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Summary

In these uncertain times with a emphasis on increased food safety concerns related to COVID 19 and also, an increased interest in local sources of meats, more inexperienced landowners are trying to raise their own livestock. Lack on management resulting from this inexperience caused major problems that negatively affected profitability for these new livestock producers.

Situation

As a result of increased food safety concerns related to COVID 19 and also, an increased interest in local sources of meats, more landowners in Harris County are fencing in the pastures and buying, cows, sheep, and goats to stock the pastures with. As more landowners purchase animals, two main questions keep arising time after time: How many of each type of animals can I stock on my land? How do I care for them? The property owners view their pastures as their primary resources. They want them to be efficient and productive. However, the desire to have a productive farm is limited by a lack of experience. Limited pasture management skills make it difficult to provide an adequate amount of quality forage for their animals. Often these individuals rely on nature as their pasture management tool. They soon become aware that this type of management is essentially a type of mismanagement. Inexperience and lack of management was compounded late last summer by a drought. Because of the drought inexperienced producers ran out of forage and started feeding low quality hay after the cows had gotten very thin. This problem culminated in cows dying. One producer autopsied one of the cows and it was determined that the cow died from impaction. The producer lost a total 4 cows valued at $2500 each. Impaction is when a cow is fed poor quality hay/forage and it cannot be digested. Ultimately, it cannot move through the digestive system and the cow bloats and dies. It was then that the producer realized the need for a tool to evaluate current pasture productivity, stability of plants and forage quality. There was also a need to identify what treatments are required to improve the pasture’s productivity and protect soil, water and air quality.

Response

After losing $10,000 worth of cattle, the producer contacted the Harris County Extension Office. The first order of business was to determine what caused the impaction. Harris County Extension Agent ran forage test on the hay. The hay tested 6% protein and had less than 76% relative forage quality (RFQ). Anything below 100 RFQ is considered low quality. Another compounding factor is dry matter intake was only 1.84% of live body weight. In order to meet the nutritional needs of a mature cow, this should be 2.5%. This low-quality forage in addition to inadequate energy levels used for digestion in the cows from being thin was identified as the reason for impaction. While working with the individual producer to improve forage quality, the county agent developed county wide programming to educate producers on the importance of quality forage production. In a collaborative effort between Extension Beef Cattle Specialist and NRCS, the county agent offered Harris producers the Pasture Condition Score Sheet. He introduced pasture condition scoring into Harris County with the intent of providing forage/livestock producers a standard method to identify shortfalls in pasture care and identify what can be done to improve pasture condition. He trained interested clients through the Harris County Cattleman’s Association as well as one-on-one consultations. Pasture condition scoring was done in the field using the score sheet. In addition to pasture condition scoring, the county agent promoted soil testing and forage testing of hay through one-on-one consultations. This gave producers a baseline from which they could build a year-round management program.

Impact

These methods proved very useful to producers and easy to understand. They provided a quick checklist of tips. Pasture scoring was done only on permanent pastures where it was not desirable to do complete pasture renovation. Indicators on the score sheet that receive the lowest scores were focused on for corrective action first. After the initial introduction of the pasture condition scoring sheet at the Cattleman’s meeting, three producers have gone through the scoring process. By using pasture condition scoring over a period of multiple growing seasons, trends in forage decline will be detected and adjustments made as needed or desired. Therefore, continual monitoring of the pastures and updates of the score sheets will improve pastures over time. To improve forage quality, producers were encouraged to implement soil and forage testing practices. The goals of the project are to: Short Term: 1.) Identify livestock concentration and sacrifice areas Intermediate Term: 1.) Identify and reduce soil erosion and soil compaction areas 2.) Improve ground cover to 85% of pasture area Long Term: 1.) Improve soil fertility and (pH) for 85% of producers who submit soil samples as determined by the soil sample 2.) Improve forage quality for 85% of producer who submit forage samples as determined by forage sampling Timely pasture condition scoring and monitoring avoids having loss of desirable forage to the point that total pasture renovation is needed. Similarly, soil testing improves soil fertility which improves pasture forage and hay quality. One of the benefits of improved hay quality is higher digestibility and higher dry matter intake. This increases performance which correlates to increased profits for livestock producers. Forage testing verifies hay quality and allows producers to determine if any supplements are needed to meet the needs of livestock in order to avoid similar problems in the future.

State Issue

Animal Production

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Harris
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Agriculture & Natural Resources