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Forage and livestock production basics: Have them covered?

Winning sports teams make sure that their players understand and execute the “basics” of their sport. This leads to long-term success. In forage/livestock production, success is measured as profit or loss, and the “basics” are an understanding of the interaction between the grazing animal and the forage resource.

Do you have the forage/livestock production basics covered? Take the following quick quiz to find out. The questions and answers are formulated for a forage producer with cows and calves; if you have another type of livestock enterprise, many of the benchmarks will still apply.

Per year, my livestock are on hay for:

0 days — 10 points

Less than 30 days — 5 points

30-60 days — 2 points

60-90 days — 1 point

More than 90 days — 0 points

When I feed hay:

Rings are used to reduce waste and feeding sites are regularly moved. — 5 points

Rings are used, but fed in one location. — 3 points

Rings are not used, but hay is allocated based on demand. — 2 points

Hay is unrolled, but hay is allocated based on demand. — 1 point

Bale processor is used, but hay is allocated based on demand. — 1 point

No rings are used. — (-5 points)

Hay is unrolled or processed and not allocated based on demand. — (-5 points)

I store hay:

Inside — 5 points

Outside, but bales are well made, tarped, have a barrier between the bale and the ground and are located in a well drained area with good airflow and sunlight — 5 points

Outside and covered — 2 points

Outside, with no cover, but a barrier between ground and bale — 2 points

Outside, with no additional storage loss precautions — (-5 points)

I forage test:

Every year by harvest and forage type — 10 points

When I think there is a problem — 1 point

Never — (-5 points)

I have a supplement program based on forage test results and cow performance goals.

Yes — 10 points

No — 0 points

I soil test:

At least every three years — 10 points

Every 3 to 5 years — 5 points

When things don't look right — 0 points

I apply soil nutrients based on soil test results and yield goals.

Yes — 10 points

No — 0 points

I keep these records of fertility applied and response (grazing days, hay production, etc.):

Grazing records only (all fed hay is purchased) — 5 points

Grazing and hay production records — 5 points

No production record system — 0 points

I make grazing management decisions based on pasture condition, not calendar date.

Yes — 10 points

No — 0 points

My stocking rate is based on forage dry matter produced or historic yield, desired utilization percentage based on species and forage demand.

Yes — 10 points

No — 0 points

I can recognize key forage species and understand how to manage key species for persistence.

Yes — 10 points

No, but I am in the process of learning — 5 points

No — 0 points

For production and management advice, I turn to:

Unbiased, research-based sources — 5 points

Friends, neighbors — 3 points

Input dealers (fertilizer, feed, seed, etc.) — 1 point

The Farmer's Almanac — 0 points

To extend the grazing season, I (check each that applies):

Plan to stockpile forages to extend the grazing season and reduce days on hay — 5 points

Overseed introduced warm-season perennial pastures with cool-season annuals to reduce days on hay — 5 points

Use cool-season perennial forages where adapted to reduced days on hay — 5 points

Rely strictly on hay — 0 points

I have this type of grazing system:

Rotational system, with rotations based on pasture condition and animal requirements — 5 points

Rotational system; rotations based on calendar date — 1 point

Continuous stocking; stocking rate is based on carrying capacity — 3 points

Continuous stocking — 0 points

When matching animal nutrient needs with forage, I:

Understand seasonal nutrient requirements and match forage quality and availability to meet animal requirements — 5 points

Am in the process of learning — 3 points

Am satisfied just to supplement — 0 points

My calving season is:

Less than60 days — 5 points

60 to 90 days — 2 points

90 to 120 — 0 points

Year-round — (-5 points)

When it comes to cow body condition, I:

Am conscious of changes in condition year round — 5 points

Check condition at calving, 30 days prior to breeding and in the 3rd trimester — 4 points

Check condition twice per year — 2 points

Say “cows are full, condition must be fine” — (-5 points)

When it comes to production costs, I:

Know fixed and variable costs for cow, pasture and hay production — 5 points

Know variable cost for cow, pasture and hay production — 3 points

Am not sure — 0 points

On the subject of weed and brush control:

I base mine on scouting and economic thresholds. — 5 points

I view it as a compromise between wildlife and domestic animal production. — 5 points

I monitor weeds and recognize that they might be an indicator that something else may be wrong with my grazing system. — 5 points

I spray all pastures yearly with no scouting. — 0 points

I don't worry about weeds; I just feed hay. — (-5 points)

How do you feel about change?

I evaluate and adapt new production technology readily. — 10 points

I enjoy learning about new technology, but am cautious in adaptation. — 3 points

I tend to scoff at new technology. — 0 points


90 to 100+ — Congratulations! You have the basics covered.

80 to 89 — Good job, but you have room to improve.

70 to 79 — You need to seriously evaluate your operation with the help of an outside objective source.

Less than70 — List the indicators you scored poorly on, seek help from an outside objective source and set goals to improve immediately.

James Rogers joined the Noble Foundation as a forage specialist in 2002Prior to that, he was a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Outreach and Extension for 10 years.

The Noble Foundation (, headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is a nonprofit organization conducting agricultural, forage improvement and plant biology research; providing grants to non-profit charitable, educational and health organizations; and assisting farmers and ranchers through educational and consultative agricultural programs. For more information, call (580) 223-5810.

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