BRIGHTON — With an eye toward increasing productivity in Tribal cow pastures, Aaron Stam, University of Florida extension agent, began a field trial of cool weather grasses on a 20-acre pasture in the Brighton feedlot Nov. 1.
Bahiagrass, currently used in pastures, is a fine choice most of the year but it goes dormant in winter. During wetter months, bahiagrass grows abundantly and provides each cow with about two and a half acres grazing land per pasture. The 90-day trial will help determine if other varieties of high protein and nutrient-rich pasture grass will grow well during the cooler, dryer winter months and grow back after cattle graze on it.
“We want to see if we can have more cattle on the same amount of land,” said Stam, who is also affiliated with the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program. “If we can grow more grass, we can have more cattle and make more money.”
The feedlot site was planted with one-acre plots of triticale, ryegrass, oats and wheatgrass. The grasses are annuals and more labor-intensive since they must be planted each year. The trial will track the cost of the seed and compare it to the amount of forage it provides. Stam will tally the amount of protein in the grass, the amount produced and the total digestible nutrients to determine cost effectiveness.
Extension agents James McWhorter, from Highlands County, and Jonah Bosquez, from Hardee County, helped plant the seed and will track the results with Stam.
The large parcel should mimic the real world. University scientists have conducted similar studies on a much smaller scale; usually 12 foot by 12 foot plots without cattle grazing on them. UF researchers do things very scientifically; extension agents look for practical applications.
“Producers just want to know what works and if there is a better way to do things to increase profits,” Stam said.
He pointed out the Brighton pasture is not a research study; it is a field trial.
“Our job as extension agents is to help our cattle producers gather information and understand it, with the goal of making more money,” Stam said. “That’s what the cattle business is all about. We are putting it to the test out here.”
Stam doesn’t know whether or not the trial will be successful; a lot rests on whether the field gets enough rain in the first seven to 10 days to germinate the seeds. In 90 days, more cattle will be sent to the feedlot to graze on the new grass.
“We will section off each acre after they graze and watch the regrowth,” Stam said. “The important part is to see how it withstands grazing pressure and determine if it will grow back.”
The feedlot site isn’t a perfectly flat parcel of land; it has a pond, ditches and other obstructions that created challenges for marking off the one acre parcels. When the grass grows, it will look like a patchwork of grass. Ten foot walkways between the grasses give the extension agents access to study it.
The grass won’t have a chance to grow into full-grown fields of waving wheat and grain. Cattle prefer to eat it while it’s tender, after germination during the vegetative, or grazing, stage. Not coincidentally, that’s when the grass has the best nutritional value and the most amount of protein. The vegetative stage lasts about 45 to 60 days, depending on temperatures and rainfall.
The clock is ticking and 90 days will come in the blink of an eye. Stam said the field trial should be done more than once. He plans to build a database over time.
“You never know what the weather will be, so we have to do it every year until we have it figured out,” he said. “Without repetition, one year of data is interesting but not that informative. You need more years of trials to be able to show which varieties do best in South
Florida. If out of 10 years we have seven good years; that will be valuable data. Cattlemen will look at the results and make their decisions.”
Stam spends about half of his time working with the Tribe’s cattle program and the rest with the 4-H program, whose youth are possibly the future of the cattle program.