Are You Doing Your Dormant Season Grazing Planning?
Posted on: Sep 01, 2014
September is here. Early fall offers a terrific opportunity for Rocky Mountain ranchers to begin their dormant season grazing planning.
Why? To save hay feeding costs. Many ranches tend to have two prominent cost centers: labor costs, and those assoicated with feeding hay. Ranches that possess the ability to reduce their hay feeding window can greatly reduce their operating costs and costs per cow (or buffalo, or sheep, or horse). Grazing stockpiled pasture forage offers a strong opportunity to reduce those costs, and September is a terrific month to begin the process of quantifying pasure forage reserves.
For more detail on means of calculating forage reserves, see a former poste here.
Ranch Advisory recently traveled to a western Montana ranch to assist in quantifying grazeable dormant-season forage. The first step in the process is identify the cost of feeding hay to a herd (cattle in this example) for a day. Based on its herd size and infrastructure (tractors and equipment) associated with feeding hay, this ranch determined that feeding hay cost the operation $1350 per day. This assumes the production costs of feeding hay, versus the market value of feeding hay, which would drive the cost per day up considerably. Thus, for every day that cattle can be grazed and hay is not fed, the ranch saves $1350 per day. When multiplied over several days, these cost savings add up. Thus, the ranch as a financial lincentive to stretch its pasture forage reserves as far as possible before feeding hay.
In the process of stretching those reserves, the ranch can include various tools that enable harvest of forage, such as temporary electric fencing that improves grazing distribution. If cattle are accustomed to grazing only one part of a pasture, for example, whie ignoring another part, then the ranch is not effectively utilizing its existing forage resources. Construction of simple temporary electric fencing may offer a cost-effective means of improving distribution and lengthening the grazing duration a pasture, which may greatly reduce the number of days of hay feeding.
On the Montana ranch, several pastures were visited, and a stocking rate was determined for each pasture based on forage availabliity. Then, if the stocking rate is known, the pasture size is known, the herd size is known, then the number of days the herd can graze in a pasture can quickly be calculated.
The photo below shows a pasture on this Montana ranch.
The desired stocking rate for this portion of the pasture was deterimined by the ranch crew to be 28 ADAs. If the pasture is 1400 acres, and the herd size is 1200 dry mother cows, then the grazing duration for the pastue is roughly 32 days (28 ADAs * 1400 acres / 1200 head = 32.6 days). Thirty-two days represents an abundant dormant-season grazing window (the actual graze is likely to be much less than this, for the pasture will likely be grazed heavily in coming months by migrating elk). In past years, the ranch has determined that cattle utilize the pasture poorly and subdividing the pasture with temporary fencing into three separate units has proven to stretch the grazing duration with minimal effort while reducing hay feeding time. If temporary fencing allows the pasture to be grazed for the full 32 days, rather than, for example 20 with poor distribution, then the savings of hay feeding is $1350 per day multiplied by 10 days, or $13,500.
When this kind of analysis is repeated over seveal pastures, and the number of grazing days can be stretched, the cost savings can quickly add up.