Diversify your Agribusiness by Converting Crop Lands to Pasture
7 March 2016
As the prices of some crops continue to fall, converting a portion (or all) of your acreage from row crops to pasture could help you make the most profitable use of your land. Establishing healthy pastureland requires careful preparation and attention to a number of factors that can greatly affect the success of your project. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mere 20 acres of well-tended pasture is adequate to support 11 cows for a year. For landowners with thousands of acres to manage, converting even just a small portion of your cropland into pasture for livestock can provide added revenue streams. Including beef cows in your overall business operations can help you to enjoy a more diversified production plan for greater financial stability over the long haul. Here are some pointers for managing the conversion process successfully.
If commercial fertilizers or herbicides have been used in the past, it may be necessary to treat the ground to adjust the pH levels and to speed the breakdown of these commercial products. Most herbicides have a specified duration that may vary depending on the type of soil. Until these substances have degraded, attempting to plant grass and other forage plants for your new pasture can be a waste of time and money. Tilling the soil once or twice and introducing additives designed specifically to reduce the impact of previous herbicide applications can ensure your property is ready for conversion to pastureland.
Fences and gates are necessary to allow for rotation of pastureland and easy handling of your grazing animals. While smaller and less agile animals can often be contained in chain link or wooden enclosures, horses and cattle typically require one of three types of fencing:
· Barbed wire fences of five strands or more can provide a solid deterrent for cattle and horses. Over time, however, animals may put stress on these fences by rubbing against them, especially in smaller pastures. This can cause injuries for more determined horses and cattle.
· Woven wire offers much the same protection as barbed wire fencing. Cattle and horses are even more prone to scratching themselves against these fences, though. Regular maintenance and monitoring is recommended to prevent unexpected escapes and injuries. Additionally, many ranching experts recommend installing at least one strand of barbed wire at the top or in the middle of the woven wire fence to prevent the characteristic bowing caused by cattle leaning against the fencing.
· High-tensile wire is generally used to construct electric fences. This option requires reliable power. It’s important to keep in mind electric fences may cause injuries to animals until they become accustomed to the threat the electricity may pose.
Electric fencing generally requires the lowest initial investment for converted pastureland. Observing your animals and choosing your fence accordingly can help you provide the most effective containment options for your pastureland.
Choosing the right mix of grasses and other plants can ensure the health of your animals and your vegetation. In many climates, seeding a mix of warm-season and cool-season grasses can provide the greatest degree of coverage for your pasture. Introducing perennial legumes like bird's-foot trefoil can increase weight gain and may reduce the incidence of bloat in horses and cattle. It is usually combined with bluegrass or other cool-season grasses to provide the best results. After the first application, you may want to reseed the area to promote dense root growth and improve the health of your new pasture. Until your pasture is well established, you can supplement the food value available to your livestock with corn and hay. This can reduce strain on growing plants while ensuring that your animals stay healthy and well fed. Monitoring the condition of your pastures and rotating cattle and horses through several grazing areas can promote the fastest possible plant growth for these areas of your commercial farm.
If you already have a stream or pond in each of your pastures, the primary task is to ensure that these water sources provide adequate hydration for your animals. It may be necessary to install water troughs to manage extended periods of drought. Additionally, your pasture may require occasional irrigation to ensure optimal growth and to provide sufficient food value for your livestock. Close monitoring will be necessary during the first few years after the conversion process to ensure that your pasture and your animals are receiving ample water for their needs.
Shelter and Shade
Trees provide the best natural shade and shelter for cattle and horses. If your proposed pastureland is not already equipped with stands of trees suitable for this purpose, however, it may be advisable to create open-sided structures to allow your livestock to escape the heat of the sun in a comfortable environment. Be sure to orient these shelters to provide maximum protection from the sun during the hottest part of the day. This can reduce stress on dairy and beef cattle to promote greater profitability for your entire operation.
By converting unused or less profitable land and diversifying your operation, you can increase your profitability while ensuring your operation remains viable and lucrative for many years to come. Converting a small percentage of your cropland acreage into pasture can pay significant financial dividends in years to come.
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