I’ve been experimenting with high stock density and paddock shape this summer and so far my outcome matches what I’ve been told and shown.
I’m finding long, narrow paddock shape, wherein the animals enter from a narrow end or water from a narrow end, as my ragtag little band of stock has been doing, create more trampling of forage. Wider or square paddocks tend to get higher forage utilization and less trampling.
This year I’m using long, narrow paddocks because I started the summer with mature forage that’s heavily fescue mixed with reasonable amounts of bermuda and a smattering of other plants, including some native grasses and some forbs like giant ragweed.
I have primarily stocker-weight cattle so I’m managing for quality consumption and trying to put the older portions of the plants back on the ground with good coverage of urine and feces to build soil life and nutrient recycling.
Here’s a close-up picture of a paddock a few days ago right after the cattle left. You’ll see there’s a lot of forage lying on the ground. The calves dung was still loose and they were satisfied as they left that paddock and went into the new one.
I’m using only temporary electric fencing and I’ve been running stock densities most days of 80,000 pounds or more. The forage is dense enough I’m getting about a day in the good paddocks with this amount of forage.
Sometimes I cut the paddocks in half across the middle and graze the inner half close to the water first, creating stock density of about 160,000 pounds per acre on that half. Then I remove the dividing wire about halfway through the grazing period, opening the back half of the paddock and letting them finish there.
Stock density at that point is arguably not the highest level, but I suggest it’s above the 80,000 pounds typical for the entire paddock because they animals will spend less time in the back-grazed area.
I haven’t seen huge visible differences in effect between 80,000 pounds and 160,000 pounds, although I’m not running transect lines or doing any monitoring other than quick visual appraisal.
Here’s a photo showing the typical amount of fresh forage the cattle have been moving into.
I’ve moved into an area now that was abusively grazed for a couple of years and the forage is thinner and the weeds much worse. I’ve had to expand my paddock sizes to get the full day of grazing that’s most handy for me.
That’s a lesson I’ve learn from great graziers. You can do a lot of things with stock density and herd grazing management, but you must fit it to a schedule you can live with.
I am using visual appraisal of body condition and grazing behavior to monitor animal performance at this point. I could get rough weight estimates at the end, but they won’t be accurate enough to trust.
One more note I think is interesting: I seem to be getting similar results in forage consumption and forage effect with a very small herd as people I’ve interviewed who are using much larger herds.
Based on how the forage responds through the fall and winter, I’m beginning to suspect stock density is stock density, regardless of stocking rate.