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Saturday...Temperatures will range from a high of 46 to a low of 40 degrees with mostly clear skies. Winds will range between 3 and 6 miles per hour from the southwest. No precipitation is expected.
Overnight ...Temperatures will range from 46 to 41 degrees with mostly clear skies. Winds will remain steady around 4 miles per hour from the southwest. No precipitation is expected.
Saturday...Temperatures will range from a high of 65 to a low of 40 degrees with mostly clear skies. Winds will range between 6 and 18 miles per hour from the southwest. No precipitation is expected.

BILL KOLODZIEF Photo By Dan Hansen

Budgeting pasture grass is key to a successful grazing operation

Jan. 31, 2013 | 0 comments

Successful graziers learn to master a variety of management skills and avoid pitfalls that can lead to grazing failures.

Two areas to avoid are letting cattle out on pasture too early in the spring and over grazing pastures during the summer growing slump.

Bill Kolodzief and Peter Arnold, both successful graziers in central Wisconsin, have found that by using simple tools and a spreadsheet, they can better determine when to let cattle out on pasture, move them to a new paddock, and the best times to harvest for winter feed.

Peter Arnold and his family graze 200 milk cows along with heifers on 230 acres near Edgar in Marathon County. They are progressive pasture managers who also utilize new parlor technology, TMR feed supplementation, low-cost freestall housing and improved genetics.

The Arnolds are meticulous managers of nutrients, and are fully compliant with all state standards related to clean water and erosion control. Their soil erosion rate is a mere 0.3 ton per acre. They were among the first Wisconsin farmers to be accepted into the NRCS Conservation Security Program.

Bill Kolodzieg is a professional soil scientist and a successful grazier. He developed 32 acres of old cropland and hay ground near Stevens Point into a managed grazing operation in 2007. Currently, he runs around 35 beef cow/calf pairs and plans to expand his herd.

The cattle are rotationally grazed through the primary 32 acres until the pastures go into summer dormancy, at which time the animals are moved to additional fenced-in acres on land owned by other family members. The cattle then continue to graze there well into November.

Kolodziej winters his animals with no buildings, instead using portable windbreaks for shelter to keep costs low.

"The windbreaks and purchased feed are moved throughout a paddock allowing manure to be more evenly distributed," he noted. "In spring the out-wintered areas are dragged to help spread wasted feed and manure."

Low alkaloid Reed Canary Grass, White and Red Clovers are seeded to improve pastures on the sandy soil that has a summer water table between three and eight feet.


Kolodziej stressed how important it is for graziers to regularly inventory the grass in their pastures.

"By learning to identify the residual height of the grass and the success or failure of pasture treatments, you'll rapidly develop the skills to become a master grazier," he said. "You will learn the best time to let out your cattle, whether or not to machine harvest and how much winter feed to make or buy."

Grazing down below three inches on dried summer pastures will dramatically reduce fall yields, according to Kolodziej. "Leaving inadequate residual grass in fall also will set back pasture growth in spring," he cautioned.

"A proper pasture inventory requires identifying plant species and measuring pasture yield using a pasture stick and rising plate meter," Kolodziel advised. "Some graziers check every day but measuring every two weeks is usually adequate. You can get help measuring and labeling paddocks from NRCS or your county staff."


Kolodziej has developed a spreadsheet that he uses to record the information collected from his pasture inventory. "Also take into consideration the type of animals - dairy, dry cows or heifers - you'll be pasturing and any supplemental feed.," he advised. "Enter the paddock numbers, size and herd numbers in your spreadsheet.

He recommends using the spreadsheet to identify the pasture height needed for cattle "let out" based on 20 herd days. "A herd day is the amount of forage needed to feed your herd for one day," he explained.

In late summer the spreadsheet information can be used to make decisions related to feed purchases and possibly selling some animals if a market price drop is anticipated. "Go to your spreadsheet and change pasture height to see height needed for grazing days in fall," he suggested.

Arnold uses a spreadsheet more as a reference guide than he does in making daily management decisions. He may monitor pastures daily depending on the season and weather conditions, and uses a spreadsheet to provide a record of grazing for each paddock, manure applications and management requirements.


Arnold views spring and early summer, late summer and early fall, and winter/stored feed as separate seasons when making management decisions. "We turn our cows out on pasture as early as possible in the spring, sometimes for only a few hour a day but that gives them good exercise," he said.

Half of the farm's liquid manure is applied before pasture grass greens up in spring despite the possibility of soil compaction. "We'll stay away from the fields or areas that are too soft," Arnold said. "In spring we also interseed about 30 percent of our pastures."


Summer is a time for both grazing, mechanically harvesting forage and applying manure. "We graze about three to five acres a day during summer," Arnold said. "We also mechanically harvest pastures on our whole farm during early summer, which usually takes about three weeks."

He urges being aggressive when mechanically harvesting pastures but warns against cutting after August. Dry cows are used to clean up areas of pastures that are not easily accessible to machinery, and heifers are grazed in lower area of pastures.

The remaining liquid manure and manure from bedding packs are applied during the first two weeks in August to help spur fall pasture growth, "but we wait three weeks before grazing pastures where liquid manure has been spread," he said.

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