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Spring grazing: A management alternative for Sandhills wet meadows

Marc Robert Horney, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Many Sandhills cow-calf operations rely on hay produced from subirrigated meadows as a primary source of winter and spring forage. Grazing these meadows in the spring, rather than holding them exclusively for hay production, may improve ranch efficiency and profitability. Cattle were assigned to one of 4 treatments: graze meadow or be fed hay during a prebreeding period (May) then graze meadow or graze upland range during the breeding period (June–July) in 1993, 1994 and 1995. Stocking rates for meadow pastures were 3.2 AUM ha −1, 4.4 AUM ha−1, and 6.0 AUM ha −1, respectively, for pastures grazed prebreeding only, prebreeding + breeding, and breeding only. Hay harvest from May and May–July grazed meadow was half that of the non-grazed hay meadow (2,000 kg ha−1 vs. 4,000 kg ha−1, P = 0.001) but total DM harvest from grazing and haying combined were similar for the May grazed pastures and non-grazed hay meadow (P > 0.10). Total CP harvest was greater for the May grazed treatments than for non-grazed hay meadow (600 kg ha−1 vs. 350 kg ha−1 P = 0.05). Body condition score of cows grazing meadow during the prebreeding period increased more (P = 0.06) between May and October than that of cows fed hay during the prebreeding period. Management had no effect on pregnancy rate or calving interval (P > 0.10). Calves grazing meadow during the prebreeding period gained 11 kg more than hay-fed groups by weaning (P = 0.03). Utilizing spring meadow grazing together with winter grazing may spare nearly 0.5 ha meadow cow−1 and nearly $130 cow−1 in feeding expenses annually. Additional gain of calves that had nursed cows grazing meadow during the prebreeding period was worth $21 hd−1. Cost of feeding cows in the 60 days between calving and the start of the breeding season was reduced by nearly $30 hd−1 by replacing low quality hay and supplement feeding with high quality meadow hay and May grazing. We conclude that spring grazing Sandhills meadows can be effective in increasing profitability of spring calving cow-calf enterprises. ^

Subject Area

Agriculture, Animal Culture and Nutrition|Agriculture, Range Management

Recommended Citation

Horney, Marc Robert, "Spring grazing: A management alternative for Sandhills wet meadows" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9942129.