Farmer Focus: Seeing the benefits of cattle in cropping

Harvest finished at the end of May, so you would think that it is now the “off-season” until planting in October. Not so on a mixed farm.

We are coming to the end of our southern hemisphere winter and as it doesn’t rain in winter, this is our lean period where all cattle have to be fed or supplemented.

These two enterprises complement each other very well.

Crop residues can be a valuable source of feed and after a maize crop, there can be some whole maize cobs left on the ground, which cows will pick up and eat.

The sloughs and leaves are also quite nutritious and I feel that if we don’t eat them, the wind will blow them away anyway. 

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

I don’t like to graze my fields too hard, as I want reasonable cover for the following season’s summer crop.

Being exclusively no-till, cover is key to the next crop’s success, so I must strike a balance between eating the “cream” and leaving enough cover for the following crop.

In the past few seasons I have aerially seeded a cover crop mix into the standing maize, pre-harvest.

“You would think that grazing the cover crop would be counterproductive, as they are removing the cover, but I feel that there have been live roots in the soil for five months of the year where the soil would normally be fallow”
Bruce Shepherd

While grazing the maize residues, the cattle also enjoy the cover crop.

You would think that grazing the cover crop would be counterproductive, as they are removing the cover, but I feel that there have been live roots in the soil for five months of the year where the soil would normally be fallow.

These live plants have added to the biological activity of the soil and have improved the soil’s health.

This cattle/crop relationship is not one sided.

Manure from the feedlot is spread on the cropping fields, thereby improving their fertility. 

This synergistic relationship extends to the finances of the farm.

Some tractors, machinery and labour (including mine) can be shared between the two enterprises.

There is also a significant spreading of risk, in the form of weather, input costs and the prices received for grain and cattle.


Bruce farms in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. He plants 320ha rain-fed summer crops. He also runs 2,200 weaner oxen on pastures, finishing them in a feedlot with maize grown on the farm.

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