Beef cattle grazing management: Get the most out of your forages

Oct 30, 2020

Grazing management means managing your forage to grazing animals for optimal productivity. Whether you’re improving forage utilization by gaining more days to graze or getting cattle to graze in areas they normally wouldn’t go — Jon Albro discusses how CRYSTALYX can help you get the most out of your forages.


Apple Podcast Subscribe Instructions >

Stitcher Subscribe Instructions >

Tom:    I'm Tom Martin, and I'm joined by Jon Albro, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, to talk about beef cattle grazing management and how a self-fed supplement like CRYSTALYX is used. Jon, our feed industry is focused on feeding livestock and the nutrition therein. Can you define for us what grazing or pasture management is?

John:    Well, sure, Tom, and good morning. Thank you for the call. So, I'm happy to talk about this topic. It's one that we at CRYSTALYX have been very involved in for a good number of years, and really, you know, the terms “grazing management,” “pasture management,” “range management,” those terms can be pretty interchangeable. They’re all talking about how to just manage forage to grazing animals in the resource of a pasture, and that's really our main resource when we're talking about raising beef animals — beef cattle especially, beef cow-calf systems. But really, we're trying to manage that resource for an optimal productivity, and it does cover a very broad discipline of topics. I mean, pasture management, range management, doesn't just involve one thing. It's everything from plant identification to soil health and soil profile studies, rangeland or pasture monitoring. And I'd like to talk about that a little bit later in this call today — ecology. Ecology of the rangeland, the pasture — it has to do with wildlife management, forage production, inventory of that forage, and a lot of just good management practices all intertwined into various systems. So, it's a broad discipline and of a great study field for people in natural resources.

Tom:    We know that CRYSTALYX, being a self-fed supplement, is most often fed to beef cows in grazing situations. So, how do the benefits of a CRYSTALYX program extend to grazing practices or management?

John:    Well, really, it kind of comes down to a couple of different strategies. And you know, we talk about supplement strategies and the strategy that you can put CRYSTALYX to work with, really, and it’s the backbone of our supplement program, and that's all about forage utilization — especially low-quality forages. And we've talked about this in a lot of our blogs, in our podcast, but basically, improving forage utilization relates to low-quality forage. Those forages are low on protein, high in fiber. They need a little bit of help. They're not very well-digested without a little help from a protein supplement, and that's what CRYSTALYX can deliver. So, we improve the breakdown of that forage. We get more energy out of it by supplementing that protein. And I don't want to get too much more into detail than that because that's a whole ’nother topic.

            But the other part of it is, you know, one of the great values of CRYSTALYX goes way beyond the nutritional value or way beyond what the guaranteed analysis on the tag says it is. It's often used as a management tool, and that's really what we have studied a lot over the last couple of decades, really, going back into the late 1990s, looking at using CRYSTALYX to manage range distribution or grazing distribution on any set piece of land. It could be a large pasture; it could be a small pasture. But really, what we have done is we have used CRYSTALYX as a tool to put cattle where we want them in a pasture to graze in areas they normally wouldn't go to or, you know, stay out of areas that we want to take a little bit of pressure off of. And so, that’s really grazing distribution management, and that's a whole part of range management, which we talked about earlier, that CRYSTALYX really becomes a really effective tool.

Tom:    Jon, we’ve also talked in past podcasts about how CRYSTALYX is most commonly fed to help improve forage utilization. Does improved grazing management and distribution improve forage utilization?

John:    Yeah. I mean, any time you’re talking about grazing management, you’re also talking about forage utilization. Perhaps it’s the stretch that pastures — I use that word “stretch” kind of loosely, but that’s a common term that a lot of producers will say, especially in situations where the forage quantity or the supply is getting lessened. It could be due to drought. It could be due to just having too many animals and not, you know — having too heavy of a stocking rate for the resources available. You know, stretching forage or improving utilization could be just from getting better digestibility. So, you're improving the value of it, because you're getting more energy out of it. That's the supplement strategy we talked about earlier.

            The other part of that, from a grazing distribution standpoint, is if you have underutilized areas of a pasture that cattle normally would not go to, but now you implement CRYSTALYX to get them to graze in those areas, you’ve now improved the amount of that pasture or that rangeland site that can be utilized or can be, you know, offered as feed or as a food source for those grazing animals. So, really, what we're doing is we're improving the amount of forage that’s available. We’re adding more days to graze on a piece of land. And that becomes really, really big when it comes to stretching the forage supply or managing through circumstances like drought. So, having more days to graze is really the end result or the endgame of what we're trying to accomplish here.

Tom:    Staying with grazing management for another couple of minutes, what would you say, John, are the economic benefits of the positive effects of CRYSTALYX?

John:    Well, when we talk about more days to graze — which is what we get out of improving grazing distribution — that really translates into dollars and cents very, very easily. And there’s a lot of ways you can look at it. But if you look at some of the data that we’ve collected since the late 1990s — and a lot of this data was done at Montana State University, a lot of it was done in New Mexico and some other universities — and a lot of our results showed that we could improve the change in the forage utilization in those areas where we strategically placed the CRYSTALYX supplement. We could change it by about 15%, and that's a conservative figure. We saw from some data that would suggest well over 20% better utilization of the forage that’s there or the amount that could be potentially grazed.

            So, if you add that up — I mean, 15% doesn't sound like a big number, but if you look at a 100-day grazing season, for example — and, you know, grazing seasons are going to vary from place to place, from north to south, due to a lot of factors. In some places, they graze 12 months out of a year. You get into the northern latitudes and it might be six to nine months, depending on whether, the rest of the time, the animals are fed harvested forage. But if you look at that 15%, that's about another two weeks on a 100-day (season). So, two weeks’ worth of grazing can add up to be an awful lot of money if you look at it just on a per-cow basis.

            Now, these numbers can vary a little bit just depending on what pasture rents are and what forage prices are. But, you know, if you figure (it costs) $1 a day to run a cow for a pasture rent, which is just a number I just picked — in a lot of areas, it's going to be more than that. A lot of areas, it can be less than that, just depending on what the demand is for pasture. But that’s $14 right there for two weeks. And then, if you look at what it would cost to feed a cow for two weeks, you could easily spend anywhere from $15 to $25 just on hay based on the price of pay. And for CRYSTALYX, you can feed CRYSTALYX for that period of time for probably less than $5 or around that $5 mark. So, what we're really saying here is that you can actually spend the money on the supplement, on the CRYSTALYX, improve your range pasture grazing distribution, increase the number of days to graze — and that is a lot cheaper to do than to have to go out and buy purchased feed if you didn't have that pasture available or if you had to go rent more pastures.

Tom:    And what about pasture or rangeland monitoring? Can you tell us what it is and why it's important?

John:    Yeah. Monitoring is just keeping good records and making observations of all the different practices you put into place. And you know, there's a lot of different methods out there. There's a lot of good articles written about different monitoring methods and what you can do. But really, the use of monitoring on rangeland is a method or a way to track how well your practices are working. You know, it looks at a lot of things, like plant communities, productivity and soil health over time. And you can think of it as a “before and after” report. So, oftentimes, it can help you identify a problem with pasture health or productivity before it's even that noticeable. And it really is a decision tool for changes. So, it kind of relates back to (the idea that) you can't manage it unless you measure it, and that's really what monitoring is on rangeland. It collects and builds the database of information that is really important. Good practices, good stewardship practices, and, overall, just building a story to go on that you might advocate to other land managers.

Tom:    I think you touched on this a little bit earlier, but I'd like to ask you to expand on it: Is good pasture management beneficial to environmental stewardship and sustainability?

John:    Yes. Absolutely. You know, this kind of gets back into monitoring as well, but it is about keeping the animals out there longer. It is about making the system more profitable. You know, a lot of the work that we did with the grazing distribution research suggested that we could have an influence within about a third of a mile, which is around 600 yards of distance, away from that supplement. So, we could have an influence on how much that cow is grazing out that far from the supplement. It doesn't sound like a long distance, 600 yards or 1,800 feet, but if you put that on a radius, that's about 230 acres. So, you know, that's improvement. That's what sustainability is all about when it comes to livestock production, is improving efficiency. And you know, a lot of people define sustainability differently, but I think agriculture has put in sustainable practices for the last century or longer. It has to. Maybe even from the beginning of time, because it's always about continuous improvement. We're doing a lot more with less land today than we were, you know, a decade ago, a century ago. And I think agriculture is all about sustainability. I think just the way it is talked about is what probably needs to be improved.

Tom:    How can livestock producers be more proactive in improving their pasture management and sharing their success? That's an important one.

John:    Yes. I would think that the best thing to do is to start with a good grazing plan. A good grazing plan is a lot more than just, you know, starting in May and finishing in November with a grazing season. It's something that should be written. It should be reviewed annually. You can seek a lot of good input from professionals like the Cooperative Extension Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service through USDA. These are people that have a lot of good experience and can give you good input.

            I really think that the other part of this, from a sustainability (perspective) and from being proactive in improving pasture management, is to share success stories. We talked about monitoring, earlier, being a “before and after.” If people keep good records of their good management practices and can advocate those to other land managers, it just makes everybody look better. I think that, in our business, in agriculture in general, we've probably not done a very good job over the years of sharing our success stories. Seems like we’re on defense all the time. And a lot of the reasons we’re on defense is because we don't share these stories. And a lot of our critics are basically just critical out of ignorance to what we are doing right. And so, really, that's our job: to remind people what we're doing right and show that we've made vast improvements over the last 10, 20, 30, 50 years and even longer. I would argue that our pasture lands and rangelands today are in much better ecological shape and, from a productivity standpoint, are a lot better today than they were 50 years ago and definitely a century ago. Now, there are problems, but that's where we always are trying to continuously improve.

Tom:    That’s John Albro, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thank you, John.

John:    Thank you, Tom.

Tom:    I'm Tom Martin. Thanks for listening.