Forage Economy in Tough Times

When it seems like times can’t get any tougher in agriculture, they do. Who could have imagined that a virus outbreak on the other side of the world could in fact shut down the global economy? As I write this, cattle prices are experiencing unusual lows in spite of the fact that people are almost fighting for hamburger in stores, if it is available at all.

On the positive side, grass has begun to grow in earnest. We have had a few dry (or drier) days that get us closer to being able to be in the field. Given the undoubtedly abysmal state of cash flow on farms, what are the proper ways to economize on forages? Here are a few thoughts.

A soil test is still the best place to spend a dollar. We need to be assured that we are applying needed nutrients in the right places. If you have to limit the number of fields you fertilize, top dress your most productive fields first. You can define ‘productive’ both as the forage type (high yielding) or soil type (deeper, well drained). You will get more bang for the fertilizer dollar.

cowsAs hard as it is to do, this may be the time to consider buying some stockers on the down market and put them on grass. Remember that these young, growing animals will be the most responsive to your better forage. You will be putting your best forage into an animal that will give you a quicker paycheck. And unlike cows, where 80% of the forage goes to maintenance, 100% of the forage will be used to produce a saleable product.

If you are seeding this spring, calibrate the drill. Poorly adjusted drills are one of the biggest reasons for failed seedings. Seeding too deep is usually the main reason. However, uncalibrated drills can easily put out 30% too much seed. Dr. Chris Teutsch has an excellent video on drill calibration on the UKY Forages YouTube channel at the following link ( Or just Google UKY grain drill calibration.

One of the best ways to get more from your pasture system is to upgrade your grazing management. It has never been more cost effective to subdivide pastures and to add temporary watering points. Both will improve the proportion of forage produced into product sold.

Another way to translate forage more directly into saleable product is to implement creep grazing. Creep grazing uses a narrow gate or a slightly raised fence wire that allows calves access to higher quality pastures. These pounds of forage are more efficiently converted to saleable product when consumed by calves vs cows. Limited resources of fertilizer and seed can be focused on these smaller creep pastures rather than whole farm.

Thinking long term, remember that the largest cost in maintaining a cow herd is the cost of winter feeding. Make plans now to make enough hay and better hay. Think you might cut earlier than last year, since stage of maturity is the single biggest factor in forage quality.

And a final thought – I don’t know anyone that has not had a renewed sense of appreciation for the American Farmer and their ability to keep food coming to a very apprehensive public. I know I speak for all of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment when I say we are proud to help you do what you do.

~ Jimmy Henning, excerpt from Farmers Pride