Ag Connection

Your link to the Universities for ag extension and research information

Volume 4, Number 2 
February 1998
This Month in Ag Connection
Rotational vs. Continuous Stocking of Beef Cows and Calves on a Mixed Grass Pasture 
Do You Know Your Hay Machinery Costs? 
Should You Produce Hay? 
Hay Hotline on the Web 
Forage Crop Response to P and K Fertilizer 
And More on Phosphorus . . . . .

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Rotational vs. Continuous Stocking of Beef Cows and Calves on a Mixed Grass Pasture

Performance of beef cattle on continuous grazed (CG) endophyte-infected tall fescue pasture has often been less than desired and has been well documented by researchers. By removing the endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophialium) from tall fescue, animal performance increases but, at the expense of the vigor and persistence of the tall fescue. 

Research conducted at the University of Georgia (Hoveland, 1997) sought to answer two basic questions concerning the persistence of endophyte free (EF) tall fescue and the performance of beef cows as influenced by grazing method. Question one; will persistence of EF tall fescue improve in a rotational grazing situation? and question two; what is the impact of rotational (RG) vs. continuous grazing (CG) on animal performance? 

In the study, four 40-acre common bermudagrass pastures were overseeded with (EF) tall fescue, with two replications, to compare RG vs. CG. The RG pastures were divided into 12 paddocks with a 2-day rotation allowing for a 22-day rest period. In Central Missouri, we do not have common bermudagrass as a mixture in cool season grasses. However, the persistence of EF tall fescue, endophyte effects on animal performance, and the effects of CG vs. RG on animal performance are still issues here. 

Twenty Hereford X Brangus cows were maintained on each 40-acre pasture during the study. Additional cows were added to the RG system as needed during the year in order to maintain equal forage availability between the two systems. Data collected included persistence of EF tall fescue, cow and calf performance, and amount of supplemental winter hay fed. The study lasted for a period of three years. 

Results of the study showed that over the three-year period, the appearance of EF tall fescue in the CG system declined 15.8% while in the RG system it increased 13.6%. 

Total mean forage availability for the study was greater for RG (1702 lbs./ac.) than CG (1179 lbs./ac.). Because there was more forage available with the RG system, additional cows were added to the RG system to maintain similar grazing pressures between the two systems. 

There were no differences in animal performance between the two systems (Table 1). No significant differences in forage quality between the two grazing systems were noted. The biggest impact of grazing method on animal production was a 38% increase in stocking rate and a 37% increase in calf weaning weight per acre for the RG system. Note that this was not a 37% increase in individual average daily gain. The final main impact that was noted in the study was 31% less supplemental winter hay was fed per cow in the RG system (1680 lbs.) vs. the CG system (2430 lbs.). 

Table 1. Animal performance of beef cows and calves that were continuously or rotationally stocked year round on a mixture of endophyte-free tall fescue-bermudagrass, 3-yr. average.
Item Continuous Rotational LSD (0.10)*
Post calving cow weight (lbs.) 1037 1017 NS
Cow weight at weaning (lbs.) 1090 1071 NS
Stocking rate (cow-calf units/ac.) 0.50 0.69 0.01
Cow pregnancy rate % 93 95 NS
Calf weaning weight (lbs.) 490 490 NS
Calf production/ac., (lbs.) 243 334 12
* Least significant difference at the .01 level of probability
Hoveland, C.S., McCann, M.A., and Hill, N.S. 1997. Rotational vs. Continuous Stocking of Beef Cows and Calves on Mixed Endophyte-Free Tall Fescue-Bermudagrass Pasture. J. Prod. Agric., Vol.10:245-250.

In summary, this study showed that EF tall fescue persists better in an RG system. The RG system increased stocking rate and calf weaning weight per acre, while reducing winter hay supplementation. By eliminating the anti-quality factor of endophyte in tall fescue the potential exists for increased individual average daily gains depending upon the stocking rate of the RG system.

Author: James Rogers, Livestock Specialist

Is it cost effective for you to put up your own hay? This is a table of costs per ton of hay for several types of new hay equipment. 

At low levels of production, these costs are extremely high. At around 400 tons of production, the costs start to level off. Data from other midwest states suggests similar costs. 

So, what does this tell us? Look these figures over and do some calculating for your own operation. If you don't produce the hay tonnage needed to get these costs down to a reasonable level, consider these alternatives: 

Do custom work to spread your costs — Can you charge enough to recover costs? 
Hire your hay harvested 
Purchase used machinery to reduce the investment cost — you may have higher repair costs
Share equipment with other producers 
Purchase hay

Regardless of what alternative you choose, it is important for you to know your costs.

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Do You Know Your Hay Machinery Costs?

Implement Purchase Cost Cost Per Ton at Various Total Tons Hay Production Per Year*
100 T 200 T 400 T 600 T 800 T 1000 T
Mower-Conditioner $10,000 $30.21 $17.09 $10.52 $8.33 $7.24 $6.58
Rake $4,600 $15.82 $9.78 $6.76 $5.76 $5.26 $4.96
Baler $19,000 $52.45 $27.51 $15.04 $10.88 $8.80 $7.56
Total $33,600 $98.48 $54.38 $32.32 $24.97 $21.30 $19.10
* Costs include machinery depreciation, interest, operating costs, labor, tractor


Total Cost of Hay Equipment at Various Levels of Production (large round baler, mower conditioner, rake, Costs include machinery depreciation, interest, operating costs, labor, tractor costs, etc.) Graph of Hay Production Costs

Author: Don Day, Ag Engineering/Information Technology Specialist

Hay Hotline on the Web

The Missouri Hay Market is now on the internet. Farmers with hay for sale can use their computer and modem to enter a description of their hay. Or, buyers can go directly to the list to search by region or type of hay. 

The web listing includes region of the state, hay type, and bale type. The seller location and phone numbers are listed; but the price is not included. Hay sellers from out of state can list their hay. Missouri dairy farmers buy a lot of alfalfa from Kansas and Nebraska producers. 

The Missouri Hay Market is a joint project between the Missouri Department of Agriculture and MU. For individuals without a computer, the website can be accessed through the University Extension Center in each county. (Duane Dailey, John Travlos, MU Commercial Agriculture Information Network)


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Should You Produce Hay?

On land suited for row crop production, only in rare cases have producers been able to be competitive in hay production. Missouri Management Information Records (MIR) data indicates that hay crops, even alfalfa, seldom recover all costs and provide a return to management. 

Cost per ton of producing hay by MIR Cooperators often range from $70 to $80 (or more) per ton when all costs are included. Good quality grass hay can often be purchased for $50 to $60 per ton. If good quality hay can be purchased for less than it can be produced, then using the farm resources for more profitable alternatives makes good management sense. 

Production and risk management are major factors to consider in profitable hay production. Insect control, fertility and timeliness, along with strict cost control are essential. Even when these factors are addressed, adverse weather at harvest can reduce or ruin hay quality. While corn and soybean producers face many of the same management challenges and risks, these problems are much more difficult to deal with in hay production. 

Producing hay on land that isn't suited for intensive row cropping may not always be a good choice either. MIR data shows that cash fuel and machinery operating costs alone range from $20 to $40 per acre. Fixed machinery costs (depreciation, interest, etc.) range from $15 to more than $30 per acre. Labor costs can add another $14 to $27 per acre. In many cases, eliminating these costs and using hay acres for grazing additional livestock might offer a better alternative than producing hay. 

Producing hay requires additional machinery and labor cost. Timely harvest of quality hay often conflicts with other farming operations that may offer better returns. Profitable farm management involves utilizing limited resources to maximize returns. 

Author: Melvin Brees, Farm Management Specialist


University of Missouri soil test recommendations for phosphorus and potassium for forage crop production are based on replacing the P and K removed by the crop (based on yield goal) plus building the soil to a "medium" level available P and K over a period of 8 years. For pure stands of alfalfa, the K recommendation is based on replacing crop removal plus increasing the K to the "high" level over 8 years.

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Forage Crop Response to P and K Fertilizer

A forage fertilization study released by West Virginia University reveals the importance of knowing the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels of the soil, and confirms the need for applying more than the crop-nutrient removal rate on soils with low-level soil test results. 


For soils with low P levels, not fertilizing resulted in crop yield dropping to 10 to 40% of potential. Further, to get near potential yield on these soils, P fertilizer applications at 1.5 to 4 times the removal rate were required. This report verifies that substantial amounts of the applied P on these low-level soils quickly becomes "tied-up" in the soil complex. On these soils, fertilizing at the P removal rate, resulted in yields between 40 and 100% of potential. 

The study reported that on soils testing medium to high for P, crop yields were 90 to 100% of maximum yield when P was applied at 1 times the crop removal rate. If no P was applied, crop yields dropped to between 50 and 80% of the potential yield. 


While the study revealed K fertilization response was similar to that of P, it was somewhat less critical. On low-level K soils, crop yields were 30 to 70% of potential when no K fertilizer was applied. Potassium application at the removal rate resulted in yields between 80 and 100% of potential. The maximum potential yields were reached with rates of between 1.5 to 2 times the removal rate. 

On medium to high-level K soils, crop productivity was at maximum levels with K application rates at 1 times the removal rate. In fact, even when the K application rate was 75% of the removal rate, crop productivity was near maximum. However, over a period of 3 to 7 years the crop yield dropped to 30 to 90% of potential when no K was applied. (Source: "Forage Fertilization Based on Yield and Management Goals", Edward B. Rayburn, West Virginia University Extension Service, February 1996.) 

And More on Phosphorus . . . . .

Two recently published studies (Missouri/tall fescue and Kansas/ bromegrass) report significant forage response to phosphorous application on low P soils. 

Missouri study by Tim Reinbott, Richard Mattas, and Dale Blevins:

"Phosphorous fertilization (57 lb P205/A) on soils with 8 or 15 lb. Bray-1 P/A increased hay production by over 1,000 lb/A at both the May and July harvests compared to untreated controls." 

"This research indicated forage yields were not increased by P fertilization when soil P levels were at or above 26 lb/A, the data revealed that on soils which ranged from 8 to 97 lb P/A, application of 57 lb/A of P205 increased the fescue leaf content of Mg, Ca, and P at each soil P level.Thus, while applications of P205 on higher level P soils may not result in additional forage production, the additional availability of Mg, Ca, and P should help reduce the problems associated with grass tetany." 

Kansas study by R.E. Lamond and K.C. Dhuyvetter:

"Phosphorous fertilization (30 lb P205/A) increased bromegrass yields significantly at all sites and at all N rates." One site was located in Miami County with a soil P Bray-1 of 6 lb/A; two sites were in Douglas County with soil P Bray-1 of 7 lb/A. Nitrogen applications ranged from 0 to 120 lb/A in 40 pound increments. 

"Nitrogen use efficiency was also significantly increased by P fertilization. Averaged over N rates and sites, N use efficiency was increased from 42 percent to 67 percent with application of 30 lb P205/A, clearly illustrating the point that N use efficiency will be poor on low P soils until P is applied. 

Author: Parman Green, Farm Business Management Specialist 

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University Outreach and ExtensionAg Connection - February 1998 -- Revised: September 30, 2002