AL has Favorable Climate and Abundance of Land
Livestock and forage producers from all over the state attended a grazing management clinic presented by the Alabama Forage and Grassland Coalition (AFGC) at the Susan Moore Town Hall on August 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The goal of the Alabama Grazing School was to help producers get exceptional performance from their animals on pasture by giving them the knowledge and tools needed to make decisions regarding grazing management.
"We opened it up to all producers in Blount County and the surrounding areas because the clinic had never been done up here before," Merry Buford, District Conservationist for Blount County, said. "We wanted to give the opportunity of attending the clinic to all the land owners."
Although there have been many educational programs about forage production for livestock, grazing management is one of the topics not typically covered comprehensively.
The AFGC believes Alabama has as much, or more, potential for forage-consuming livestock as any state in the United States. Dr. Don Ball and others noted Alabama is fortunate to have many of the things that make forages economical.
Information from the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) noted, "We have a great climate for growing forage—lots of sunshine, warm temperatures throughout much of the year, and—relative to many areas—abundant rainfall."
Also, Alabama has plenty of land available for growing forage crops for livestock. Even with the assortment of soils, almost all of the soil in Alabama can be used for growing some type of forage crop.
"The speakers at the clinic are all very knowledgeable," Buford said. "They are experts in their field."
The grazing management clinic began with an overview of the grazing school by Ball, who is an Extension Forage Specialist, Agronomist with Auburn University (AU) and author of Southern Forages and Practical Forage Concepts, and followed by a presentation on physiology of forage growth and response to grazing by AU Professor Mary Goodman.
Ball spoke of the efficiency of combining warm and cool-season perennial grasses, perennial legumes, and the benefits and drawbacks of red, white and crimson clovers.
Ball said each cattleman should ask themselves, "What can I plant on my farm to keep something out there for my animals to eat year round?"
"There’s a whole bunch of options and they all require a lot of thinking, time and effort," he added.
Dr. Walt Prevatt, AU, spoke of "Pasture Economics," primarily hay versus grazing.
"Hay is a sensitive topic, one a lot of people are passionate about," Prevatt said."You have to have your own goals and objectives, and decide what is right for you and your farm."
"Those folks left farming because of a loss of profitability," he said.
Looking at "what it costs to produce hay," Prevatt provided figures showing that for a farmer running only a small number of cattle, the purchase of required equipment, and its ongoing insurance, fuel, depreciation, interest and more, might mean it is better for them to buy hay instead of producing it themselves.
"If you can just take home one message today, I’d say, ‘If you’ve got the smaller number of cattle, you should be looking into buying for your hay needs,’" Prevatt stated.
Both Prevatt and Ball spoke of the up to 50 percent of hay loss from storage in open fields, reducing the amount and nutrition which cattle could then eat.
Prevatt noted planting for winter grazing is "a definite cost saver and is also better for the cattle. The more grasses we can grow, the more we can have cows harvest the grass, the better off we’ll be."
Speaking on Mud and Erosion, Tim Williams, NRCS, reminded, "Cattle in mud need a higher nutritional level or their health will go down."
While those with fewer cattle who practice rotational grazing may not have as much of a problem, those with a larger number may need to fence off, provide culverts and provide chert-covered walkways to fords.
Sensitive ecology ideals can also cause problems when downstreams are being mudded and farms suffer because of crashed creek banks due to cattle crossing.
Charles Mitchell, AU/Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, (ACES) spoke on Nutrient Cycling and Grazing Impacts, noting he’d worked at and attended several of the grazing clinics "and always learned something new."
Mitchell, who grew up on a cattle and dairy farm in the state’s Black Belt, said, 50-60 years ago, cattle in North Central Alabama would have "starved" just on pasture. "But when chicken houses came into the area in the 1960s and 70s, it revolutionized the cattle industry here by providing nutrient-rich chicken litter for the fields."
Mitchell noted Blount is now 4th in the state in cattle production, behind Cullman, Marshall and DeKalb counties.
He also talked of how cattle manure itself can provide rich nutrients to pastures when rotational grazing is practiced.
Another topic covered was the availability of new products dealing with forage production and grazing. Advances in technology have also helped increase the possibility of using more sophisticated grazing management techniques.
The clinic also covered topics surrounding the recent economic crisis weighing heavily on farmers. It offered advice to farmers on how to increase the efficiency of their farm in order to maximize profits.
A representative from Gallagher Animal Management System was also there to provide a fencing demonstration on proper techniques for an efficient and effective fencing system. Gallagher electric fence products are available at Quality Co-op stores throughout the state.
Other speakers were Eddie Jolly, NRCS, on grazing methods and system design; Auburn’s Darrell Rankins on pasture evaluation, forage allocation and nutrient requirements; A.J. Ebert on fence and water technology; and Perry Oakes with NRCS.
Pine Mountain farmer Jon Head said he runs 50-60 head of cattle each year, and has been raising cows "since I was big enough to walk through the pastures."
"I’ve just learned so much more about the nutrient value of things today," he noted.
Eddie Stephens and his wife, Susan, currently have 13 head of the smaller Zebus on their Locust Fork farm and noted he obtained much information including how "I need to be doing a better job of rotating the pastures."
Cleveland’s J.C. Wiginton has been cattle farming about 35 years and now keeps about 45 head. He eagerly questioned Dr. Ball on several aspects as they waited in line for the lunch prepared by the Alabama Farmers Federation (Alfa), Alfa Women’s Committee, and Blount County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen, who provided the steak sandwiches.
"I thought the whole grazing clinic was very informative," said Blount County dairy farmer Andy Graveman. "The information they gave us can be used to improve any grazing operation."
The clinic was sponsored by the Alabama Forage and Grassland Coalition in cooperation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Alabama Agricultural Experimental Station, and the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Services, in addition to the other agencies mentioned in this article.
"Grazing management is a complex topic…but it has many different aspects of forage/livestock production. To be unaware of or to ignore these impacts will result in many lost opportunities," Jolley noted. "But likewise it is important to remember every farm is unique. Each one will have a particular combination of soil, resources and the individual farmer’s objectives."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. You can reach her at www.suzysfarm.com.
Mary-Glenn Smith is an AFC intern.