The wheat yield decreased by 7 bushels per acre compared to a non-grazed area, which is estimated to be a $50 per acre loss. When these two numbers are considered, researchers estimate they made $90 per acre. They also did not feed any hay to these cattle.

“We weren’t trying to maximize weight gain, just get the cattle to gain enough weight so they would breed efficiently,” Burris said. “Cost of gain should be less on pasture compared to dry lot feeding.”

Researchers planted double-crop soybeans after the wheat harvest. The soybeans did not have any measurable yield loss, which means soil compaction caused by grazing cattle may have been minimal.

“We feel like this is a very good option for small- to medium-sized grain producers that are also running cattle,” Ritchey said. “It probably won’t work for the larger grain farmers who have already pushed all their fences out to maximize production.”

It also takes more careful management than feeding hay or grazing cool-season pastures.

“Ideally, the wheat should be 6 to 8 inches tall before you turn the cattle in,” Ritchey said. “You also have to make sure they don’t graze it into the ground.

“Compaction is also an issue. In Kentucky, we tend to have wet winters, and you don’t want the animals to compact the soil. Therefore, you need another pasture where the cattle can still graze when the weather is wet and sloppy.”

He added producers also need a water source to make this system work.

The researchers are replicating the study this winter. Half of this year’s herd will graze the wheat throughout the season while the other half will be removed from the field prior to the wheat jointing. This will allow researchers to see if and how much the cattle hurt grain yields. They will fence off cattle from a portion of the field so a yield comparison can be made.