Journal of the NACAA
Volume 7, Issue 2 - December, 2014
Title Grazing Management Practices among West Virginia Beef Producers
- Deborah A. Boone, Associate Professor, West Virginia University
Marcus T. McCartney, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, The Ohio State University
Harry N. Boone, Jr., Professor, West Virginia University
Edward B. Rayburn, Extension Specialist, West Virginia University
Jean M. Woloshuk, Extension Specialist, West Virginia University
This study sought to determine the current grazing management practices among West Virginia beef producers. A descriptive research design with a mailed questionnaire was used to collect the data for this study. The study found that orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) was perceived to be the most important grass species among West Virginia beef producers. The study found the best management practice of soil testing occured on three-fourth of the farms throughout West Virginia. However, some highly discouraged practices were used by producers; for example, unrestricted access to the streams – which often resulted in damage to stream banks and water quality.
Universities and agencies across the nation have developed agricultural and production guidelines called Best Management Practices (BMPs). BMPs focus on management of inputs to provide for economic, environmental and agronomic sustainability in agriculture. One of the goals of BMPs is to reduce degradation of water resources by agricultural practices (Brown, Boone, Nokes, & Ward, 2014).
Grazing beef cattle in pasture fields is a common agriculture practice which could potentially impact water sources negatively. For example, treading may lead to soil compaction which decreases water infiltration and increases surface runoff (Krueger, et al., 2002). A BMP solution to remedy this problem is to use rotational stocking to minimize the opportunity livestock have to form trails and to develop a riparian buffer to intercept organic material, fertilizer, pesticides, and other pollutants in surface runoff (Ball, Hoveland & Lacefield, 2007; and Watershed Resource Center, n.d.).
The way to achieve sustainability of grazing lands is through the management practices of vegetative covering of the land. It not only provides feed for livestock but also controls erosion, filters water, and recycles nutrients (Krueger, et al., 2002). Other important BMPs for grazing livestock include: planting vegetative covering of cleared land, removing animals from steep pastures when wet, avoiding feeding hay on slopes or near streams, applying lime and fertilizers according to soil test recommendations, extending the grazing season to lower expenses, and utilizing higher quality of forage (Ball, Hoveland, & Lacefield, 2007; and Ball, Ballard, Kennedy, Lacefield, & Undersander, 2007).
Pasture forage is a vital commodity to sustainable livestock production and is the most predominant agriculture product in West Virginia (West Virginia Department of Agriculture, 2011). In 2012, the West Virginia beef industry sold an estimated 120 million dollars in cattle produced on more than 10,000 farms, located in all fifty-five counties (United States Department of Agriculture, 2012). Presently, not enough information exists to accurately assess the grazing management practices among West Virginia beef producers. More information is needed to evaluate the level of adoption of BMPs for pastured-based livestock systems and develop appropriate educational programs.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to determine the current grazing management practices among West Virginia beef producers. Understanding beef producers’ current grazing practices can lead to improved grazing information distributed to producers that can benefit all producers and land management.
The objectives of study were reflected in the following research questions:
- What is the distribution of beef operation classifications among West Virginia beef producers?
- What are the characteristics of farmland used for grazing?
- What are the current grazing management practices among West Virginia beef producers?
- Are selected BMPs being implemented on the farm?
- What do farmers perceive as barriers to rotational grazing?
A descriptive research design in the form of a mailed questionnaire was used to determine the grazing management practices of West Virginia beef cattle producers. The target population of this study was all beef producers in West Virginia. Due to the lack of availability of an official list of beef producers for the state of West Virginia, the accessible population was selected from a compiled list of participants in the Southern Bull Test, Beef Quality Assurance Program, members on the West Virginia Cattleman’s Association mailing list, participants in the South Branch and Weston livestock markets, and State Livestock Roundup (N = 4600). A random sample of 355 producers was selected from the list (Krejcie & Morgan, 1960). The questionnaire consisted of Likert-type questions designed to evaluate the importance of livestock grazing practices, the frequency the pactices were implemented, as well as producer's attitudes and perceptions about barriers to rotational grazing systems. Of the 355 mailed surveys, 21 were undeliverable, which resulted in the distribution of 334 questionnaires. One hundred and three questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 31%.
The instrument was presented to an Extension Forage Specialist and faculty members in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education at West Virginia University who established its content and face validity. The reliability of the instrument was found to be exemplary with the coefficient of 0.69 (Robinson, Shaver, & Wrightsman, 1991). Dillman’s Tailored Design Method (2007) was used to collect data for this study. This included an initial mailing, second mailing to non-respondents, and a follow-up post card.
Research Question 1. What is the distribution of beef operation classifications among West Virginia beef producers?
The majority of beef producers (72.8%) in West Virginia classify their operation as cow-calf. A mixed operation of cow-calf and stocker (19.4%) was the second most frequent response. No one indicated feedlot as their operating system.
Research Question 2. What are the characteristics of farmland used for grazing?
On average, the West Virginia beef operation utilizes 138 acres for grazing per farm. The average beef operation farm had 59.7 acres of hayland of which 23.9 acres of hayland are used for grazing after first cut. The average operation grew 7.3 acres of corn with 3.4 acres of corn stover used for grazing.
Research Question 3. What are the current grazing management practices among West Virginia beef producers?
With regard to stocking, respondents reported holding more calves over winter (26 head), followed by selling calves in the fall (24 head). Respondents reported selling an average of 15 head of over wintered calves in spring to adjust their stocking rates. An average of three head of stocker cattle were bought in spring, while an average of six head of stocker cattle were bought in fall.
The typical grazing length for producers ranged from five to eight months (90.2%). Nine producers were able to graze over eight months (8.8%) on their farm while one producer grazed less than five months.
The top two pasture grazing systems among producers consisted of two-four fields (50.0%) and one continuous pasture (26.5%). Eight percent of the farmers grazed on eight fields or more and one indicated strip grazing as their system.
About one fourth of the farmers apply fertilizer every four years or more (22.3%) while 19.4% did not use fertilizer at all. A little more than 19% of farmers apply fertilizer as recommended by the soil test.
A third of the producers apply lime when recommended by the soil test (31.3%). An additional third (29%) of the producers apply lime every four years or more while only one percent (.98%) applied lime every year.
Producers report orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) as the most important grass in their pasture. Timothy (Phleum pratense), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) were second, third, and fourth respectively. Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) had little importance and bermudagrass (cynodon dactylon) was not considered important.
White clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) were important legumes in beef producers’ pastures. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) were not considered important.
The most important method to distribute drinking water to the herd was to allow livestock direct access to pond, spring, and stream/creek water. Centralized water stations, hauling water, movable water sources, and pumping water from streams/creeks had no importance.
The most preferred weed control method was mechanical-physical control. Cultural control and herbicide were the second and third most method utilized. Biological control of co-grazing and grazing at different times were not widely used.
Research Question 4. Are BMPs being implemented on the farm?
Over one third of the farms were testing the soil every four years or more (34.9%), whereas 23.3% did not practice soil testing. Approximately 17% of farmers test their soil at least once every two years and 24.2% test once every three years.
Grazing on hayfield aftermath was the most preferred method to extend grazing throughout the summer slump. Grazing on warm-season annual and perennial grass and selling to reduce herd was not an important method to extend grazing throughout the summer slump of forage production.
Stockpiling forage was the preferred method to extend the grazing season for both winter and early spring. Planting vegetation, windrowing, and selling to reduce herd were hardly used.
Natural waterway buffer zones comprised of trees most frequently occurred throughout producers’ pasture(s). Preventing access to buffer zone and water ways was the second most common pasture practice.
Research Question 5. What do farmers perceive as barriers to rotational grazing?
The top four barriers to rotational grazing were providing water to livestock, cost of fencing, increase in labor, and increase in time, respectively. The top four barriers farmers disagreed with were skepticism from other farmers, skepticism from family members, animal performance, and lack of information on pasture management, respectively.
The following statements summarize findings from the survey results:
- The vast majority of West Virginia’s beef production is cow – calf operation.
- Half of the surveyed beef producers are rotating between 2-4 pastures for grazing.
- Orchardgrass is considered the most important grass species in beef production by producers.
- White clover was considered the most important legume in the pastures of beef operations.
- The most common method for the beef industry to water its livestock is allowing direct access to streams and creeks.
- Mechanical-physical control (ex: hand-pulling, brush –hog) was the most common way producers control weeds.
- A little more than three-quarters of the producers test their soil at some point.
- Less than one-quarter of producers who fertilize follow the soil test recommendation.
- West Virginia beef producers most commonly extended the grazing season by grazing on the aftermath of first cut hayland during the summer slump and stockpile forage for winter.
- Grass is the most commonly used buffer zone of those beef producers who have buffer zones on their farm.
- The biggest barrier to rotational grazing for the beef producers was providing water to their livestock.
Based on the results obtained from the study, the following recommendations are offered:
- Educators should encourage farmers to expand and use other various grasses (ex. tall fescue) and legumes and provide educational programs detailing the benefits, uses, and management of these species.
- Educators and agencies should develop, focus, or implement programs on importance of water quality; at the same time provide workshops on how to cost effectively distribute water to fields without relying on direct access to streams and creeks. This effort also has an opportunity to address and should focus on the biggest barrier to rotational grazing, “providing water to livestock”, as to increase the practice rate.
- Future research should focus on why other methods for extending the grazing season are not readily acceptable to producers and develop a list of factors to assure producers of the economic profitability of implementing these practices. At the same time, educators and agencies should help clients to understand the soil test report, how to take a soil sample correctly, and provide information on soil type.
- Educators and agencies should reiterate the importance of soil testing, encourage participation, and increase program awareness.
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Ball, D. M., Hoveland, C. S., & Lacefield, G. D. (2007). Southern Forages. Norcross: International Plant Nutrition Institute.
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United States Department of Agriculture (2012). Census of agriculture. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/West_Virginia/st54_1_001_001.pdf
Watershed Resource Center (n.d.). WV Best Management Practices of Conservation Practice Standards. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from: http://www.wvca.us/news/upload/wvwrc_publications/2299.Ag%20BMP%20Manual%20Revised.pdf
West Virginia Department of Agriculture. West Virginia Conservation Agency Annual Report (2011). Retrieved April 20, 2014, from: http://www.wvagriculture.org/images/Executive/Annual/11AR-WVCA.pdf