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Milo grazing saves cattle farmer during drought

Milo grazing saves cattle farmer during drought

By Blake Jackson

Missouri cattle farmer John Chamberlin faced a challenge: drought had limited hay supplies and forages, forcing him to consider selling his cows. Seeking alternatives, he discovered the potential of using milo, a drought-resistant grain crop, as winter feed.

Chamberlin, with over 600 heads of Angus cows, found inspiration online and connected with experts who guided him through implementing milo grazing. This method involves using electric fencing to move cattle daily to fresh sections of a milo field, allowing them to graze on the grain heads and stalks.

The gamble paid off. Despite the drought, Chamberlin's 115 acres of milo yielded well, providing valuable feed for his herd. Compared to hay, milo offered several advantages:

  • Drought resistance: Milo thrives in dry conditions, making it a reliable option even during droughts.
  • Lower cost: Growing and grazing milo can be significantly cheaper than purchasing hay, especially when hay prices are high.
  • Convenience: No need to worry about curing hay during unpredictable weather conditions.
  • Nutrient cycling: Cattle manure and urine enrich the soil, returning nutrients to the land.

The process is relatively simple:

  • Planting: Ideally, plant milo in May or early June for optimal grain production.
  • Grazing: Use electric fencing to allocate daily grazing areas, allowing cows to access fresh sections of the field.
  • Supplementation: While milo provides good energy, additional protein sources like soybean meal or hay are necessary.
  • Timing: Start grazing after the first fall frost to avoid prussic acid concerns, typically around November 1st. Aim to finish grazing by mid-February to prevent stalk deterioration.

Chamberlin's experience demonstrates the success of milo grazing. He saved time and labor compared to traditional hay feeding and estimates he saved between $91,000 and $175,000 by avoiding hay purchases. He plans to continue incorporating milo grazing into his operation, even planting cover crops after harvest to improve soil health.

While some considerations exist, such as infrastructure needs and potential springtime discing after grazing, the benefits of milo grazing outweigh the challenges for many farmers. It's a practice worth exploring, especially in drought-prone areas or when hay prices are high.

Here are some additional tips for successful milo grazing, provided by agronomist Rusty Lee:

  • Plant when soil temperatures reach at least 60°F.
  • Maintain proper planting density to encourage grain production.
  • Utilize pre-emergent herbicides for weed control.
  • Implement a balanced fertility plan, including nitrogen application and testing for other nutrient needs.
  • Avoid overgrazing; ideally, cows should leave about 18 inches of stalk residue.
  • Consider 30-inch row spacing for optimal grazing performance.
  • Choose milo varieties with closed heads and strong stalks to minimize lodging.
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Categories: Missouri, Livestock, Dairy Cattle

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