BEEF CATTLE PRODUCTION
ON SURFACE-MINED LAND IN CENTRAL APPALACHIA
W.O. Thom, H.B. Rice, David Adams, Charles May and C. Absher
Extensive acreages of reclaimed surface-mined
land in Central Appalachia are currently producing forages that can be
used in beef cattle production. During reclamation, after these areas were
graded, they were seeded with grass and grass-legume mixtures to form a
ground cover and to reduce soil loss. Usually in the past these areas have
not been managed to provide forages for beef cattle, but they can economically
support beef cattle production when managed correctly.
•Most of the soil on these reclaimed
fields is high in coarse fragments. Consisting primarily of sandstone,
siltstone and shale, these fragments are in various phases of weathering
to smaller fragments.
•These soils usually have lower organic
matter and water holding capacity than do other agricultural soils. This
lower capacity intensifies the effects of summer rainfall deficits by lowering
both production and plant quality.
Uses Under Varying Conditions
•Land areas that have been mechanically
"rock picked" can be clipped or mowed for hay.
•Areas too rocky or steep for hay production
can have cattle grazing on them.
•Areas where acid-forming pyrites are
present can continue to be productive when this material is buried deep
enough to prevent loss of forage growth or development of bare spots.
Fertilizer may be needed to maintain
and increase forage productivity. Research in Kentucky has shown these
mine soils generally require annual phosphate (P2O5)
applications before seeding and during the first few years after seeding.
Annual potash (K2O) applications may not be needed on some reclaimed
areas since the soil materials can release significant quantities of plant
available K from mineral sources.
Grass yields are increased by applying
nitrogen (N) fertilizer. Topdressing N in late winter or early spring before
growth begins increases growth so that grazing can start up to 2 weeks
ahead of grass receiving no nitrogen. Another topdressing after the mid-summer
grazedown stimulates fall growth and can extend the grazing season.
Lime may be needed to (1) offset acidity
from the oxidation of any remaining pyrite; (2) neutralize acidity from
N fertilizer applied to increase grass production; and (3) increase the
availability of added phosphorus when soil pH is less than 6.0. To determine
needs for lime, phosphorus and potassium, get a soil sample from the area
each year for the first 3 years after seeding. Then resample at 3-year
intervals for analysis and recommendations.
Either adding legumes through pasture
renovation or maintaining existing legumes increases total forage yield,
improves forage quality and increases available forage in summer when production
from grasses is usually low. More total forage is produced with grass plus
legumes than with N fertilized grass. Cattle's daily gain is higher for
animals on a grass-legume mixture than for grass alone, and total animal
production per animal and per unit of land area is higher for grass-legume
pastures than for N fertilized grass.
Beef Cattle Programs
A beef cow-calf herd with a March-April
calving season is well-suited to forage production on reclaimed surface
rained land. Spring forage production is high and high quality feed is
provided for the lactating cow and calf since rainfall and stored water
will support a high rate of regrowth. This productivity level is generally
sustained long enough to provide good nutrition for a cow herd so that
rebreeding can occur in early summer to maintain a relatively short calving
Fall-calving on these reclaimed areas
is not as well-suited and is generally less economical than spring calving,
according to research in Virginia. For a lactating cow which calves in
the fall, the nutrient requirements occur when forage growth and quality
are often low. This can lead to problems of rebreeding during the winter.
Pasture for Steers and Heifers
Grazing steers or heifers during spring
and summer can give good results. Pasture growth is highest at this time.
The heaviest cattle may need to be marketed in early to mid-July to avoid
overgrazing during the summer when stocking rates are based on expected
spring growth. Stocking rates based on the full season growth with continuous
grazing will under utilize early spring growth. Large amounts of forage
are not utilized unless larger animals can follow younger ones in a rotational
Data from continuous grazing of reclaimed
mine land pastures in Perry and Knott Counties indicate that gains of 0.7-0.9
lb/head/day were easily achieved on mixed forage with younger cattle, although
larger steers achieved gains of 1.3 lb/head/day during a full season.
Producers need to manage forages to
assure optimum yield and carrying capacity while maintaining forage quality,
animal performance and continuous plant growth throughout the grazing season.
Most existing reclaimed surface mined areas have tall rescue as the dominant
grass and either sericea lespedeza or clover (white or red) as the dominant
The start of grazing depends on the
legume's growth, (unless the legume is less than 20% of the forage).
•Grass-clover pastures may be grazed
early in the season but be sure to always leave 3 inches of top growth.
•Tall fescue and clover usually have
enough growth to start grazing by mid-April.
•Pastures containing annual lespedeza
should be grazed heavily in early spring to control grass, then left until
the lespedeza reaches 5 to 7 inches before resuming grazing.
•Sericea lespedeza starts growth later
but grazing pressure should be heavy enough to keep plants less than 8
Size of Herd
Provide at least 3 acres of pasture
for each cow-calf unit. Steers and heifers weighing 300-550 lb need 1-2
acres/head, and those 550-800 lb need 2-3 acres/head. These requirements
are higher than normally suggested because "mine soils" have a lower moisture-holding
capacity and because areas of these lands fail to consistently maintain
Choose a rotational grazing system
over a continuous grazing system if enough good quality water is available
from ponds and small streams and if you can achieve fencing requirements.
To do so:
•Divide the area into 5 approximately
•Move the cattle each 1-3 weeks during
the grazing season depending on forage availability.
•Allow 4 to 6 weeks for each pasture
to recover, especially during the dry summer months.
Based on our observations, forage regrowth
on strip mined land does not recover as quickly as on other agricultural
soils. Also, forage on mined land is more likely to be overgrazed, which
increases recovery time or may even reduce plant density.
Results from Controlled Grazing
Controlled grazing of pastures on reclaimed
mine land can increase plant density which improves forage quality and
enhances the reclamation process. Positive results include:
•Grazing stimulates plant tillering,
and controls grass height allowing greater legume growth.
•A more uniform distribution of manure
and urine for recycling results from controlled grazing.
•Hoof action firms the soil and the
slight hoof depressions can serve as small water holding areas.
However, these positive effects can
become negative if grazing periods are too long.
•Over-long grazing periods causes weakened
plants that will not survive drought.
•Sustained hoof action compacts the
soil, damages forage plants and creates "cattle trails" on sloping land.
•Increased soil erosion often results
due to the decreased vegetative cover and compaction which reduces the
reclamation process and significantly lowers animal carrying capacity.
If you use a cow-calf system, you need
spring and summer pasture, fall pasture and hay production areas. So, manage
the total area you have available for forage production so that you have
adequate provisions for these three needs. Set aside about 2-3 acres of
land per cow for fall and winter grazing. This should be the area with
the greatest proportion of tall rescue to provide high quality fall and
winter grazing, although this area could be used for rotational or controlled
grazing up until early summer. The amount of "rock free" land available
for hay affects the acreage needed for fall and winter grazing.
When only younger cattle (steers and
heifers) are grazed, little provision needs to be made for hay production.
So, use all your land area in a rotational or controlled grazing system.
When you retain these younger cattle into late fall or winter, you need
some land for stock-piled grazing. Also, hay areas can be harvested in
the spring and then grazed by the younger cattle when they are rotated
with older animals.
Wintering Dry Cows
Producers without mined land area suitable
for hay production may consider buying hay to winter dry cows. When you
follow the grazing program recommended above without stockpiled grazing,
1 to 1.5 tons/cow of medium quality hay should be enough for overwintering.
This could increase the total production from calves providing that increased
income from the calves is greater than total hay cost.
Several other UK Cooperative Extension
Service publications contain many recommendations discussed in this publication.
The following list may be helpful. These publications are available at
your county Extension office
AGR-1 Lime and Fertilizer Recommendations
AGR-16 Taking Soil Test Samples
AGR-19 Liming Acid Soils
AGR-26 Renovating Hay and Pasture Fields
AGR-62 Quality Hay Production
AGR-85 Efficient Pasture Systems
AGR-103 Fertilization of Cool-Season Grasses
AGR-116 Fertilizing Forage Legumes
ASC-50 Beef Cow-Calf Handbook: Grazing Systems
ID-5 A Beef Forage System