Pasture Walk Educational Programs

Byron M. Leu, livestock field specialist

Southeast Iowa has thousands of acres of pasture utilized by beef and dairy cows, sheep, stocker cattle, and horses. Many of these pastures are continuously grazed with limited management practices incorporated into the overall pasture program. Over time, this management approach has negatively impacted productivity as well as the forage/specie makeup of the pastures.

Continuous grazing of many pastures combined with limited and/or low management levels has contributed to several issues that have impacted both forage and animal production in southeast Iowa. Without question, these issues have affected the productivity, specie balance, and forage competitiveness of many of our pasture acres. These pastures have given tall fescue the opportunity to spread significantly throughout the area, carrying with it the endophyte fungus that can negatively impact animal performance and well being. For many beef operations, the endophyte fungus has not only dramatically reduced animal gains/body condition, but has also spread out the calving season and decreased reproductive rates. The financial impact for individual beef producers can be significant, with the economic annual loss due to the endophyte fungus in the US estimated at over $600 million (Hoveland, 1993).

A total of eight Pasture Walk educational programs were developed to discuss pasture management topics. These informal sessions addressed a wide variety of management issues, including specie identification, pasture rotation/MIG, watering systems, animal management and impact, alfalfa-based pastures, pasture fertilization, weed and brush control, and the fescue story. Presenters and the topics presented varied from site to site, depending on the pasture resources located at the program site. ISU Extension staff cooperated with Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, county Extension staff, community college personnel, producers, and agribusiness representatives to present the educational sessions. Fact sheets were distributed to assist with the educational effort.

To date, 216 people have attended the eight pasture walk educational programs. These attendees had the opportunity to identify common plant varieties, discuss management options to reduce the impact of the endophyte fungus, review different management schemes in an effort to increase the quality and quantity of pasture production, and improve the bottom line through improved animal performance.

Feedback from participants has been very positive. Numerous contacts have indicated interest in adapting a number of the management schemes presented, especially those related to reducing the potential impact of the fescue toxicity. As these changes are adapted, producers can expect improvements in pasture production (minimum increase of 35% in forage quantity), animal gain/body condition (dependent on level of fescue infestation and management), and reproductive rate (increased weaning weights and calf uniformity). Postive improvements in these areas relate directly to the profit potential of the beef enterprise.

Numerous other positives were derived from these Pasture Walk sessions. Attendees were able to observe a variety of pasture improvement techniques and designs, including watering designs, fencing methods, animal flow concepts, stream crossings, frost seeding results, specie differences, pasture renovation options, etc. Observing these different items/topics are invaluable as options are narrowed and decisions are finalized.

Page last updated: July 9, 2006
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