There are key skills for grazing management that every livestock producer needs to get the most from their pastures. Photo credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
The Panhandle Agriculture Extension Team will be hosting the Northwest Florida Grazing School on Friday, September 14, 2019, from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM central time. This Grazing School will all be taught in the field with demonstrations. There will be no PowerPoint lectures in a classroom, but instead will consist solely of field demonstrations and small group discussions with participants.
Every livestock producer that relies on grazing as the primary means of feeding their herd needs a set of skills that are challenging to learn from text books, YouTube videos, or webpages. This Grazing School will provide participants the opportunity to learn directly from state specialists and county agents who assist livestock producers every day who make key grazing management decisions. What are the best forage varieties that are adapted well for this area? What are the best methods to use to establish pastures? Should I fertilize? If so what should I order? Do I have enough pasture to feed my animals for 8-10 months of the year? What should I be feeding when there is not enough forage to graze? How can I control grazing to make the most of the annual forages I plant? How do I calibrate my planter and sprayer to apply the correct amount of seed or chemicals when I use them? These are the types of questions that will be discussed during the Grazing Management School. Whether you raise cattle, horses, sheep or goats, if you depend on pastures as the primary means to feed your herd, these are key skills you need to hone to improve your grazing management.
8:00 – 8:45 am Registration
Field Demonstration and Discussion Topics
- Pasture Establishment: Seeding Rate, Depth, Timing, and Varieties
- Pasture Fertility: Fertilizer Management & Economics
- How much forage do we have? How many animals can we stock?
- Supplementing Grazing Animals with Hay and Feed-stuff Options
- Temporary Fencing Tools & Technologies
- Calibration of Pasture Equipment
3:30 pm Adjourn
Every livestock producer that relies on grazing as the primary means of feeding their herd needs a set of skills that are challenging to learn from text books, YouTube videos or webpages. Photo credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Registration through Eventbrite is required for participate in the Grazing School. The cost or registration is $20 per participant and includes lunch and handout materials.
The Grazing School will be held at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center’s Beef Unit, north of Marianna, Florida. (4925 Highway 162, Greenwood, FL)
Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.
Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.
In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.
Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs
The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.
The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices. For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!
Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.
For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory. Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.
Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals. These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS cost-share program. It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.
Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)
The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.
Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.
For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at Linda.Chaisson@nwfwater.com. To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.
The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.
The Jackson County Cattlemen’s Association will be hosting their annual Ranch Tour on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Participation is open to interested cattle producers from across the Tri-state region. Tour participants will meet at 8:45 AM Central time at the grass parking lot for the Marianna High School Baseball & Football Fields, north of Marianna on Caverns Road. Drinks will be available at each stop to keep everyone hydrated in the summer heat. The tour will depart at depart at 9:00 AM. The tour will conclude with a sponsored hamburger lunch at the Jackson County Agriculture Center on Highway 90, just west of Marianna.
Carpooling is recommended to limit the number of vehicles on the tour. Drivers should have more than 1/4 tank of fuel for the trip upon arrival.
The tour will feature Andy Andreasen’s AAA Farm where participants will get a firsthand look at silvopasture (combined timber and forage production) and see a demonstration of cattle handling facility design. The second tour stop will be at Odyssey Feeders’ Preconditioning Facility to visit with Jantzen Lord. The final stop will be a presentation at the Agriculture Center by Dr. Todd Thrift, UF/IFAS Beef Specialist. He will share his humorous comparison of “Chevys, Cadillacs, Cows and Consumers.” His presentation will show how the beef industry has changed over the last several decades and provide some insight on how the industry will need to evolve to meet the needs of modern consumers to remain profitable. The half-day event will end with a sponsored hamburger lunch grilled to perfection by the Cattlemen’s Association’s famous “Cooking Crew.”
There is no registration fee for participation, but an RSVP for you and your party by Monday, July 9 is greatly appreciated for food planning and preparation. To RSVP, call the Jackson County Extension Office at 850-482-9620, or email Liz Jackson.
Directions to the meeting place:
Tour participants will gather at 8:45 central time in the grass parking area on the west side of the MHS football stadium and on the south side of the MHS baseball stadium.
Using a GPS or phone app for directions: is the address of Marianna High School. Drive west of the entrance to the High School on the south side of the road, and the grass ball field parking area will be on the north side of the road on your left, immediately across the highway from the junction of Caverns Road and Old US Road.
From I-10: take either Marianna exit and follow the signs to Florida Caverns State Park. Once you pass by the entrance of the state park, keep driving north on Caverns Road. You will first pass the High School on the right, and then will see the baseball and football stadiums on your left. The group will be meeting in the grass parking area on the west side of the football stadium and on the south side of the baseball stadium.
From Dothan or Campbellton: travel south on 231, turn east (left) on Highway 162. Turn south (right) on Old US Road and go to the stop sign at the end. Turn east (left) onto Caverns Road, pass the High School and the grass parking area will be on your left.
From Georgia: travel west on GA Highway 91 out of Donalsonville. Cross the Chattahoochee River into Florida and it becomes FL Highway 2. Take the left fork onto Basswood Road and drive to the merger with Highway 71. Turn south (left) and drive through the town of Greenwood. Turn west (right) at the traffic light on Caverns Road (CR 166) and go past the little league baseball fields and the paved football stadium parking lot, and the meeting location will be on the north (right) side of the road.
Limpograss shows real potential as an alternative forage grass for North Florida, providing significant summer growth, and can be stockpiled for grazing through December. Photo credit: Yoana Newman
Jose Dubeux, Erick Santos, David Jaramillo, Liza Garcia, UF-IFAS NFREC
Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima) has been successfully adopted in South Florida by livestock producers. This unique grass grows well in flatwood soils, and maintains its digestibility for longer periods than other warm-season grasses (e.g. bahiagrass and bermudagrass), making it a good candidate for stockpiling. Limpograss is also less sensitive to day-length than other grasses, growing during the cool-season, especially in mild-winters in South Florida. After a frost, limpograss will be one of the first warm-season grasses to initiate regrowth. The first cultivars were released in Florida during the 1970s and 80s, and include the diploids “Redalta” and “Greenalta” and the tetraploids “Bigalta” and “Floralta” (Newman et al., 2014). Recently, two new cultivars were released, “Kenhy” and “Gibtuck.” These cultivars provide increased grazing tolerance, greater productivity, and nutritive value compared to previously released cultivars (Wallau et al., 2015). Limpograss is often used for stockpiling, considering its slower loss of digestibility compared to other warm-season grasses.
The potential of limpograss in North Florida, however, has not fully been assessed. Although limpograss collections have been established in North Florida since 2005, a comprehensive evaluation including biomass productivity and nutritive value of the new cultivars has not been evaluated. The persistence of limpograss throughout these years, however, shows the possibility to grow this species in North Florida, despite the cooler temperatures compared to South Florida.
Along the Florida Panhandle there are vast areas that can potentially be used with limpograss, especially along the Gulf coast. One of the concerns of growing limpograss in North Florida is the shorter growing season, as compared to South Florida, because of the earlier frost. Comprehensive evaluations are necessary in order to assess these potential differences of limpograss performance in contrasting Florida environments.
Researchers established a limpograss trial at the UF-IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Marianna, Florida. Plots were established in July 2014 and included four limpograss cultivars (breeding line 1 and the cultivars Kenhy, Floralta, and Gibtuck). For comparison, the trial also included Tifton-85 bermudagrass as a control. From May 2015 to Feb 2017, researchers evaluated biomass productivity and digestibility (IVOMD) of these different grasses. Harvesting started in May of each year, with 5-week intervals between harvests and 7 inches cutting height. From May to August, after each harvest, plots received 60 lb. N/acre, 15 lb. P2O5/acre, and 60 lb. K2O/acre. Starting in September, a stockpiling scenario was simulated by letting the plants grow and harvesting only a portion of each plot every 5 weeks. Forage harvest measurements were taken to evaluate the cumulative growth since August.
During the summer growth of 2016, forage growth peaked in July. Gibtuck was one of the most productive among the limpograss cultivars with comparable growth to Tifton-85 Bermudagrass, which is considered one of the most productive Bermudagrass cultivars available (Figure 1). Starting in September, plants accumulated biomass until December, showing their potential for use for stockpiling in North Florida. During the primary stockpiling period, Kenhy showed the greatest potential. After December, there was limited gain in biomass accumulation for most of the cultivars (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Herbage accumulation of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2015 to Jan 2016. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
In the second year (May 2016 to Jan 2017), forages peaked earlier in the growing season and declined during the summer. This likely reflects the reduced rainfall combined with the frequent harvesting (5 weeks) compromising the productivity not only of the limpograss, but also of the Tifton-85 bermudagrass. During the stockpiling period, the grasses demonstrated a similar trend of biomass accumulation until December (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Herbage accumulation of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2016 to Jan 2017. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
Digestibility (IVOMD) of limpograss was often greater than Tifton-85 bermudagrass, especially during the stockpiling period (Figure 3). Limpograss digestibility (IVOMD = 55-60%) was maintained through December 2016, when it was significantly reduced, due to colder temperatures and frosts. The growth and digestibility data indicate that limpograss can be used during the summer, and for stockpiling at least through December without significant loss in digestibility. This would be sufficient to fill the November-December forage gap that often occurs in the Panhandle, allowing time for the cool-season forage production to ramp up. As a result, stockpiled limpograss could be utilized to reduce hay requirements, and ultimately reduce winter feeding expenses.
Figure 3. In vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD) of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2015 to Feb 2016. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
Take Home Message
The results of this two-year trial in Marianna are encouraging. Limpograss shows real potential as an alternative forage grass for North Florida. Limpograss provided significant summer growth, but adds the potential use for stockpiled grazing through December. In general, limpograss was more digestible than Tifton-85 bermudagrass, especially during the stockpiling period. Variations among limpograss cultivars occurred, but those differences were not consistent over the two years. Therefore, all the cultivars tested have potential for use in North Florida. Longer-term evaluation with animal performance is still needed to fully asses the potential of limpograss in North Florida, but the results from this trial show that further evaluation is warranted.
- Newman, Y.C., J. Vendramini, L.E. Sollenberger, and K. Quesenberry. 2014. Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima): overview and management. EDIS SS-AGR-320.
- Wallau, M.O., L.E. Sollenberger, J.M.B. Vendramini, M.K. Mullenix, K.H. Quesenberry, C.A.M. Gomide, V. Costa e Silva, and N. DiLorenzo. Herbage accumulation and nutritive value of limpograss breeding lines under stockpiling management. Crop Science 55:2377-2383.
Pasture fertilization is a significant expense. Photo Credit: Doug Mayo
One area of management that often comes up in discussions with producers managing smaller herds is pasture fertilization. There are several aspects that can be confusing. The first questions are, “Should I fertilize?” and, “Is it worth the money?” The next question is, “How much fertilizer do I need?” And generally, the final question, “What should I ask my supplier for?” When you ask these questions, however, be ready for the return question, “Have you taken a soil test?”
In declining cattle markets, the question of “Should I fertilize?” is a subject of much debate. You don’t have to fertilize bahiagrass pastures, but there are consequences if you don’t adjust your stocking rate. If you don’t fertilize or reduce your stocking rate, there may not be enough grass in the fall transition, and eventually there will be issues from thinning stands and weed encroachment.
Basic soil management for forages, or any crop, requires that the soil be maintained in the optimal pH range for the specific target crop to ensure productivity and persistence. For tropical forages, such as Bahiagrass, Bermudagrass, and Limpograss the optimal pH range is 5.0-5.5. Outside of the optimal pH range, soil nutrients are less available to the plant. This is one of the key reasons that periodic soil testing is recommended for pastures. Lime or dolomite are utilized interchangeably to raise the soil pH. Liming pastures is relatively inexpensive because it is generally only required every 2-4 years.
So, should you fertilize? If the soil pH falls below the optimal range, the answer is yes. For $40 per ton, the return on investment in lime or dolomite is high. If you do nothing else for your pastures this year, make sure to lime the Bahia and Bermuda fields that fall below 5.5, or limpograss fields below 5.0. If you can’t remember how long ago you had your soil tested, send in a soil sample, and and at least find out the pH status of your pastures.
Soil tests don’t provide the amount of nitrogen in the soil, because those amounts are constantly changing. Nitrogen (N), and to some degree potassium (K), move with water in the soil profile. With each heavy rain, some nitrogen is flushed down through the soil profile, away from the root zone of plants. There are 16 essential elements for plant growth and reproduction, but nitrogen is the key element that plants require for growth. In other words, “Nitrogen is the gas that makes grass grow!” The chart below is the summary of a classic six-year study conducted a the UF Beef Research Unit from 1966-71 by W.G. Blue, UF Soil Chemist: Role of Pensacola Bahiagrass Stolon-Root Systems in Leon Fine Sand.
What is interesting from this study is that the season-long forage yield more than doubled when 100 lbs.N/acre was applied as compared to no added N. However, with each increase beyond 100 lbs.N/acre, the return on investment diminished. It is important to note that all of the plots were fertilized equally with phosphorous and potassium, at a soil pH of 6.0, so the yield in the 0 N, or control plots, were only limited by the lack of nitrogen. These research plots received split applications of fertilizer, so none of these treatments were a single N application. This classic study shows what numerous others have shown since then, that nitrogen fertilization generates a significant boost to bahiagrass production.
Urea fertilizer (46% N) is currently priced at an average of $414/ton, which equates to 45¢/lb. of elemental N. The reported 119% season-long increase in forage production per acre would require a $45 investment in nitrogen fertilizer today. When you add the $7/acre cost to spread the fertilizer, and you have a stocking rate of 2 acres per cow-calf pair, the total cost is $104 per pair ($52/acre). So, based on the data from this classic study, a $104 investment provided 3.4 tons more feed per pair over the entire growing season for a unit cost of $31/ton. At the end of April, good quality Bermudagrass hay was selling for an average of $90/ton, and whole cottonseed $158/ton, so this is considerably cheaper than purchase feeds. This is also feed that requires limited labor to provide, with minimal waste, under typical weather conditions. In addition, fertilized grass provides more protein than unfertilized grass, so animal performance (gain/acre) would also be boosted, as compared to unfertilized pastures.
If you don’t have the funds to invest $52/acre for all of your pasture acreage, then consider applying only of 50 lbs.N/acre in the spring. You don’t have to fertilize every acre either. Invest in your most productive pastures first, and then rotate to other pastures in future years. Fertilizer is an expensive purchase, and when cattle prices are falling, every purchasing decision has to be scrutinized. The bottom line is that nitrogen fertilizer is really an investment in producing feed for your herd that they harvest for themselves. Conversely, if you make the decision to eliminate nitrogen fertilization, your pasture will produce less feed, so you also need to reduce the number of cattle your pastures are expected to feed.
P & K Fertilization
The next question is how much P & K fertilizer do you need for your bahiagrass pastures? In general, grasses need N-P-K fertilizer in a 4-1-2 ratio. So, you would not want to use 13-13-13 or 10-10-10 for grass pastures, but instead something like a mix of 16-4-8 or 20-5-10. The better option, however, is to send in a soil and tissue sample to get a lab test report that provides specific recommendations for the rate of lime, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) fertilization on a per acre basis. The N fertilization level is a decision the manager has to make. The University of Florida’s soil test-based fertilizer recommendations provide options for three levels of nitrogen fertilization. The recommendations for P and K will be different based on the nitrogen fertilization level you select.
The final question I normally get is, “What should I order from my farm supply dealer?” This does sometimes get confusing, because recommendations are made in pounds of nutrients per acre, not the total pounds of fertilizer. Urea, for example, is only 46% elemental nitrogen, so it takes 109 pounds of urea to provide 50 lbs.N/acre. Ammonium nitrate is 34% N, so it takes 147 pounds to reach the 50 lbs.N/acre target. The same is true for the various sources used for P and K. Farm supply dealers handle a variety of products from different sources with varied mineral make up. There is no standard recipe. Take your soil test recommendations with you, so your dealer can help you do the calculations as to the total pounds of the blended fertilizer you want applied.
If you have questions about pasture fertilization, soil and tissue testing, or the soil test report recommendations, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Agent. Make sure you clearly understand the options, before making an investment of this magnitude.
Get a solid educational foundation for your cattle operation by attending Beef Cattle Basics.
Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Beef Cattle Basics is an educational series provided by UF/IFAS Extension, which has been designed to give new and experienced producers a solid educational foundation for their beef cattle enterprises. Beef Cattle Basics will address six topics that are essential to beef operations of any size:
Forages – Variety Selection and Establishment Procedures
Reproduction – Defining a Calving Season and Breeding Management Decisions
Herd Health – Vaccinations, Parasite Control, Addressing Calving Problems
Pasture Management – Soil fertility, Grazing Strategies, Weed Control
Marketing – Product Options, Evaluating Your Product, Maximizing the Value of Your Product
Nutrition – Understanding Nutritional Demands, Forage Evaluation, Supplementation Strategies
Each of the topics will be the subject of a classroom session and a field practicum. Classroom sessions will take place in the evening, during the work week, and practicums will be on Saturday mornings. The classroom sessions will be taught at the Washington County Agricultural Center in Chipley and broadcasted to two remote locations. The eastern location will be in either Gulf or Calhoun Counties and the Western location will alternate between Walton and Okaloosa Counties. Classroom sessions will begin at 6:30pm central. Presentations will conclude by 8:00 pm, Q&A will follow for as long as needed. The exact times and locations for the practicums will vary month-to-month, but they will all be Saturday mornings. Session 2 – Reproduction and Session 3 – Herd Health will have a combined practicum on Saturday May 19th.
There is a $15/person registration fee for each session. Registration covers the classroom session and the corresponding practicum. Advanced registration is strongly encouraged. To register call the Washington County Extension Office at 850-638-6180. For questions, contact Mark Mauldin, email@example.com or 850-638-6180
Beef Cattle Basics