Stretching feed supplies in a drought year is important for graziers who want to remain profitable.
During a recent grazing conference in Randolph, sponsored by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative together with the Dodge-Columbia Graziers and Town and Country RC&D, participants had an opportunity to glean ideas from those who have found ways to cope with the dry hot weather.
Ron Schoepp, Lodi, custom raises heifers on pasture. Schoepp includes alfalfa in the pasture mix and says the long roots helped extend his pasture in the drought year when grasses did not do well.
He said, "A seventy-five percent mix of alfalfa, established in 2006, did well with the grasses and that area provided our best yielding paddocks in 2012."
Asked about problems with insects that traditionally attack alfalfa during hot dry weather, Schoepp said he never sprayed and didn't have any problems. He believes the mix of grasses with the alfalfa discourages the insects that seek pure alfalfa stands.
When he establishes the alfalfa in his pastures he does so in two separate operations, taking a slightly different pattern so the alfalfa and grasses do not compete with each other.
He also shared his mob-grazing management techniques, noting, "I leave very little residual. Before I move them I make them get up and then wait a little while so they will fertilize the paddock they just finished grazing. Then I move them. I move them four-five times a day."
Schoepp adds, "With this strip-graze method they are in a small area long enough to eat the thistles and weeds right along with everything else."
He said a little molasses on the bigger thistles encourages them to eat them. Putting a little grain on the center of the patch will also help. They eat the grain and the thistles right along with it.
He also notes, "In the drought year we actually fed less baled hay than we did other years. That's because in a normal year, when we see rain coming we bring them into the yard to feed them bales so they won't mess up the pasture. This year we didn't need to do that."
On the really hot days he set up a lawn sprinkler by a feed bunk to let them all get soaked, then put them under a shade tree.
In fall he has success strip-grazing corn stalks. He has determined that 100 stalks per animal per day provides the amount of feed they need in combination with hay. A group of 120 heifers get one round bale a day and they eat the entire bale and then graze on the stalks.
Every day he moves the poly wire to provide a new area.
"The sooner you can do it after harvesting high moisture shell corn the better. We even graze them in the snow," he comments.
Asked about setting poles in the frozen ground he said he has not had a problem because the residue insulates the ground enough around them to get them out. Pulling them out the next day after the heifers have eaten the stalks is sometimes a problem.
Schoepp will host a pasture walk at his Lodi farm on July 10, hosted by the Dodge-Columbia County Grazing Network.
OTHER DROUGHT OPTIONS
Gene Schreifer is a grazier and also UW-Extension educator from Iowa County. He said alfalfa in the pastures helped the pastures survive the dry weather. He usually has success with red clover in dry years but he said this year the clover shut down as well.
Tall fescue - endophyte-free - did fairly well in the drought. He said, "The productivity and persistence in summer is where it shines. It also does well in fall and winter."
Schriefer said another grass that did well in his part of the state this year is the meadow brome, a bunch grass, that slowed some in the drought but as soon as it rained a little it bounced back.
He said orchard grass did well in the good soil and the reed canary grass, with its deep root system, did well in the dry weather.
Schreifer says, "We may need to think about some warm season grasses that like hot dry weather. By having a mix of alfalfa and warm season grasses we should have feed. The alfalfa did well in the areas where there were cracks in the bed rock and it reached down for water."
John Ovadal, a Watertown beef producer, said sorghum-sudan grass helped extend his feed supply last year. He planted it the end of May and it took three weeks to come up but he was able to get two crops from it.
He harvested 65 bales from it or 3.5 ton on a dry matter basis per acre.
Ovadel said he seeded it at twice the recommended rate in order to insure a good stand. He drilled it in with a roller behind the drill.
He said, "The sorghum-sudan sends down deep roots so it helps prevent hardpan, too."
Ovadel takes the last of it off before it freezes so he doesn't have to worry about nitrates in the feed.
His beef cows graze on six-acre strips. He said the tall fescue did well in the drought and it never turned brown but he said his animal don't like it.