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Determining amount of food in a pasture

 
Posts: 25
Location: Northeast WI
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Hi, everyone. I have a question on how to determine how much animal food/dry matter is in a pasture.

For background, we're looking at getting a cow and probably some sheep in the near future to feed our family. I have about 3 acres of hay and a roughly 1 acre pasture (more might be available seasonally but I'm planning on 1 acre for now). A neighbor farmer has cut my hay the last few years and I know what to expect for yields from that. However, I am unsure of how to measure how much food my pasture produces.

I am currently mowing/maintaining it to try and keep the weeds down. I know that the most accurate way to measure available food in grass is to cut it, dry it, and weigh it.

My question is, if I'm going to do it this way, how often do I do this? And do I cut from the exact same sample areas? Cutting from the same sample areas would tell me how much grass grows each month (or however long between tests) while new sample areas will tell me overall growth, but I'm also under the assumption that grass that's cut/grazed grows more vigorously than uncut grass.

Any advice would be helpful. Thank you!
 
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I have never raised sheep or cows or any other large livestock. So why in the world am I answering this question? Because no one else has yet, you said any advice would be helpful, and I watch a lot of experts on youtube.

A couple things I have gleaned. The amount of available food will naturally change through out the year. It will also change (hopefully for the better) over time with good rotational grazing. I have heard from different sources to let the animals eat down about 1/3 of the greenery. Also observation is important. I think many people will gauge the amount of food by how much the animals eat, vs how much weight of food there is. If too much has been eaten or trampled, the next day make the paddock a little bigger. If not enough was eaten, then the next day make it a bit smaller.

Anyway, just some thoughts. It may not be of any use to you, but it was worth a shot :)
 
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I will not inflict my imperfect grasp of the options on you, but rather suggest reading the pdfs available at the link below, especially the third one. Hope that helps!

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/ia/technical/landuse/pasture/how+to+use+a+grazing+stick/



I note the suggestions of cutting and measuring at 1" or ground level with dismay, though; surely from a practical perspective it is better to cut a couple inches higher, at a level where the grass will recover much faster, and thus measure available forage to a desired target level...?
 
Ben Reilly
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D Nikolls wrote:I will not inflict my imperfect grasp of the options on you, but rather suggest reading the pdfs available at the link below, especially the third one. Hope that helps!

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/ia/technical/landuse/pasture/how+to+use+a+grazing+stick/



I note the suggestions of cutting and measuring at 1" or ground level with dismay, though; surely from a practical perspective it is better to cut a couple inches higher, at a level where the grass will recover much faster, and thus measure available forage to a desired target level...?



Thanks, I'll take a look at that!
 
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How many hay cutting do you do on the 3acres?
How much hay do you get per cutting and in total per year?

Once we know how much hay you produce we can then figure out how much your pasture will produce.

It probably safe to assume that you get 2.5ton of hay per acre per year aka 100 haybale. Which is about 3ton/6000lbs of pasture
https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Crops_County/al-yi.php

In my area during the active growing season you probably need 3acres of pasture per cow-calf animal unit.
You will probable need another 3acres of hay/pasture for the winter season assuming you are in zone 6 vs zone 9 Florida or Zone 3 Wisconsin

There are things that we can do to increase the health and productivity of your pasture/hayfield.
 
Ben Reilly
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S Bengi wrote:How many hay cutting do you do on the 3acres?
How much hay do you get per cutting and in total per year?

Once we know how much hay you produce we can then figure out how much your pasture will produce.

It probably safe to assume that you get 2.5ton of hay per acre per year aka 100 haybale. Which is about 3ton/6000lbs of pasture
https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Crops_County/al-yi.php

In my area during the active growing season you probably need 3acres of pasture per cow-calf animal unit.
You will probable need another 3acres of hay/pasture for the winter season assuming you are in zone 6 vs zone 9 Florida or Zone 3 Wisconsin

There are things that we can do to increase the health and productivity of your pasture/hayfield.



I had a neighbor cut my hay for me the last 2 years, both of which we had partial drought or bad weather during. He did 2 cuttings a year but I think I could get a third cutting out of it.

Both years were very similar for yield. First cutting was about 5 tons (10,000 pounds) and second cutting around 4 tons (8,000 pounds). I would assume a third cutting would be between 3-4 tons. I'm basing this off of the fact that he makes 5x5' round bales which are averaged at 1,000 pounds each.

My pasture borders the hay field and has some hay spreading into it, but otherwise it's whatever the native grass around here is. It seems to get about 3' tall by early to mid-July here.
 
S Bengi
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Can you confirm that you were able to get 9ton of hay from  3acres. This averaging about 3ton per acre.
Of so that sounds just about right.  

A cow/animal unit will eat about 9,000lbs of hay per year. So your 18,000lbs of hay will feed about 2 cow/animal unit on the 3 acres of hayfield.

I feel uncomfortable saying that you can have 3 cows on 4 acres of pasture/hayfield. I think you a bigger area if you don't plan on importing any hay.

Maybe you can get away with 2cows and 5 sheep, with the expectation that you will have to buy a bit of hay from time to time.

Please note that a good amount of the hay will end up getting wasted and not eaten.
 
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