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Grazing & grain: Profit opportunity

"It's a way of adding value to the farm," he said during a wheat conference recently in Abilene.

Pinchak said the beef and wheat industries are both strong in Texas and Oklahoma, with a significant amount of wheat planted for grazing and grain harvest. "We estimate that 80 percent of the wheat acreage in the Rolling Plains is dual-purpose," he said.

Unfortunately, little work has been done to develop varieties better adapted to forage. "Most variety research is for grain production," Pinchak said.

In the past few years, grain was not as big a concern, with wheat prices at or below break-even, and with few exceptions, beef prices held more promise.

But as wheat prices recover this fall, growers may rethink how they handle their grazing and grain operations.

Pinchak recommends about 37 pounds of nitrogen per year for wheat that will be grazed. That assumes stocking 400 to 500 pound steers, looking for a half-pound gain per month and allowing about two acres per steer.

"Although not a lot of variety work has been done on dual-purpose wheat, there are enough varietal differences to make selection an important concern," he said. He recommends checking test results to determine the best variety for a particular area, soil type and stocking rate.

"Planting early will be critical to produce adequate grazing and grain harvest," he said. "Planting late will result in little grain yield. And we see no reason to increase seeding rate for grazing."

Determining the best time to pull cattle off wheat to assure a decent grain yield may pose a dilemma. Farmers need to get the most gain possible from the cattle, but they need to pull back before excessive grazing reduces yield significantly. Springtime wheat and cattle prices also may affect decisions.

But Pinchak says growers can use the wheat plant's growth stage to judge when to remove the cattle.

"The first hollow stem is the key," he said. "Until the first hollow stem develops, grazing has no effect on grain yield, if the acreage is stocked reasonably. We see a significant drop in grain yield if cattle are allowed to graze after the first hollow stem (forms)."

Pinchak says that first hollow stem will appear right at the soil surface. "Use a single-edge razor blade and a magnifying glass to check the first joint showing. When the first hollow stem shows, remove the cattle."

He says the value of the lost grain is greater than the value of increased gain for cattle. "Yield does have an effect on the value of grazing and grain," he said.

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