YEAR-ROUND GRASS (THE FORAGE CHAIN)
Not surprisingly, grass-fed production techniques are more land intensive than traditional methods because the animals are allowed to graze freely.
The real challenge is to establish a variety of grasses that provides high-quality grazing for the cattle throughout the year. This is referred to as the forage chain. Once the grass is established, it becomes very near self-sustaining as the animal waste deposited back on the land replenishes most of the nutrients the animals consume while grazing. Only a small percentage of what is eaten actually becomes part of their body mass.
All forages are divided into two distinct families: annuals and perennials. Of course perennials are varieties that last indefinitely or for a number of years, depending on soil, temperature and rainfall conditions; annual varieties must be re-planted each year. The other major classification criteria are by primary growing season: warm season and cool season. Generally warm-season grasses are most productive in the spring and summer seasons and cool season varieties grow best in the fall and winter seasons.
The last and a very important element of our system is the hay we use to supplement the standing grasses we grow. The quality of the hay must be high since it has to contain enough energy to help keep the cattle gaining weight at a fairly high rate (for an all-grass diet) of about 1.5 lbs. per day.The primary links in the the Baggett Family Farm forage chain are perennials. The warm season choices are Bermuda grass and Eastern Gamagrass. Both provide excellent quality pasture and are drought tolerant. We plan to experiment this year with some annual warm-season varieties to give us a small amount of even higher-quality grass to use during the last 45 days or so before the animals are harvested.
The backbone of the cool season gazing system is MaxQ. This is a relatively new variety of fescue that field tests have shown produces higher rates of gain than traditional fescue and also a lower body temperature for the cattle when consumed during warmer periods. The MaxQ has been inter-seeded with both white and red clover to increase pasture quality and also provide nitrogen to the land since clover is a leguminous crop.
This cool-season pasture is supplemented by sowing rye grass into our Bermuda grass acres in the fall after the warm season Bermuda grass has become dormant. The rye grass produces very high- quality grazing in the late winter/early spring before the warm-season grasses become productive and is an important part of the chain.Finally, we produce good quality Bermuda grass hay on the farm. We supplement this with purchased alfalfa hay to make sure the animals are getting enough energy in their diet to reduce any stress which might result from a drop in their caloric intake caused by poor available pasture or increased nutritional needs during harsh winter conditions.