Great take-home messages from forage specialists

Ideas for getting the most out of pasture and hay land this season

It might very well be the crop covering the most acres on your farm — so treat it with respect.

No we’re not talking wheat, barley or canola, but good old, often over looked and under valued forages.

That was one of the key messages, this week, during an hour-long AGvisorPRO webinar featuring four specialists connected to the forage and pasture management side of the livestock industry. (AGvisorPRO is a service launched in 2019 that connects farmer subscribers with a huge network of crop, livestock and farm management specialists not just in Western Canada but in various parts of the world.)

Linda Hunt, owner of Farming ForAges, a private consultant on range and pasture management and livestock production, based at Ryley, AB provided the take home message that forages (whether pasture or hay land) is a crop, and it can be a very valuable crop, so treatment it with respect… i.e. treat it with proper management, just like any other crop and it can be a valuable and profitable input in your livestock operation.

Linda Hunt

Hunt says proper management of forages often gets overlooked because most producers make decisions based on cash transactions and forages are seldom traded.

“Producers don’t necessarily attach a value to forages because 90 per cent of them are not traded,” says Hunt, who over the years has also served as regional forage specialist for Saskatchewan Agriculture and more recently as a forage and beef specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

“Most forages are grown and used as feed, so producers don’t necessarily see a cash input or output,” she says. “It is somewhat of a hypothetical accounting entry, but producers need to determine a value to their forages, whether it is long standing pasture or a feed crop seeded annually. What is this crop worth? If I had to buy this feed how much would it cost me? Producers need to answer those type of questions.”

She says by assigning a value to forages it is easier to determine if applying inputs to increase forage production is profitable, or at least determine a breakeven point on investment. It is all part of long-standing accounting advice — know your cost of production.

Hunt says there are many different types of forages, likely all with different values. A native or natural pasture area that will likely never be worked up and seeded, likely has a lower yield, perhaps a lower value than establishing a higher input, higher yielding annual or perennial forage blend. “If you are establishing a perennial pasture, for example, assign it a value, ” says Hunt. “But also be setting some money aside each year to renew, or rejuvenate or reseed that pasture in about six years — that’s sort of an average lifespan of forages in developed pastures. Whether it is legume or grasses they will eventually die out — species composition will change over the years.”

You can contact Hunt at Farming ForAges by email at: [email protected] or phone (780) 678-5984.

FORAGE PANEL MEMBERS

Also on the AGvisorPRO forage and feed panel were Leanne Smith, vice president of marketing with FenceFast Canada Ltd. It is a well establishing company marketing a wide range of products used in livestock fencing and pasture management.

Victoria Nameth, is an agri-environmental specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture based in Moose Jaw, specializing in native and tame forages and pasture management.

And Mira van Burck is a marketing and technical support representative for SeCan working with producers across southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta as well as SeCan members in the U.S.

Linda Hunt, Leanne Smith, Victoria Nameth and Mira van Burck are all among the AGvisorPRO Tech Direct Partners and can be contacted directly through the AGvisporPRO app and website at: agvisorpro.com .

Some of the key messages from these speakers include:

FROM THE FENCEFAST FILES

Leanne Smith of FenceFast says one of the misconceptions as producers plan for electric fencing systems is thinking that bigger animals need, larger fence energizers or power sources. That’s not always the case, she says.

FenceFast at Ag In Motion

The fact is that a smaller energizer might be quite effective for controlling beef cattle, but a larger, higher voltage system might be needed for sheep as smaller hard hooves and heavy wool coats can be poor conductors. The message there — think about the class of animal you are trying to control and properly size the energizer.

She also says producers need to think ahead on fencing needs. If they have 160 acres for example, but this year are only planning to use about 20 acres for pasture, they may buy an energizer that services that 20 acres of fencing. But then over the next few years they may increase the pasture area to 40, 60, 80 or even the whole 160 acres. Rather than have several smaller systems for each pasture area, Smith says it might be better economy to buy a larger system to start with, that is able to handle more fencing as the grazing area is expanded.

One of most important detail that can be overlooked with electric fencing is proper grounding, says Smith. Most people don’t put too much thought in to their grounding system, says Smith. Approximately 80 per cent of all power fence problems stem from inadequate grounding. The ground posts help maximize the overall electrical efficiency of your entire fence system.

FenceFast recommends as a general rule to install a minimum of three feet of galvanized steel ground rod per joule of energizer output capacity. So, a 15 joule fence energizer will require a minimum of 45 feet of ground rod. These should be installed at least 10 feet apart from each other. Each permanent ground rod should be at least six feet long. Three-foot T-style ground rods can be used for portable solar energizer systems less than one joule output. Note they are recommending galvanized steel ground rods and not rusty old rebar. In poor earthing soils additional ground rods maybe required.

You can also contact the FenceFast team through their website at: https://fencefast.ca/

MANAGING PASTURES FOR MOISTURE CONDITIONS

Victoria Nameth, with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture urged producers to be planning ahead on pasture management just in case the dry growing conditions in mid-May persist through the summer growing season.

Victoria Nameth

She suggests producers complete an assessment on pasture health. What are your pasture conditions heading into the 2021 grazing season?

  1. I have healthy pastures
  2. I have mostly healthy pastures with a few problems
  3. My pastures are in poor conditions, and pretty unhealthy.

If you need help, there are plenty of resources on-line on how to make a pasture assessment.

Nameth says, particularly with dry growing conditions, that pasture rating might suggest with the healthy pastures they can be grazed but with a reduced stocking rate. The mid-condition pastures can be grazed with some areas definitely rested. And if pastures aren’t in the best condition to start with, perhaps bite the bullet and rest them completely this year. Beating them into the ground, is just going to make a poor situation worse.

You can also contact Nameth at the Sask Ag office in Moose Jaw at 1 (306) 694 3303 or by email at: [email protected]

CEREALS MAKE GREAT ANNUAL FORAGES

Mira van Burck, says annual forages have a good fit in any year, but again pointing to what may be a dry growing season, says there may be opportunity to grow some annual forages just in case established pastures have limited production.

Mira van Burck

SeCan has some cereal varieties that make excellent forage crops. CDC Haymaker for example, is a high producing forage oat “that some producers describe as being big and ugly, but cows love it,” says van Burck. It is very productive and has excellent palatability. Another older but still popular and productive oat is CDC Baler.

On the barley side CDC Maverick has an excellent forage fit. It’s a two-row forage barley with smooth awns with CDC Cowboy parentage. It has high forage yield potential, and very large plump grain with high-test weight

Ideally suited to lower input management and areas with lighter soils or drought conditions but will produce top forage yields under almost all conditions across Western Canada.

As a supporter of Alberta Agricultures’ barley breeding program at the Field Crop Development Centre in Lacombe, AB, Linda Hunt also urged producers to check out AB Advantage a new six row feed and forage barley variety that produces an excellent grain yield with good agronomic performance. Marketed by SeCan members, it has good resistance to lodging and good straw strength.

Another recently released barley variety from Lacombe that is actually marketed by Alliance Seed is AB Cattlelac. It is a semi-smooth awned barley that was ranked #1 for forage yield in two years of Coop testing.  Coupled with good lodging resistance, good grain yield and excellent disease resistance, livestock producers have found as the variety name might suggest that AB Cattlelac is the “luxury barley” for their operations.

You can also contact Mira van Burck by email at: [email protected] or phone: 1 (306) 921 3294.

Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-815- 3719 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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