In my last blog I wrote about how to maintain forage quality in the growing season through non-selective grazing and returning to the paddock when grass is lush and low in fiber.
Depending on growing conditions, this management option will mean we do not need the entire ranch area for the growing season. If we try to use the entire ranch the forage would be over-mature when we get there.
The solution is to stockpile the rest of the ranch, not grazing it, during the growing season in preparation for use in winter and spring.
When we manage this way it becomes a simple matter to evaluate how many days of forage we have left for the non-growing season, which could be for months or even years depending on environment brittleness.
When wintertime grazing begins we can strip graze, aiming for 100 % utilization and/or trampling. After a few days of this we will know how much area our herd needs each day and can then calculate from our stockpiled area how many days we have left for our herd size.
However, it is critically important to alternate the stockpiled area and the area you graze for quality every year.
If we continually graze one area with those more-frequent, non-selective methods, the grass stand will be weakened. Instead, we let that area recover next year as the stockpiled area. That creates deep roots and vigor in the grassland.
On the other hand, if we continually let the forage express its potential with tall height and deep roots, the grassland would suffer from the excessive shade and would create wider plant spacings. In turn, the cattle would suffer with the lower quality as the leaf-to-stem ratio will be lower.
The total forage production would be lower also as the growing points would be shaded. That's because there is the matter of apical dominance, meaning when grasses reach maturity and set seed a hormone is released which impedes new shoots from growing.
It is only after the seedhead is removed that this hormone ceases to inhibit the growth of new shoots. This apical dominance is the main reason why the leaf-to-stem ratio will be lower in plants that have matured to the reproductive stage.
The forage material that promotes animal performance is the leaf and not the stem, as digestibility of leaf is much higher than stems.
With all that said, it makes no sense to be dogmatic and manage the same all the time because, as we know, climatic conditions are always changing.
By this I mean that sometimes we can graze tall, sometimes it’s convenient to graze very short, sometimes we can graze selectively and sometimes we absolutely need to graze non-selectively for maximum sustainable profits per acre.
I will write about choosing these different management scenarios in the next blog.