STOCKTON — “Whether cattle producers keep calves for 60 days after weaning prior to sale or graze the calves as stockers prior to feedlot entry, cheap gain is key to operation profitability,” Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist, said.

As producers wean fall calves in mid- to late-spring, cool season grasses begin to lose their quality.

This results in lower calf performance.

“Adding summer annuals to your grazing rotation may cost effectively improve grazing forage quality leading to cheaper gains to improve operation profitability,” Davis said. “Seed annual lespedeza and crabgrass into grazing pastures to improve pasture quality and calf performance through the summer."

Lespedeza, a legume, makes higher quality forage than grasses because it contains less fiber and more protein content.

Both lespedeza and crabgrass in fescue pastures dilutes fescue toxicosis symptoms.

Davis said this results in better calf health and performance.

Calves potentially gain 2.25 lbs daily on crabgrass pastures.

Both of these forages also grow better in the summer months, increasing forage availability for optimum stocking rate.

“Optimum calf and forage performance on crabgrass results from an ideal grazing height range of 10 to three inches,” Davis said. “Annual lespedeza’s ideal grazing range is slightly less at six to two inches.”

For more information on annual lespedeza and crabgrass, see MU Extension guide sheets G4515 and G4661.

“Seed sudangrass and pearl millet in May and June to provide high quality forage for calves to graze through the summer,” Davis said.

He urges cattle producers to use these forages as smother crops in plans to renovate cool season pastures.

“Begin grazing sudangrass at a height of greater than 24 inches to prevent prussic acid poisoning in cattle,” Davis said.

Davis said since pearl millet does not cause prussic acid poisoning in cattle, begin grazing it at a height range between 18 and 30 inches.

Do not graze either of these forages below 10 inches.

For more information on these forages, refer to MU Extension Guide sheet G4661.

“Nitrate toxicity can be an issue with both of these forages during summer drought,” Davis said.

Contact your local MU Extension livestock specialist for cattle and forage management strategies to reduce potential nitrate toxicity issues.

“In addition to adding forage resources, grazing resource management is important for proper cattle intake and performance,” Davis said.

He urges cattle producers to use strip or rotational grazing of these forages for proper forage production and utilization as well as proper forage quality for optimum cattle performance.

For more information on planting and growing these forages and proper calf grazing management of these forages, contact your local MU Extension agronomy and livestock specialist.

Visit the MU Extension and NRCS Grasslands project website at for more information on grasslands management.

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