Date of this Version
Subirrigated meadow in the Nebraska Sandhills are used extensively for hay production. Hay harvest takes place in late June through July, generally after the forage has reached full maturity. Crude protein content of this hay commonly falls in the range of 6 to 8%. This is below the nutritional requirement of lactating cows that are often fed this hay until the native range is ready for grazing in late May/early June. Harvesting hay at an earlier maturity would improve its nutritive value, but is not an option on some meadows because much of the surface remains saturated well into the summer. Allowing cattle to graze subirrigated meadows during the growing season (which coincides with lactation in spring-calving herds) should result in higher growth rates and more rapid replenishment of body condition than would occur on marginal quality meadow hay. A few weeks of spring grazing might also delay meadow forage maturity enough that producers would have the option. once the meadows were dry, of taking hay from less mature stands (yielding higher quality but lower tonnage) or allowing the forage to complete its growth and harvest for tonnage rather than nutritional value. An early meadow grazing program could cut several weeks worth of hay out of the spring feeding program as well. Because of these things, meadow grazing might help increase ranch profitability in some situations.