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Rationed Forage Overcomes Drought

Rationed Forage Overcomes Drought

Smart management of forage allows regrowth in drought and keeps cattle grazing. (video)

Kim Barker got twice as much grazing from one property this horrible drought year as experience and intuition told him he could.

He did it by partitioning 240 acres into paddocks 1 to 10 acres in size with portable electric fence and grazing steadily forward. This was on a property about three miles from his home ranch near Waynoka, in northwest Oklahoma.

Barker has grazed this property nearly the last 20 years as an eight-paddock more-or-less wagon-wheel grazing cell with water only near one end. Not the best design, but there's little doubt, he says, that it gave the forage enough recovery time and helped build up the place over the years. In turn, that helped set the stage for the great forage performance Barker saw in this really bad drought year.

This is really smart financial management because it takes fixed expenses -- land and pasture costs -- and stretches them across more units of production -- pounds of beef. Clearly, it also helps keep productivity up when severe drought would normally lower it. In turn that helps lower costs per unit of production.

Barker says they started this project May 23 or 24. They thinned the cow herd a little early on as the weather was shaping up dry and hot so they went in with 65 cows and their calves. He adds this is the driest year in the 40 years he's been ranching there.

He estimated he could give the cattle about three acres per day for 80 days.

Things were going well, rationing out the forage. A couple rains the first week of June helped Barker regrow a lot more grass than he ever expected, so he started the cattle around again.

The first weekend of October, 120 days into the project, Barker had quite a lot of forage, even in the twice-grazed areas. He also still had amazing amounts of green grass. Even the stems of the little bluestem were still green.

To read the full story, see the January edition of Beef Producer.
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