By Jean-Paul MacDonald, Farms.com
Winter feed expenses have a significant impact on the profitability of cattle producers, according to Rusty Lee, an agronomy specialist at the University of Missouri Extension. In fact, feed costs are the primary factor determining whether a cattle operation will be profitable or not, regardless of herd size. To address this challenge, Lee suggests strip-grazing milo (grain sorghum) as a cost-effective alternative for winter feed.
Milo is an excellent choice, especially during drought conditions when grazing and hay availability becomes an issue. Lee recommends planting milo in May and allowing it to grow throughout the full season. The grazing period typically begins on November 1 and lasts until the end of March, with only a short interruption due to prussic acid formation after frost events.
One of the key advantages of milo is its high total digestible nutrients (TDN) content, usually above 70%. However, it requires protein supplementation, which can be achieved through high-quality hay, bean meal, or other sources. Lee has collaborated with MU Extension state beef nutrition specialist Eric Bailey to develop a balanced rationing plan. Supplementing with good-quality hay or utilizing stockpiled grazing can effectively meet the cattle's nutritional needs.
The real cost-saving aspect of strip-grazing milo lies in eliminating the expenses associated with mechanical harvesting. By allowing cattle to graze the milo directly, producers can feed their cattle for as little as 60 cents per head per day, as opposed to the significantly higher costs of supplementing pasture grazing with expensive hay.
Implementing strip-grazing requires the use of simple poly wire electric fencing, which is moved daily to confine the cattle to designated areas. The cattle are kept close together and primarily consume the grain heads, completing their feeding within a couple of hours. This method not only reduces costs but also ensures efficient utilization of the milo crop.
Moreover, strip-grazing milo allows producers to retain soil fertility on their farms. By avoiding the export of nutrients through selling harvested milo, producers can maintain the fertility of their land, providing an additional benefit to their overall operation.
Lee encourages cattle producers, particularly those who also have row crops, to consider strip-grazing milo as a "no-brainer" winter feed strategy. Those with existing infrastructure and equipment can easily adopt this method and reap its financial rewards. While strip-grazing milo is not yet a widely adopted practice, Lee is working to spread awareness and convert more producers to this cost-effective and efficient approach.
Demonstration plots showcasing the benefits of milo grazing can be found at Sanborn Field on the MU campus and at the MU Bradford Research Farm near Columbia. With its proven advantages, strip-grazing milo presents an innovative solution to minimize winter feed expenses and enhance profitability in cattle operations.