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Animal Health Notebook
Old forage in winter Alan Newport
Old forage can be used by cattle profitably with good management and the right supplements.

Make money from old, overgrown pastures

It's possible to profit from old, over-recovered pastures. Here are some tips.

Recently a client of mine from out of my area called and said that he needed cattle. He wanted to graze pastures that had been without cattle or anything else for 38 months.

His place is in the Nashville basin and is maybe 120 miles southwest of us here on the Highland Rim. He requested that we travel down to the small farm and take a look at his pastures and a handful of cattle that he had interest in purchasing. We did both one Sunday afternoon in early October 2018. I love outside work on nice days when its not wet and cold.

His pastures in the limestone basin were overgrown and quite decadent, but likely not as nasty as ours would have been after a three-year absence of cattle grazing in high densities.

The cattle we looked at were what I considered overpriced and had a Tennessee calving season (11.5 months). There was a bull that my compadre and I both liked a lot. We made a bid on the bull and three of the pairs then drove back to client’s headquarters for some brainstorming.

During the conversations of the next several hours, we reviewed cattle size, conformation and color, and the importance of the cattle being broke to people and electricity since his wife was going to make most of the daily moves. We all agreed to stay away from flighty animals. I made the suggestion to fill the needed cattle from another friend's place over on the Rim about 40 miles east of where we were sitting. But since those cattle are Jersey crosses, I got turned down.

Here is a look at my reasoning and recommendations:

  • Small frame score and size
  • Price and market (Our cull cow market is 50% discounted from 2014.).
  • Movement from poorly to highly mineralized soil.
  • One source purchase (Coopers had 80 head to pick through and we wanted 20.)
  • Absence of flightiness – wild cattle would not work.
  • Cattle trained to electricity and broke.
  • Cattle adapted to regular movement.
  • Cattle accustomed to working and will eat several somewhat noxious plants.
  • Easy calving.
  • Marketability of cattle.

The key to grazing plants and ground that has been absent of cattle for excessive time is to have adapted cattle working in high animal densities (really high) and frequent moves. Another key is frequent monitoring of the cattle and the land behind the graze. Often it is a good idea and technique to work the cattle real hard for a day or two and then give them a little more room. A little supplemental soybean meal and energy may be a good addition. But the key is to severely graze and then completely recover.

On the way back to our place, Dennis Fennewald a professor and friend who was with me, remarked that my client should have listened to my suggestions. I said that it was probably best that he did not since I wouldn’t have to stand blame for anything that went wrong. Of course, I followed by first response by making the remark that my suggestions were a “no brainer.”

The truth is that this client has a history of listening, really listening. He spent a couple of weeks searching for cattle and then called and requested for me to see what could be put together at from my other friend's Jerseys. We drove down and went through 80 head and purchased 20 that will hopefully clean up his pastures this winter.

My client spent less than 50% of the money he had budgeted for the project. Three to five years from now he’ll have a bunch of cattle that will work in several markets.

Stay tuned and stay healthy. I’ll try to report on this project as it progresses.

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