Graziers share ideas on getting through summer slump

Gloria Hafemeister


Pasture walks provide a wealth of information to graziers who are attempting to solve problems in their livestock feeding business or fine tune their pastures to get the most out of them.

The recent field day, hosted by the Arlington Research Farm, provided an opportunity for graziers to walk around in some experimental grazing plots and observe the growth of the plants and see firsthand how the animals respond to the paddocks. A panel discussion featuring four experience graziers added more helpful information to the day.

Dr. Larry Smith, Lodi, owns and operates a 760-acre stocker cattle farm in Viroqua. In 1965, he founded the Lodi Veterinary Hospital, retiring in 1990. His research in the area of cattle parasites and experience with pasture-based farming and cattle grazing have earned him the respect of UW faculty, UW-Extension and many others with whom he has collaborated and shared his knowledge.

He extends his grazing during slump periods by allowing his cattle to eat off the top and then move on to another paddock. Often this means moving them twice a day.

“I’ve always had excess grass, and I’ve made a lot of hay,” Smith said..

Regarding parasites in his grazing animals, he added, “We do egg counts when we get cattle from the south, and then we know what we’re dealing with when we get them up here. Resistance to worming control is a huge issue.”

Smith sees lung worms as a problem that, in the past, had been limited to the south.

Vance Haugen, UW-Extension agent in Crawford County, has also been grazing dairy and beef for more than 25 years. Before that he was grazing sheep.

“We do everything to prevent summer slump,” Haugen said. “I have a big variety of grasses in different locations on my farm. I have land that is facing south and facing north, hills and flat ground.”

He also plants warm-season plants to help with the summer slump.

“I like grazing corn, drilled in 6-inch rows into my pastures," Haugen said. "I want 50,000 to 100,000 seeds out there."

Realizing that corn seed can be expensive, he said he uses bin-run corn seed, which is fine as long as it doesn’t have any transgenetics.

While some of the graziers at the event said they utilize some form of sorghum grass to ease the summer slump, Haugen said, “I don’t like it because there is always a risk of getting prussic acid.”

Haugen has 180 acres that he grazes 200 dairy animals on ranging in age from young heifers to milking cows. If he anticipates a spell of hot dry weather, he will reserve some of his warm season grass fields to help get the cattle through the slump.

Reid Ludlow, a Viroqua beef grazier, said he tries to stock enough during the lush spring growth and then let pastures get a little more mature.

“It helps plants, and I take feed down hard at some point in each paddock," he said. "As we get into summer, we feed additional feed to keep our stockers growing.”

Jim Munch, Coon Valley, has a grass-fed, beef cow-calf to finish business. In the summer slump, he uses a little less-quality forage.

“We have five different types of grasses on the farm that mature at different rates,” he said. “If you have different grasses, that will protect you.”

When his animals are in the finishing stage, they use hay fields during the summer slump.  Munch also starts grazing earlier in the season to take advantage of the lush growth before the slump begins.

Dr. Dan Schaefer, chair of the UW-Madison animal sciences department, introduced the graziers on the panel and commented on the dairy steers being grazed in the pastures featured on the beef field day at Arlington.

“I would like to see these Holstein steers come off pasture by about 900 pounds, or we’ll never get them finished," Schaefer said. "Holsteins are sometimes slower starters on pasture.”

The field day also featured discussions about avoiding bloat in grazing cattle. Kura clover, while a high-protein part of the pasture, is a risk for bloat when it is the main feed out there. In combination with enough other grasses, it is not a risk.

Dr. Ken Albrecht worked with establishing the Kura clover and other pasture combinations at the research farm. He commented that corn, sorghum and other grasses during the summer help to dilute the Kura clover, but when grazed straight later in fall it can be a risk. To combat this, Albrecht said they have looked at establishing winter cereals in the fall, but he said sometimes that can be difficult to do because the Kura clover provides too much competition for getting cereal grains established.

The field day visitors also looked at alfalfa fields that included a variety of grasses for grazing. The alfalfa was the grazing variety, and in one field it was together with a satin variety of orchard grass. Some of the alfalfa fields had tall fescue with them.

Albrecht said bloat was a problem in the first year when alfalfa was the dominant plant in the pasture. After that, the grasses began to take over. The ideal combination, he said, is a 50-50 mix of legumes and grasses.

“Letting the animals just eat off the top of the alfalfa the first year helped bring the grasses into the field faster,” he said.

Haugen added, “If you have an alfalfa stand, give the animals a small area so they are forced to eat all the way down. By habit, they like to eat off the tops, and doing this forces them to eat all the way down. Bloat only comes from the top one-third of the plant. When they eat it all the way down, bloat will not likely happen.”