Grazing Tips for Beginners and Long time Grazers
Warren C. Thompson (Retired)
Whether this is your first year or if you have been grazing alfalfa for several years, there are some ‘must do’ plans that have to be executed to make this program a fine and profitable experience. The first is to plant a grazing tolerant alfalfa variety at a seeding rate of 15 pounds or more (depending on where you live and the customary seeding rate for that area). If you expect to be successful grazing alfalfa and if you are not using a grazing tolerant variety from our stable of varieties, you already have ‘one foot in the grave and another on a banana peeling’. Grazing alfalfa really took off with the introduction of Alfagraze in 1990.
If yours is a new alfalfa seeding made this last spring, it is best to harvest the first crop for hay. Haying keeps the animals from rummaging around the fields and allows the plants to get better established. Also, making hay and delaying grazing also helps to better use early growth and related possible bloat problems.
Managing an older alfalfa stand and even those made last fall as grazing is in some ways a mirror of the first year except for the first grazing. You can start grazing these older fields when the alfalfa is as small as 6 inches. As the growth exceeds animal needs, reduce the size of the pasture by adding temporary fencing. Continue to add fences to reduce the acreage needed to adapt to animal needs. When surplus grazing occurs, cut it for hay. Does this mean that I recommend rotational grazing over continuous grazing? Of course it does. Rotational gazing is more profitable and easier to manage than continuous grazing. It also gives you a better chance to fully manage the vegetation better than the cattle.
With the advent of new and easy to install and move electric fencing makes rotation-confined grazing so much cheaper and easy to manipulate. Add to this the refinement of mobile water supplying systems and the costs and labor and you have a simple system that really makes sense.
Now let’s deal with bloat. I am not running up a red flag. I just want to help you avoid the obvious lack of experienced judgment in a practical tried and proven system. 1) Never turn hungry emaciated cattle on lush, wet, alfalfa especially on cool days and leave them untended. 2 Pre-fill them with good quality dry hay or bulk feed. 3) Put animals in a field for short-supervised periods until they get adjusted to this fantastic grazing. 4) Poloxolene fed prior to and during grazing according to recommendations reduces bloat. Cattle that are prone to continue to ‘puff’ need to be sold. These animals are considered ‘chronic’ bloaters and sooner or later they will likely to ‘hit the dirt’. Also, if these chronic bloaters are breeding animals, chances are their calf crop will have this same malady as well. Research and experience has shown that bloat is hereditary.