plants during the winter and spring. The location of different plants within a pasture and the time of year often influence grazing patterns. 

Ways to Control Distribution

After a pasture is analyzed, there are several methods to consider when attempting to to change the animals’ grazing habits. They include:

Grazing Systems. “Rotation Grazing Systems” are discussed in another fact sheet. However, remember that every grazing system has an effect on livestock distribution. Concentrating livestock into as few herds as possible, and assigning each herd to a planned grazing system with two or more pastures tends to improve grazing for each pasture.

Water Development. In large pastures where areas are too far from water, the development of a new water supply may improve grazing patterns.

Fencing. With the development of lower-cost fencing, new fences to control animal movement is practical. Small pastures generally improve distribution. Separating rugged terrain and gentle terrain will improve use on the steeper pastures.

Trails. Where natural barriers occur, the construction of trails or walkways can open up new areas of pasture grazing.

Salt or Feed Location. Moving the location of salt or feed bunks may cause animals to increase grazing on lightly-used areas of a pasture.

Animal Herding. Drifting or herding animals from heavily-used to lightly-used pasture areas will redistribute the grazing pressure.

Brush Management. When controlling trees or large shrubs, keep clusters of them to provide necessary shelter if desired. Shelter will draw the stock when needed, and encourage grazing in nearby open areas. However, livestock often avoid areas with thick brush, opting to graze in open prairie areas. Therefore, plan and evaluate the effects of brushy areas on livestock grazing.

Shelter may also concentrate livestock numbers during times of extreme temperatures.

Other practices also may influence livestock distribution. Keep in mind that anything you do in a pasture will have an impact. The results should be analyzed before you apply any practice to ensure a positive effect on grazing, and will result in more plant and animal production.

Where to Get Help

For more information about hay and pasture management, contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Brush Management

Illinois

What

Brush management attempts to restore balance to the natural plant community by manipulating brush in order to meet the specific needs of the livestock producer.  

Why

Brush plants use three to five times more water than native grasses for each pound of leaf growth. Reducing the amount of plants that use a lot of water while increasing the number of water-efficient plants will result in more quality forage for livestock, and will allow more water to infiltrate the soil, recharging underground aquifers.

Brush management also reduces the competition of desirable plants for sunlight and nutrients, which increases forage yields.

As brush management improves the condition of grassland, the healthier and thicker grass slows runoff, allowing more moisture to soak into the soil, and reducing soil erosion by water and wind.

Thinning dense brush in an area also creates diverse wildlife habitat—places for wildlife to find cover, nesting areas, and food. Many livestock producers find that the improved habitat attracts game for hunting. By leasing hunting rights, they can increase income from their farms. 

How

Unwanted brush can be managed by chemical or mechanical methods, fire, or improved grazing management. The applicable method depends on economics, soil, the type of brush on the land, the topography, and the type of farm operation. Most successful efforts usually involve a combination of methods.

Chemical methods involve applying herbicides to the soil or the plant. Because many brush species are tolerant to some herbicides, results vary. Success depends on applying the right herbicide at the correct rate when weather conditions are favorable and when the species to be controlled is weakest.

Mechanical methods of brush management include mowing, axing, root plowing and bulldozing. These methods have proven to be effective, but are often costly.

In order to manage undesirable woody plants, many livestock producers are utilizing prescribed burning. Historically, nature’s most effective brush management tool was fire. Deciding factors for use include sufficient fuel for the fire, favorable weather conditions, and safety.

Proper grazing management prevents overgrazing and assures healthy, vigorous forage. In a healthy grass ecosystem, brush problems are reduced.

To be effective, any option used to manage brush on hay land and pasture must be preceded and followed by proper harvesting management. Forage yields will improve after the desirable grasses have had a chance to recover and plant succession has begun. On grassland where brush has been removed, the pasture should be rested and grazing time should be limited during the first growing season after treatment; allowing for the desirable species to establish themselves. Reseeding these areas may be necessary if a natural seed source or reminant plants of desirable forage species are not available. Grazing management must be a continuous process. Uncontrolled grazing probably contributed to the brush problem. Treating the problem without addressing the cause is only a short-term solution.

Most hay and pasture improvement practices take time to show changes. Do not be discouraged if drastic changes are not noticed immediately. With careful planning and management of the practices, grassland will improve. 

Where to Get Help

For more information on hay and pasture management, contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Extension. 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Weed Management in Established Pastures

Illinois

Unless properly managed, weeds can reduce the quantity, stand life, and in some cases the quality and palatability of pastures. Certain weed species are also poisonous to livestock. Weed management begins with proper identification.

This fact sheet is a follow-up to an earlier version (November 2000) titled Weed Control.

This fact sheet will discuss various management practices so the grazing land operator can adopt an integrated approach for weed management in established pastures. No single practice will result in weed-free pastures.

Weed ID Critical

If you are unable to positively identify the plants in your pasture, take samples to a credible person who can help you. It is impossible to make sound management decisions on weed management until you know which weeds you have.

Soil Fertility

Performing soil tests every 4 years to determine pH and nutrient levels and to serve as a basis for application of essential plant nutrients and lime is a valuable management choice.

Having pH and nutrients (especially P and K) at proper levels will help increase the stand density of the desirable, adapted forages and help them out compete many undesirable plants. Proper soil fertility levels help grasses and legumes recover quickly after grazing.

In pure grass pastures, nitrogen applications at the proper time will maintain the vigor of the forage, ultimately helping to control weeds.

Grazing Management

Weed seeds germinate and become established whenever pasture stands are thin. In the early vegetative stage, many weeds can be a good source of nutrition. However, as the weed matures, the forage quality drops rapidly.

Continuous grazing at high stocking rates weakens the sod and allows for weed invasion. Continuous grazing at low stocking rates leads to selective grazing, which weakens desirable species, whereas in other areas of the pasture excessive growth will occur and forage will not be utilized or be of low quality.

A rotational grazing system, where a paddock is grazed again only when it has had time to recover, helps maintain a healthy, vigorous sward, which makes it more able to compete with weeds. Utilizing a rotational grazing system helps keep most pasture weeds under control. However, certain weeds like thistles, brush, and poisonous weeds may still continue to be a problem and additional control practices will be needed.

Walk Your Pastures

This is a good way to detect weed problems before they become serious. It also provides an opportunity to observe changes in the spectrum of weeds present and to monitor the results of weed management practices.

Weeds can be hoed, pulled, or cut before they set seed and multiply. Biennial weeds (see partial list below) need to be cut an inch below the soil surface to prevent regrowth from buds in the crown. This approach is feasible in small areas or in large pastures with few weeds.

Mowing or Clipping

Annual and biennial weeds reproduce only by seed, so the key to long-term control is to prevent seed production.
Mowing annual weeds (lambsquarters, ragweed, foxtail, etc.) once will usually control them if the pasture is healthy and has vigorous growth. Annuals need to be mowed before flowers are produced.

Mowing biennial weeds (bull thistle, plumeless thistle, musk thistle, burdock, wild carrot, wild parsnip, etc.) when they are in the bud to early flower (bolting) stage is helpful. Timely, repeated mowings are beneficial since they reduce seed production. Biennial thistles should be cut as close to the ground as possible.

Mowing perennial weeds (Canada thistle, milkweed, horsenettle, goldenrod, etc.) will rarely eliminate an infestation since they spread by both seed and vegetative structures (rhizomes, tubers, budding roots, etc.). But, mowing to prevent seed production is encouraged and if done on an interval that allows perennials to regrow to 8 -12 inches between mowings will, over a few years, weaken and eventually kill these weeds. However, this degree of mowing will also weaken desirable pasture species.

Not all weeds are inhibited by mowing. Low-growing plants, like dandelions, tend to be more prevalent in frequently mowed pastures. Many annual and biennial plants also regrow after mowing, especially if they have not flowered when cut.
It is important to mow pastures that have been selectively grazed by livestock. This can reduce or prevent seed production of weedy plants and promote regrowth of desirable forage species.

Biological Methods

This technique uses living organisms to control pests (weeds in this case). One example is the use of the musk thistle weevil to control the musk thistle. The musk thistle weevil larvae (worm) feed on the developing tissue of the musk thistle seed head, thereby resulting in a sterile plant. The weevil will not eradicate musk thistle, but can somewhat reduce their numbers. This strategy has been used especially in hilly, rough terrain where mowing or herbicide application is not feasible. Musk thistle weevils can be ordered from biological insect supply companies for release onto existing musk thistles in early summer.
Herbicides
Herbicide selection depends upon the forage and weed species present, stage and severity of weed growth, time of the year, temperature and rainfall, potential damage to nearby sensitive crops, grazing/haying/slaughter restrictions following application, and cost. Be sure to read and follow the label. For postemergence herbicides to be effective, the weeds must be actively growing when treated.

Herbicides that kill broadleaf weeds in pastures also kill legumes. Where possible, only treat areas with weeds as determined by careful pasture monitoring. Some legumes may reappear spontaneously in 12 - 24 months from hard seeds left in the soil that germinate. Otherwise, legumes can be reseeded once weeds are controlled.
Be sure to clean herbicide spray equipment thoroughly after use.

Annual weeds are easier to control when young. Spring and early summer applications are best for summer annuals. As previously mentioned, most annuals are successfully managed with timely mowing and a competitive forage stand.

Biennial weeds need to be treated with a translocated herbicide while in the rosette (a compact, low-growing cluster of leaves) stage. This is the entire growing season in the year they germinate and up to the time they begin forming a flower stalk (bolting) the next season. Many biennials will bolt by mid May, so application needs to be completed by that time in their second year of growth. Herbicides are not as effective when plants start to bolt—at this point mowing is a better option (see above). An early fall application, while biennial weeds are actively growing, will be effective since the biennial weeds are in the rosette stage and will actively translocate the herbicide to the crown and roots.

Perennial weeds should be treated with a translocated herbicide in the bud to early flowering stage (perhaps early July) or the fall regrowth stage. One strategy is to mow perennial weeds when the first flowers appear and then spray when regrowth is 18 - 24 inches tall (perhaps 25 - 40 days later).

Herbicide options (products, rates, effectiveness) and guidelines for pastures are listed in the latest edition of the Illinois Agricultural Pest Management Handbook. To order a copy, contact your local Extension office or the publications office at the University of Illinois (phone 1-800-345-6087, or on-line at www.PublicationsPlus.uiuc.edu)

Two on-line sources of information on pesticide labels are: http://www.greenbook.net/
and http://www.cdms.net/manuf/manuf.asp 

Summary

To be successful, weed management in established pastures needs an integrated approach involving a wide range of tactics and practices.

Where to Get Help

For more information about weed management in pastures contact the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or University of Illinois Extension.

Acknowledgements

Information in this fact sheet was adapted from a number of sources, including the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, University of Kentucky, and Purdue University.
 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Drought Planning Considerations

Illinois

General Information

Drought occurs almost ever year in some part of the country that has affect on agriculture. The definition is: “(1) A prolonged chronic shortage of water. (2) A period with below normal precipitation during which the soil water content is reduced to such an extent that plants suffer from lack of water; frequently associated with excessively high temperatures and winds during spring, summer and fall in many parts of the world.” (National Range and Pasture Handbook (HRPH) USDA/NRCS)

Drought Plan

The best managers prepare a Drought (drouth) Plan ahead of time and stick to it. A Drought Plan definition is: “The livestock operator’s contingency plan to make necessary adjustments during unfavorable years of low forage production.” (NRPH)

Impacts of Drought

Drinking water is normally the least expensive nutrient for livestock. However, water has the most impact on the forage production or lack of production. The impact of reduced forage production can and will impact the animal’s productivity and health if not managed properly. An animal’s nutrient requirements are in the following order: 1. Maintenance, 2. Fetus Development, 3. Lactation, 4. Growth, 5. Breeding, 6. Fattening. (Dr. John Merrell Texas Christian University, TCU)

Usually it will take 1200 -1500 pounds of water to produce 1 pound of forage dry matter. If brush is controlled in a normal year, forage will increase by 18 percent. If brush is controlled during a year of drought, forage production can increase about 50 percent. If you have doubts, take a look at any corn field along a wooded fence row and see how far out the corn is stunted in a dry year.

Forages

Cool season grasses (CSG) are considered C3 plants which are made up of three carbon chains. C3 plants, such as Orchardgrass, fescue, Bromegrass, Reed Canarygrass and Timothy, convert light energy at less than 3 percent. These plants start growing in early spring and go into their summer slump in the hot weather of June-August. They start growing again in September with cooler temperatures and moisture. The CSG usually produce about 60 percent of their forage in the spring, April – June, and 40 percent the remainder of the year. Their root systems can grow to a dept of three to four feet maximum; but to achieve this depth, they will have to receive excellent management. The root depth usually equals the plant’s height above the ground, considered top growth and leaf length.

Warm season grasses (WSG) are C4 plants and convert light energy at the rate of 5-6 percent. Examples of WSG perennials are Eastern Gamma grass, Big Bluestem, Indian grass, Switchgrass. Some annual WSG are Pearl Millet, Sudangrass, and Corn. These plants produce 100 percent of their forage in the summer months from June through September. The WSG have a much deeper root system than the CSG. Many of these taller WSG can grow roots to a depth of 10-15 feet or more. Because of their growth patterns, the WSG have the potential for higher yields then the C3 plants. This is partly due to the fact the C4 plants utilize full sunlight. 

Management Techniques

These management techniques can be looked at as “Reducing the need-Increasing the feed”. By this we mean reducing the forage needs which can be done through several methods or practices.

Some options to consider in developing a drought plan are as follows:

Implement a Managed Grazing System, or rotational grazing system. This will consist of dividing the pasture into smaller units, called paddocks, and grazing each for a short period of time and then moving the animals to another paddock. The grazed area will be rested for usually a 30-day period before being grazing again. During a drought, the rest period may need to be lengthened to 40 or more days, or until adequate re-growth has occurred. Over-grazing will hinder the forage re-growth and create more plant stress. If over-grazing occurs for a long period, this can stress the plants enough to eventually kill them. The key to more and better forage, even in a dry year, is to manage your plants and root systems. If the leaf area is left at an optimum length, the roots will support more plant growth. A balanced fertility plan will allow the plants to be more efficient in their water usage. For recommended grazing heights refer to the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide, Practice Standard, Prescribed Grazing 528.

Creep feed nursing calves/lambs (offspring) to maintain optimum gain and lessen the forage stress of the pastures while with their mothers.

Provide supplemental forage or feed when the forage is grazed to a minimum height, CSG 3-4” or WSG 8-10”. Supplementation can be done in the pastures by feeding corn or hay or some of the by-products available on market today. [If corn is used, a pound of corn will replace two pounds of forage consumed. (Cliff Little OSU 2005)] If by-products are used, consult a University of Illinois Extension Animals Systems Educator because there are maximum amounts that you should not exceed in the livestock ration. Don’t overlook crop residues. They can provide a forage source for a period of time. If using annuals, check for nitrates. After a frost, check for prussic acid on Sorghums and Sudangrasses. When supplemental feeding, be aware of the cost. You can spend your way into debt quickly. Many ranches have been lost to debt accumulated from trying to feed their way out of a drought.

Graze the hay fields. In dry years the forage will usually be short and thinner. If you try to harvest this short forage mechanically, you will incur a higher harvest loss. The livestock will be much more efficient in harvesting the shorter forage. This will also lengthen the rest period for your pasture forages. Use bloat –prevention strategies if legumes are in the forage mixture such as alfalfa, red clover, white clover etc.

Early wean calves/lambs (offspring). Offspring can be weaned at an early age and still have a good rate of gain in the feedlot. Many times near a 4:1 ratio or better on feed conversion. [By early weaning, the mother’s energy and nutritional needs decline dramatically, up to 40 percent over a normal lactation and 205 day weaning. (Myers etal. 1999)] This in turn reduces their intake rate and stretches the forage resources farther.

Separate the animals according to nutrient needs, by age and body condition score. The younger animals and any lactating animals will have a much higher nutrient demand.

Move stockers that are part of the operation to the feed lots. This will allow more rest for the forage acres and for the breeding herds or flocks.

Reduce the animal numbers (open females [heifers, cows, ewes, nannies & mares], older less productive females, and 1st bred females). If drought persists, you may want to keep bred heifers and liquidate more cows if you have been making genetic improvements in your herd. The heifers should genetically be the best animals that you have. A 400 pound calf will only eat about 1/3 as much as a mature cow. In drought prone areas, producers will run 75 percent of their carrying capacity in breeding stock, and stockers are used for the remainder. This allows more management flexibility during a drought.

Dry lot the herd or flocks until the forage growth reaches the recommended height: CSG = 8-10” and WSG = 16-20”. Placing livestock into the dry lot should be the last resort! Some farms will have a “sacrifice area” that is also used during winter or other short forage situations. This can also be used as a method to renovate some pastures in a rotation. You can usually feed at the maintenance level of the animal; however, you will need to balance the ration with other sources for energy and nutritional levels. Stored feed is the most expensive and many farms and ranches have been ruined by trying to “feed out” of a drought!

Prevention

The quicker that you recognize the short forage problem and address it, the less damage your operation will incur, both financially and environmentally. Some operations will wait for the government to pay them disaster assistance. An example of this is the CRP drought release dates that normally occur on Aug. 1st. This is well after the forage has gone dormant (i.e. cool season grasses and forage quality has decreased dramatically.)

Another concern is poisonous plants. Usually in the dry years, livestock will start grazing in wooded and odd areas that are not frequently used. The animals will tend to feed on other plant species and this increases the chance of poisoning. Many of the poisonous plants grow in the wooded or shaded areas.

It is recommended that you routinely check conditions or rainfall totals. This will allow you to forecast and make plans if it looks like a drought will continue or is foreseen. Typically, if 50 percent of the normal moisture, rainfall, is not received by June 1st, you should be prepared to initiate a Drought Plan. Check climate conditions at the Climate Prediction Center web site: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/

“Drought is a recurring characteristic of our business which should become an integral part of a continuous, coordinated management planning and application process. This process should be flexible, with timely adjustments to address ever changing situations in order to maximize continuing net return from available resources. Whether currently in the middle of a drought, going into or coming out of one, or waiting for the next one, the time to prepare for the next drought is now.” (Dr. John Merrill etal: 1983)

References

USDA/NRCS National Range and Pasture Handbook

How Can a Cow/Calf Producer Prepare for the Next Drought? John L. Merrell, Texas Christian University.

BEEF Cattle Newsletter Ohio State Univ. Extension, Issue #298 July 17, 2002 and Issue #145 July 14, 1999.

Dr. Rob Kallenbach, Forage Agronomist, Univ. Of Missouri, Columbia

Cliff Little, Beef Systems Educator, Ohio State University Extension

The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation: Decisions During a Drought: (Livestock : August 1998) by Shan Ingram http://www.noble.org


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Native Warm Season Grass

Illinois

What are Native Warm Season Grasses?

Native warm season grasses (NWSG) are plants that grow most vigorously during the late spring and summer; in contrast to the grasses many of us are more familiar with—orchardgrass, timothy, brome, fescue, and bluegrass, which do most of their growth during the spring and fall. The ones discussed here grew in the prairie areas of Illinois before the European settlers came—big and little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, and sideoats grama. They grew with other plants of the prairie—native cool seasons like Canada and Virginia wildrye and western wheatgrass, legumes like Illinois bundleflower, leadplant, purple clover, and catclaw sensitivebriar, and forbs such as gayfeather, coneflowers, maximilian sunflower, pitcher’s sage and compassplant.

Why are they important?

To the livestock producers, they can provide high quality forage in the late spring and summer after their cool season pastures have quit growing, cutting down or even eliminating summer haying. To the hay and crop producer, they can enable them to cut high quality hay in June and July, (instead of May, when cool seasons should be cut). To the crop producer, they can reduce erosion if planted as contour strips on sloping ground or improve water quality as filter strips along streambanks, rivers, and pond banks—an added advantage here is that these plants are tolerant to many herbicides used on corn, unlike cool season grasses. To the person interested in wildlife, their later haying season and more open upright growth habit makes them great nesting and brood-rearing places for quail, pheasants, prairie chickens, ducks, upland plovers, and other wildlife. These benefits are magnified even more if mixtures of prairie plants, or even compatible introduced legumes such as alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, or Korean or Marion lespedeza, are planted with them.

What are the differences between NWSG and traditional forage species?
(1) Cost of seed can be expensive, although switchgrass can be cheaper than seeding fescue, due to the lower rates of seed and fertilizer required. Costs should be looked at over the long haul. Alfalfa is much costlier, since it often has to be replanted every 4-8 years. Native plants do not require reseeding once established. (2) Planting big and little bluestem and indiangrass can be difficult because of the awns and appendages attached to the seed. It may be best to pay an extra 50¢ to $1 per pound to get the seeds debearded. Either way, a drill with oversized seed tubes and agitator in the seed box should be used, or broadcast the seed over a clean, firm seedbed. (3) Establishment periods are often long. Sometimes a person gets lucky and has a great stand the first year—more often it takes 2 or 3 years to get a good stand. A plant every square foot the end of the second growing season can become a successful stand. (4) NWSG requires different management practices than traditional forage species. NWSG grow more upright than prostrate; therefore, they should not be grazed less than 9 inches of stubble height. Grazing shorter than 8 inches limits regrowth and reduces stand life.

Impacts of Drought

Drinking water is normally the least expensive nutrient for livestock. However, water has the most impact on the forage production or lack of production. The impact of reduced forage production can and will impact the animal’s productivity and health if not managed properly. An animal’s nutrient requirements are in the following order: 1. Maintenance, 2. Fetus Development, 3. Lactation, 4. Growth, 5. Breeding, 6. Fattening. (Dr. John Merrell Texas Christian University, TCU)

Usually it will take 1200 -1500 pounds of water to produce 1 pound of forage dry matter. If brush is controlled in a normal year, forage will increase by 18 percent. If brush is controlled during a year of drought, forage production can increase about 50 percent. If you have doubts, take a look at any corn field along a wooded fence row and see how far out the corn is stunted in a dry year.

What are the yields?

NWSG yields varies greatly, just as cool season forages, on the management, fertility, depth of soil, and weather—all the way from 1.5 tons/acre/year on poorer soils to 10 tons/ac with eastern gamagrass on well managed, highly fertile bottomland soils. Under moderate management with most soils, one may expect 3-7 tons/acre. Forage tests on warm season grasses often show them very low in protein. Animal performance, though, doesn’t bear this out. The scientific community widely accepts the fact that the testing equipment is calibrated for cool season grasses and alfalfa, and will be consistently low for NWSG (Frank Ireland, U of I DSAC). Studies in Missouri and Kansas have shown steers gaining 0.8 to 2.5 lbs/head/day during the summer on warm season forages. This is compared to similar animals gaining less than 1 lb/head/day on fescue with a legume. It is unclear why the forage tests are not accurate—theories range from a bypass protein not measured by the instruments, but absorbed by the livestock; or perhaps the livestock are eating more NWSG. The addition of compatible legumes will add nitrogen to feed the grasses and improve the nutritional value for the livestock.

Where to plant

If you take care in selecting the right grass for the site, NWSG can be planted almost anywhere. On wet sites, Kanlow switchgrass (if not too wet, Cave-in-Rock) and eastern gamagrass do well. The bluestems, Blackwell switchgrass, sideoats, and indiangrass do well on dry, rocky sites. In between, you have many choices. They do need sun, so avoid planting them in shaded areas. 

How to plant

As mentioned earlier, you can use a specialized warm season grass drill for the fluffy seeds of the bluestems and indiangrass (or a mixture). Indiangrass and Bluestem seeds are rough to debeard. Even then, they may or may not work in a regular grass drill. Eastern gamagrass can be planted on 10”-40” rows with a corn planter. A regular grass drill can be used for switchgrass and sideoats gama. Switchgrass can also be planted with a Brillion-type seeder on a clean seedbed.

Broadcasting seed on a firm, clean seedbed is preferred if erosion is not severe. “Clean” seedbeds—those with little residue—give good consistent results when rolled with a roller or a cultipacker; the seed is broadcast and then the field is rolled again. This almost always insures that the seed will not be planted too deep and there will be good soil to seed contact.

Planting depth should be no deeper than ¼ inch. A firm seedbed can help keep the seed from being planted too deep. Good soil to seed contact is a must, as it is when planting anything. Dates to plant vary depending on whether you are in northern, central, or southern Illinois. Northern Illinois planting season is from around mid-April to June 15. Planting times in central Illinois range from mid-April to June 5, and in southern Illinois from early April until June 1. Planting methods and dates are the same with native forbs (flowers) and legumes.

Find out more

For more information on planting warm season grasses on your land, contact your local USDA Service Center, NRCS office. Someone there can give you the information you need or direct you to someone who can.


Prepared by
Roger Staff, NRCS Grazing Specialist and Kenton Macy, NRCS Biologist
 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Pasture Management System Layout

Illinois

General Information

How would you layout your pasture management system? Every farm can have its own unique design. These systems can all vary somewhat because of land formations, soil types, topography, and whether there are creeks or streams intersecting the farm, etc. However, when designing any of these systems, there are some guiding principles that we as planners use when we assist you, the client or producer, in setting up a grazing system.

1. Install a good permanent perimeter fence.
2. Keep travel distance to water less than 800 ft. for beef cattle, and most grazing livestock, except closer for lactating dairy animals.
3. Try and make your pastures (paddocks) as square as possible, for more uniform grazing verse narrow rectangles or triangle shapes.
4. Follow the topography, or soils map lines, with the division fences when possible.
5. Buy quality materials, even when using temporary fencing and watering equipment.
6. Avoid placing the mineral feeders next to the water source, or shade. Use the mineral to draw livestock to under utilized areas.
7. Fence the creeks, streams and ponds separately. This is done for management purposes, not necessarily for total exclusion. Flash graze these areas for 2 days or less in a rotation.
8. When locating water points, position for multiple paddock usage along division fences, when possible. Then protect the area around tanks with gravel and fabric.
9. Locate gates in fence corners for better livestock flow.
10. Divide pastures with a single electric smooth wire (12.5 gauge high tensile for main divisions). Temporary fencing can be used for final pasture subdivisions.
11. Never electrify barbed wire, both for the liability of it and the barbs tend to loose electric current.
12. Buy a heavy enough, (larger) charger to carry the entire fence you have as well as high enough voltage for the animal species that you are trying to control.

Consider These Steps

First you should install a good perimeter fence on the farm or pasture. This is needed to naturally keep the animals in and reduce liability issues. I know, and can appreciate, the challenges of a livestock owner that is surrounded by grain farmers that fail to see the need to assist in this issue, also. Good fences make good neighbors!

Secondly, keep travel distance to water less that 800 ft., or the cattle will use more energy getting there than they will get from the water. The shorter the distance, the less of a herding effect will occur. The animals will tend to drink one at a time more, at this distance or less. This will also allow you to use smaller, more portable tanks. The water is usually the most limiting factor of any system. Once that is worked out, the rest will be fairly easy because the fences can be ran most any direction. Try to locate the water points along division fences for multiple paddock/pasture usages. You may want to lay a water line above the ground the first year or two, before burying it, to test and see if that is the location that you truly want it in.

Thirdly, try to make the pastures as square as possible. Avoid long narrow paddocks. The length should always be less than 4 times the width. The more square the areas, the less fence it will take. Also, the animals will graze the areas more uniformly. Keeping the paddocks square will aid in minimizing grazing time and effort, and will lessen trampling damage. Always use 12.5 gauge high tensile wire for your main feeder wires. High tensile wire will last longer than barbed wire, as it has a category 3 coating of galvanizing, or three coats. Most barbed wire has only one coat. Never use the poly wires or tapes as a main feeder wire because the resistance to the current is dramatically greater due to the size of the wires. These temporary products are handy and easy to use for portable locations; just try not to restrict the current, as it may be needed at some outer point in the system. Always use good grounding equipment and follow the instructions on the installation of the ground rods and lightening chokes!

The layout of the division fences will be affected by how the pasture lays both topographically and physically. The bottomland soils will produce differently than the sloping land, bluff areas, and the flatter ridge tops. Subdividing along these landforms (sloping areas) can allow you better management options. This can give you an opportunity to vary the days that each pasture is grazed. Sometimes the soil maps of your pastures can help guide you as to the location of the fences. Topographic maps are also a good aid. I always want to walk the pasture with the producer to see how everything lays and what is physically there. This will give the planners, an opportunity to give the producers better alternatives. For easy entrance or exits, place the gates in the corners of the pastures.

Ted Funk, U of I Extension Engineer, always says “buy gadgets but buy quality” when it comes to materials. The low impedance fencers are very effective and will be powerful enough to carry several miles of fence. Be sure that you buy the correct size fencer for your needs or one a little larger in case you add more fence or further subdivisions later. If a fencer is rated in miles of fence, that distance is equal to that many miles of a single wire of fence. A five-wire fence has five times the distance in power generating requirements. Example: 1320 ft. of single wire is just that; a five-wire fence 1320 ft. long is equal to 6600 ft., if all wires are electrified. Don’t short your fence by using to few ground rods and lightening chokes and arresters in the fencing system. You will need at least three rods for your charger and always have one more ground rod for your fence than was installed for your charger. NRCS Fence Standard 382 suggests burying 3 foot of ground rod per joule of rating on your charger.

You should fence the streams, creeks and ponds separately. These areas can be used for a corridor to link the paddocks together and/or to limit the animal access to the water body as a loafing area. The area will be grazed, but only allow a brief period in the grazing cycle, one or two days depending upon the size of the area and number of animals. If a creek is the water source, we can design a watering point in it. This design will consist of armoring one point to use as the water point with electric fencing around it, thus minimizing the animal impact on the remainder of the stream or pond.

In summary, in most cow/calf, sheep and goat operations, 8-12 pastures/paddocks will work well for improving the gains per acre and the return on your investment. This allows for a longer rest period and will work well to prolong the forage stand. This also will improve water quality and other environmental benefits. In a stocker operation, the calves will need to be moved more often, usually every two days. The grass based dairies will move animals after every milking, (every 12 hours). With sheep and goats the use of portable fence may be preferred for the final subdivisions for better management. Strip grazing works well with all species however you will need to use a back fence to control any over grazing of previously grazed pastures. The key to all of this is you, the producer, will make the management decision, not the animals, on where and how long they are grazing in an area!
 

Prepared by

Roger Staff and Matt Bunger, NRCS Grazing Specialists


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Prescribed Grazing Tables - FOTG

Illinois

528-6
Table 1: Minimum Heights of Pasture Species for Initiating and Terminating Grazing
 

Species and Mixtures Minimum/ Optimum Height of Vegetative Growth 1/ Minimum Grazing Height 2/ Minimum Regrowth Before Killing Frost Approximate Data to Begin Reset for Winter protection, by Plant Suitability Zones 3/
COOL SEASON (C3s) INCHES
Begin Grazing
INCHES
End Grazing
INCHES I II III
Alfalfa/Timothy/Orchardgrass 6-8 3 8 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Alfalfa/Orchardgrass 6-8 3 8 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Alfalfa/Timothy/Bromegrass 6-8 3 8 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Ladino Clover/Orchardgrass 8 3 8 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Red Clover/Ladino Clover/Orchardgrass 8 3 8 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Red Clover/Ladino Clover/Tall Fescue 6-8 3 5   9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Birdsfoot Trefoil/Timothy 5 3 6 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15  
Ladino Clover/Bromegrass 5 3 6 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15  
Orchardgrass 6-8 3 8 4/ 4/ 4/
Tall Fescue 6-8 3 8 4/ 4/ 4/
Alfalfa/Tall Fescue 6-8 3 8   9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Ladino Clover/Tall Fescue 5 3 8   9/15-10/15  
Alsike Clover/Ladino Clover/Timothy 5 2 5 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15  
Ladino Clover/Alsike Clover/Reed Canarygrass 6 4 6 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15  
Ladino Clover/Alsike Clover/Tall Fescue 5 3 8   9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Alfalfa/Bromegrass 6-8 4 6 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Sericea Lespedeza/Tall Fescue 10 4 8     9/20-10/20
Korean Lespedeza/Tall Fescue 6 4 8     9/20-10/20
Bromegrass 5/ 4 2 4 N/A N/A N/A
WARM SEASON (C4s)
Switchgrass 18 8 6/ 10 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Indiangrass 18 8 6/ 10 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Big Bluestem 18 8 6/ 10 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20
Eastern Gammagrass 20 10 6/ 15 9/1-10/1 9/15-10/15 9/20-10/20

1/ Minimum plant heights are to be reached before grazing is permitted in the spring or following a rest period resulting from rotational grazing. Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) systems (8 or more pastures) can reduce the height by 50%.
2/ Minimum plant heights below which grazing is not permitted.
3/ Protection from fall grazing is required for one month before a killing frost. Remove livestock on or before the dates shown and do not permit grazing before a killing frost occurs.
4/ No restrictions.
5/ May include other species such as redtop, timothy, quackgrass, or white clover.
6/ Leave a 10" stubble at end of grazing season until after first killing frost.


Acknowledgements

NRCS, Illinois, April 1997


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassGrazing Management

Steps for a Year-Round Grazing Management Plan

Illinois

January


Start grazing stockpiled Tall Fescue. Graze to within 2-3 inches; strip grazing is the best method. Strip grazing refers to temporarily subdividing a grazing area into subunits with temporary fences so grazing for short periods can be achieved; 1-3 days.
• Inventory feed supplies and use stockpiled forage to best advantage.
• Review grazing system to make any needed changes.
• Look for grazing meetings to attend the next few months and check the Illinois Forage and Grassland Councils web site: www.illinoisforage.org for dates and agendas.

February

Start over seeding legumes into grass stands, (red clover 8#/ac. the first year; 4#/ac. every other year). For best results with red clover the pH level should be above 6.2. On low fertility and/or very poor soils, plant Lespedeza at 15#/ac the first year and 6-8 periodically afterwards as stand thins.
• Annual Korean or Marion can be used.
• Seed amounts are listed as Pure Live Seed, PLS.
• Unroll hay for feeding to spread nutrients on fields.
• Install changes needed in grazing system.
• Start warm-season grass burns when conditions are favorable to control weeds and brush and remove litter.

March

Complete burns on warm-season grasses for weed and brush control and to remove litter, as early as possible.
• Finish stockpiled Tall Fescue.
• Finish over seeding legumes into pastures. Inter seed legumes with no-till or light disking, depending upon ground conditions and your location.
• Fertilize cool season pastures.
• For conversion to new forage seedings, spray 4”-6” growth for vegetative control.
• Apply lime according to soil test. Consider adding magnesium to mineral mixes to off-set possible grass tetany in cattle.
• Graze cereal rye, if available until pastures green-up, strip grazing will work well again to allow the rye to re-grow for additional forage resources and grazing.
• Control animal movements if ground conditions are excessively wet, as they can tramp out the forage before the ground hardens.
• Fertilize cool season forages, 30# of N, for early green-up and to jump start a few acres for grazing. N will not need to be applied on many acres because it will stimulate the grass growth and compete with the newer seeded legumes. A 30-40 % legume stand (red clover) can produce up to 100-150 units of N annually for the grasses to use once established. Therefore no nitrogen will be required for optimum production. The taller the legumes are the more nitrogen they create for the grasses.

April

• Finish interseeding legumes with no-till or light disking.
• Plant new stands of cool season grasses to reestablish pastures and hay lands.
• Spray to control winter weeds.
• Flash graze grass stands to control canopy competition over new legume seeding and avoid grazing new legume stands until after the 2-leaf stage.
• Begin grazing when forages are about 6 inches tall and move animals when they have grazed forages to a 3-inch stubble height. This will allow the plant to capture sunlight and grow back quicker while also protecting the root system.
• To keep the legumes in the stand, allow a minimum of a 30-day rest period between grazing cycles.

Livestock will need to be rotated quickly in the spring, when the forages are growing faster, to top them off. As the forage growth slows down your rest period should lengthen. In the spring during faster growth some pastures may need to be skipped and baled to keep them vegetative. By the time the animals get back to the baled pastures in their grazing cycle, the forage should be re-grown.

Always move the animals by the plant height not by the calendar. When Orchard grass and Tall Fescue has been grazed to a 3-inch height, animals should be moved to fresh forage. For the proper grazing heights see table 1 in the NRCS, 528 Prescribed Grazing Standard, electronic Field Office Technical Guide (eFOTG).
• After making hay, allow the forage to grow to 6-8 inches before turning the animals out to graze again.

May

If summer annuals are needed they should be planted.
• Oats and turnips can be planted and grazed in the summer months as well as in the winter.
• Sorghum-Sudan grass, brown mid rib (BMR), and pearl millet are both good choices for summer annuals and grazing needs. Pearl millet does not have prussic acid. The Sorghum-Sudan grass families will have prussic acid after a frost, especially any new tillers. Nitrates can be an issue in a dry year on pearl millet, sorghum and Sorghum-Sudan grass. Always let these summer annual grasses grow to a minimum of 18 inches before grazing. Pearl millet may work better for grazing than Sorghum-Sudan grasses.
• Strip grazing is advised to get the most from your forage production.
• Soil test for fall fertility applications on pastures. Fertilize warm season perennial grasses last half of month.
• Cut hay on cool season grass fields in boot stage and legume fields in 1/10 bloom stage.
• Clip pastures to control seed heads for better quality forages.
• Flash graze or clip grass stands to control canopy competition over new legume seedlings.

June

• Cut warm season grass hay in the boot stage.
• A second cutting of legumes at 1/10 bloom stage.
• Spray or clip to control weeds before seed formation.
• Clip pastures to control seed heads for better forage quality.
• Graze forages as needed in a rotation to fill the forage gap.
• Monitor rest periods on grazing systems as cool season grass growth starts to slow, be aware of minimum grazing heights.

July

• Cut warm season perennial and annual grass hay in the boot stage.
• Harvest the third cutting of legumes during the 1/10 bloom stage.
• Use slow rotation (longer rest periods) through cool season pasture fields to clean up excess forages.
• Clip or graze excess growth, opening plant crown to sunlight and stimulating next year’s shoots.
• Monitor critical heat index days and provide some paddocks with shade for livestock.
• Closely monitor grazing heights and rest periods. This is essential for legume survival.
• Evaluate fields for brush and weed control needs. Inspect fields for invader species as well. Fertilize perennial warm season grasses with 50-80# N for added fall growth.

If small grain is in the rotation, such as wheat or oats, this is a time to graze any legumes that may have been over seeded in them. Red clover works well for stubble hay or for grazing. If stubble is grazed you may want to clip the straw stubble first to avoid eye irritation on animals. Sometimes the summer annual weeds and grasses can make good forage for a short period of time, like Foxtail, as long as it is vegetative.

August

• Graze or clip pastures and apply 50# of N to allow for Tall Fescue or other forages to stockpile. Clipping will destroy the old growth and allow the plants to start their fall vegetative re-growth. This should be completed at least 75 days ahead of the first killing frost for your location, a longer time period is better. For maximum yield, N should be applied in early to mid August.
• Fescue is the best forage to stockpile, the nutritional value stays with it longer into the winter than any other cool season grass. Any of the grasses can be stockpiled; however, to receive their best nutritional value, they will need to be grazed before the tall fescue.
• If possible, mow waterways throughout the year in crop fields. This will keep them vegetative and, if grazing crop aftermath, the waterways will stockpile and make a good source of forage as well.
During August, you should also be planting or flying on any winter annuals, such as Cereal rye, Oats, Turnips, and Annual Ryegrass, or other winter annuals that you are going to use. If flying on annual forages, over seeding into standing corn should occur as early in the month as possible. In the northern half of Illinois, all flown on annuals should be completed by the 15th of August. If there are small grains in the rotation that does not have legumes in them, those fields will make an excellent site for planting a crop of winter annuals for winter use.
• Leave sufficient plant height on annual legumes, lespedeza, to reseed for the following year.
• Clip brush to weaken the root systems and open canopy for fall forage growth.
• Complete fall seedings as planned or needed, for improved forage base.

June, July and August

During the summer, slow down you rotation and lengthen the rest periods 35-40 days as the cool season grasses begin their summer slump. This is the time of year when you can use warm season perennials or annuals to increase production and forage growth. The perennial warm season grasses are more deeply rooted and in many cases will give you as much annual production as cool season forages, however, it all comes during the summer growing season. Native warm season perennials, such as Switch grass, Indian grass, Big Bluestem and E. Gamagrass, should not be grazed until they reach 18-20 inches and then move animals when grazed down to 8-10 inches.
• Begin grazing the annuals once they are 18-24 inches tall.
• Strip grazing is most efficient and allows the plants to rest and re-grow.
• Legumes tend to grow better than the cool season grasses in the summer.
• Nitrates can be a concern in dry years on Pearl Millet and Sorghum-Sudan grass.
• Always wait until the annual plants are 18 inches tall before starting to graze.
• If a drought occurs/persists refer to the fact sheet on drought management or place livestock in a dry lot for feeding.

September

If you have warm season grasses, legumes or other forages, other than fescue and orchard grass, they should be rested from mid-September to mid-October to allow the plant to store nutrient reserves back down into its roots for the winter. If silage is cropped, this is a good time to drill or no-till in some additional winter annuals.
• Rotate grazing on fall pastures while stockpiling growth on reserve fields for winter needs.
• Graze Ky31 fescue heavily to weaken stands for over seeding with legumes next winter.
• Complete any fall forage plantings by the regionally appropriate seeding dates.
•Refer to seeding dates and regional map in Establishment/Renovation section.
•Inventory winter feed supplies.
•Plant additional annuals, purchase hay or stockpile more Tall Fescue, if necessary. The forage that you are stockpiling may be the best quality that will be produced all year.

October

Once corn is harvested, allow the animals to graze stalks first to allow the forages and pasture to rest while stockpiling. Strip grazing or rotationally grazing stalks is best since it restricts the animal movements to only the area of grazing and not trampling the entire field. This is assuming that no winter annuals are growing in the stalks. The winter annuals that are growing in the stalks should have 45-60 days of sun light to grow for optimum yields before the animals graze them.
• Soil test for next years fertility needs and for spring seeding.
• Evaluate weed pressure, such as musk thistle, and apply needed herbicides to fields with severe infestations.
• Start spraying musk thistle while in the rosette stage for best control.
• Continue to stockpile fescue since the longer it grows the more forage dry matter you will have to graze in the winter.

November

• Spray to kill Tall Fescue for conversion to other forages.
• Spray musk thistle in rosette stage, if not already completed.
• Test forages and hay before feeding begins to improve winter feeding efficiency.
• Separate animals by nutritional needs, lactating cows and stockers need the best forages.
• Prepare water systems for freezing temperatures.
• Start planning ahead for next year.

Identify the weak links in the system. Ask yourself: Can I change anything to grow better forages longer? What will make my system easier to manage? Check with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Soil and Water Districts for available cost share assistance on forage program improvements.

• Start grazing the winter annuals and corn stalks, depending upon the growth, or feed hay to allow for more time and growth potential on the winter annuals.
• The turnips will stay green until the temperature gets down to 15 degree F. Once the temperature gets that low, the turnip leaves will be burnt and frozen. The animals will still eat them but their value will drop. The bulbs will be grazed until the ground is frozen or too muddy. Turnips should be consumed in the fall and early winter as they will not over winter.
• Oats will freeze once the temperature reaches 26 degrees.

December

Once all of the winter annuals and stalks are grazed, begin feeding hay stored outside first before the quality declines. The test results on endophyte in the Tall Fescue, according to the University of Missouri (U of MO), the later into the winter the fescue is used, the lower the endophyte levels. Also, the freezing temperatures will help break down the waxy cuticle of the leaves and the animals will prefer it better. According to U of MO research, it is best to feed your stockpiled Tall Fescue starting in January. Use the Tall Fescue wisely and it should be adequate for beef cattle until late February or early March.
• Strip graze the forages to make them last longer into the winter and reduce the loss.Research shows the endophyte levels will fluctuate from year to year, even in stockpiled tall fescue, K31. To avoid this, you can plant friendly endophyte or endophyte free tall fescues.
• The problem with this is controlling the seed bank of infected seed, already on the ground, that will come back in your old pastures.
• If you are planting friendly or endophyte free seed, try to plant into cropland that will allow your stand to remain purer for a longer time. For best results, always follow the suggested seeding dates for your area when planting.

Prepared by

Roger Staff and Matt Bunger, NRCS Grazing Specialists and Dean Oswald, U of I Extension, Animal Systems Educator.

References

Soil & Pasture Health Guide for Missouri; Illinois Agronomy Handbook; and NRCS Field Office Technical Guide, Prescribed Grazing Std 528.
 


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