This year I was able to keep a log of the intakes grazed per milking cow based on how much TMR the cows were eating in the barn. I was glad that I was able to keep after the log for the entire grazing season. However, as I finished the grazing season and looked back, I wish I had kept a log of the dry cow/pregnant heifer and the breeding heifer groups. While those groups didn’t eat nearly as much as the cows I should have kept track for better records. I ended up figuring what the two groups ate for the year and then divided the amount between the paddocks based on where I thought they grazed the most. Using the data I am able to compare the value I got from the pastures compared to the crops I grew in the fields for 2013.
The Pasture Calculation:
To calculate the value of pasture I use income over feed cost which I calculate at the beginning of grazing when we transition from TMR to pasture. This year we got 18 DM/lbs from pasture and which saved me $2.30. This $2.30 comes from savings in feed costs minus an assumed cost of $.03 DM/lb which accounts for labor, fuel, fertilizer and fence. I use actual feed costs and not feed value. So, for every ton of dry matter my cows graze, I save $256 in feed costs. Some paddocks were harvested for hay or balage so I used the calculations I use in the next section and added those savings in. I also subtracted the cost to plant and seed the annual paddocks.
The Crops Calculation
To calculate my crop savings, I use the value of the crop minus the cost to produce the crop. In other words, what am I saving by growing the crop rather than buying it? Crop values (forages) are found using a spreadsheet created by Penn State which makes calculations based on hay and commodity prices. All my fields were double cropped with one triple cropped this year.
Putting it all together
That’s a bit of mumbo jumbo, but I felt it was important to tell you how I get my numbers. Keeping in mind it that was a great year for both grazing grass and growing corn, the numbers still amaze me.
- The acres that did the best for me were the better pasture paddocks in established perennial pasture. These paddocks are saving me over $1,000 per acre with the best hitting $1400. I got 4 to 5.6 DM/tons per acre on these.
- Next was some of my annual pastures which had barley in spring, sudan grass in summer, and rye/perennial grass in fall. These acres were well behind with $630 to $660 and 2.9-3.0 DM/lbs of intake.
- Not far behind at $613/acre was a corn silage field that just got a fence around it this fall. It produced 6.2 DM/tons of corn silage and 1 DM/ton of fall grazing. The saving from this field were higher than the other corn fields because the cows grazed tillage radish and triticale this fall rather than harvesting the crop.
- The other corn fields were at $524 per acre (6.2 DM/tons corn silage, 1.8 barlage, .7 oatlege) and $456 (6.2 DM/tons corn silage, 1.4 ryelege). The lower field was triple cropped last year which delayed rye harvest this spring due to a very late planting of rye the fall before. It also had a different variety of corn which was a shorter season that didn’t do as well as the other fields.
- The last two corn fields were right around the other perennial and annual pastures ranging from $520 (2 DM/tons) to $324 (1.3 DM/tons). These paddocks were much lower quality pastures that will be renovated for next year. I had a failed attempt at frost seeding in the 1.3 DM/ton pasture and never fertilized it due to lack of grass.
- For averages, the pastures were $833/acre and the fields that grew corn were $531/are. The better pastures averaged $1172 and the lesser pastures averaged $503.
- The order of crop savings per acre were Corn Silage-$393, Barlage-$121, Ryelege-$63 and Oatlege-$10.
Pasture is very important for my operation. When looking at saving money, it saves me more than growing my own crops for storage. But, these numbers don’t go as far as to say that I should put the entire farm into pasture. These numbers are derived by what I’m doing now with my crop acres and pasture acres nicely in balance. I can’t milk any more cows which might support growing more corn silage. More pasture could cause me to milk fewer cows and make lower milk, but that pasture would be cheaper to grow.
The data certainly makes the case for keeping pastures in the best productive condition possible. Extra grass can be made into balage or hay. My highest quality forage was perennial pasture balage and it didn’t have a cost to seed or establish. Totally renovating or frost seeding a poor pasture easily pays for itself as does applying fertilizer.
The data shows reduced value in grazing annual pastures (cereal rye, barley, sudan grass, oats, triticale/annual ryegrass). This year was great for perennial pastures and not as ideal for summer annuals. August wasn’t as hot and dry as most which would have reduced the perennial grass and been better for sudan grass. Last year the values could have been much closer with a hotter dryer summer.
For the second year in a row I find the oats to hardly be worth growing for mechanical harvest. I didn’t apply manure or fertilizer which would have helped greatly.