MISSION: To enable Virginia farmers to achieve 300 days of livestock grazing by facilitating better pasture management and environmental stewardship.



By: Carl C. Stafford
Extension Agent


Wintering cost is one of our biggest expenses in producing beef cattle. John Howe, Spotsylvania Extension Agent, wrote an article explaining the difference in the cost of a pound of dry matter from pasture and a pound from harvested feed. He found that the equipment harvested feed can run 3 to 4 times the cost of that harvested by cattle.

The big difference with grazing would be the significantly lower equipment cost accompanied by a lower fertilizer requirement as nutrients stay in place. Beef cattle farmers are crop farmers – your crop is pasture. The cattle are your harvesters and just like your tractor, they have to be used to be justified. Look at them as employees and keep them busy working for you. The more you use them to harvest what you grow the lower your annual carrying cost will be. In some states it is common practice to haul cattle to the feed, maybe we can justify doing this if it supports our bottom line.

Kansas State Economist, Kevin Dhuyvetter, found in his study of the most efficient beef producers that herd size mattered but was not the only route to efficiency. Of course we know the biggest producers can buy and sell in volume and use equipment to most advantage, although they have a lot of it. He found that small producers could compete if they were able to control their winter feed cost. Grazing in the dormant season is how they did it.

Lower stocking rates support this type of management as surplus grass is accumulated during the growing season for use in the dormant season. In the end, grazing a day in the winter helps you keep more of the revenue you do make. Look up Graze 300 VA by following the link provided if you want to learn more on this.

We can all agree that in order to improve the efficiency of any enterprise you cut the biggest expense first. Since winter feeding is it with cattle, this is the logical place to start to improve your net revenue. With a soft cattle market, changing net revenue is about all the control you have left. Keep in sight the additional value the market offers from weaning and vaccinations. The net from these is paying off now.

Most of you have equipment investments that you feel are necessary in order to be in the cattle business. Timely hay harvest is one of the justifications I hear. You cannot trust someone else to get the job done on time. On the other hand, some of you have very low equipment investment and go out into the market and “harvest” your hay from those with excess.

This is a good year to buy hay since there is an abundant supply available. If you are buying you have some control over quality as you can shop around. You will be at the mercy of the market during times of shortage but you can make the most of the surplus in seasons like 2016.