By Terri Queck-Matzie
Pasture in poor condition can support cattle and sometimes make a profit but that doesn't mean better pasture isn't better.
"The environmental effects of pasture improvement are huge," says Madalene M. Ransom, an economist with NRCS, "but people don't always realize the economic benefits."
Ransom and USDA Grazing Lands Specialist Kevin Ogles have collected data which proves exactly that in work at the East National Technology Support Center in Greensboro, N.C.
Ransom and Ogles define poor grazing land as having 50% ground cover with most of the good vegetation already eaten. Their definition of good grazing includes some rotation with 75% ground cover of grass only. Excellent grazing is 95% ground cover consisting of cover, grass, litter and clover, together with excellent rotation practices.
Based on case studies and conversations with extension personnel, Ransom and Ogles show improvements which create excellent pasture conditions, decrease costs over time and increase animal weights and also profits by nearly 50% per pound of animal sold.
"Excellent grazing may cost money up front to install," says Ransom, "but it may be the most profitable by yielding the most benefits." She says many producers fail to factor in lost profit opportunity.
Ransom and Ogles say a case study conducted on a Virginia ranch showed significant advantage. It showed the gross benefits of improved grazing with 22 cows and one bull on 65 acres of improved pasture totaled $11,672. Deduct from that $3,312 in additional costs and they said there was a net annual benefit of $8,359.
The benefits derived from a combination of increased revenues of just over $7,000 and decreased costs of around $4,500.
Benefits and cost savings included:
* Better herd health due to increased clover and improved water sanitation.
* A 50% reduction in fertilizer and lime.
* Less purchased hay and less rented land to produce it.
* Lower labor and transportation costs for hay.
* A 60% decrease in mowing.
Revenues increased from:
* Higher weight gain from the high-quality forage.
* The rancher in the case study was able to increase his herd from 22 cow/calf pairs to 33 pairs and buy a genetically superior bull due to his improved forage availability.
* Calves from the additional cows brought in an extra $5,100 and existing calves utilized the better genetics and better forage to produce an additional $1,994 in revenue.
The improvements did, however, come at a cost.
* Additional fencing was estimated at around $530 per year.
* Concrete watering troughs cost another $184 annually.
* The herd upgrades averaged $1,400 per year.
* Pasture improvements such as soil testing, seed and fertilizer cost the producer nearly $1,200 per year.
That still places the annual cost of improvements at $3,312, well below the realized financial benefits.