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
When Gene and Marcy Dobbs purchased Shady Meadows in 1971, the 65 acre farm located in Campbell County consisted of 2 large paddocks with many briars, bushes, and rocks. Their now successful cow/calf operation has 8 paddocks which are used for both hay and grazing. Because of the varying landscape in this area, steeper paddocks are used mainly for grazing while moderately sloping and flatter paddocks are cut for hay and, after a regrowth period, put back into the grazing rotation. The paddocks which are used for hay are strategically put back into the rotation during the hot summer months when forage production has decreased. The docile herd, which is made up of Simmental X Angus cross and Angus X Charolais cross, is easily moved by strategic gate and alley placement every 3-5 days depending on forage availability. The majority of the paddocks are set in a pinwheel type arrangement around the main barn and concrete lot where the cattle are fed soybean hulls daily. This allows for easy movement of the cattle to and from the barn area and paddocks.
Environmental conservation is of extreme importance on the farm. Gene and Marcy have reached numerous conservation goals and continue to strive to advance these goals. The large creek which runs through the farm has recently been lined with rock for creek bank stabilization. All streams and ponds are fenced off from animal access to reduce water contamination and erosion. Geotextile fabric has been used for all heavy traffic areas such as around gates and alleyways. Culverts have been placed under alleyways in areas where water runs through. A drainage ditch is fenced off from animal access and has a sizeable vegetation strip to reduce possible contamination from run-off from the feedlot area. Gene plans to continue his environmental conservation goals by fencing out other areas which may be prone to erosion.
Water and shade are easily accessible throughout the farm. Natural shade provided by large trees is abundant throughout the farm. Waterers, which are available in every paddock, are either fed from an underground pipe from city water or the pond. The majority of waterers are permanent, automatic waterers while a few are assembled using a quick coupler and float. Single waterers are made accessible to multiple paddocks when possible. In the winter, the gravity flow pipes are drained to prevent freezing and one frost-proof waterer is used. Gene uses a unique method to reduce problems with unwanted material entering the PVC pipe which carries water from the pond to the waterers. The end of the pipe is closed off and small holes are drilled into the sides of the pipe that are near the end. This allows plenty of water to enter the pipe while decreasing unwanted material which might clog the float valve or pipe. Gene explains that having water near to the cattle in all areas of the farm has increased animal performance and evenness of grazing.
Thick forage stands across the farm include commonly grazed grasses and legumes. Red and white clover, tall fescue, orchardgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass are the main forages on the farm. Gene uses a no-till drill or old grain drill to inter-seed red clover into approximately three paddocks each year. Pastures are clipped for weed control and to keep forages in a vegetative state. Soil testing is utilized to determine lime and fertility needs.
The Dobbs use intense fly control methods by utilizing multiple approaches to reduce fly populations and to treat cattle. Spray is applied every 5-7 days when cattle are brought in for feed. Ear tags with fly prevention are also utilized as well as a mineral feeder with a back rubber attached which is located in the feedlot area. A “biting fly trap” is used to decrease fly populations. The large, black pieces of plastic, which are warmed by the sun, attract biting flies which are trapped and killed with the use of dish soap and water.
Gene states that using a rotational grazing system has enabled him to increase stocking rate by at least 25%. He has seen increased gains and weaning weights. While his previous goal for weaning weights was 400-500 lbs, they are now 700 lbs. This system has improved forage growth and quality while. Rotational grazing has allowed for the Dobbs to further their conservation goals as well.