“Whether cattle producers keep calves for 60 days after weaning prior to sale or graze the calves as stockers prior to feedlot entry cheap gain is key to operation profitability,” says Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist.
As producers wean fall calves in mid- to late-spring, cool season grasses begin to lose their quality. This results in lower calf performance. “Adding summer annuals to your grazing rotation may cost effectively improve grazing forage quality leading to cheaper gains to improve operation profitability,” says Davis.
“Seed annual lespedeza and crabgrass into grazing pastures to improve pasture quality and calf performance through the summer,” says Davis.
Lespedeza, a legume, makes higher quality forage than grasses because it contains less fiber and more protein content. Both lespedeza and crabgrass in fescue pastures dilutes fescue toxicosis symptoms. This results in better calf health and performance, says Davis.
Calves potentially gain 2.25 pounds daily on crabgrass pastures. Both of these forages also grow better in the summer months, increasing forage availability for optimum stocking rate.
“Optimum calf and forage performance on crabgrass results from an ideal grazing height range of 10 to 3 inches,” says Davis. “Annual lespedeza’s ideal grazing range is slightly less at 6 inches to 2 inches. Seed sudangrass and pearl millet in May and June to provide high quality forage for calves to graze through the summer,” says Davis. He urges cattle producers to use these forages as smother crops in plans to renovate cool season pastures.
“Begin grazing sudangrass at a height of greater than 24 inches to prevent prussic acid poisoning in cattle,” says Davis. Since pearl millet does not cause prussic acid poisoning in cattle, begin grazing it at a height range between 18 and 30 inches. Do not graze either of these forages below 10 inches.
“Nitrate toxicity can be an issue with both of these forages during summer drought,” says Davis. “In addition to adding forage resources, grazing resource management is important for proper cattle intake and performance.”
He urges cattle producers to use strip or rotational grazing of these forages for proper forage production and utilization as well as proper forage quality for optimum cattle performance.