Change Planned Grazing on Winter Paddocks?

Beefs and Beliefs

Standard plan to take it all after freeze may not be the cheapest or the best.

Published on: May 19, 2011

I was at a field day on the Phelan Ranch in southwest Oklahoma last weekend and heard something worth pondering.

The featured speaker was Ian Mitchell-Innes, the South African rancher who teaches “mob” grazing and Holistic Management frequently in our country. I wrote about him in Beef Producer after visiting his ranch in 2009.

Mitchell-Innes says the now-traditional wintering plan for planned graziers rationing out dormant forage is not the best plan for the microflora in the rumen.

It’s been generally accepted for some years now that once hard freezes begin and forage goes dormant you begin taking the bulk of the forage out of each paddock completely before moving to the next.

Mitchell-Innes says this is upsets things for the rumen microflora and that different microflora digest different types of forage, as well as any supplement you may need to feed.

He says to take of perhaps one-third of the standing forage and move on. Next time around take perhaps another third. The final round take off the rest as far down as you’re planning to graze it. Somewhere during the second or third grazing you’ll probably begin supplementing with protein or energy, depending on the class of animals and the how the forage is coming out the back of the animals, thereby indicating quality issues.

I think we’re in uncharted waters here, but I suspect he may be onto something. I’ve heard some pretty involved lectures in the last year on how specific rumen microflora can be, especially for digesting of starchy feedstuffs like grain versus forages.

A lengthy lecture last fall by an Alltech scientist on rumen microflora indicated to me there are large differences in the niche occupied by rumen microflora. This might just add to the fact we’ve long known grain and grass don’t mix well because of this specialization by rumen microflora.

I’ll be in Kentucky for Alltech’s annual symposium next week and perhaps I can dig up some more of the science behind this issue.

In the meantime, you graziers out there might ponder how you’re doling out your winter forage and whether a method such as Mitchell-Innes suggests would save you any supplement and/or put your cattle in better condition next winter.

I’ll keep you posted on this one.