When I was at the spring grazing conference in southwest Missouri about a month ago I heard Bob Salmon make the profound statement "grass grows grass."
Then he added: "If you get it too short you're going to hurt your production."
Salmon knows he's right because he's kept meticulous production records for nine years on his St. Clair County farm and he says they prove his point.
Leave plenty of residual forage behind, he said in a seminar he shared with Darrel Franson, another meticulous record-keeper from Lawrence County in Missouri. It's leaf material that's the engine of plant growth, he added. Without ample solar panels collecting sunlight for photosynthesis a plant cannot produce and store carbohydrates for root growth and therefore cannot produce excess forage for grazing.
Just a few days ago I heard Ranching for Profit's Dave Pratt talking about the same things in Texas where he was doing a seminar on drought-proofing your ranch for the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers convention.
Pratt was reminding the audience that overgrazing is a matter of time animals are exposed to plants and opportunity to rebite/reharvest the plants before they can recover. Protecting them from too-early rebiting/reharvesting grows bigger, stronger root systems and hardier plants more able to withstand drought, he said. Then he shared a Bud Williams quote I've heard before but had forgotten.
Pratt said: "Bud Williams always says we love our cows but we hate our grass. Think about it. What do we say anytime the grass starts really growing? Oh, that grass is getting tall; better get some cows on it to eat it down. Oh, my grass is getting away from me; better get more cattle."
That's pretty much it. We know all about cows and calves but we know too little about fostering forage to skim the excess off the top, as Beef Producer columnist Walt Davis says.
Big forage harvested quickly with plenty left behind, especially when some of is left flat on the ground, builds plants, roots and organic matter.
In turn, organic matter is the engine of soil life and fertility, and it is the material which adds water-holding capacity to all soils.
Good grazing benefits the grass, the soil and the cattle. It can be done and it is being done. You can do it too, if you aren't already. There's much to learn and much to be gained.
Also, watch the next couple issues of Beef Producer for more from these and other good forage managers and drought survivors.