27 March 1998

Switch away from maize works fine

US BEEF producer Lawrason Sayre has no regrets about switching from feeding his animals maize corn to rotational grazing for nine to 10 months a year.

Mr Sayre explained that his philosophy was such that the livestock should work for him, not him for the livestock. Yet 10 years ago half his land grew maize for corn and stock numbers were lower.

"Stock should harvest as much of their own feed as possible. Carrying feed out to stock for two or three months each winter is enough," he said.

He has 140 Angus spring calving cows and heifers and 120 calves on his 97ha (240-acre) Waffle Hill Farm, Churchville, Maryland compared with just 80 cows and 60 calves in 1986.

The farm is now mainly permanent pasture, or grass and legumes for grazing and hay. Some of this pasture has been renovated with clover, and rye is direct drilled into hay fields in the autumn for late season grazing and to improve hay quality.

During the grazing season, stock move about 300 times in total through 65-70 paddocks. Rotational grazing is the key to being able to keep stock fed in a summer drought and has allowed more stock to be kept on the farm, he said. It also means that the cattle do more of the work, there is little manure to spread and few chemical sprays are used.

Flexibility is maintained by using portable electric fencing so that paddock sizes can be adjusted to suit grass availability and stock numbers. Snap off fixings are fitted on water pipes allowing water troughs to be positioned in paddocks.

Also to maintain flexibility, Mr Sayre grows fescue grasses that can be stockpiled – left to grow to provide a grass buffer of lower quality for grazing during a drought or in winter – so that he can avoid feeding or selling cattle, because of grass shortages.

Calves are finished on maize corn for just 60-70 days, he added.

Beef cattle move a total of 300 times through 65-70 paddocks during the grazing season, said Lawrason Sayre.