MARCH 2004

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Biannual Alabama Forage Conference provided farmers practical strategies

The fourth Alabama Forage Conference provided cattlemen and goat producers with strategies that can be used to achieve more efficient production strategies. The conference was under the auspices of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service and coordinated by Dr. Don Ball, veteran Auburn University forage specialist. Darrel Rankins of Auburn University was the master of ceremonies. The fourth biannual Forage Conference was held on December 18, 2003, at Wallace State College in Hanceville.

Six of the nation’s leading forage specialists, who presented insights into forage management designed to help livestock producers save money through cutting edge management strategies, were: Jim Gerish, Vivien Allen, Ken Johnson, Monte Rouquette, Mike Collins, John Andrae, and David Bransby. 

Jim Gerish recently retired after years of work as a forage researcher at the University of Missouri. He is now a speaker, consultant and writer. He is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most knowledgeable grazing management authorities. 
"Grazing Managment Opportunities" was Gerish’s topic. And the theme of Gerish’s remarks was “The more hay a cattleman feeds, the more money he loses.”

 He presented evidence to substantiate that it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of a dollar a day to feed hay to each cow. He stated that the average grazing time in the Southeast is 230 days a year. He pointed out that in Manitoba, Canada producers graze 

Jim Gerish, widely recognized as one of the nation’s most knowledgeable grazing management authorities, shows slides thatvalidate his assertion that cattlemen lose money every day they feed hay rather than forage.

 virtually year-round and that cattle can actually graze through two to three feet of snow. Thus the average Southeastern cattleman is losing approximately 135 days a year on each head by not incorporating year-round grazing. 

He also discussed the increased market opportunities of fall calving and winter grazing over spring calving and summer grazing. He added, “One of the best paying jobs [in terms of capital returns to the farmer] is by strip grazing to increase the utilization rate by 80 percent on dormant pasture.” 

He asserted, “Wisconsin studies indicate that 25% pasture based dairying lowers feed costs, reduces health care costs and extends the cow’s production years by providing a more relaxed lifestyle for the cows. There is profit in grazing cows even if corn is available.” 

He added that pasture finished beef offers healthy meat alternatives with less fat and higher Omega 3 fatty acids; is environmentally friendly by reducing waste, odor and pollution while conserving water sources; lowers stress on livestock; requires much less infrastructure than is required for storing and feeding hay; increases animal output; and improves soil structure, plant community and land use efficiency. 

Dr. Don Ball welcomed farmers and other guests to the Forage Conference held at Wallace State College in Hanceville.
He concluded, “Optimum grazing also improves the livestock producer’s quality of life because grass oriented production is more family based. It takes less labor which is safe enough to bring children into the operation.” 

Dr. Vivien Allen is on the faculty of Texas Tech University, following an extensive tenure at Virginia Tech University. She holds one of only two endowed chairs in the world in the area of forage crops. She is chairperson of the board of directors of the International Grassland Congress. She is a cattle producer in her native Lincoln County, Tennessee 

Dr. Allen discussed the many constantly changing pieces in forage systems. The captivating title of her presentation was “Playing With Kaleidoscopes.” 

She stated that cows and bulls have different nutritional needs that are constantly changing, like the scenes 

in a kaleidoscope (constantly changing pieces of glass that fall into different configurations as the viewer rotates the tube). 

She cautioned, “The worst changes are those we don’t see, such as the interactive relationships of animal, soil, and climate. Forage systems reflect the interaction of these parts; but the pieces rarely reflect the whole. And, just as it is impossible to predict the configurations in a kaleidoscope, it is also difficult to predict the outcome of the relationships of animal, soil, and climate.” 

To illustrate her premise, she outlined four identical forage systems on identical land with virtually the same animals, which produced widely varying weight gains. These weight gains fluctuated from 500 pounds per acre down to 110 depending on which system was used. 

Ken Johnson is a beef producer near Tompkinsville, Kentucky. Evidence of his knowledge and ability is seen in the fact that he holds the record for most pounds of beef produced per acre in Kentucky. He is president-elect of the American Forage and Grassland Council. As a practicing beef producer, Johnson was able to give a presentation of practical applications in his topic “How Grazing Management Works for Me.” 

Approximately 200 farmers and guests attended the Forage Conference.

After stating his premise, which was “The money you make in the cattle industry is the money you DON’T spend,” he then suggested several ways cattlemen can save money. 

Money saving strategies included the use of poly-wire and white poly-tape to divide pastures. He advised that the wider the tape the easier it is for deer to see it, thus helping to control the deer problem. 

He added, “The use of cut-off systems in electrical fencing gives flexibility in management, as well as the

use of wooden posts with fiber stays for insulation. Money can also be saved by using smaller posts with brace rods.” 

Johnson cautioned, “Do not allow cows to stand in ponds. Fence off creeks for cleaner water. Install built-in tanks as you grow to store water from creeks. One tank can provide water for 50 to 60 cows. When it is available, city water can usually be obtained for about ten dollars a year for each cow.” 

He also advised, “Match forages to the animal’s nutritional needs. Buy the best feed that you can buy because feed costs are insignificant. Use of high yielding forages that are well fertilized can be profitable.” 

Dr. Monte Rouquette is an animal scientist at Texas A&M University. He is widely respected for the many grazing experiments he has conducted. As a luncheon speaker he not only shared technical information, but also provided humorous insights into routine production situations. 

Dr. Mike Collins is on the agronomy faculty at the University of Kentucky. He has probably conducted more research on hay and silage production than anyone in the United States. His presentation reviewed important findings revealed by his research. 

Collins stated, “Round bale hay gives flexibility with silage.” He added, “Early harvest [May] results in high dry matter intake. And digestibility of standing alfalfa is 70 percent. With no rain damage digestibility is 64 percent. Rain damage can reduce digestibility to 57 percent. This is because water removes sugars. Although this raises protein ratio, don’t focus unduly on protein. And sunshine is the best way to dry hay. Tedding spreads the crop so that more can be exposed to the sun. Conditioning rearranges the stems so that the air can penetrate. The looser the windrow, the air can move through better.” 

Dr. John Andrae is Extension Forage Crop Agronomist at the University of Georgia. He has closely observed and helped evaluate several new forage crop varieties recently developed in Georgia. These varieties promise added value to forage producers in Alabama and the Southeast. 

Dr. David Bransby is a professor at Auburn University, where he is active in biomass research. Since biomass produced by forage crops can be used for energy production, it may represent new agricultural enterprise. Therefore biomass research is extremely important. 

He stated, “We desperately need biomass energy. And any plant material can be converted to biomass. Forages biggest opportunities are in the area of biomass energy. The Iraq war and the energy blackout underscore the need for the development of biomass energy. Energy reflects economic power. Had biomass energy plants been in place the nation would not have been effected by the blackout.” 



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Date Last Updated January, 2006