Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358 Fax: (859) 323-1952
Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-2853 Fax: (859) 257-3412
Feeding costs are the greatest expense for livestock producers. Grazing is the cheapest source of feed. Dragging and mowing pastures are two methods that are often used to attempt to increase forage production and soil fertility. Although these practices are useful agronomically, they may not be practical economically.
Many producers drag pastures to spread manure. In comparison to cutting fields for hay, one benefit of grazing is when animals are grazing, more than 80 percent of the plant nutrients are returned to the soil through deposition of manure and urine. These spots are often concentrated in certain areas and not uniformly dispersed. Because manure is an important fertilizer source, dragging fields allows for a more even distribution of nutrients. This practice also helps reduce internal parasites by exposing the parasite eggs and larvae in the manure to the sun and heat. This benefit is not realized in the early spring or fall when temperatures are cooler. Dragging pastures also reduces selective grazing by reducing areas that are left un-grazed due to livestock avoiding grazing near manure piles.
Mowing pastures is a method used to keep forages in a vegetative state, to promote growth, and to control weeds. As plants mature to a reproductive stage, they become less palatable to livestock and forage quality quickly decreases. Keeping plants in a vegetative state not only maximizes forage quality but also keep plants at the highest growth rate which will increase total annual yield. Mowing off weed seed heads or keeping weeds from going to seed will decrease weed problems. Under intensive rotational grazing systems when relatively large numbers of animals are placed in small paddocks for short periods of time, little or no mowing may be needed.
Using methods such as mowing and dragging pastures may increase utilization and forage quality although, the expense involved may not be practical economically. The cost of machinery use and fuel as well as the time and labor needed may be more than the benefits of utilizing these methods. The best way to achieve these goals may be to adjust stocking rate and time spent in paddocks. Using methods to increase uniform grazing and manure distribution is vital to maximize forage production and quality. It is important to consider the benefits and costs involved in any proposed method.