Starting the Grazing Season with the Price of Hay and Fertilizer in Mind

On Pasture reader Richard Moyer wrote me in March about the interesting times we live in and what they might mean for the 2022 grazing season. He said he’d been talking with friends in southern Appalachia about rising fuel and fertilizer prices for the upcoming season. Here’s a sample of what the conversations look like:

So what’s a grazier to do?

The question that Richard, his neighbors, and all of us are struggling with, especially this year, is how to reduce the influence that fuel and feed have on our operations. With that in mind, Richard shared some of his ideas, and I asked some other On Pasture authors to pitch in with some additional ideas. We hope that keeping these tactics will get you over this season’s high prices hump. Then, in this month’s Thinking Grazier, John Marble will share some strategies for more long-term business changes.

Increase grazing days

The first thing we can all do is reduce our need for hay. Richard had a lot of great ideas that could work for many of us.

Grow as much forage as possible – Add Lime.

Soil acidity is one of the biggest obstacles to production. Knowing that, once his soil samples are back, Richard plans to spread lime where needed. This will maximize forage production, especially when stockpiling fescue this fall.

Soil test reports can be a bit confusing to read, so Eddie Funderburg helps you interpret them here. Mark Kopecky provides details when to use lime, gypsum and elemental sulfur, and Rachel Gilker helps you pick the right lime for your pastures with a spreadsheet calculator to help you figure quantities.

Finally, if you haven’t done a soil test lately, here’s how:

Take the Drudgery Out of Soil Testing

Make as much room for forage as possible – groom fence lines and remove brush.

Clean fence rows and remove brush that limits grass growth underneath, because every bite counts this year, and moving forward.

Manage the forage you have more carefully.

Richard is going to up his grazing game this season. He’s delaying the start of his grazing season to make sure grass has a good start, and then will avoid grazing too short. He’ll monitor grazing heights, avoid back grazing.

Plant summer annuals.

Richard is thinking of planting summer annuals, despite the diesel cost, because it provides July through September grazing and allows him to stockpile fescue. That in turn helps him achieve the Virginia goal of “Graze 300” and reduces the need for winter hay.

Of course, if you’re thinking of planting summer annuals, you’ll need to pencil out the cost of this versus the benefits, and compare it to other options you might have.

Pay attention to stocking rate.

The best way to make sure you have enough forage and need less hay is to make sure you’re not overstocked. If you don’t have enough grass for the animals you have, make plans to send them on now before it’s too late. Check out last month’s articles on figuring stocking rates to double check where you’re at now.

How Much Forage Do I Need?

Folks with drought plans are ahead of the game when it comes to knowing which animals to send on first and which are important to the future herd. And speaking of drought, Richard also noted that this could be a hard summer for everyone as more than half the United States is expected to be in drought. Planning ahead is your best way through, so check out the On Pasture drought planning ebook here.

Replace purchased fertilizer with other kinds of fertility.

Plant legumes.

Richard wrote he’s thankful that, following Victor Shelton’s advice, he frost-seeded red and white clover and it’s coming up well. Those clovers will serve as both forage, and as nitrogen fixers. That added nitrogen will be helpful to both the summer annuals he may plant and to his fall-stockpiled fescue.

Feed and graze to promote uniform urine and manure spreading.

We all know that we can using feed, fencing, and water placement to move livestock through pastures so they do a better job of spreading nutrients. This year, you might pay more attention to that.

Use bale grazing to add fertility.

While it won’t help for this summer, Richard is also looking at winter bale grazing. He reminds us to “Read about bale grazing and other methods to max hay usage and minimize fuel usage.” To help you, here’s a list of all the On Pasture articles on bale grazing.

He’s also reviewing the dollar value of nutrients that come in with hay, even “expensive” hay.” To help with that, here’s an article from March on just that topic.

For even more tips, check out this January article from Victor Shelton.

Tips for Adding Soil Fertility While Weathering High Fertilizer Prices

Look closely at stocking rates and at your choice of enterprise.

Richard is already looking at the option of reducing his herd size to reduce the cost of feeding hay. One option for doing this is to market animals to local buyers who would like to raise a steer or two on their small acreages.

John Marble suggests some additional alternatives. For cow/calf operators, consider weaning and selling calves earlier to reduce demand on fall and winter forage. You’ll have more flexibility in marketing and it reduces feed requirements. Plus, as this OP articles demonstrates, early weaned steers actually have improved weight gains!

Early Weaning – A Good Bet For Producers in Drought-Stricken Areas

Another option is to reduce your herd size over all, and bring in custom grazed animals for those times when you have more forage than you can graze. It maintains the total number of units you’re raising and helps you match the resources you have. John will cover additional strategies in this month’s Thinking Grazier.

How do you secure the hay you’ll still need?

Richard is definitely thinking ahead and considering incentives he might provide to hay producers so he gets what he needs. Most of his potential solutions include upfront partial payments to ensure he gets what he needs and that hay producers are encouraged to fertilize, or paying more per bale/ton to those hay producers who might make hay but will grow and cut less. Finally, he’s also paying attention to caring for whatever he can acquire, making sure bales are stored off the ground and under shelter until winter feeding.

Tactics for the short-term. Strategies for the long-haul.

These are all some great solutions to get through the 2022 grazing season. Here’s a big round of applause for Richard Moyer for bringing this topic up and sharing his ideas.

But, while fuel prices may come down some in the future, they are always going to be a huge influence on every grazier’s profit margin. With that in mind, check check this months’ Thinking Grazier where John Marble shares thoughts on possible strategies for creating an operation that is less reliant on and less affected by energy inputs.

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