On Saturday, September 11th, fifty-seven farmers, families, ad Extension agents and specialists gathered together to at Haggard Farm to learn more about cattle handling, cattle movement, facilities, grass management, and rotational grazing.
The morning session was taught by Kevin Thompson, Director of Middle Tennessee AgResearch & Education Center (MTREC). Kevin covered several important cattle handling topics, such as low stress handling, flight zones and pressure points, and demonstrated how to utilize natural cattle movement when moving and sorting cattle. He demonstrated this technique on horseback in the open pasture as well as through the cattle handling facility. Martin Haggard & his grandson Hudson were on horseback and helped with the demonstration as well. Although one does not have to work cattle off horseback, it sure does help make the process as low stress as possible. Cattle view horses as a larger “prey” animal, which makes them not so scared when they see a horse approach. When they see us humans approach on foot or on an ATV, they see us as a predator which causes an increase in stress on the animal.
Kevin also illustrated a fantastic exercise us cattle producers should do with our cows and calves: practice sorting your cows and calves! This will help to reduce the stress at weaning if the calves are used to being sorted off from the cows. It will also make working your herd a bit easier since we are to sort the cows and calves off before working them to minimize stress and injury to the calves. A key take away for all attendees was this: when cattle are stressed, it reduces the effectiveness of the medications we are going to administer to them. In order for us to realize the full benefits of vaccines, our cattle need to not be stressed from the gathering, sorting, and penning process before receiving their vaccinations.
Mr. Butch Nutt set up on the farm to cook his famous hotdogs for lunch before we headed to the second part of our program. Producers took a “grown up hay ride” to the field for a Grazing School, which was taught by Dr. Katie Mason, UT Beef Specialist.
We discussed several things at the grazing school. One key point made is that we are grass farmers first if we are raising livestock. A good stand of forage is crucial for livestock performance and reducing our feed costs.
Producers were taught how to calculate available forage in the pasture and how to match how many cattle they could adequately feed. We also visited the rotational grazing demonstration site. Half of the demo area was clipped weekly and the other was clipped once a month. Samples were sent for nutrient analysis several times throughout the trial. The nutrient analysis findings did not show a statistical difference between the two plots, but physical differences were apparent. The plot that was cut weekly, which simulated intensive grazing, had more weeds and the grass did not grow back as fast when it was cut. We also noticed more bare patches in this plot. The plot that was clipped only once a month, simulating rotational grazing, had less weed pressure and the grass grew back much faster once cut. The reason for this is because every time the grass is cut (or eaten) the roots have to send their nutrients to grow more leaves above ground. This causes the roots to “shrink.” This is a natural ebb-and-flow for the plant. However, the more we cut, the more the plants use their nutrient reserves in the roots to grow more leaf blades. This will eventually cause a shallow root system which in turn effects how quickly the plant is able to respond to stress. If we overgraze our pastures, we reduce our grass performance and increase opportunities for weed seeds to germinate and grow. Producers learned that even just dividing up a pasture in half is better than no rotation at all. They also had the opportunity to get their hands on a variety of fencing equipment that makes rotational grazing easier for producers to utilize on their farm. A few brave souls even participated in a fencing relay!
Apart from the afternoon session getting a little hot on us, we had a successful program! We could not have done this without the support from our donors: Wayne County Bank, Wayne Farmer’s Co-Op, and Lawrence/Wayne Cattlemen’s Association (in no particular order). We also couldn’t have done this without the volunteerism and hospitality from Haggard Farms. They truly went above and beyond to make this day successful for Wayne County producers. Sincerest appreciation for your support of UT Extension and Agriculture in Wayne County!