Forage is key to the nutrition and feed program for your cattle. For more information on types of feed, see our post that includes grain and concentrates. The majority of beef cattle operations rely on forage for the bulk of the cattle diet; and as the growing season approaches annually, it's a good time to focus on getting the best yield out of your forage production.

  1. Grow the Right Forage. The type of forage you grow will depend on your region, soil, and nutrition needs of your animals. Contact your local Cooperative Extension agent or an agronomist if you have questions on the best type of forage to grow. An animal nutrition specialist can also assist you with assessing your ration for your cattle and make recommendations for improvements. Don't neglect your pastures and hay land, either. Pasture needs to be re-seeded, should be rotated to avoid over-grazing, and monitored for weeds and invasive species. The same goes for any hay land or alfalfa fields that will be cut and baled later on, and fed in bale feeders.
  2. Invest in Seed. Whether you're planting a field for the first time, or re-seeding after many years, the quality and variety of seed you invest in matters. Quality seed will be better established and leads to greater yields. Poor seed quality can create uneven growth and bare patches. While it can be tempting to save money with a cheaper seed, the initial investment in quality seed will pay off over the long-term with higher yields, improved forage quality, and resilience to conditions such ad drought, flooding, and even pest resistance.
  3. Pay Attention to Your Soil. Forage quality and overall yield are greatly impacted by the merits of your soil. Simply put, better soil leads to better yields. While some of this is dependent on the soil your operation has, you can take steps to improve the soil through lime and fertilizer applications. The first step to improving soil health is to conduct soil tests and understand what you're starting with. The company that completes the soil test will make recommendations based on the results. Remember that all soil tests should include samples from various places in the field, and be taken at various depths, or have separate soil tests if you suspect that a field has vast differences in soil quality. The soil testing company will provide directions on the best way to collect the soil sample for testing. Test results can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to be returned during busy soil testing seasons, remember to plan accordingly and test early.
  4. Seed at the Appropriate Time. Soil and seed quality can only go so far if you're not seeding your fields at the appropriate time. Poor decisions will impact your overall forage yield and quality. Your growing zone will be part of the decision on when to you plant or re-seed. The choice of annuals or perennials will also impact seeding times. Again, experts from Cooperative Extension and universities are available to help you make appropriate decisions for your operation.
  5. Maximize Pasture Forage. Pasture is an effective way to provide forage for your animals with minimal associated labor. Maximize time spent on pasture by growing cool and warm season grasses in your pastures, and rotating cattle to prevent overgrazing. Pasture should be utilized when the forage in them is at its highest nutrient value. Proper utilization of pasture forage reduces the amount of feed that needs to be purchased and stored on your operation, therefore reducing your other associated costs.
  6. Test Your Forages. Whether silage, or hay, you should test your forages and understand the nutrient value. Not only will this information be crucial in your animal nutrition, it can help you make future decisions on your forage production practices to increase yield and improve forage quality.
  7. Choose Storage Options Wisely. How forage is stored can impact the nutrition level of the feed and the amount of spoilage. There are many storage options and these will be influenced by your total yield, operation logistics, type of forage, and budget. Calculate your yield losses each year and make changes as necessary to your storage to improve your operation.

Some fields may be better suited to pasture versus forage production. Careful thought and consideration should go into forage planning and planting on your operation. Also consider crop rotation to improve soil health and reduce soil compaction. Tracking your soil test results, annual forage yields, and forage test results can provide valuable insights into your operation to help make future decisions.

The University of Guelph offers a suite of resources on forage production. Topics include establishment, maintenance, pest management, feed quality, silage, hay, pasture systems, and how it works. Review the videos and fact sheets available to answer many of your forage specific questions. Those of you in warmer climates have similar resources available through the University of Kentucky. Their site also includes publications specific to forage types, including tall fescue, teff, and legumes. Start planning now to maximize your forage quality and yield this growing season.

Grazing made easy in 5 simple steps

The importance of quality standards in the cattle industry

10 Tips for Profitable Forage Production
7 Tips For Growing Quality Hay
Forage Publications - University of Kentucky
Go Forages - University of Guelph Tips to Maximize Forage Yields When Establishing Perennial Forages

About the Author

Dana Charban, Manager of Content Strategies and Journalist for Arrowquip, catching black cow in Q-Catch 86 Series cattle chute

Dana Charban

As a small town girl from rural Manitoba, Dana Charban grew up around agriculture and farming her en...

More Information on Dana Charban
Email Dana Charban: