Green grass spurring faster weight gains

Whether in Marion County farm pasture or the rolling grazing lands of the Flint Hills, significant rains during the summer have provided an unusually high quantity of quality grass for cattle nourishment. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Whether in Marion County farm pasture or the rolling grazing lands of the Flint Hills, significant rains during the summer have provided an unusually high quantity of quality grass for cattle nourishment. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

You can nearly hear the smile in Chuck McLin?den?s voice.

From his ranch lands east of Marion, he?s able to send more feeder cattle at heavier gains more quickly to feedlots because of the abundant rains on native grass pastures this year.

Marion County Agricul?tural Extension Agent Rickey Roberts said even the casual observer can see this difference this year because the prairie grass is still green and fresh at a time of year when it is normally expected to be turning browner and coarser.

Many years it?s hard to get two pounds of gain per head daily on a calf destined for the feedlot, but McLinden said with the abundant grass this year, ?I?m seeing up to three pounds a day.?

McLinden knows many cattlemen will keep those feeders on grass clear into October, supplementing with range cubes as grass quality declines later in the season.

But right now the protein value of the grass has peaked.

McLinden has a lot of grass to monitor. He runs 5,000 head of cattle on 17,000 acres?much of it going back under his family?s ownership 100 years.

That?s fewer acres than his grandfather grazed in several counties back in the 1930s, but he said he?s finding today?s acreage good with better weather and different management conditions.

McLinden is loading cattle out weekly to and from 10 feedlots at Scott City, Ulysses, Council Grove and other places.

He said he believes in maintaining the higher growth by spending the money to keep the gains going at the feedlot.

?It does a double deal,? he said, ?to put more pounds on more economically. You get the best gains when the grass is shorter at the first of the season.?

The cattle graze unevenly, and with all the rain, McLinden said some clumps of grass cattle left are 4 feet tall with other grass grazed next to them eaten short.

That?s a major reason he likes to burn, to even out the grass for more even grazing next season, beginning in March into the first of May to get it all burned.

Right now, he?s watching to see what kind of rain this area receives in the rest of August and September.

Even that is marvelous, Roberts noted. Unusually abundant rain fell in July, which makes it extra worthwhile to watch what happens in August and September, he said.

McLinden remembers a saying from older family members that 90 days after a fog you get a rain. He remem?bers a fog last spring, so he?s expecting that rain soon.

Sufficient rain in August and September may accelerate grass growth enough to make a second prairie hay crop this fall, although it would be of lower late-season quality, according to McLinden.

He said the grass has been getting ahead of the cattle.

?For sure there?s been more grass growth this summer than we?ve seen in years,? he added. ?Whatever. A bale of prairie hay like that beats the hell out of a snow bank to graze in January.?