Rotational strategy

Sep 07, 2021

Story and photos by Glen Liford

A good beef farmer has to first be a good grass farmer. That philosophy drives the diversified farming operation of the Bacon family at their farm near Morristown. 
Brothers Clint and Brad Bacon, along with their father, Robert, focus on a year-round pasture and hay strategy to keep their beef operation successful. It’s a key part of the family’s agricultural pursuits that also includes corn — mostly used to feed their cattle — and the soybeans they market for grain.
“You can sell corn if you want to,” says Clint. “But it will make more money feeding it to the cows.”
When traditional fescue pastures begin playing out in late summer, the Bacons enjoy the benefits of crabgrass in their fields. Once corn and soybean crops are harvested, the family relies on cover crops, including Fria ryegrass, crabgrass, pearl millet, brown midrib (BMR) sorghum-sudangrass, triticale, and wheat among others for conservation uses and also to provide early spring grazing and hay for their beef cattle. 
The Bacons operate a stocker operation centered around roughly 700 calves. As a prime example of how their strategy works, they cite a group of 59 calves purchased in late fall of 2019. From November to March, the brothers rotationally grazed the group on a series of paddocks over 40 acres consisting mainly of Fria ryegrass. 
“We basically just kept them alive through the winter,” Clint explains. “We gave them some ‘come here’ feed and kept them on limited grass and plenty of hay.”
Shortly before turning them out on ryegrass in March, the Bacons worked the calves, including implanting some of them with Revalor®-S and some with Synovex®. The calves took to the Fria ryegrass, says Clint, averaging three pounds of gain per day over the 96 days they were kept on the pastures. 
Bad weather was a contributing factor for slow early gains through the winter, he speculates, as well as the normal disruption calves experience when they are relocated to a new farm.
“It’s always a challenge when you first buy calves,” Clint explains. “Weaning, castrating, and working sets them back a month. They go through a funk. But I love that ryegrass.”
Fria ryegrass is known for its outstanding yields and is an excellent choice for either grazing or hay, says Ben Gilbert, GreenPoint Ag member service representative in East Tennessee. The forage is excellent for overseeding and works well for use as a cover crop. It also boasts good cold tolerance.
“We recommend the forage be sown in August through October,” says Ben. “Depending on the season, pastures will be ready for grazing sometime in early spring. It’s a good fit for producers like the Bacons who are already managing their forages well.”
The Bacons work with Smoky Mountain Farmers Cooperative in Morristown for precision ag services. They apply phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) using variable rate technology and then follow up with needed applications of nitrogen (N). The producers have utilized the Co-op for variable rate applications for about six years, and they are seeing the benefits. 
“There is not as much variability in the ground now,” says Clint. “The fields have tightened up. We know that from the soil tests.” 
Soil samples are typically pulled in a 2½-acre grid pattern, with adjustments for slope on the rolling ground of the farms, though they use zone sampling in some less critical areas.
Eddie Harville, manager of Smoky Mountain Farmers Co-op’s Hamblen store, praises the Bacons’ commitment to providing needed nutrients.
“They’re not afraid to fertilize,” he says. “Folks that don’t fertilize need to remember that a crop removes a bunch of nutrients from the ground, and you have to put something back. The Bacons understand that well.” 
Their focus, Clint adds, is on investing for the future.
“It’s just like livestock,” he says. “You have to feed that crop, just like you would your cattle.”

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