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Extension expert: plant legumes in your pastures to boost cattle profits, expert recommends

Cecil Yancy 1, Editor, Mid-South Farmer

June 1, 2012

1 Min Read

When it comes to raising cattle, it's not so much the gain as it is the price of the gain.

For many cattle producers, the weight gains come at the high price of profits, a dive into forage data from Alabama suggests.

While feeding grass may lessen the impact of high grain prices, the kind of forage you feed your cattle could cut into profits.

Internationally noted forage expert Don Ball of Auburn University dug out six years of data in the varied terrain from the Gulf Coast to the mountains. Ball is co-author of the popular book "Southern Forages," now in its fourth edition.

A prime example comes from adding legumes such as clover to a pasture of Kentucky 31 fescue in 2008. Adding clover to the mix lowered the cost per pound of gain to 30 cents for grazing cattle.

The take-home message in 15 out of the 37 systems studied, cattle performed better and profits were higher for producers when a legume was involved, Ball says.

The Auburn University Extension agronomist is famous for telling his audiences that "combining legumes in your pastures will pay you back."

Ball says: "Those legumes bring down the cost of production because of the need for less nitrogen, a longer growing season that tends to improve forage. All of these benefits leads to better animal performance."

When you're looking to improve your pastures for grazing cattle, consider these tips:

  • Use improved forage types.

  • Keep fertilizer costs low.

  • Use legumes.

  • Extend the grazing season.

  • Minimize endophyte fescue toxins.

  • Don't plant Kentucky 31 fescue if you plant an endophyte-free fescue or if you're just re-establishing the pasture.


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