Greg Montgomery and students work with 265 acres of pastureland and a 100 head of cattle. Special to The Commercial

If people drive on U.S. 425, past the University of Arkansas at Monticello beef herd, near campus, they can see cattle standing in a muddy feedlot.

“That’s despite the feedlot being built on an elevated hill,” according to UAM Beef Farm Manager Greg Montgomery. “There is no place for moisture to go ‘round’ here. When the water is standing on a hill, what you gonna do? Deal with it.”

Montgomery is the manager of about 265 acres of pastureland. He and his College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resource students are raising about 100 head of Beef Master and Brangus Cross, and some pure-bred cattle as part of their classroom.

“When it’s wet, it’s wet, and so these cattle really tear the ground up. When it’s this wet it’s hard to get them anywhere to get them dry,” said Montgomery.

He says there is not a whole lot of bottom to fields in this part of the state.

Rainy Spring

Mother Nature can be thanked for the wet ground. It’s been a particularly wet spring in Southeast Arkansas. According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Lance Pyle, the normal average rainfall from January until Easter weekend for the region is 16.2 inches. To date, Monticello sits at 27.8 inches as measured at the airport.

“We are at 11.6 inches above average so far for the year with more rain in the forecast for Easter Sunday,” Pyle said.

According to Montgomery, now is the time to perform triage on pastures. He says one can put the cattle into sacrifice fields. UAM has three other fields that they use to congregate cattle and feed them hay and grain. Montgomery says the livestock herd has a high nutrient requirement at this time of the year, by putting them into the sacrifice fields, he can graze the planted ryegrass pastures 4 to 6 hours a day.

“This is the most stress these cattle will be under,” said Montgomery. “We had a long winter with the first freeze hitting in November. Cold and wet weather is not good for cattle, particularly during fall calving. We were lucky this year, that while it was wet, we had moderate temperatures.”

Triage begins in spring

“The process of triage begins in the spring when the moisture level is at a point in which the ground will hold a tractor and disk and not make the ruts any worse,” Montgomery said. “I will disk lightly or aggressively based upon the depth of the rut, then pull a drag over the disked ground to smooth out the land. It reseeds itself, unlike many pastures where ranchers plant seed. “

He says the UAM land has a good seed bank for crabgrass and broadleaf signal grass which are good for cattle weight gains in late spring and early summer. Montgomery says if he had a choice, he would prefer those forages year-round.

Montgomery says a pasture can bounce back quickly if the farmer catches some moisture after they have completed triage. By raking and disking, it removes some of the weed pressure and soil compaction.

“Restoration requires a holistic type of mentality. Ranchers need to plan ahead,” he said.

Concerning the manure build-up on a wet feedlot, Montgomery says, “Manure is your friend, just try to spread it out the best I can.”

The University of Arkansas at Monticello offers all its programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.