Cowboy Math – Acres per Paddock

Cowboy Math – Acres per Paddock

This table assumes 5 inches of growth at turn in and good to excellent forage weighing 300 pounds per acre inch.  Livestock numbers are based on 1,000-pound animals with a calf up to 300 pounds.  Consumption rate is based on an average of 2.6 percent of body weight consumed per day throughout the year. Paddock size is an estimate that is best kept within 30% of recommended size.  Recommended paddock size is based on the assumed production information in the table.


Rotation Frequency




Grazing Efficiency
































































Acres/     = (Animal Wt.) X (Intake Rate in % Body Weight) X (Animal No.) X (Days on Paddock) Paddock                        (Inches) X (Pounds per Acre Inch) X (% Grazing Efficiency)

Example 1

Where should I locate water in a 16-acre or smaller field?  Given: 50-head cow herd weighing 1,000 pounds, turn cattle in field at 5” height on good forage, rotation is seven days.

Answer:  The best location for water would be in the middle of a fence line, because for a seven-day rotation, 12-acre paddocks are recommended.  If all fields are of similar size, water could be placed in every other fence line provided that travel distance to water is less than 800’ (water point’s 1,600’ apart3).

Grazing Efficiency2


Number of Paddocks

Approximate Days

on Each Paddock

Grazing Efficiency Includes

Maintaining Minimum Stubble



40% or less

or (80% over-grazed, low yield)

4 to 6 paddocks

7 to 9 days

40 to 55%

8 to 10 paddocks

4 days

55 to 65%

24 to 45 paddocks

1 day or less

70 to 80%



70 to 80%

Grazing Efficiency2


Number of Paddocks

Approximate Days

on Each Paddock

Grazing Efficiency Includes

Maintaining Minimum Stubble

Continuous ——-

40% or less

or (80% over-grazed, low yield)

4 to 6 paddocks 7 to 9 days 40 to 55%
8 to 10 paddocks 4 days 55 to 65%
24 to 45 paddocks 1 day or less 70 to 80%
Hay ——- 70 to 80%

3 Recommended Travel Distance to Water

Lactating Dairy


Herds water as a group if travel distance is over 800’ or lead cow travels over hill or leaves shade for water.

Beef Cows, Stockers, Horses, Sheep, or Goats


1000’ flat land

Reasons for Rotational Grazing

Reasons for Rotational Grazing


  • Calmer livestock– having control of animals is a huge part of overall management.
  • Reduced hay fed– a 12 paddock system vs. continuous resulted in 31% less hay fed
  • Carrying capacity is increased– typically moving from a monthly rotation to a weekly rotation will increase carrying capacity by 20 to 30%
  • Increased gain per acre– rotating animals in a 12 paddock system vs. continuous grazing resulted in a 37% increase in pounds of calf per acre
  • Temperature reduction– vegetation compared to bare soil reduces temperature by ~ 8 degrees in summer
  • Improved Wildlife Habitat– Varying the height of forage and diverse forage systems improve food and cover for wildlife. Biologist like plant diversity and plant diversity comes from soil disturbance and rest for plant recovery.  In a grazing system wildlife are always the first grazers which provides the best nutrition.


  • Better persistence of forages– particularly of forages sensitive to continuous grazing. In general woody plants that goats prefer require a longer rest period (~45 days).
  • More weeds are consumed- some weeds are high quality
  • More uniform grazing, Improved utilization- Continuous grazing typically only utilizes approximately 30- 40% of standing forage whereas rotating approximately twice a week (rotate based on forage height) improves utilization to 60 – 70%.
  • Excess pasture growth harvested as hay- improves utilization even more
  • Higher production– Typically due to increased stubble height, more leaf area, and more moisture conservation production can be increased by 20% over continuous close grazing.
  • Better management– with proper fencing forages with different management needs are fenced facilitating improved management such as overseeding and treading in seed.



  • Reduced Runoff- Improved vegetative cover has 3 times less runoff than overgrazed pasture
  • Improved filtering of water– Increasing stubble height improves filtering of runoff.
  • Better distribution of dung and urine– improving the environment through proper placement.
  • Improved water quality– with proper fencing animals spend less time loafing in water areas and drink from selected and protected watering points. Bacteria, concentration of nutrients and soil erosion are all reduced when practicing rotational grazing.
  • Streambanks are more stable– Livestock enter streams less frequently (i.e. 5 paddocks system- animals are in one paddock only 20% of the time that’s a reduction of 80%). Treading followed by rest increases plant diversity – resting allows vegetation to establish or recover.  Grazing provides better plant diversity than total exclusion which long term results in only woody vegetation.
  • Soil loss- Overgrazed pasture can have soil loss of 9 tons relative to 1 ton for well managed pasture.
Indicator Plants

Indicator Plants


Indicator Plants are plants that, by their presence or abundance, provide an assessment of the quality of the site. Past soil management has a dramatic effect on the plant community and the plant community doesn’t change quickly so some indicator plants may persist after
management has improved. Indicator plants provide insight to what is occurring below the surface but there are many factors that come into play such as previous land use or management. These can dramatically influence seed availability on the site (e.g. – a low fertility site may still have broomsedge or rabbit tobacco on it even though fertility has improved). Soil testing, rest and recovery, more cover, increased diversity, seeding or other soil management methods may be required to alter the site to the desired state. The best weed control is out-competing undesirable plants. “Manage for what you want, not for what you don’t want. It takes grass to grow grass.”

Some Options for Mitigating Resource Concerns

The plants that grew naturally on the site are nature’s way of healing the site some of them are very palatable and others are not. If these are undesirable plants you may want to terminate existing plants
and plant a more desirable plant community that is adapted to the site.
Compacted Soil: More roots are needed fibrous and tap roots. Maintaining living roots all year helps. Allowing plants to recover longer between grazing and mowing improves root system. More residue helps. Resting plants during their active growing season strengthens plants. All plants help reduce issues with compaction but
the following plants are renowned for improving soil Compaction.

Cool season annual plants are: Forage radish and Cereal rye; perennial cool season plants: alfalfa, chicory, red clover and sweet clover.

Warm season annual plants are: sorghums and warm season perennial plants:

Native warm season grasses like: big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass and eastern gamagrass. Bermudagrass is tolerant of overgrazing and rather drought tolerant but doesn’t have as deep a root system as natives and needs nutrients for production.

Overgrazed Land: Longer recovery between grazing improves vigor of plants. If grazing skip a paddock resting a paddock for up to 90 days in the growing season and up to 210 days in the winter. Lowering stocking rate will remove stress on the the grass, soil, livestock and you. Increasing inputs such as fertilizing, feeding, number of paddocks and rotating more often leaving minimum heights of grass for soil protection, improved
infiltration, lower soil temperature and improved water management. All of these inputs reduce the impacts of overgrazing and shallow root systems. When minimum grazing heights are reached confine livestock to 20% or less of the land and feed hay till other paddocks reach a minimum height of 8” then resume grazing. It is ideal
to graze a paddock for 3 days or less, not allowing livestock to take a second bite of the same plant. In general the minimum recovery time or rest period between grazings is 14 days but base the rotation on height don’t graze below 4” (minimum of 4 layers of leaves).

Wet or Flooded: NRCS does not encourage draining land, wetlands are very important ecosystems and
aquifer recharge areas. Before draining land check with your local NRCS office you could lose USDA benefits
or be fined by other agencies. Don’t graze or travel on wet or saturated soil. Drive only in designated areas controlling traffic. If you must enter a field when it is wet walk or use an atv also wide tires compact less that narrow tires. Forage species that are adapted to wet and flooded land are: cereal rye, hairy vetch, alsike clover, red top, alsike clover, switchgrass and eastern gamagrass.

Red sorrel and Oxeye daisy

Low Fertility Soil: A plant tissue test may be in order to determine the deficiency contact the lab prior to sending in the sample. Feeding hay on low fertility relocates nutrients to the feeding site. Move or unroll hay in a new location each time you feed. High density short duration grazing improves manure distribution which improves fertility. Adjust pH to the desired level prior to applying deficient nutrients. You can move fertility in the animal as well by grazing a fertile field then rotating to one less fertile the manure dropped will be from the more fertile field. Plants, cover and roots aid in making more nutrients actively available to plants. Plants adapted to low fertility include: Cereal rye, lespedezas and native grasses.



Pasture to Silvopasture

Silvopasture Plan

Goal: Managing timber and grass to the advantage of both.


Light Management and Tree Planting:


Harvest salable timber or perform hack and squirt technique to remove low grade trees providing light for regeneration of trees and to grow grass.  Work with forester on designated trees to remove. NRCS can currently not recommend removal of trees by other methods due to potential impacts on bat habitat. The minimum light needed to grow cool season grass is 50% light to the ground with a minimum opening of 0.10 ac (66’x66’).  To grow warm season grass a minimum of 60% light (70’ x 70’) is needed to the ground.  The layout of trees can be scattered or in rows or a combination of the two.  Minimum trees per acre is 27 trees/ac (average spacing of 40’x40’) and the maximum to grow grass is 304 trees/ac (average spacing of 8’x 18’).  Thinning may be required in the future to improve tree growth and maintain productive grass. 

 Shade for Livestock:  

If shade is needed for livestock planting trees on the south and or west side of a paddock is desired, south fence line is best.  Unless it is a wide band of trees that will provide 63 square feet of shade or more per cow calf with access through the shade a line of trees will be needed on every fence line.  Another option is a cluster of trees planted or left so livestock have access to shade from multiple paddocks.  In this case ideally there would be a cluster of shade trees accessible from all paddocks.  The minimum size of this planting is 630 square foot per cow calf with the shade area used fifty percent or less of the time.

Livestock exclusion:

If trees are less than 15’ tall they will need to be protected from livestock for horned cattle it will likely be longer.  The typical browse height is 5 to 6’ so we want to protect the trees from browsing to 6’ or higher.  Set stocked livestock are more likely to rub on the trees and remove the bark girdling and killing them.  Livestock exclusion can be: a fence that restrains livestock away from the terminal bud and trunk, factors are height of the fence and distance from the tree (i.e. 42” electric fence and 24” inset of tree), a cage 18” diameter 6’ tall, 6’ diameter 5’ high or tubex or vexar 6’ tall secured with multiple post to prevent damage from livestock. Be observant watching for any potential damage to trees.  When trees are young they are particularly prone to browsing and being rubbed on.  Protection of the terminal bud is the main concern.  In wet conditions do not allow livestock to graze timber areas where soils are prone to compaction (e.g. Godwin soil type). Be aware of the danger of windfall to humans and livestock where trees have been killed by hack and squirt particularly in windy conditions.  Also be sure grazing restrictions are adhered to according to herbicide label or UT guidelines.

 Grazing Management:

 Practice rotational grazing for cool season forages allow forages to reach a minimum of 8” prior to grazing and graze down to 4” or taller. Allowing forages to reach the boot to early head stage is ideal for soil health and achieving the best balance of biomass for and forage quality. Livestock should not be allowed to denude land under trees, strive to maintain soil cover of both residual plants and dead residue. Rotation will be based on grass height, cover and impacts on trees and all vegetation however an approximate rotation will be 4 days or less on a paddock and a recovery time of 28 days or more. A recovery time of 45 days or more will be strived for. In the winter time a recovery time between grazing may be as long as 210 days.
Native warm season grasses (NWSG) will be 18” tall prior to grazing and not grazed lower than 8”. Manage for 12” height or taller prior to the first frost or November 1 whichever occurs first. After frost they can be grazed, it may improve production of NWSG to graze them low in March prior to green up. A managed prescribed fire can also improve production of NWSG, contact TWRA or TDF before burning. If vigor of native grasses is slower than expected allow them a longer regrowth period prior to grazing remove no more than half of the height when you do graze them.

 A graze plan (forage animal balance spreadsheet) will accompany this document.

Seeding Mixtures for silvopasture areas


Cool Season grass mix:



 Native Warm Season grass mix: 




 Locate mineral, supplementary feed and hay 30’ or further away from desirable trees.  Water for livestock will be placed high on the landscape and strategically located so the paddock can be further subdivided.  Strive for a travel distance for livestock to water being 800’ or less.  The pipeline can be burst proof high density poly pipe on top of the ground or buried 18” underground permanent water tanks can be installed but you are encouraged to use quick couplers with portable troughs. In general water is needed in every other fence line.


 Be observant and manage livestock to enhance the growth of trees and forage.  If trees are showing signs of decline reduce livestock access to the trees. Manage to keep adequate light to the ground to grow forage and respect minimum grazing heights.

Timely Tips – January

Timely Tips – January

It is hard to believe but it’s time to order seed for frost seeding in February.  Producers should inventory fields and determine legumes and grass needed.


Seed that are suited well to frost seeding:

red clover, white clover and annual lespedeza (on thin less productive ground).  Don’t seed annual lespedeza on productive soils it doesn’t compete well with other species.

Lesser used species that also frost seed well are:

arrowleaf clover, crimson clover, hairy vetch (these are reseeding annuals which are typically seeded in the fall but can work in the spring for producers willing to manage grazing heights.  Hairy vetch is an underutilized species, adapted for to all soil types wet or droughty. Great for grazing but slow to get going needs minimum of 90 days growth.  Reseeds very well it is already present in most fields but doesn’t amount to much because livestock graze it out before it produces any quantity. Brassicas can also be seeded in February they will last one year if we have mild summer.  Grasses that establish easily: Prairie bromegrass, annual ryegrass (5 lb or less in a mix).  Annual ryegrass has shown excellent results in controlling spiny amaranth emergence.


Feed hay on infertile or weedy land.  Unrolling hay is a good practice for improving land. Hay needs to be cleaned up by stock daily.  Another option is bale grazing: setting out hay when the ground is dry or frozen then allow animals access to  hay in paddocks.

Timely Tips – January – Forage

Timely Tips – January – Forage

Planning: Winter is a great time to reflect on our management this past year and what changes we plan for the upcoming year.  Stocking rate, feeding, sacrifice area, culling, grazing management, seeding, etc.

Stocking rate has the biggest impact on resource management and our bottom line.  In this high rainfall area we typically think 1 animal unit (AU, 1,000 lb. cow with up to a 300 lb. calf) per 2 acres and this is where my operation is currently stocked with 90 to 120 days of hay feeding. This is too high and too many days of hay feeding, Greg Halich, University of KY Agriculture Economist, recently estimated with current cattle prices and moderate to low. Low cow cost operators can reasonably feed 60 days.  Acres per animal unit depends on lots of variables: soil fertility, soil type, residual grazing height, rotation days of grass recovery, and lots of other factors. Very few farms: have optimum soil fertility, manage to not graze below minimum residual heights (e.g. 3” for tall fescue), provide time for grass to recover and regrow.  Most excellent grazers that feed no hay are stocked at 1 AU per 4 or 5 acres and rotate every day or more often.  A reasonable stocking rate for most operations that is 3 acres per animal unit.  Remember that stockpiled tall fescue is better than hay all the way till March. Sometimes you have to take a step back to make two steps forward.

Feeding strategies for profit, ultimately don’t feed hay in one location the same way year to year or even in wet and dry times.  Like all grazing management it is best to not lock into one strategy.  If it is wet and soil is prone to compaction consider feeding hay in rings.  If you have a hay manger to feed out of or a hay feeding pad this is the time to use them. When the ground is dry or frozen it is a good time to unroll hay daily.  Feeding hay in rings in combination with unrolling at the same time typically doesn’t work so well because stock don’t clean up the unrolled hay soon enough. Best areas to target when feeding hay are fields with low fertility or lots of undesirable forage. Each ton of hay contains 60-13-48 of N-P2O5-K2O.  Unrolling hay on a low fertility field in combination with liming i can change it to a high producing field in about 3 years.

Equipment to consider, not an endorsement of vendors: Hay B Gone, hay unroller can be pulled with a UTV; Spin off, a hydraulic driven hay unroller for the tractor that spins both ways and works well for flatter terrain; hay saver feeder is good for permanent hay feeding site but too heavy for rotational feeding and there are some reports of incidence of calves being hung in them.  Plastic hay rings very light but hold up well.

Convenience is feeding near the barn, it is easy, less traffic compaction by equipment but poor utilization of nutrients in the hay and manure.  Expect weeds like spiny amaranth on land with excessive nutrients.


Unrolling hay, takes some management and requires being done daily.  If done correctly, Texas A & M found that one third less hay was needed.  Other studies have shown as much as half of the hay can be wasted (it’s not waste if it returns to the soil) if not done timely/properly.  Poor quality hay is more prone to avoidance and if your unrolled hay gets rained on it is less palatable.  Advantages of unrolling hay is more stock have access to hay and calves are less likely to be stepped on, lower cost than lots of hay rings and manure, biomass and trampling are strategically placed. Typically don’t need to reseed after unrolling hay. Caution any form of hay feeding can bring in weed seeds.

 Bale Grazing, is where you spread bales across a paddock in the fall or winter and move a temporary wire to allow access to more hay.  Ideally you would move hay rings to control loss.  Round rolls should be a minimum of 30’ apart and most likely you will need to seed the area after feeding so feeding them in somewhat of a straight line make reseeding easier.  You can also creep bale graze allowing calves access to higher quality hay under a high electric wire.

Places not to feed: on the creek or other water areas unless you are trying to seal a pond.  Don’t store hay or feed hay in the drip line of trees unless you are trying to control some weeds.  Nutrients from the hay and manure are best spread across the pasture by the animals.  Don’t feed on waterways unless it is already gullied and you have a plan to seed it soon after feeding. Also avoid feeding in depressions or near sinkholes.

Sacrifice areas, not many farms have good designated sacrifice areas.  These areas are for use when pastures are grazed down to minimum recommended heights.  I used to think it was ok to graze down to 2” height in winter but in order to optimize grass production maintain 3” or more height on pastures.  Location of a sacrifice area: fence off an area that is high on the landscape centrally located (the hub of the operation) and an area that doesn’t have any sensitive areas like water bodies, drainageways or karst areas.  If it does have sensitive areas NRCS recommends fencing those areas out.  If sensitive areas are present it is best to have a 35’ wide or wider vegetative filter where water enters these areas. Single wire electric temporary fence can be used to accomplish all this. 

Grazing management: Continue to feed hay into the spring till grass is 6-8” tall this will allow the grass to become stronger and set you up for grazing an extended time. Ideally some fall grown grass mixed with springs lush grass is best.  If grass gets ahead of you in the spring defer grazing some fields till August, it is not likely to be high quality in August however it will return that biomass to the ground at a time when cool season grasses typically break dormancy allowing you to grow additional stockpiled grass for winter.

               Manage minimum grazing heights of 3- 4” or higher for cool season grasses

               Allow plants to recover growing to 8” or taller before re-grazing.

Additional management strategies:

  • Limit exposure to hay to reduce consumption and waste however monitor cattle body condition score, much of the hay is low quality
  • Unroll hay daily for more animal access and to distribute animal impact and manure where you desire
  • Develop more paddocks to stretch forage supplies next year
  • Plant warm season forage
  • Stockpile grass as a reserve for drought and winter.
  • UT Extension recommendations:

 Next month’s timely tips will be on frost seeding but if you need to order seed consider this:

               Common recommendation:

                              Species                up to pounds/acre

White clover                     2

Red clover                         4

Annual lespedeza            8   on less productive soil


Optional additions

Forage turnips                  1

Arrowleaf clover               1

Hairy vetch                        2  ideally sown in the fall but will improve diversity

Annual ryegrass                2  not recommended by university forage agronomist too competitive

Matua or Persister

Bromegrass                      2   ideally sown in the fall but establishes easy particularly adapted to high fertility shady areas


Fertilizing and Nutrient Cycling in Pastures

Fertilizing and Nutrient Cycling in Pastures

As I drive across the state I see a lot of broomsedge an indicator plant of low fertility. However it is not always lime that is lacking.  It is often times P2O5 or even K2O.  Bottom-line is take a soil test, even if you don’t plan to apply nutrients now. A soil test sets a benchmark now future soil test monitor how your management is affecting fertility. See University of Tennessee Soil testing site 

If you plan on implementing “High Density Short Duration Grazing” test organic matter as well that is how you are most likely to build organic matter.  Organic matter has tremendous benefits, the main benefits being increased water holding capacity and improved nutrient cycling.  Nitrogen is not test for by the lab but recommendations are returned with the soil test.  If you apply nitrogen in the spring count out establishing clovers, don’t even apply 30 lbs N.  If you have 30% or more clover already established omit nitrogen.  In Tennessee pasture systems have too much spring growth anyway September is the time to apply N on tall fescue pasture.


What about recycling nutrients: 


  • one ton of hay has 45-12-45
  • a cow consumes roughly 5 tons of hay per year
  • 5 x (45-12-45) = 225-60-225
  • Surface applied we lose half of the nitrogen (112-60-225)
  • 70 to 90 % of nutrients cycle through the cow and are returned to the land or water
  • Depending on grazing and hay feeding system 2% to 90% hits the pasture
  • Water distribution: if travel distance to water is 800’ or less grazing utilization and nutrient distribution is good.
  • Shade: if limited shade is available 20% less manure hits the paddock


Let’s assume a 3 day rotation (actually rotate when grass is 4”-3” tall), good water distribution, decent shade, and hay fed on pasture not in woods, streambank or feed pad.


  • 112-60-225 = 100 % of nutrients after volatilization of N in forage (really nutrient concentration is higher because this is based on grass hay more mature than pasture and no clover)
  • Take away 20% of nutrients used by the cow 90-48-180
  • In a 3 day rotation it is logical to assume manure distribution = grazing distribution a conservative figure is 65% = 59-31-117
  • Now how many acres is the cow covering in a year?  Let’s figure 3 ac/cow 20-10-39/yr = 69 lbs of nutrient x $0.50 = $35/ac returned to pasture per year on 100 acres that’s $3500/yr these are very conservative numbers.
  • A Grass/Clover maintenance recommendation for medium testing soil is 0-30-30, all that is short in this example is phosphorus.  Remember to base any application on soil test results and recommendations.
  • Legumes contribute additional nitrogen: 60 to 80 lbs N/ac if you keep 30% cover in legumes.


Timely Tips August – Cool Season Planting Mixes

Timely Tips August – Cool Season Planting Mixes

Good to have rain over most of the state.  It is time to start planning for winter: seeding, stockpiling and managing grass for the transition of seasons.  The normal recommended seeding date for most cool season forages is August 15 to October 1.  Yes, I think it is reasonable to go ahead and plant now.  Remember typically it is best to manage what you have.  It is amazing what: managing grass height, recovery time and nutrient management can do for a plant community.


Typical recommendation for managing fall growth for winter “stockpiling” is to graze or clip tall fescue to 3” now and apply up to 60 lb of N/ac (130 lb of protected urea/ac.) then let it recover and grow till Thanksgiving or later before grazing.  Then ration it out starting with a paddock near the water tank.  Starting with a temporary fenced paddock near the water point and move the temp fence every 3 days or less allowing livestock access to water. A single wire electric fence with polywire (9 strand), a geared reel, and step in post works well for cattle for sheep you typically need 3 wire temporary fence.  Stockpiling is good even if you don’t apply N (every pound of N with rain should grow an additional 30 pounds of forage). I often feed hay in the fall when growth is good to grow forage while I am feeding hay because when you feed hay in January you are not growing grass.  More on this next month.


The best fields to drill into are fields that are predominantly warm season grass like crabgrass, dallisgrass, bermudagrass, johnsongrass or even broomsedge or where you have a thin stand with 50% stand of cool season grass.  But i wouldn’t drill into warm season grass till mid-September and definitely don’t apply Nitrogen till then.  Broomsedge is an indicator that soil fertility is out of balance so adjusting nutrients is needed, take a University of TN soil test for recommended nutrient application. If nutrients are out of balance or lacking you likely will not be rewarded for your seeding and management as fast as you would like.


Mixes, composition and planting considerations

Seeding too high of a rate of fast growing species in a mix can dominate the stand by shading and competition with slower growing species reducing their establishment. If included low rates of annuals are recommended in perennial mixes. Annuals are faster establishing than perennials.   I don’t like over 20% of annuals in a perennial mix.  Fast growing annuals can have the same impact in an annual mix.  Another concern is broadleaf species typically shade more than grass species this is why in perennial cool season mixes grasses are typically recommended to be planted first in the fall followed by legumes in late winter. When drilling I typically recommend going ahead and planting grasses and legumes but not too much legume.  Brassicas are very fast growing in early fall too so they can outcompete other species thus the lower recommended seeding rates in the following mixes.  Annual ryegrass is the most competitive cool season grass but doesn’t grow that fast in the fall. In a perennial mix i don’t like over 3 lb/ac. of annual ryegrass. In annual mixes it works as a great smother plant for spring when plants like broomsedge are emerging. Management needed for late May and June if you don’t use herbicide is to allow annual ryegrass to remain above the broomsedge. The annual ryegrass will brownout in June so plan on no-till drilling a warm season annual mix in the ryegrass in late May or early June. Crabgrass, Johnsongrass or a mix of Pearl millet and cowpeas no-till drilled into the ryegrass will provide an additional high quality summer smother crop.


Cool season mixes for a warm season pasture or thin cool season pastures, (if there is a program payment involved follow local guidelines)

seeding dates August 15 through Oct. 1


Annual Mix for fall and spring forage (good for shading undesirable cool and warm season plants)

 Species                                   Pounds/Ac

Cereal rye                               20 – 75

Annual ryegrass                      15 – 25

Turnips                                    1

Optional additions

Hairy Vetch                            4

Red clover                               2

Crimson clover                       2

Drop the following from mix after September 10

Radish                                     0.5

Sunflower                               1

Buckwheat                              1



Crazy Annual Cool Season Soil Health Mix for grazing

 Species                                   Pounds/Ac

Cereal rye                               25

Triticale                                  20

Barley                                     20

Wheat                                      10

Annual ryegrass                      15

Turnips                                    1

Crimson clover                       4

Hairy vetch                             4

After September 10 drop the following species.

Radish                                     0.5

Sunflower                               1

Buckwheat                              1

Browntop millet                      3


Perennial Cool Season Mix where soil is not productive and nutrients are out of balance

Tall fescue                              18

Annual ryegrass                      3 (no more)

White clover                           2 (legumes typically recommended to be frost seeded in February or drilled into grass in March add annual lespedeza 8 lb/ac then)

Red clover                               4

Hairy vetch                             4 (best seeded in the fall)

Optional if a herbicide is used or weed competition is not expected and seeding is done prior to Sept. 10.

Sunflower                               1

Buckwheat                              1

Browntop millet                      1


Perennial Cool Season Mix where soil is productive, nutrients are in balance and minimum grazing height of 4” or higher will be maintained.

Tall fescue                              15

Orchardgrass                           10

Prairie bromegrass                  3 (Hogan seed and Nixa Hardware and Seed are a couple of suppliers)

Annual ryegrass                      3 (no more than 3 lb)

White clover                           2 (legumes typically recommended to be frost seeded in February or drilled into grass in March, add annual lespedeza 8 lb/ac then)

Red clover                               4

Forage turnip                          1

Optional if a herbicide is used or weed competition is not expected and seeding is done prior to Sept. 10.

Radish                                     0.5

Sunflower                               1

Buckwheat                              1

Dealing With Drought

Dealing With Drought

During droughts it is tempting to graze all pastures and to graze them short, however,  short grazed pastures provide almost no feed and leaves many plants dead and others in such a weakened condition that they cannot respond well when conditions return.  In the long run, it’s best to start feeding hay in a small portion of the farm any time grass is grazed to about 2-4 inches so that those plants will be in better health for regrowth following the stress period.  Cattle cannot take enough bites in 12 hours of grazing to meet their needs when the pasture is less than about 3 inches height….so you may as well feed hay to meet their needs and protect the pasture.

The following considerations are based on the situation found on many livestock farms in East TN as of this week.  Pastures have been completely used and hay has been fed for several weeks by many producers.  The “surviving” vegetation in many pastures include bermuda, dallisgrass, grease grass (called purple top), broomsedge, nimble will, and  various “weedy” types such as horsenettle, thistle, yellow crown beard, chicory.  There is some possibility that tall fescue, orchardgrass and bluegrass will survive where they have not been grazed below 2-inches for long periods of time.

Considerations for the next few weeks that might help address short term feeding expenses and provide forage in late winter and early spring of 2017.

  1. Cull any cows that are not healthy or in poor condition or that are calving outside of a narrow calving window that fits with most of the herd.
    1. Consider that it takes about 16-35 lbs of good hay per day to feed a dry cow, and it will take more nutrients to feed a nursing cow or growing animal. Review Table 1 for effects of cow size on feed needs (assuming suitable forage quality).
    2. If drought and overgrazing has left only warm season plants surviving there will be virtually no grazing until next May. This means 6-7 months of feeding stored feed at $1-$1.50/ head/ day, plus labor and fuel.
    3. Cattle prices are not likely to improve over the next few weeks/month therefore “holding on” for better prices is probably not a “good bet” in this situation. 
  1. Sell weaned calves soon since prices have been dropping recently and are not likely to improve enough to cover additional feed cost that will be needed to keep them growing properly.


  1. If tall fescue or orchardgrass and bluegrass make up less than 50% of the pasture acreage, strongly consider no-till planting them as soon as possible, but before end of November. It is likely that 25-40 lbs N/acre will insure the seedlings can develop sufficiently this winter.  Remember that the normal planting dates are before mid-October, but if you have no surviving cool season grasses it might be worth a “gamble” to get some acreage planted.  Otherwise, there will be no cool season grasses on the farm next year.  In most years, spring planting of cool season grasses is much more risky than planting in late fall.  Do not plant annual ryegrass with these species as it will be very competitive and you will be “tempted” to graze it early next spring.  Do not plan to graze any cool season grass seedlings until next April or May when it reaches more than 8 inches of growth.


  1. To have a significant chance for late winter-early spring grazing, consider planting small grains with annual ryegrass in pastures that are currently mostly covered with bermudagrass and dallisgrass or dead crabgrass or pasture with a thin stand of tall fescue. The odds are that one can expect 2000 to 4000 lbs of forage if good stands are obtained and Nitrogen rates are at 100 lbs/acre or so.  This means adding 25-40 lbs of N next month and another 50-75 lbs/acre in March or April.  Count the cost as compared to alternative feeds.  Next fall August 15 to October 1 consider drilling in perennial cool season forages.


  1. The most consistent stands are usually obtained from drilling as compared to broadcasting on the surface of the soil, especially in the autumn-fall period. Seeding rates can usually be about 25-50% less when drilled as compared to broadcasting the seeds on soil surface.  When planting late it is often worthwhile to plant slightly more seeds per acre as compared to planting “on time”.


  1. In the future consider the cost of re-establishing a pasture vs the start of feeding hay a few weeks earlier than normal. University budgets indicate costs ranging from $50 to $200 depending on the soil fertility status, and type of replanting and species being established.  In addition, pastures that are less than 4 inches tall does not provide more than a 100-300 lbs of forage per acre that can actually be consumed ( this is less than 1/3 of a normal round bale of hay).  In addition most cows will lose weight when forced to graze such short grazed pastures.


  1. Hay quality may be marginal in some cases, therefore it will be worth a few dollars to get a feed test to determine if supplemental energy or protein will be needed to meet animal requirements. As a general rule, energy will be the most limiting factor so be cautious about just using protein supplements without knowing composition of hay or other feeds.


  1. Corn gluten feed may be one of the most economical alternatives, especially since it has high protein and energy level. However, pay attention to the price per lb. of dry matter.  Some by-products have significant amount of water in them.


  1. Graze residual growth in hay fields but do not graze below 2” in the winter. Remove cattle if pastures are prone to pugging (muddy and trampling of vegetation).  Rationing standing grass with temporary fence will improve grazing utilization.


  1. Crop residues may be a good option if properly supplemented with energy and/or protein as needed. However, removing more than 50% of the residue from the cropland can result in soil erosion and much less water infiltration, which can result in more drought stress in the future.

 Table 1.  The effect of cow weight on forage needed for the year and winter feeding period.

Alternatives to Help Stretch Forage Supplies

Alternatives to Help Stretch Forage Supplies

Maintain a 3” minimum grazing height


Inventory Animal Demand and Forage Supply

  • Animal demand per 1,000 lb cow is roughly 20 -30 pounds of forage per day, 750 – 900 pounds forage/month or 9,000 – 10,800/year demand will be somewhat less for non-lactating animals and somewhat higher for lactating animals. Best to allow for 10% forage wastage. Most operations feed hay for a 90 days or more. Real good grazers or low stocked operations feed less days. On average producers feed hay 120 days. Example: 120 days x 30 pounds = 3600 pounds/cow + 360 pounds waste = 3960 pounds hay/cow/winter feeding of 120 days
  • Inventory grass, hay or other feed supply before April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1.
  • Inventory pasture – every acre-inch of forage is equal to 200 – 400 pounds of dry matter. A good average is 300 pounds/acre inch for good producing grass. Example: 5” of growth x 300 pounds/acre in = 1500 pounds of forage but typically livestock only consume around 50% of that so 750 pounds per acre.

As few as two or three plants per square feet with good stem diameter should rebound and make a good stand with good management and adequate moisture.  If the pasture is grazed for an extended time below 3”, the pasture will likely need re-seeding.

  • Some producers like to have a 20% carryover of hay for insurance in case of a long winter, extended drought, hay fire, etc.
  • Example: 20 head cows x 3960 pounds for 120 days = 79,200 pounds/20 head cow herd. If rolls of hay weighing 1,000 pounds and have not weathered much, this producer would need 79 or 80 rolls per winter. Twenty acres x 750 pounds/acre = 15,000 pounds of forage which would last about 25 days if 20 head were grazing and no additional growth occurred. (20 head x 30 pounds/day = 600 pounds forage demand)


Options to Stretch Forage Supply

If additional forage is needed one or a combination of the following alternatives could improve forage utilization and/or production.

  • Best to restrict animals to one paddock (field) until other paddocks re-grow otherwise all paddocks will be grazed so low that recovery is very slow and grass may even be killed. Another option is to continue to rotating animals on a schedule of 7 days or less.
  • When forage re-grows to five inches or taller allow animals access to four days or less of forage at a time will typically increase forage utilization by 20% or more.

  • Stockpiling tall fescue – setting aside 0.5 to 1 acre per cow extends grazing and provides higher quality grazing. Many producers stockpile tall fescue without fertilizing with nitrogen this is a consideration especially when fertilizer prices are high. Consider the following; fertilizing tall fescue with 60 pounds of Nitrogen (180 pounds of ammonia nitrate) will produce an additional ton of forage. Cost of Nitrogen at $0.40/pound of nitrogen x 60 pounds or nitrogen will cost $24/acre.If hay cost $24/1,000 pound roll a producer will produce 1,000 pounds of forage in addition to the cost of 1000 pound roll.. Some of the standing grass will be wasted due to trampling and manure damage. Depending on forage management, cattle will consume 50 to 70% of the 1,000 pounds providing a benefit of an additional 500 to 700 pounds above cost of nitrogen. Benefits may even be greater if hay waste is high.
  • Over-seeding pastures with winter annuals. Typically not feasible to overseed pastures with winter annuals unless tall fescue stand is less than 50%, even then, it is questionable but in an emergency, it is an option. Spring oats provide the quickest growth in the fall but die out during the winter. Winter oats are another option. Seed 4 bushels of oats by Oct 1. Rye is second quickest growth, seed 2-3 bushels/acre prior to October 15 for fall growth. Wheat seed 2-3 bushels/acre by October 1. Ryegrass generally just provides late winter quality forage the same time that tall fescue is growing. Fertilize winter annuals with a minimum of 45 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
  • Consider leasing additional pasture
  • Grazing fields traditionally used for fall hay, this is particularly a good option when you consider harvest efficiency of harvesting hay is typically 70% and strip grazing also has an efficiency of 70%. You get the same utilization for less cost! If land is not strip grazed, utilization will likely be at 50% efficiency. High fuel cost makes grazing hay fields in the fall the best option.
  • Early weaning will reduce stress on the cow and extend forage supply
  • Creep grazing Allowing calves access to higher quality forage than the cows. A demonstration farm in Bledsoe County creep grazed calves gained an additional 75 pounds grazing pearl millet in the summer. Winter annuals are a good option for creep grazing in the cool months. Some producers place their electric wire at about 30” above the ground to allow calves to free range choosing the best forage ahead of the cows. When weaned calves are grazing an adjacent pasture field to the mother cow, there is naturally less stress for both. Cows in better condition breed back sooner.
  • Feed ruminant friendly by products such as soyhulls, and corn gluten.
  • Irrigation, can improve forage production, it is important to have optimum stand, weed control, fertility, for irrigation to pay.
  • Adjust stocking rate, some producers like to stock for drought not high production, approximately 20% below maximum stocking rate. Plan for the worst scenario & hope for the best!


Management Strategies ahead of drought

  • Diversity of forages 70 % cool season, 30 % warm season. Different species within each group or season of forage can extend the growing season.
  • Multiple paddocks (cross fence to make five or more fields).
  • Proper grazing heights – A recent study at North Carolina State University showed that overgrazed pastures produced 37% less than pasture grazed to a 3” height.
  • Stockpiled forage– provides quality forage at the lowest cost
  • Maintain fertility utilizing soil test
  • Evaluate forage supply – Determine needs in advance with the end of seeding dates in mind. April 1 for spring seeded cool season grasses, July 1 for warm season grasses and October 1 for fall seeded cool season grasses.