Crunch Those Numbers Before Planting Pastures
Stockfarm|September 2020
Crunch Those Numbers Before Planting Pastures
It is often difficult to ascertain whether planting spring grazing crops is worthwhile for a livestock farmer. Some of the most important considerations include the purpose of the grazing, how it will be utilised, and the existing resources available on the farm.
Andries Gouws

For the livestock farmer who cultivates grain for commercial purposes, or the grain farmer who keeps livestock, it is an easy decision as tractors and implements are already available and only those few needed specifically for feed production and utilisation, have to be procured.

But what about a conventional livestock farm? In most instances a farm is used for livestock production because the soil is not suitable for commercial crop cultivation, it does not rain enough, or there is no water available for irrigation.

Large parts of the country have been hard hit by the prolonged drought and there are producers who want to utilise every available piece of arable land to produce feed and hedge their businesses against drought. However, a fodder bank instead of grazing might offer the solution needed to mitigate the impact of drought, as cultivated grazing won’t produce without rain.

Green feed for winter

Planting green feed for winter grazing is an expensive endeavour and its strategic value will vary depending on climate conditions and the production practices followed. It can vary from farm to farm, which means that what works in one area may not be as successful elsewhere.

Grass is the cheapest feed for livestock. In most parts of the country the nutritional value and palatability of grass will decrease quite severely in winter and green feed can provide welcome relief during a time that is strategically important for animal reproduction. The condition of female animals must be in an upward phase for them to be able to conceive during the breeding season, usually in spring to early summer.

Producers also utilise green feed to prepare the heifers in their herd for early mating and to help them reconceive when the next breeding season arrives. More calves per calving season and an extra calf over the cow’s lifetime means more money for the livestock farmer.

But do the extra animals make up for the cost of green feed cultivation and does it add further value? If this is not the case, plans to make better use of natural grazing are likely to yield better rewards.

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September 2020