YAKIMA, Wash. – A little water and an annual planting of the right grass seed can go a long way toward increasing the bottom line for cattle producers, especially if they are part of an irrigated pasture practice incorporating the latest technology and methods.
Frank Hendrix, WSU Extension educator here and this year’s Yakima County Cattleman of the Year, is testing new grasses and pasturing techniques at plots in the Yakima Valley. So far, the results have translated into substantial savings for producers, especially in winter feed costs.
At work and at home, he supplements the perennial grasses in his irrigated pastures with an annual planting of primarily cool season grasses – orchard grass, fall fescue and rye – mixed with legumes, red clover, white clover or alfalfa. The latter are natural nitrogen fixers that “greatly reduce the amount of fertilizer we need,” Hendrix said.
With that planting in August, a pasture can be grazed in late fall, over winter and early spring in addition to the traditional season. It increases the grazing season by about 80 days, according to Hendrix.
“Each day of added grazing means a day less winter feeding expense,” he said. “Each day of grazing means the cattle are not in confinement, and the manure is out on the field where there is no negative effect.”
It makes sense financially, too. “For every dollar it costs to put in that annual mix, we’ve been able to graze $11,” Hendrix said. “That’s not too bad.”
Hendrix also uses some new grazing techniques to maximize profits and lower costs.
In addition to the portable, high voltage electric fence developed in the 1970s to split large pastures into smaller paddocks, he now uses “tumble wheels,” rolling dividers that allow cattle to graze in six-foot-per-day increments. “They give a rest stage for the grass, which is a lot better for the grass and makes the pasture a lot more productive,” he said.
He noted that irrigated pasture has been found to fix approximately eight tons of carbon per acre. His next project? Exploring how to tie solar panels into the irrigation electrical grid to reduce producer costs even more.